Writing this feels funny, because anyone who’s reading this has already seen this on my social media, but I’ve documented some of my journey of the last year in this space, so it feels like I need to finish it off. And after this, I’m not quite sure what to do with this newsletter/blog/whatever the hell we call these things these days.
To be clear, it is essential to have a newsletter as an author! Like, definitely #2 in the Top Ten Rulebook for Authors, after #1, write books. But most author newsletters are short and to the point and like, here, buy my book. Here’s a picture of my cat. Have a nice day. And this Substack has been…not that. I have likely shared more than I’m supposed to share; some of my past entries rambled quite a bit and really didn’t have a point.
But…it’s also probably not even possible for me to write a “here buy my book have a nice day” newsletter, because I am me (although I can definitely share more photos of my cat), so I don’t know! We’ll approach that cliff when we get to it!
What I’m here to say is that I have a book deal. I actually found out I had a book deal back in June, I think, and I have been waiting to officially announce that little screen cap above—the Publishers Marketplace screen cap is THE DREAM—ever since then. After you get the Publishers Marketplace screen cap, you can add your book to your Twitter bio. You can say, to anyone—your family and friends, strangers on the street, old high school nemeses—I’m going to be a published author. (I do not have high school nemeses, I am not that interesting, but that is definitely something you can do after the screen cap.)
And of course, the day I could actually post the screen cap went nothing like I planned. I had planned to take the day off of work, post my carefully crafted series of tweets, and do nothing but sit on my ass and check my notifications while eating ice cream, the sweet taste of victory every writer who has ever thought I mean I am really just a sorry piece of shit over and over deserves. You have to take your wins when you get them.
But I should have expected announcement day wouldn’t go like I planned. For posterity, let’s document what I was doing during every important benchmark in my last writing year.
Got an email from Meryl & Rosie asking me to send them my full manuscript for Pitch Wars: sitting in the Taco Bell drive-thru lane
Got tagged on Twitter by Meryl, announcing that they had selected me as their mentee for Pitch Wars 2019: wandering 7-11 in search of cheap wine
Okay, I actually can’t remember where I was or what I was doing when I accepted Kim’s offer of representation. That was a very blurry time. But I would not be surprised if I was, again, at Taco Bell.
Both emails I received from Kim earlier this summer about possible deals came at more normal, less embarrassing times, but each one felt like a surprise. Querying for an agent, and then waiting to hear from your agent while being on sub, both consist of a horrible, self-damaging game of checking your email way more times in a single day than you would ever care to admit, and sort of getting used to nothing changing, ever, but like an addict, you need to keep checking anyway, and then suddenly something just…CHANGES, like there’s actually an email, and it actually has good news, and it never feels real.
The first good email from Kim, after several rejections from other publishers, was from a publisher I love and the editor loved my book and there was talk of marketing plans and that was when my heart started to beat out of my chest because, holy forkballs, WHAT. And then Kim said, let’s see if anyone else still on our list offers, too, we’ll give them a deadline. And I was like haha, okay. And then I woke up one morning with details of the above deal, and I thought, wow, Junessa, well that’s the prettiest name I’ve ever heard, and then I emailed Kim back and said “This said three books. Does this mean I get to write three books?” And she said yes and then, in my head, I fainted, but in actuality I just got up and went to work. But I have been pretty much fainting in my head ever since then.
The space between when you get an offer and when you get to post that Publishers Marketplace screen cap varies widely, like everything in publishing. One author I follow just got to announce her deal after waiting a YEAR! O N E Y E A R. Another fellow Pitch Wars mentee got news of her YA deal this summer and then got to announce it the next week and I was like EXCUSE ME! But jk because it was very exciting and I love her very much but yes I was also a little jealous. Because even though I had received the most amazing news of my life, and I knew it was real because it came with numbers and legal words I didn’t understand, as the weeks went by I got caught in this weird state of anxiety where I felt like more of a fraud than ever. We couldn’t land on a better title (the one in the announcement will likely change) and I was like what if they realize I am actually really bad at this and drop me, or what if I’ve spent the last few months drafting Book 2 and Forever actually HATES IT (still a legitimate fear), and what if I announce and immediately get cancelled because my Twitter bio says she/her and London uses they/them and I just really think I’m going to get cancelled, and what if this whole last year was just a fever dream and maybe I should check myself in somewhere? (This is not me being glib, I very much wondered this.)
Luckily, my day job was wildly busy over the last month and it really did distract me from checking my email too much every day—every step of the way in publishing, the reason why you are checking your inbox a truly ridiculous number of times changes, but you’re still doing it—but then Kim said she was submitting the information to Publishers Marketplace. THE SCREEN CAP. So I kept refreshing that morning, to see if my name was actually there, but some other person’s deal kept showing at the top of the screen, and then I realized that my state is on fire and, actually, the fire is like, really close to us and we might have to evacuate? And we made a plan on where we would go if we had to, and what we would take with us if we had to—I only cried once, when I realized I wouldn’t be able to take the cabinet my grandpa built—and then I had to pick up our kiddo early from daycare, because the daycare owner’s house had just been moved to a Level 2 evacuation zone and she actually did have to pack. And then I forgot to check my email, or go back to the Publishers Marketplace page, because I was making my kid chicken nuggets and trying to find the best sites with fire and evacuation zone trackers but they all kept crashing.
And then I finally sat down a few hours later and checked my email and there it was, and Kim was asking, do you want me to post it or do you want to? And I was like oh crap oh crap, so I posted it with like, half of the words I had originally planned to post it with—in my head I had planned this big tribute to Corey Alexander, a super important part of the non-binary and queer romance community (and disabled romance community and Jewish and mental health romance community and so many other things) who tragically died this summer, with links of places to donate in their honor. But instead I just posted it without even really knowing what I was saying and then I tried to keep up with the notifications and it was A Day.
Just like with the Pitch Wars showcase, it was this big whirlwind of attention and I couldn’t believe some of it but now my adrenaline’s calmed a little, and it’s back to me just being me, ready to plunk around in my Docs again, typing words without trying to overthink the fact that other people are going to read and criticize them and maybe, hopefully, even like them.
And for once, I’m not checking my email a million times a day, and that’s the greatest gift of all. I’m still waiting on the next thing, of course—my first real edit letter, which will actually kick off the next chapter in this journey—so I’m definitely still checking it, but everything that’s happened over the last year feels real now. Like, you got that screen cap, Anita. You can breathe, for a little bit.
Mainly, I feel lucky. Getting published involves hard work and talent, sure, but so much of it is luck. That you happen to like writing something that’s marketable and on trend. That your manuscript landed in someone’s inbox on a good day. That kind people chose to believe in you.
Now I feel like something that I’ve always done just because I wanted to, and sometimes because I needed to, is now an honor, with a responsibility to get it right. Only a small portion of writers get that screen cap. And I don’t want to mess it up. I write rom-coms; I’m not changing the world here or anything, but it’s still a responsibility. A responsibility to entertain and to comfort. I haven't seen blue sky in days. When the smoke clears in Oregon, there are going to be bodies found who never get to see blue sky again. I don’t know when I get to see my students in person again. Most of me thinks that enough good people will show up in November to vote out evil, but other parts of me aren’t so sure, and I haven’t been truly able to engage with any political story, no matter how shocking, in months, because my body literally can’t handle it anymore. The most popular author in the world is now getting paid to spew misguided, despicable hatred based on the oldest, most hurtful tropes and I don’t know how to deal with that.
It means a lot to me to be able to entertain and comfort.
While I’ve waited for the screen cap, I’ve had some really helpful and thoughtful feedback from beta readers on both the rough draft of Book 2 (Ben & Lex) and the beginning of Book 3 (Julie & Elle). All of their suggestions are going to make my plot and pacing and stakes better, but the thing that has been sticking most in my heart is that in the feedback, two different people said reading my work felt like a hug.
Can you even imagine a better compliment?
We are in such desperate need of hugs. So many of my favorite books feel like hugs. I know I’m not perfect and that some people are going to be mad at me. In particular, I know that some people in the queer and non-binary/trans community will feel like I didn’t get the representation right, that I did something wrong. I promise to listen if I mess up.
But if whenever my books are out there in the world, in 2022 and beyond, if they feel like hugs to even a few more people, all of the hours spent refreshing my inbox will be so worth it.
Thanks for being with me on this journey.