I don’t think I’ve ever written about the publication of my first book, THE LOVE OF A COWOY.
One of the contests I entered was the Southwest Writers’ Annual contest, a huge contest conducted by a large organization. At the time, I was too naïve to realize the odds against winning or placing in such a contest.
In July of 2001, after I had just returned from a trip to the grocery store, I received a call from an editor with New American Library, making an offer to buy THE LOVE OF A COWBOY plus two more books yet to be written.
I was totally surprised. I had no agent, no advisor of any kind. I was ignorant of the nuts and bolts of the publishing business, but having been self-employed for most of my adult life, I wasn’t ignorant about contracts. The offer seemed reasonable to me, so I accepted it.
In the same conversation, the editor asked me if I planned to be at the Southwest Writers’ annual conference starting September 20, in Albuquerque. I had not planned such a trip, but she said she would be there and she had hoped to meet me there. Need I say that the minute I hung up the phone, I called and booked a flight to Albuquerque and made plans for my trip.
On Sunday, September 9th, my husband and I were discussing my upcoming trip. That night, when we went to bed, I said to him, “I’ve been trying to sell that book for so long. I wonder what can happen to screw this up.”
Like everyone else in the country, I was horrified and distraught.
I also had a pending contract with a major publisher and a ticket to fly to Albuquerque to meet a New York editor. I had no idea if she would show up or if she was even alive. Planes were grounded. People weren’t flying though the President was encouraging people to do so. I stewed for a week and finally called her at her office number, not knowing if their phones even worked.
She answered and we had the following conversation:
ME: “I know this is in really poor taste at this moment, but I’m just wondering if you’re still planning to make the trip to the Southwest Writers’ Conference in Albuquerque.”
SHE: “Oh, yes. I’m planning to be there. I’ve never been a fearful flyer. ”
I'll never forget those six words. She had more guts than I did. I sacrificed the plane ticket I had bought and drove to Albuquerque, about a 600-mile drive for me. The conference probably had the worst attendance in its history; nevertheless, plenty of aspiring authors, agents and editors were there.
When I met my editor, I was so shocked. She was small and fragile-looking and I doubt if she was 25 years old. (Since then, I’ve learned that many of the New York editors are very young.)
Of course we discussed the World Trade Center horror and she told me she was the only passenger on her flight from New York. That alone would have been enough to make me get off the plane. She also told me she had slept in her office 2 nights because she couldn’t get to her home. NAL’s offices are located not far from the World Trade Center.
The original book I wrote was a 650-page family saga. When the editor and I went to dinner together, she told me NAL didn’t want the whole book. They only wanted the romance between Luke and Dahlia. She wanted me to cut 65,000 words from the manuscript, which was nearly half the book.
I was terrified. I didn't know how to do that and said so. She said, “I’m going to help you.”
I was in such a state of other-worldness, I didn’t know THE LOVE OF A COWBOY had won the Romance category in the contest until the night of the awards banquet. I also didn't know the New York editor had been one of the judges.
At the end of the conference, she bravely flew back to New York and sent me a 16-page editorial letter outlining the changes she wanted me to make.
I swallowed a big gulp, did make the changes and THE LOVE OF A COWBOY went to print. It was followed by THE LOVE OF A STRANGER and THE LOVE OF A LAWMAN.
So I have more than something horrible by which to remember September of 2001.
That particular editor soon left NAL and I was assigned a different editor. I will always wonder how much more successful my writing career might have been if I had been able to retain the editor who originally bought my book. She was a fan of my writing. If you're an aspiring writer trying to sell a book to a traditional publisher, believe me when I tell you it helps your career if your editor is a fan of your work.
Every September since then, because I felt a kinship with her that went beyond book editor/author, I’ve wondered where she was and what she might be doing.
This year, with the Internet having become what it has, I searched for her and found her. She has gotten a PhD and is a professor of medieval literature at a well-known university in California. From meeting her, I would have never guessed that’s where her interest lay. Her bio is impressive and mentions her stint as a book editor in New York publishing only in passing.
Hope my story hasn’t bored you. It does have a point. The point is, when you go to the grocery store, you never know what you're going to come home to or when you go to bed at night, you just never know what you're going to wake up to.