As I was packing up the trunk of my car with photo albums on Wednesday, and wondering what else I should take in case the wildfire creeping toward us decides to fry my house, the telephone rang.
It was, I thought, Mom. Calling to tell me someone was in the hospital, or one of her dogs was sick, or subtropical storm Andrea had strengthened and was heading our way, or something else to add just a little more delight to my week.
It was my very busy editor. She never calls unless she has a publishing fire she needs me to put out. No doubt she wanted me to send in my revisions yesterday, or approve cover copy in fifteen minutes, or finally write a decent bio because the ten-word one I have on file is annoying the Powers That Be.
Frankly, I wasn't happy to hear her voice. Florida is carpeted in flames and smoke, hurricane season decided to start a month early, I'm trying to fit forty-six years of memories in a trunk slightly smaller than a hamster's cage. At the same time, I knew I'd do whatever she wanted, and began envisioning myself on the laptop at a turnpike rest stop, typing up whatever she wanted by the soft orange glow of my town burning in the distance.
My editor said hello, how are you, and Night Lost made #21 on the New York Times extended bestseller list.
Look, I started to say, my state is on fire . . . and then I sat down on the riding lawn mower. I think I said What? a few times.
It was, indeed, The Call.
My editor talked and laughed and said a lot of very nice things. I have absolutely no recollection of what they were, but she's a lovely person, so I know they were nice.
It took me ten years of weekly submissions, twenty-eight manuscripts and over thirteen hundred straight rejections before I received my first offer. And yeah, like most rookies, I daydreamed about my debut novel becoming a huge, overnight success and showing up on the NYT BSL. I felt the same way about the second one, and the third, and the tenth, and the fourteenth. Hope, even the wild pie-in-the-sky variety, only goes so far. After I'd published twenty novels, I stopped daydreaming. Obviously, it wasn't going to happen.
I didn't mind. In some ways, it was a relief, because by that time I'd dropped out of sight, got rid of all my author clothes, and just stayed home and wrote books. I've always wanted to be a paperback writer, and I am, and that is the world to me. More than that would have been very nice, but c'est la vie.
That's what I told my agent earlier this week, when she cautiously mentioned that I might, could possibly, in the remotest sense of the word, have a shot at the Times. We've been there before, I reminded her (at one very high point, Dark Need was the 18th bestselling mass market fiction novel in the country.) We've been told by authors who have done it that books get on the list do it by writers placing bulk orders or by signing at the stores the Times use for their stats. I won't do that, therefore it will never happen to one of my novels. I'd be honored and beyond satisfied with my novel making any spot on the USA Today top 150.
So here we are. I can't call myself a NYT bestselling author until I crack the top fifteen (my publisher is rather strict about this), but like I'm going to complain. And while part of me still expects the publishing version of Ashton Kutcher to show up on my doorstep today with a handheld cam and tell me that I've been punk'd, I've seen the printed list, and it doesn't look like a typo.
It is real, and it does happen, and we're not crazy to hope. That's what I want you to remember when you're a paperback writer.
Any questions out there for me this week?