How I Got My Book Contract


The “How I Got My Contract” story for writers is much like labor and delivery stories. Oddly fascinating, terribly messy, always unique. When I was “on sub” I found myself reading loads of these stories. Like, an unhealthy amount. And I knew that when (if) my day came around, I wanted to share my story, too. So, without further ado…

March 22, 2018: Met with an editor friend and unofficially sent her my manuscript
May 17: Editor friend passed on it so Awesome Agent swiftly sent it out to a few houses
May 21: I was chatting with another editor friend (whom I’ll affectionately call HOUSE EARL GREY) and she asked to see m/s
May 23: Unbelievably, in only two days, editor (HOUSE EARL GREY) read entire manuscript, liked it, and was sending it on to editorial team to read and review! After having two previous manuscripts taking months and months for anyone to read, if they ever read it at all, this was super exciting
June 6: Agent emails that another publishing house (HOUSE GINGERBREAD) has read my proposal and wants to read the full manuscript
June 27: Editorial team (HOUSE EARL GREY) approved manuscript and went on to recommend a two-book deal, pending it passes the financial meeting
July 9: Manuscript passes financial meeting and official 2-book deal offer from HOUSE EARL GREY!!!


At this point, I am incredibly excited and assume that we will take this offer. But when I message Awesome Agent, he informs me:
July 12: A third house, HOUSE CELLO, wants to take it to a team meeting on 7.24. HOUSE GINGERBREAD is still reading and interested. And a new HOUSE CANDY CANE is possibly interested as well.

Suddenly, things get messy. It’s the prom date scenario everyone and no one wants. The perfectly lovely saxophone player/friend asked you to prom, and he is wonderful, and you are thrilled, but then out of nowhere the new guy with the really cool hair winks at you in the hall. No promises, nothing asked, but he looks directly at you and winks. 

Saxophone player is a sophomore. This guy is a senior. Rumor is, he came from California and has a pool.

That’s okay, I thought. I have a little wiggle room in time, I don’t have to answer EARL GREY today. I’ll give it a few days and decide. Surely they’ll all have a definitive yes or no by then.

But days pass.

A week.


Nothing. Finally agent and I have a chat. What’s the saying? A bird in hand is worth two in the bush? It would be a real dream, going with California-pool-owning-nice-hair senior, but I knew rejection well. There were so many meetings and levels my manuscript still needed to pass. SO OFTEN the manuscript gets turned down at one level or another. I’d been through this before with the whole submission process with Red Carpet Summer (available for free here). I was tired, so tired, of rejection. Even more tired of the wishy-washy, never-ending “this has real potential, give me more time…” maybes.

Saxophone player was very sweet. It was a good offer.

BUT then I had a phone call with my good author buddy (Bethany, I’m calling you out), and she said something that really helped determine my course. “Melissa, if you find out two weeks after you say yes to EARL GREY that you get a contract with CELLO, would you be really disappointed?” And I realized then, yes. I would feel positively devastated if CELLO actually said yes and it was too late by two weeks. 

It was a real risk. EARL GREY could pull back the offer, and nobody could end up offering anything. I’d be going stag to prom, or rather, not going to prom at all.


But, for me, it was worth the risk. I mean, he winked. And, right then, his cousins GINGERBREAD and CANDY CANE were also standing there, giving me decent, wobbly smiles. 

So, finally, being a bit unconventional, I had a heart-to-heart phone conversation, across the ocean, to EARL GREY. I spoke honestly. And EARL GREY, dear, wonderful EARL GREY, was understanding and said they would wait until I heard from CELLO and his friends. I am forever grateful for how much that meant to me.

Then, more painful waiting.

July 24: HOUSE GINGERBREAD says still reviewing, busy time of year.
August 14: HOUSE CELLO says manuscript passed the acquisitions meeting and they ask when I want to do a group phone call! I reply that I would be available anytime. Ever. At 3am if they wanted. (yes, really replied that.)
August 27: CELLO group phone call with Awesome Agent, three editors, and publicist! Took the phone call in the quietest place I could imagine, my car, and prayed desperately against the sudden fear I’d develop a tic in those forty-five minutes and say something totally crazy about wild ferrets. Actually ran through a mental list of all the bizarre things that could potentially slip out of mouth, thereby sealing my fate forever.

Sept 13: THE MOMENT.

After yet another eighteen days of watching my inbox on my phone every five minutes, I was at the salon getting my hair done and saw Awesome Agent’s name across the screen and, of course, my stomach flipped. I swiftly turned the phone over on my lap. My hairdresser noticed and I said I couldn’t look, that it was only the most important email ever and I didn’t have the heart to read it right there. If it was a NO then I’d have to sit there, with a thousand pieces of aluminum foil in my hair, trying to process with a smile plastered on my face. If it was YES, however, I still had the problem of there being a thousand pieces of aluminum foil in my hair, and it would be terribly tedious to run around the parking lot like a wild, silver-headed chicken, still having to return to my seat at some point. My hairdresser tried to convince me, but I finally compromised. If it was a YES, then I’d call the salon in the car and relay the message to her from the receptionist with one word: YAY.

I got to the car, pulled the door shut, tried to convince myself to wait until I got home, got to a drive-thru at Dunkin’ Donuts, and pulled out my phone. Sure enough, it was BLANK. The message was blank. My luck. I emailed him swiftly asking if there was a message… And finally, I saw it.



Unbelievable. I was going to prom with my Californian-cool-hair dream date. And the after party. And to his parent’s summer home in Vienna.

I called the salon and gave the receptionist the word: YAY! Receptionist asked for clarification. I gave none.

I was, and still am, truly floored. And grateful. And fully aware of how blessed I am.

Awesome Agent and Awesome Editor went back and forth on details of the contract, and the official contract came October 2nd. With a couple more questions, the contract was finally signed and shipped October 5th.

So there you have it. This is the messy, wild, terrible, wonderful inside world of the frenzied writer while on submission. If you see one of them around, biting her nails, checking her email like a nervous tic, get her a coffee. Take her on a stroll. Offer sympathetic nods often. 


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Melissa Ferguson