Write Life Wednesday - After “The Call” By Jen Doyle

The Call came at 4:01 p.m. on September 1, 2015. I remember it vividly: I was on a party bus on the Mass Pike—somewhere around Exit 10—with fourteen other women I worked with, on our way back from a day job “directors day” trip to Mohegan Sun. I knew my agent had a phone call planned with Carina Press, so I’d been keeping an eye out for an email or text. But although I had (have!) an incredibly supportive group of colleagues, I didn’t want to let on that I’d be getting that phone call with them all surrounding me. What if it wasn’t the news I wanted? It was one thing to be disappointed, but to be disappointed in front of everyone, well, it wasn’t exactly the experience I was going for.

So I kept myself a little bit apart from everyone, up at the head of the bus. And when my phone rang I just ducked my head and turned to the window and closed my eyes as Sarah said, “I have good news, Ms. Jen.”

To be honest, I don’t entirely remember much about the phone call beyond that. I do, however, remember hanging up, turning to my friend and mumbling, “They want to publish my book.”

I think there was a double take. I know there was subsequent jumping up and down and screaming as well as a very exuberant dance session to Shut Up And Dance while the party bus continued along. It’s quite the memory, and, if this were a fairy tale, this would be the part where it says, And they all lived happily ever after.

As anyone who’s ever seen Into the Woodsknows, however, things don’t end there. There’s a whole heck of a lot after the ‘ever after.’

It’s been a year and a half since that phone call and a lot has happened since then. I know my experience has been different from other authors, and, I’ll fully admit, I was a total newbie so there was a lot I had no clue about but of which everyone else in the world might be fully aware. But in the event there’s anyone else out there like me, here goes…

Within about a week of that first phone call I had been introduced (via email) to my editor, Alissa, and the team at Carina. One of the first things that Alissa sent to me was what is called the “Art Fact Sheet.” This is a worksheet that the art team uses to design the cover. It asked for a short synopsis (no more than a few paragraphs), descriptions of the main characters, the general tone of the book, and, most importantly, if there are any specific physical characteristics that I want to convey. It also asks for any particular images that may have been used as inspiration.

In the case of CALLING IT, I had a very clear image of my hero and heroine, and I also had a strong sense of the town of Inspiration, IA, which is the small town in which the series is set. Sending pictures is never a hardship—and, thanks to Pinterest, I have boards upon boards to choose from—so that part was a lot of fun. I also had the benefit of stumbling upon the photography of Larry Lindell, whose spectacular images of Iowa conveyed the mood I wanted exactly. And, of course, there’s the baseball aspect—Field of Dreams, anyone? But I still had no idea as to how anyonecould take all of that and boil it down to one cover that represented all of those ideas.

Before I could think too much about that, however, I received my first set of developmental edits ever. And they were awesome. I don’t know about you, but I LOVE seeing all of the comments on anything I write. Even back in high school and college I was disappointed if I got a paper back with the only note on it being “good job,” even if it came along with an A.(To this day I’m smarting about the A+—yes, A+—I got on my Medieval European History final in college because that was, literally, the only mark on the cover of that little blue book. But WHY did I get an A+? Was it my stellar writing? My incredible ideas?My complete understanding of the topic? I have no clue and those are questions that will never be answered. I can live with it, but I’m not happy about it.)Having spent ten years in the world of Buffy fan fiction prior to submitting anything for publication, I’d grown greedy about feedback, even if it was from people who didn’t like what I wrote. I lived for those five paragraph notes about the latest set of chapters I’d published (known to me now as reviews, LOL), so getting that first set of edits from Alissa was incredible. I was ready to get down to the nitty gritty writing work.

Except the next day I also got what is called the “Retitle Sheet,” so first I had to think about that. Because, to be honest, I suck at titles. I mean, anyone who knows me knows I can, well, write a book. But coming up with a quippy, succinct, attention-grabbing phrase? Not my strong suit. I knew that “The Dream,” i.e., the original title of CALLING IT, wasn’t going to fly, nor was DREAMING OF YOU, my second attempt. And I was thrilled that there would be a team that would help me figure out what the book (I had a book!) would eventually be called. But one of the things that the retitle sheet asked for was—wait for it… Titles! Ugh!

Luckily, that very weekend happened to be what we call “Apple Picking Weekend” at the Doyle childhood home, so on that Saturday night, 14 of my closest friends and family members gathered around the table and brainstormed titles. We came up with a whole list, many of which officially made it onto the worksheet—and a few of which didn’t. (My personal favorite of the no-way-in-hell list was Approaching the Mound, a suggestion of my sister and brother-in-law). Should I mention that my 15-year-old-at-the-time daughter and one of her best friends were there brainstorming with us? No? Okay. Then forget that part.

The official list I submitted included thirteen potential titles. The one that was chosen was…not from the list. And, honestly, I’m not sad. Because the worksheet also included a whole lot of other information, some of it being similar to that on the Art Fact Sheet (synopsis, themes, mood, etc.), but also going into more depth about the book itself, and keywords.

But again I didn’t have too much time to dwell on that because the proposal for book two was also due. At this stage in the process I have a very strong sense of what comes next for me on my writing agenda. But back then I had no idea how it would all go. I had a contract for two books and I had several ideas about what pair came next, but I’m a pantser of the professional variety and had absolutely no idea how their story would play out. So in the midst of working on the developmental edits, I was also doing some major thinking (although I would love to call it ‘plotting’ I can’t honestly say that that’s a good name for what I did) about book two. Oh, and did I mention the day job and the husband and three kids? No? As you can imagine, all thoughts about covers and titles went out the window.

I turned in the proposal on October 15 and the edits on November 4. I got the official word that my proposed book two was accepted on November 17 and began working on it in earnest. And by ‘in earnest’ I mean ‘officially beginning to panic.’ Because, HOLD ON, PEOPLE. I had to write a second book? Was that what I’d agreed to? Who the hell thought that was a good idea? I’d never written a second book before and had absolutely no idea how to go about it. And there’s a lot in that first draft that goes like this:

This chapter has an AMAZING scene it where Deke and Fitz… Well, not sure what they do, but it will be amazing for sure.

No worries, though, because my line edits came in and it was time to edit again, which is my much preferred mode of writing. And, you know, Christmas. And my son’s birthday. And beginning to think about the fact that I was having a book published in April and I had absolutely no idea what that meant in actuality.

Huh. Is it any wonder that the rest of this last year and a half has been a blur? That’s only the first few months of it!

Suffice it to say, I got book two done. And then I got my title—CALLING IT, as you well know. The cover, too, which made me cry—in a very good way. The edits for book two also…which, well, that’s a whole other story.

CALLING IT was published on April 11, 2016, followed by CALLED UP on August 29, 2016, and then CALLED OUT, on May 29, 2017. HOLIDAY HOUSE CALL, a novella set in Inspiration, Iowa, will be out on October 23, 2017.