Yesterday I received some happy news, but before I get to that I want to give a few updates about some of my previous posts in the April Blogging Challenge.
First, a great number of people commented on my last post to express their disappointment that the prune juice didn’t lead to me having to suddenly use the abandoned outhouse in the woods.
I guess this is one of the pitfalls of real life; it doesn’t follow a proper narrative arc.
While it’s true that my stomach burbled ominously, it settled down after a bit and I was fine. I wrote the post so quickly that I didn’t even notice that unresolved plotline.
However, in the event that I would have needed an emergency bathroom, I probably would have used the woods before I would have used that outhouse. First, people had thrown their trash down the outhouse hole, and I don’t know if anyone is ever tasked with cleaning it out but I didn’t want to make their job harder. Second, the floorboards of the outhouse were of dubious strength. And third, I hate to think of what was probably living in the carpet on the toilet seat.
Regarding my post about memes, I just have to post a few more of the memes of me because I find them funny, okay?
Okay now, on to the good news:
As many of you know but some of you may not, I’ve published two books. My most recent book (the one parodied in the above meme) is The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea, about a year I spent traveling around the USA living in a different Mennonite community every month.
However, thirteen years ago I published a book titled Emily, about my experience with West Nile virus.
Unlike my most recent book (which I self-published), Emily was published by a “real” publisher, sold in Barnes & Noble, etc.
My book deal just kind of fell into my lap.
Throughout my 17th year of life/senior year of high school, I missed out on almost everything because I was so sick. During that time I kept a diary in an Open Office doc password-protected on my computer, and I blogged regularly on Xanga.
My Aunt Rosie somehow found out that a publishing company was looking for teenage authors to write a series of books by teenage girls for teenage girls. I think maybe it was advertised in a homeschooling magazine? Anyway, she knew I liked to write so she gave me the information, and I sent in some writing samples and a link to my blog.
I, along with a girl named Marni and a girl named Chelsey, were selected to write the first three books in this series.
I just went back and looked at the emails now, and the 31-year-old-writer in me is astounded at the quick turn-around time. I got the offer on November 24, 2008, and was expected to complete the first draft by February 5, 2009, and the second draft by February 28, 2009.
So here you go, you 18-year-old writer you! Just write a book in three months, no biggie!
But with my teenage confidence, I wasn’t fazed.
Also, due to the vast quantities of diary and blog writing I’d done over the past year, my “writing” was really more like “compiling.” Probably 80% of it was already written.
My editor called me every week to keep me on task, I wrote a draft, a second draft, and then went through it again in the spring after the proofreader added her notes and comments, and by that August I walked into a Barnes and Noble and found my very own book on the shelf.
One of the things that I didn’t realize about adulthood until I reached it was that you change an enormous amount between the ages of 18 and 23. I expected life to plateau somewhat in adulthood, but that didn’t happen until I was maybe 25.
Which meant that only a few years after I’d published Emily, it made me cringe. It’s very much written by a teenager, okay?
Also, I had such a not-like-other-girls complex. My bio literally read “She loves dreams, Dr. Pepper, badminton, watching people, making movies, and unlike 99.5% of Mennonite girls in America, not coffee or scrapbooking.”
Cringe cringe cringe.
I really have no idea how well the book did. I didn’t get royalties but instead was paid a flat fee. I could purchase my own books at half price and then re-sell them, which is the main way I earned money from that book deal.
As the years went by, I continued to sell them. I’d buy a box of 100 books, and after a year or two or three they’d start to run out and I’d buy another box.
And the more time passed, the more I began to gain a different perspective on that book. I saw it as less “cringe,” and more as the book I was meant to write at that time. There’s nothing like the feeling of being a teenager and missing out on what seems like such an important stage of life because you’re sick.
For young girls going through that, my book was the relatable content they needed.
So I continued to sell and give away copies over the years.
Last winter, I noticed that once again my stock was dwindling. So I called my publisher and asked to order another 100 books.
Only to be told, “your book is out of print.”
I guess it’s reasonable that my book would eventually go out of print. After all, it had been 11 1/2 years at this point, and it disappeared from the shelves of Barnes & Noble long ago. But I’d never made any sort of contingency plan for what I’d do if my book went out of print.
I wasn’t even sure what “out of print” consisted of. “Can I buy the rest of the stock?” I said.
“No, it’s out of print,” she said.
“Can I…buy the rights back?” I said. “I could re-publish it myself. I still sell copies of that book.”
“Well, the rights should revert back to you automatically,” she said. “But your case was a little different, since it’s part of a series. I’ll have to talk to some people and get back to you.”
The next day she called me, not because she had any news, but just to update me on the newsless state of the issue. She asked for my email address, saying she’d email me when it got resolved.
Then I never heard anything.
I knew I needed to follow up, but I was putting it off.
Part of the issue was, I never caught the name of the woman helping me, so I didn’t know who to ask for when I called back.
The other issue was that I always procrastinate on fiddly little tasks like this, especially if they involve making phone calls.
But finally I put it on my to-do list for Monday.
I woke up Monday morning to a new message request on Facebook. It was from a woman, also named “Emily,” who recently found her well-loved copy of my book. She said that my book got her through her teen years, because she was chronically ill and deeply related to that feeling of missing out on life.
And so she decided to reach out and let me know.
That message gave me the courage I needed. Procrastinating no longer, I picked up the phone and called my publisher.
The woman who answered the phone was the same woman who’d helped me earlier, and she remembered me. She was surprised that the issue had never been resolved. She herself didn’t have the power to resolve it, but she promised me she’d get on the case of the CFO until he resolved it.
I really didn’t know what was going on, guys. Like, was I going to get my rights back? Was I going to have to pay something for it? I don’t know how any of this works.
But then, yesterday, I got a Very Happy Email.
The rights to Emily have reverted back to me, and I am free to re-publish!
I am very excited because to be honest, there’s a lot about the initial publication of Emily that I didn’t like and had no control over.
Mostly, I guess, the cover. I was never a big fan of the poor sad girl with purple eyes.
And I can’t tell you how many people over the years have looked at the cover, then looked at me, and said, “is this you?”
No. It’s not me. It’s some random model. I don’t even know her name. Marni’s cover model friended her on Facebook, but I have zero clue who is on the cover of my book.
That’s why my number 1 cover goal with The Highway and Me was to stick myself on the cover. Although it did lead to this exchange at the fair last summer:
Shopper: (Looking at my book) is this you?
Shopper: Did you dress Mennonite on your trip?
Shopper: Okay because it doesn’t look like it from the cover.
At first I thought I’d re-publish Emily with an actual factual photo of myself on the cover, but all my photos from 2008 are pretty bad. So I’m thinking of going with an illustrated cover.
(If you run across any Instagram artists with teenage-book-cover vibes, please DM them to me! My Instagram handle is @emilytheduchess.)
I’d also like to add some new material to it. Not sure what yet, but I have some ideas, like pulling some stuff from other random notebooks I kept in that era. For instance, in the book I talked about writing a Thanksgiving play for my youth group, but never getting to perform it because I was too sick to direct. I still have that play and could easily add it in.
And of course I want to add some sort of epilogue-ish-thing with some info on my health post-book, because people are always really curious about that.
If you have other ideas, I’d love to hear them.
In case you’re confused about all the book projects I’m working on, here’s a list of my current four projects, and where I’m at with each
1. Re-publishing Emily
Just got the rights back. Planning to re-publish it and release it this fall.
2. My fantasy novella
I wasn’t sure what to do with this, since it’s very different from my other content. Currenly I’m planning to edit it and publish it as a cheap e-book at some point, but it’s not super high priority. Maybe sometime this year.
3. My Book of Essays
My official “next book” is a collection of essays about trying to find your purpose in the post-college/school era of life. Currently it has no title and only a vague, evolving theme. My goal is to finish the first draft this year, so it could potentially come out in 2023.
But it’s very personal and thus kinda hard to write, so we’ll see.
4. My Novel
I’m always working on a novel, but novels are notoriously difficult to write. After finishing The Highway and Me, I worked on a novel for a year before finally giving up. I moved on to my novella, which I finished. Finishing my novella made me feel like I could do anything, so I promptly started on another novel, because I’m…I don’t know. Obsessed, addicted, crazy, you choose the adjective.
It’s my “fun project.”
I haven’t actually written written any of it, as I’m still working out the plot. I decided not to start writing until I had the whole plot figured out, because I did that for my novella and then lo and behold I finished my novella.
So it had to be a good plan, right?
I don’t know if I’ll ever finish this novel, but it is my most-fun project even though it’s also my lowest-priority project.
Those are my four projects. You know, besides my “day job” (part-time copywriting work), my Patreon, and this blog.
And speaking of blogs…my relatives have written some fantastic ones which you should absolutely check out.
Wednesday, Phoebe wrote a fascinating post about The Problem with Fragrance. Then yesterday, Mom wrote a hilarious saterical post called How To Be A Fantastic Mom Of Adults. Mom will post again on Monday.
Follow me on:
Patreon: patreon.com/emilysmucker (This is where I post bonus blog posts, about more personal/controversial subjects, for a subscription fee of $1 a month [or more if you’re feeling generous]. I try to post twice a month.)