Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Tao of Ellen DeGeneres

So, off went the queries to prospective agents, and almost immediately I began receiving the dreaded rejection letters. If you have never received one of these, they come in one of three flavors:

1. Xeroxed form letters explaining that your work, wonderful though it may be, doesn't quite match their publication needs at this time, but they are sure that you will find the perfect agent with a little diligence. These are usually on full 8 1/2 X 11-inch sheets of paper, but I have one that is about three inches square and cut from what must have been a sheet of mini-rejections. Maybe that agency was going green, and my rejection actually will help save the planet.

2. Personalized Xerox form letters with your name handwritten in the "Dear ___________" at the top, then followed by #1 above.

3. Your original letter returned with "no thanks" hastily scrawled somewhere in a margin, as if this task was the last thing they had to do before boarding the Space Shuttle that was readied for imminent launch.

I don't know why, but I have kept every rejection letter I have ever received. They reside in a very large folder in the back of the filing cabinet. I sometimes wonder why I've kept them. Are they to remind me to never give up? Do they serve as an impetus to try harder? Or maybe, just maybe, when I'm a rich and famous author, will I send each and every one of them a Xerox copy that says, "Your loss! Ha!"? I hope I'm not that petty, but I can't guarantee it.

As each new "no" letter arrived, I started getting a bit discouraged. What if my idea of Stud Muffins was really a stupid one? If you're a writer, you'll understand my feelings of uncertainty, because you never know if people are going to like you have to say. We writers definitely have self-esteem issues. And sometimes drinking issues.

One day, to divert my attention from the onslaught of rejections, I decided to do two of my favorite things: make the Wake Me Up muffins (a decadent blend of chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon with a streusel topping) and watch The Ellen DeGeneres Show. I love watching her show. She always makes me laugh, and I’ve been known to bust a move around my kitchen, much to the horror of my children. As far as I'm concerned, Ellen is my electronic equivalent of Prozac. And as I baked and watched and laughed and danced on that particular day, little did I know that Ellen was just about to irrevocably change my life.

Like a fate that I believe is hovering over me like a helicopter, Ellen introduced her guests. For the life of me, I can't remember their names (sorry!) but they spoke about the power that positivity can have in your lives. Ellen then shared her philosophy: "Say it, and it happens." (I believe, at that moment, I also heard heavenly bodies singing, lightning striking, and bells ringing, but I could be wrong about this last part.) As the import of her words struck me, I froze where I stood, muffin scoop stopped in mid-air and batter dripping onto the counter. This was it. This was the missing piece of this project. I realized that, up to that very moment, I had wished/hoped/dreamed the book would get made, but I never allowed myself to fully believe it could really happen. I never one-hundred percent sold the idea to myself. So I put down the batter scoop, braced myself against the counter, and said the five words I had yet allowed to escape my lips: Stud Muffins will be published!

The words felt both foreign and exhilarating. For a split second, I felt like, "Who am I to make such a bold claim?" But I realized that if I didn't whole-heartedly believe in my dream, why would somebody else? It was at that moment that "Say it, and it happens" became my new mantra for my life, and not just for my book. From that point on, I knew that anything is possible if I put positive energy behind it.

I blissfully planted the "Say it and it happens" affirmation firmly in my mind and went on with my day-to-day life. Sure, the rejections kept coming, but now I laughed at them. They didn't know that my fate was already set. The book was going to be published. I just wasn't sure of of the details.

Then, one day I was mindlessly folding clothes when the phone rang. When I didn't recognize the bubbly voice on the other end, I just assumed it was yet another poor solicitor trying to convince me to buy something I neither needed nor wanted. As I basically tuned her out, verbalizing an occasional "uh-huh" here and there to be polite, I bided my time to kindly get rid of her. Then, all of a sudden, I thought I heard the words "Stud Muffins" from across the void. What?! What did she say?! Who is this on the phone?! I dropped the pair of chonies I was folding and held onto the phone with two hands. "I'm sorry," I said, sounding like a complete idiot, "could you start again?"

To my good fortune, Andrea Somberg was kind enough to repeat herself. But I almost had to make her repeat herself again because I started feeling lightheaded when I heard what she was saying: she was an agent from New York (New York!) and she wanted to represent us!! My brain started reeling, and I tried to sound professional and say something like, "Yes, this sounds promising. Please allow me to confer with my business partners, and we'll inform you of our decision in a prompt manner." But what came out was more like, "What? Really? Y'mean it?! No way! Are you sure?! Wait, I have to put my head between my knees for a sec." Yes, I'm one cool customer.

A quick call to the other writers and we agreed that Andrea was our new agent. Omigosh! It happened! I said it, and it really happened! We were on our way to publication! Thank you, thank you, thank you Ellen. You were so right!

To our great fortune, Andrea was no ordinary agent. Turns out she was also an angel in agent clothes. She was the kind of agent that gave undiscovered writers the chance of a lifetime. I learned this when I interviewed another first-time writer named Sarah Beth Durst, who had also signed with Andrea. She had just sold her first book, a middle-school fantasy called "Into the Wild", which has since won umpteen prestigious awards. (Find out more about "Into the Wild", her second book, "Out of the Wild" and her new book, "ICE" at When I asked Sarah if she was glad she chose Andrea as her agent, she gave me an emphatic and ecstatic YES! This made me feel better, as it turns out we writers need to have our decisions validated. (Hmmm, starting to wonder how many writers also need therapy?)

Choosing Andrea to be our agent/angel was one of THE BEST decisions we made on this project. She became our mentor, our cheerleader, our go-getter, my voice of sanity, and our best negotiator. We were so unbelievably lucky to have found her. And when I think that I came this close to telling her thank you, but I wasn't interested, I physically shudder. Andrea, if you're reading this, YOU ROCK!!

And dear Ellen, oh wise one, you equally rock! Thank you for allowing me to say it and then watch it happen. What an amazing gift of positivity! And if you ever want to have a fun, sexy baking segment with hunky guys on your show, just say it. After I stop hyperventilating, screaming and fainting, it will happen.

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