What I Learned About ”The Call”

I’ve been writing humor for over twenty years. During that time, I’ve received enough rejection slips to wallpaper most of the homes in Papua New Guinea. I’ve also gotten some pretty sweet calls along the way. Like the call I received four years ago. I was at home avoiding writing (aka folding laundry) when the phone rang. I saw the 212 area code on the caller I.D. and screamed, “Everyone be quiet. It’s my agent.”

Guest column by Donna Gephart, author of
How to Survive Middle School, which
received starred reviews from Kirkus
and School Library Journal. She still
gets lots of calls, but they’re usually
from people trying to sell her life
insurance and vinyl siding. Learn
more at donnagephart.com.

The only person home was our twelve-year-old son, and he was being quiet. None-the-less, I barricaded myself in my closet and answered. My agent, Tina Wexler from ICM, asked, “Are you sitting down?” I was pacing between a rack of clothes and boxes of old tax returns. “Both Scholastic and Random House are interested in your novel,” Tina continued. “I’ll send an e-mail when I hear. You’ll know who acquired your novel by the end of the day.”

I checked my e-mail so often that I ended the day with carpal tunnel syndrome … and a deal with Stephanie Lane Elliott from Delacorte Press/Random House. A year after, As If Being 12¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President! came out, I received another amazing call. This one was from Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser, founders of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). They left a message that I’d won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award and would I like to fly to L.A. to attend the national SCBWI conference and accept the award at the banquet in front of, oh, a thousand people. (Give or take a dozen.)

Gulp. You bet I will! I’ve received a few other wonderful calls along the way, too. Here are a few things I’ve learned about receiving “the call.”


1. Make sure you’re doing what you love while waiting for “the call”
because it takes a lot longer then you’d imagine and is a lot more work than you’d like.

2. When “the call” comes, keep loved ones at bay or you might jump up and clock your spouse in the chin with your hard head, like I did when I found out I’d won an international writing contest.  (Sorry, Sweetie.)

3. Receiving “the call” is just as amazing as you imagine it will be. But sometime afterward, you still need to walk the dog, pick up the kids and clean the toilet. (It’s just that you will be grinning while you do these things.)

4. “The call” is the beginning, not the end. Now you’ll need to revise, wait, copy edit, wait and promote, promote, promote. Did I mention promote?

5. If you’re fortunate enough to receive “the call,” give back in some way. I help run a local critique group in hopes of assisting others to receive their calls. Ingrid Law, upon getting “the call” that Saavy won a Newbery Honor Medal, took her daughter to the market. There, they loaded a cart with food to donate to the hungry.

6. Most importantly, after years of working and waiting and hoping, when you receive “the call,” celebrate!  After receiving the marvelous news from my agent, I grabbed our son and drove to a party store.  We chose helium balloons and a giant stork lawn sign.
Everyone who drove by our home that day saw this on the stork sign:  Name: As If Being 12¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President!; Weight: One pound; Proud Parents: Random House; Date: My book’s release date–February 12, 2008.

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