Monday, June 10, 2019

My First Time: Karol Ruth Silverstein

My First Time Getting “The Call”

I’m a daydreamer. Always have been. I know: shocker, right? It’s basically a requirement for writers. (At least that’s how I justify it personally, being a children’s book author and screenwriter.) So of course I’ve had lots of daydreams about becoming a successful writer—being interviewed about my projects, meeting fans, delivering acceptance speeches for awards I’ve won . . .

But let’s rewind a tick. Before all that—before the possibility of a glorious reception for my stellar work—comes The Call. You know the one, where someone (agent, manager, editor, producer) calls to say that somebody read your work and deemed it worthy of time, attention and money. It’s The Call that marks the end of your life as an aspiring writer and launches you into the professional realm.

I’d daydreamed about The Call plenty. I tried to imagine how I’d feel hearing words akin to, “We got an offer.” Would I scream? Be moved to tears? Stunned into silence? How much detail would I be able to process? Who would I call first and what would I say? I imagined conference-calling my (very separated) parents and breaking the news to them simultaneously so neither one would be angry at being second. Perhaps I’d start with, “Are you sitting down?” or maybe I’d be too excited and just blurt out my news.

These fantasy scenarios played out in my head more times than I’m willing to admit, but a few more rewinds are necessary in order to tell this story:

• To the late-90s, when a screenwriting mentor suggested I write about my experience of getting sick as a young teenager—a suggestion I promptly put on a back-burner.
• To the moment I discovered my main character’s snarky, angry voice during a writing exercise and knew I could no longer put off telling her story.
• To the insanely long journey of writing the first draft.
• To signing with my amazing agent Jen Linnan via a Twitter pitch event. (Seriously, this really happened!)
• To 2015, when my YA novel Cursed first went out on submission.

During that whole time, I was writing a handful of other projects, working part time and dealing with health issues (six major surgeries and seven hospital stays between 2002 and 2013.) Still, I admit this is a glacial pace. That just seems to be how I roll.

Once the manuscript went out on submission, the fantasies about getting The Call ramped up. Which publisher would swoop in to make an offer on my book? Would I receive a decent advance? And how long would it take for me to finally, finally, get The Call?

Answer: a while.

I loved my manuscript (and am incredibly proud of the book it became after going through the editorial process), but I’m a realist. We sent out a story with a 13 year-old protagonist and 140+ F-bombs. I inherently knew that finding Cursed a home would take steadfast tenacity. My agent’s belief in the book and determination to find an editor who’d fall in love with the story never wavered (did I mention she’s amazing?). She left no stone unturned in her search while I waited and hoped and kept my fingers crossed and then eventually came . . .

March 29, 2017. 9:59 a.m.

Let me set the scene for you: I’m barely awake. I am the opposite of a morning person and so unfit for human interaction during the earlier part of my day that I have my phone set to silent mode until noon. The only way I can tell a call’s coming in is if I happen to be looking at the phone at that moment. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit, but during the submission process, I’d gotten into the habit of checking my phone when I first woke up to see if perhaps my agent had left me a message. She’s on the East Coast, so she has three hours on me out in L.A. (Note that we generally only speak by phone when we’ve scheduled a call in advance, so a voicemail would definitely mean big news.)

That morning, after a prolonged snuggle session with my two cats, I dragged myself upright, scrambled for my glasses and checked my phone. No new voicemail. No missed calls. Sigh. Off to the bathroom I went....but wait!—my phone’s lighting up. I glance at the caller I.D.

My agent.

My agent’s calling me at 9:59 a.m. on a random Wednesday.

I answer.

It’s The Call.

We’d gotten an offer from editor Monica Perez at Charlesbridge Teen. A good one. The only caveat was that I’d have to agree to age the main character up to 14 to make the book more clearly YA. I was fine with that (and, incidentally, the ripple effect of changing her age resulted in wonderful things thematically).

My memory of the rest of that day is a giddy, giggling mash of pinch-me moments. Before our call ended, Jen confessed that she’d planned to hold off calling me until it was 10 a.m. in Los Angeles but she simply could not wait another moment. I’m not totally sure but I believe I called my mom first to break the Big News. And then my dad, my sister, my critique buddy....and then dozens of other friends who’d been rooting me on for years (all sworn to secrecy on the details as I was instructed to keep them under wraps until the official announcement appeared in Publishers Weekly....which didn’t happen until November—eight months later!).

That night, I was one of a handful of screenwriters whose writing was being featured in an event called The Disability Scene. It was sponsored by the Writers Guild of America West’s Writers with Disabilities Committee, of which I’m a member. Before my scene (which was from the in-progress screenplay adaptation of Cursed) was performed, I provided a little intro explaining what the story was about and setting up the specific scene. I ended by making a special announcement that I’d been given permission to share: This morning, at 9:59 a.m., I learned that my book had sold.

There was a gasp from the crowded room.

Followed by a loud burst of cheers and clapping.

I’d managed to share the surprise, joy and exhilaration of getting The Call with an entire room of people. After such a long wait, the timing turned out to be perfect—and the moment itself bigger and more special than I ever could have imagined.

Karol Ruth Silverstein writes all genres of children’s books and screenplays. She serves on the board of SCBWI-Los Angeles and is a member of the Writers Guild of America, West. Based in the Los Angeles area, she currently lives with her two cats, Ninja and Boo. Follow her on Twitter @KRSilverstein and

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. For information on how to contribute, contact David Abrams.

Author photo by Sonya Sones

1 comment:

  1. What a great story! I'm counting down the days to the release. :)