I’m immersing myself in some serious work on the novel this weekend, but I had to stop for a moment and share this story with you.
Yesterday I went to go pick up a package at Penguin, the publisher of Imaginary Girls and my upcoming novel 17 & Gone. I live within walking distance to the office, so I walked on over, signed in with security, and went up to the reception area. While my editor’s wonderful assistant Liza was coming out to reception with the package, I happened to turn and notice the book display cases on the walls.
I should stop and explain something for those who don’t know me. This wasn’t my first visit to the Penguin offices. Not by a long shot. You see, years before becoming an author, I worked various day jobs in publishing. One of those was as a copy editor for two mass merchandise imprints of Penguin, Grosset & Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan. It was an immensely stressful but also very rewarding job. I worked on more than 200 books a year, from sticker books to picture books to chapter books to series novels to movie adaptations to Mad Libs, and for two or three years out of the four I worked there, I was the only copy editor for all those books. It was a lot of pressure. (Eventually I’d get promoted to senior production editor and be able to hire a production editor to help me; and eventually, I left this job for a new job at HarperCollins.) So there’s your backstory: I’m a former Penguin employee. And when I worked for Grosset and PSS!, my office was on the 14th floor.
My publisher with Penguin is Dutton—which is not related to the imprints I used to work for. But there’s one thing Dutton and my former employer share: They are housed on the same floor of the Penguin building.
The very same floor I was on yesterday, to pick up that package. In fact, the receptionist was the very same woman who was there when I worked there. (I’m not sure if she remembered me.)
And so there I was on the 14th-floor reception area looking at the display cases, when I thought for a moment, What if my book is in there?
I honestly didn’t expect to see it. I really didn’t. But then… a flash of turquoise called to me:
I wish I could explain to you how thrilling—how surreal, how amazing—this small moment was for me. I was brought back to those years I worked on this floor, the long hours in my office with the red-pencil shavings all over my clothes, the stress, and also the bad place I was in when it came to my writing: how hopeless I was feeling, how ready I was to give up…
…and now, years later, there’s my novel, my heart, in the display case I used to walk by almost every day.
I had no idea this would happen. But I have to tell you: It’s everything I would have wanted back then.
I know it’s romantic and beautiful and all that to think of authors who suddenly burst onto the scene from out of nowhere, their hardcover novels gracing book displays in New York offices they’ve never visited. But some of us were there in the background for years. Some of us took a long time getting here—and didn’t think they’d ever make it.
Penguin gave me my first full-time job in children’s books and—coincidentally, Penguin also published my debut YA novel. (Or not so coincidentally, because my fond feelings for Penguin and my admiration of Dutton, from passing their amazing books in the hallway, certainly influenced my decision to want to choose them when I was lucky enough to find my book going up for auction.)
If I’d have known when I worked there that one day my book would be in that display case, I would have cried.