A month of Sundays

Nearly 7 years ago, I began working on a book of writing by mothers about motherhood called Mother Words.

Carter was 18 months old, and I was hungry for stories about what parenting a toddler was like. Not the how-to variety, but writing about what it felt like, writing from the heart. I’d already read Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions, and Christina Baker Kline’s Child of Mine, and I wanted more.

I worked on Sundays in a make-shift office. We were converting part of the garage to a writing space, and there were cardboard boxes and plastic tarps and paint cans all around me. But I didn’t notice any of that; the writing transported me from my life into the lives of other women, as near as a friend in town to as far away as Japan.

Each Sunday, I worked. Collecting writing, building a proposal. When it was ready, I sent it to a well-respected agent in NYC, and she sent the proposal to all the best publishing houses.

After about a week, news from the editors began trickling back. “Beautiful stories, but no one wants to read about the details of motherhood.” “Fantastic writing, but poetry doesn’t sell.” “Great work; no market for it.” Some were just “No,” two editors asked to see more writing from me, without the others.

Twenty or so rejections later, my agent decided to stop submitting. She felt she’d done all she could–the project had stalled and I should move on. She asked me to think about what else I could write; what other projects did I have in mind?

But I couldn’t do it. I’d read more than 800 submissions, I’d narrowed them down to 70, and I felt obligated to all the mama-writers who’d trusted me with their stories.

In my mind, I’d hoped that Mother Words would do well enough to earn itself a sequel; I’d already begun collecting writing from dads for Father Words. With Tom’s help, we combined both books into one, and on our own, we began approaching smaller publishers.

The new book was retitled My Heart’s First Steps. We sent out 30 more submissions; without an agent, responses came back even more slowly, always No. I began letting go of the idea; it hurt too much to continue. Until the Monday before Thanksgiving: we were at Tom’s parents’ house, and I got a phonecall, which was odd. It was an editor from Adams Media, and she wanted to publish My Heart’s First Steps.

My Sunday work resumed–there was so much to do! I had to reconnect with the writers. Adams had a permissions slip to be signed. Then final revisions and copyediting. Proofreading and updating writer bios. Dedications, acknowledgments.

In the middle of this, we discovered I was pregnant. The baby would be born in July; the book would come out in October. I thought we could manage it.

And the rest of the story: the baby turned out to be twins, the twins came in early June instead of late July, Avery was diagnosed with Down syndrome. The make-shift office was abandoned and my Sundays (and all the days in between) were spent in the NICU.

The release date for My Heart’s First Steps (a subtitle was added, “Writings that Celebrate the Gifts of Parenthood”) came and went; I did the best that I could with publicity, but really, I was preoccupied. I encouraged the other writers to do whatever they wanted with promotions, and some of them stepped up; others didn’t. I couldn’t blame them: I assumed their lives had taken dramatic turns, just as mine had.

Sometime over the winter (again, dates are fuzzy) Adams Media was bought by another publishing house. The new owners examined the back list, and elminated all the books that weren’t best-sellers. My Heart’s First Steps was one of them. It was remaindered after just 9 months.

Today is Sunday, and I’m thinking about my month of Sundays, and the book that was two books combined into one; delivered and published and out-of-print all while I nursed babies and changed diapers, played peek-a-boo and tickle, made that first call to the Child Development Center.

A lot has changed in the publishing world, since then. Books written about the experience of being mothers and fathers are published regularly, now, and I have a whole bookshelf filled with anthologies. Plus, there’s blogging: I can get my fill of parenting stories for free on the Internet.

I’m happy about these changes. And I’m profoundly grateful for the whole experience–I didn’t know it at the time, but my month of Sundays was more than my first foray into publishing. It was my journey into motherhood, and the voices of these parents were my gentle guides. I wouldn’t be the mother I am today if I hadn’t had my time with their stories, which to me, is great testament to the power of words. Despite it’s short existence, My Heart’s First Steps changed at least one life: my own.



9 thoughts on “A month of Sundays

  1. I think maybe you did read it, Angela!

    Having a book remaindered just means the publisher stops selling it; but there are all the first editions still around in the world, and Internet booksellers have been a terrific development for out-of-print books.

  2. Jennifer this is such a lovely reflection. I often think about how blogging satisfies a need both for the writer and the reader and I wonder what we would be doing to fill those needs if this media hadn’t stepped up in such a big way.

    There was a point a year ago when I was frantically sending essays to magazines, newspapers and webzines hoping something would click. I kept hearing “great writing, not for us…” and then I started a blog. Now I write essays every day and the writing leads to more writing and now it’s led to writing a novel, which I don’t think I could be doing without the blog. So, in a roundabout, rambling way, I think I am saying I agree with you: the journey takes us where we need to go; and it’s not always where we think we’re headed.

  3. Well, if it’s out of print how can I get a copy?? 🙂 Trust me when I tell youit’s changed more than just your life, Jennifer. You’ve created a ripple in the pond…

  4. Oh! How exhilerating, frustrating, exciting, and heartbreaking…like motherhood.

    Wow. I admire you for not being discouraged. And I thank you for your wonderful writing!

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