Melissa Westemeier, "Never Give Up"
Perseverance is the name of the game in getting published. Over eight years ago I began a novel about a woman who sells home party products to earn extra money. I’d been hitting the home party circuit hard after quitting my teaching job and staying home to raise my sons. My only social outlet seemed to come in the form of invitations to Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple and Lia Sophia parties. Sitting in my friends’ living rooms experiencing the pitch a few times a month led me to imagine a woman who takes the offer to “work from home an earn extra cash.” Whipped, Not Beaten was born.
What fun to relive my experiences as a young woman in Madison as I created Sadie Blair, a single and twenty-something employee of Wisconsin Public Radio! I invented a world of friends, fake party lines (including the company Sadie starts to work for: Coddled Cuisine, a total Pampered Chef rip-off) and a romantic interest—all the while discovering my voice as a writer.
After bringing the completed book to a Screw Iowa Writers Workshop, I rewrote the entire story in the popular first person point of view and shopped it around for a literary agent. Eighty-six attempts later, Mitchell S. Waters at Curtis Brown Ltd. signed me as a client.
Now my novel was three years old and he asked me to make further revisions, tweaking a few scenes, developing a couple of minor characters. Finally he shopped my book around and over the course of the next year Whipped, Not Beaten got rejected by at least 8 publishers.
Apropos of my book’s title, I didn’t quit. I contributed to Writing in a Changing World, completed a book I’d started and set aside, and wrote another young adult novel. Whipped, Not Beaten collected dust on a shelf in my library, but I hadn’t entirely given up on it. The home party industry was still thriving despite a down economy and by golly, the book had good humor and appeal. I just had to find a publisher open to a story set in the Midwest instead of New York and rife with silliness instead of laden with drug addiction and dysfunctional relationships.
In August 2010 I got an email, Cornerstone Press, a publishing class out of UW-Stevens Point was looking for manuscripts. I sent mine in and got a very encouraging response from the instructor, Per Henningsgaard. You can imagine my dismay when they rejected my book that October—said it was too slow to get the love interest going and just too boring. I cursed and tore up the letter, declaring that college students “don’t know a damn thing about good writing.”
My tune changed in July 2011 when Per emailed me again, asking me to send my manuscript for another try. Eight years later my book finally saw the light of day when Cornerstone Press enthusiastically agreed to publish it.
What does eight years do to a book? It means a substantial amount of content editing. Sadie’s wardrobe required a makeover. Characters had to text instead of send emails. References to TV shows like Guiding Light needed to change. Ringtones, American Idol and Facebook have become part of our daily life. I had to double-check the names of restaurants and stores referenced in Madison, some had gone out of business since I’d first written this book.
Thankfully the staff at Cornerstone Press brought their A game, finding every minor error, re-dressing Sadie and passionately marketing the hell out of my book. I’ll tell you, it’s a real sweet thing to be the sole author that 25 people are working on—25 people with all of their various networks and contacts. I know I never would’ve had such attention from a bigger publisher. I fear Cornerstone Press has spoiled me for good—from the launch party to the radio ads to the charming way they embraced my book. In December 2012 Whipped, Not Beaten finally found its way into paperback (with a gorgeous cover design) and into the hands of readers who appreciate a “fast, funny read with a happy ending.”
If someone had told me it would take over eight years to write a book and see it finally published, I wonder if I’d have still started writing Whipped, Not Beaten. But then I think of all the wonderful responses I’ve gotten from readers and I know that yes, perseverance definitely pays off. Just like my character, Sadie Blair, life is a bit sweeter and a lot richer for sticking with it.
Excerpt from Whipped, Not Beaten
I feel like I’m caught in a chase scene out of a movie—but instead of crashing to a stop after a couple minutes, I spend my entire life rushing in a panic to get somewhere or do something before time runs out. Pay my bills before they’re due, track down a guest for the radio show before we go live, stay up with the latest news and trends. Right now I’m ten minutes late to meet my friends downtown. I give up trying to smooth the cowlick at the back of my head and start applying concealer to a trio of pimples erupting between my eyebrows when I hear Tom Jones croon my mom’s ringtone, She’s a Lady.
“Sadie! How are you!” My mother’s commanding pitch fills my right ear. I cap the concealer and reach for a lipstick.
“Fine mom, what’s up?”
“I’m so glad I caught you before you head out for the night.” My mother has a very exaggerated view of my life in Madison—she thinks it’s all concerts, nightclubs and wild Halloween parties. To be fair, things are always crazy in a city housing a huge university (and a disproportionate amount of graduate degrees), Capitol politics, big money bio-tech, the granola-crunching fringe element and conservative Midwestern stock. “I need to brief you before this weekend.”
“This weekend?” I rack my brain to remember.
“You’re going to Jane’s party, right?”
Jane’s party. My older sister lives on a rambling farmette in the hills forty minutes west of Madison where she raises Samantha, Davis, and Olivia on organically grown vegetables and free-range chickens. My brother-in-law, Erich, works as a computer programmer in Madison and commutes back and forth to their twenty-acre kingdom. This weekend Jane has invited me, our mother and everybody else she knows to one of those despised home parties where stay-at-home moms peddle everything from candles to cosmetics. In a moment of great duress I had agreed to attend.
“I almost forgot.”
“Bring comfortable shoes. We’re going to an estate sale on Sunday. And I think it would be appropriate for you to bring something nice for your sister. A hostess gift of some sort. Wine. Flowers. You’ll think of something. There was something else.” A long silence fills the air between us while I wait for my mother to remember. My mother has a sharp tongue and mind, which she now applies to various volunteer positions in her retirement. She’s made it both a career and a hobby to boss other people around.
“Damn. I can’t remember. When I think of it I’ll let you know.”
“I won’t keep you. Have a good night. Love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Mom hangs up and I hold the phone receiver while thinking about the weekend ahead. Thanks to my friends and co-workers I’ve sat in various living rooms and compliantly purchased eye shadows and glass platters, apple-scented candles and plastic storage containers. My sister called apologetically a month ago to tell me that her friend Sydney had started selling cooking utensils, and she’d agreed to hostess a party for her. Jane called in favors from everyone she knew, family included, in support of this venture.
Melissa Westemeier earned a Master’s degree from UW-Madison. Today she lives with her husband and three sons in Northeastern Wisconsin. She has co-authored Writing in a Changing World. Whipped, Not Beaten is Westemeier’s debut novel. Her current projects include a trilogy about a river town in Wisconsin, restoring a native prairie and woodland on her 60-acre homestead, and figuring out what to make for dinner tonight. She blogs regularly at Green Girl in Wisconsin and EcoWomen.net.