Here’s how it happened:

Last year I went to Book Expo America here in New York. I met a lovely author named M. L. Malcolm who asked about my newly-self-published book, Fast Times in Palestine. She offered to check it out and pass it on to her agent if she liked it.

A few months later that agent, Helen Zimmermann, got in touch and offered to represent me.

I told her I’d had an agent in 2008 who sent the book proposal to a couple dozen publishers (right on the eve of the financial crisis), without success. Other agents had balked at that news, but she took it in stride. There are more than two dozen fish in the sea, and the publishing world changes rapidly. She was willing to give it a go. (Love you, Helen.)

Well, after a dozen more rejections (including one that implied my book was too nuanced — I’d need to be a bit more shrill and combative if I wanted to sell books), I was nearly ready to throw in the towel. Apparently, the publishing world just wasn’t for me.

Also, I was completely burned out on promoting my own book. In a year I managed to sell 3,000 copies, which is better than many published books do. And I get a letter or two each week from readers around the world who say the kindest things. But I still wasn’t anywhere near my (lofty? insane?) goal of distributing at least 100,000 copies worldwide. And I was so tired.

Just when I was resigning myself to moving on, cutting the book loose, and letting it drift into non-promoted Amazon backlist obscurity… a small miracle happened.

An email from my agent with the subject line: “a bite!”

Brooke Warner of Seal Press (a division of the Perseus Books Group) liked my story and wanted to speak with me on the phone.

The call was arranged, we spoke, everything seemed to go well.

Then, within minutes of the end of the call, my agent emailed me again — this time forwarding me a publishing offer from Seal!

By now I had been at this game for so long, weathering so many ups and downs, waiting for this news for so many years, it didn’t quite seem real. My agent expected me to be jumping for joy. But I was having trouble processing the information.

It wasn’t until I saw the contract, and signed it, and put it in the mail that I allowed myself to exhale and believe this was really happening.

The deal includes a reasonable advance and industry-standard royalties. Granted, industry-standard is pretty tough on writers. Unless you’re a superstar, you can generally count on advances that, averaged over the years you’ve worked, make you deeply envious of minimum wage. And you’re lucky if you get $1 per book or eBook sold (after you earn out your advance, that is).

But my goal has never been (primarily) about making money. It’s about reaching readers and changing Americans’ attitudes about Israel/Palestine. And with a publishing house behind me, a thousand possibilities open up. Reviews in mainstream sources. (The last travel book published by Seal got a glowing review in the New York Times and was featured in Oprah Magazine.) Shelf space in bookstores across America. More chance for inclusion in book clubs and university course readings.

And on a psychological level, no longer having to dread the question, “So, who’s your publisher?”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I self-published last May. It was the right decision at the time. It was empowering. It allowed me to build a platform, a larger following, and some serious experience without marching to anyone else’s drum. It allowed me to reach thousands of readers directly, which was and continues to be so rewarding, and to manage all the phases of publishing myself, from design to editing to marketing — a priceless education.

But there’s an exhaustion that comes with constantly promoting and defending yourself, with no real partner who has any stake in your success. I have enormous gratitude for so many people who helped and encouraged me along the way. But there were times when another bookstore scoffed at me, or a promising venue didn’t return my calls, when I felt about two inches tall and wondered what on earth I thought I was doing.

I’ve been a writer since I was 15 (that’s what you are when you write a lot). And I’ve been calling myself an author since I self-published my book. But now I can say it officially, without hesitation. As they say in O Brother, Where Art Thou? — I’m bona fide.

Of course, none of this should discourage anyone from loudly proclaiming — and being — whatever they truly believe themselves to be. A lot of ‘bona fide’ authors are crap, and a lot of obscure scribblers are brilliant. I shouldn’t need anyone else to confirm my identity. Until I reach a higher state of enlightenment, though, let’s just say it’s a relief that a publishing house finally agrees with me.

Who is Seal Press? They are part of the Perseus Group, a conglomerate of independent publishers that includes Basic Books, Nation Books, and Public Affairs. It’s an almost ideal combination of large and well-respected yet intimate and independent.

Seal Press specializes in women’s nonfiction, and they plan to market my book as a travel narrative, which is what I always hoped. It means we’ll have a better chance of reaching the mainstream, with a focus on the fun, edge-of-your-seat story full of romance and adventure, and not on the politics. The politics was always meant to be the surprise inside the Trojan horse. I’m glad I found a publisher on board with me about focusing on marketing the horse!

From a practical point of view, I’ll have a much easier time finding venues to speak in and getting articles published. I’ll also have a hugely improved chance of sending my book to opinion makers and being taken seriously. It will only take one superstar professor or politically-inclined celebrity to decide my book is The One People Need To Read, and things could take off in totally unexpected ways.

Speaking of which, it’s probably a good thing that ‘official’ publication has been delayed for so long. If it had been put out in 2010 or even 2011, the atmosphere might not have been ripe for it. The discourse on Israel and Palestine is changing rapidly in this country. A crack was opened by Jimmy Carter and Walt and Mearsheimer in 2006, and a lid was blasted right off by Peter Beinart last year. A film called Five Broken Cameras, about Israel’s appalling treatment of the village of Bil’in, debuted to packed houses in New York this week, with a favorable (if skittish) review in the New York Times.

Talking about the dangerous influence of the Israel lobby, apartheid in the West Bank, and Israel’s deliberate destruction of the two-state solution is creeping into the mainstream. The prisoners’ hunger strike actually got coverage this time. Such things were unheard of only three or four years ago. Who knows where we’ll be in 2013?

Then there are foreign rights sales. My agent is talking to co-agents all over the world, from Turkey and the Netherlands to Norway and Australia. Once a book has a publisher in the US, it gets a heck of a lot easier to sell it abroad.

The only country that has turned us down so far is Israel. “In general,” the Israeli co-agent said, “we are not successful in selling for translation works that come from abroad and deal with Israeli-palestinian relations/issues.”

So I’ll have to figure out another way to get the book into Israel — perhaps using an indie press and some volunteer translators. Maybe 12 volunteers willing to translate one chapter each?

If all goes according to plan, the book will be re-published in the US in the spring of 2013. The text of the new version won’t be substantially different, just a little more svelte — maybe trimmed by 10%. The title will be the same, and they’re designing a new cover.

Now, if that wasn’t enough good news to get my head spinning, I got an email this weekend letting me know that I had won an Indie Reader Book Award in the Travel category. I entered the contest months ago and didn’t really think about it since then, so it was a pleasant shock. Here’s the announcement.

My agent and publisher were excited. From now on they’ll be able to talk about their author’s “award-winning book.” It’s not a Pulitzer or anything, but it’s a start.

The final bit of good news is that since my manuscript doesn’t need much revision (I turned in a slightly trimmed and updated version last week), and I don’t have to worry about publicity for a few months, and I have a (small) financial cushion with the advance, I can relax a bit this summer.

So don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from me for a while. When I’m not doing my part-time freelancing work, I’ll be cooking, meditating, exercising, spending time with my boyfriend, NOT packing up and jumping on a plane every couple of weeks, working on my next book, watching the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA finals, and generally resting and storing up energy for the enormous push to come in the winter and spring.

I wish you all a relaxing, happy, and healthy summer!

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