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MIT blogger Rona W. '21

two years after my book auction by Rona W. '23

in retrospect

On April 16th, 2020, my life changed. That’s a kitschy way to put it, because our lives are always changing at every moment, every breath being a cobblestone placed on this path that we follow—but I suppose this day was more memorable than usual, because it’s the day my first novel went to auction.

It was a gray day. Most days were gray that month. The pandemic had just begun to claw its way through the United States, and a month earlier, MIT had asked everybody to leave campus, so I was at my boyfriend Chris’s family home in New Jersey. It was just the two of us. We’d been dating for over a year by then, so we should’ve known each other well by this point, but we didn’t. Chris was and is difficult to know well, more so than most people I have met. But now we were binary stars, gravitationally bound to each other, constantly in orbit, trying to survive the most apocalyptic event either of us had ever experienced.

I knew the auction was going to happen. I’d spent the last two weeks on various phone calls, talking to editors at publishing houses who were interested in my book. The phone calls were good and to be honest, I would’ve been happy working with any of those editors. They took my manuscript to acquisitions meetings. And then it was the 16th.

I was anxious so I took a walk on the gravel trail behind the house. During the walk, an email flew into my inbox. It was my first offer, and it was more money than I’d ever had at any point in my life. I put the offer in my family group chat and everybody was shocked because they didn’t know I could actually make this magnitude of money from writing. Then more offers came in. And then I had decisions to make.

I called my parents in a panic because I didn’t know what to do, but they didn’t really know what I should do either, because they knew so little about publishing. Plus, nobody knew how long this pandemic was going to last for, and the economy was steadily nosediving, and I didn’t know what risks were worth taking. Honestly, I was flailing. Chris watched me do a lot of math about the amount of taxes I would have to pay, depending on which offer I chose. This process was not very informative and in retrospect, if I was going to do math, I probably should’ve just done my algebraic combinatorics problem set instead.

In some sense, I wish I’d been a little older when this had all happened, or at the very least, I wish I’d had more perspective. Back then, I’d never worked as a software engineer or any other career that usually pays six-figures fresh out of undergrad, nor did I have any faith in myself that I would be able to land such a job, so honestly I was pretty anxious about the offer that had been just placed in front of me because I didn’t know if I’d ever get such an opportunity again. When I was eighteen, I signed a job offer in New Zealand that paid $50,000 a year, and I’d thought that was pretty good, because back in high school, I had tutored kids for $15/hour and I’d thought that was pretty good. I’d grown up with the fear that one day I would not have money anymore.

In practical senses, I’m grateful for what happened because it gave me the financial privilege to be able to stay in undergrad a little longer and complete the computer science degree I decided to get (along with my math degree). I was and am grateful that so many editors decided to take a chance on me, some college student who honestly didn’t know what she was doing. 

I’m also grateful to Chris, because he thought I was cool and my writing was cool from the very first days when we met, long before any of this happened. He held me while I freaked out about what to do, he was the first one I told after I got off the phone with my literary agent after the decision was finally made.

When I look back on this day, I feel a lot of tenderness for the girl I was. I wish I’d known what I knew now: that I had a lot more potential than I thought, that if I wanted I could work in tech or finance, that this was only the initial step in a life full of higher stakes and bigger problems, and that this was exciting but so many more things yet to come would also be exciting.