The second novel in the Meant to Be series is here, and you’ve never heard the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast like this! Following the success of If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy, By the Book takes another classic Disney Princess story and adapts it into a modern-day romantic comedy. Author Jasmine Guillory’s book follows Isabelle, a recent college graduate just beginning her career in publishing. When she must push high-profile author, Beau Towers, to deliver his manuscript on-time, will she discover there is more to him than his surly demeanor?
Disney Books has an enchanting gift just for D23 fans—the entire first chapter of By the Book! Enjoy the beginning of Izzy’s story below and pre-order By the Book: A Meant to Be Novel today.
Izzy walked into work on Monday morning, flashed her badge at the security guard, and made her way into the elevator. She glanced down at her phone. Thirteen more emails had popped up, just during her walk from the subway to the elevator. Five of them were from Marta. Those could wait until she sat down at her desk. Preferably after she’d downed at least half the large cup of bad coffee she was holding, but that might be asking for too much. She sighed as the elevator stopped at her floor, a sigh echoed by at least three other people in the jam-packed elevator.
She pulled her hat off on the way to her desk and shook her long braids loose. The hat had only been partial protection from the freezing-cold air outside. February in New York was so depressing. It should feel better, shouldn’t it? Winter was almost over! But instead it was cold and dreary and endless, despite being the shortest month of the year.
Her friend Priya Gupta waved at her as she walked by. Priya was another editorial assistant—she’d started at TAOAT just a few months after Izzy and she worked for Holly Moore, one of the other big editors at the company. During Priya’s first week, there had been an editorial meeting where one editor had waxed poetic about how diverse their books were that season. Of the twenty-five books in their imprint, there were three whole authors of color, none of whom were Black. She and Priya had locked eyes from across the room. They’d been friends ever since.
“I cannot WAIT until we’re in California next week, can you?” Priya said.
Izzy closed her eyes and let herself smile. “California. It’s going to be warm, and we’re going to take books out to the pool, and relax on lounge chairs in the sun, and let our skin get browner. Aren’t we?”
Priya nodded. “Oh yeah, definitely we are.”
They both knew this was mostly just a fantasy. They were going for a conference, so they’d be running around carrying boxes full of books or stacks of name tags or escorting authors from place to place nonstop. But it was nice to dream. Plus, editorial assistants almost never got to go to conferences like this. Izzy and Priya only got to go because their bosses’ most demanding authors were going to be there, the ones who basically needed a door-to-door escort in every situation. Sure, she’d be dealing with huge egos all week—even more than usual—but she was grateful for the short break from the office.
She also needed a few days away from her parents, whom she was so very sick of living with. She loved them, she did! But they always talked to her first thing in the morning and asked so many questions at all times of day, and she felt like she had to text them when she was going to be out late. It all made her feel stifled, frustrated.
Izzy got to her desk and sighed. Another stack of books had appeared there overnight. Great, more books for her to deal with. She pushed them aside.
She spent her first hour doing all the work she always started her week with—checking her own email, skimming through her boss’s email for any manuscripts that had come in overnight or fires she needed to put out, checking sales numbers for their releases from the previous week, reassuring authors and agents that yes, Marta would get back to them eventually (that was . . . mostly true), the usual.
Oh, she also had to send a slightly different version of the email she sent every two weeks to Beau Towers. Beau Towers: former child star, son of two celebrities, famous first for being a teenage heartthrob, then for his general rich-kid dirtbag-type behavior—fights in nightclubs, crashing sports cars, smashing paparazzi cameras, etc. And then there had been the multiple screaming matches he’d gotten into during and after his father’s funeral; they’d been all over the tabloids.
Almost immediately after the funeral, Marta had given him a splashy book deal for his memoir. But well over a year ago, Beau Towers had basically disappeared. He was definitely still alive; his agent periodically sent emails swearing Beau was working on the book, though his deadline had long since passed. But Marta had told her to email him regularly to check in, so she sent him an email every other Monday at 9:45, like clockwork. He never emailed her back, but she’d stopped expecting a response long ago.
She reread the email that she’d sent two weeks ago. When she’d first started sending these emails, they’d been polite, professional, earnest queries asking him to check in with her, or with Marta, or to reach out if he had questions, or offering to set up conference calls with potential ghostwriters—all basically ways of saying, “Please, please please email me back!!!” without actually saying those words. But after many months of sending the messages with no response, and as everything in her job got more and more stressful, she’d cracked.
Now she had fun with these, since she was certain no one but her read them—not Beau Towers, not his agent, and not Marta, whom she always cc’d.
To: Beau Towers
CC: Marta Wallace, John Moore
From: Isabelle Marlowe
Happy February! February is the shortest month of the year, along with being Black History Month, American Heart Month, National Bird Feeding Month, and National Snack Food Month! (I knew about the first two, but not the second two— we learn something new every day!) I hope the transition to a new month is treating you well! I just wanted to reach out again to check in and say I hope the writing is going well, and that if you need any assistance as you work on your memoir, you shouldn’t hesitate to email or call me. Please let me know if Marta or I can help you with anything at all.
Editorial Assistant to Marta Wallace
She let herself grin at that. Look, she had to find her fun where she could in this thankless, stressful, overwhelming job, okay?
She put her fake cheery email persona back on and typed Beau Towers’s email address into the to box.
To: Beau Towers
CC: Marta Wallace, John Moore
From: Isabelle Marlowe
Have you read any good books lately? I’ve read a number of excellent celebrity memoirs in the past few months—Michael J. Fox, Jessica Simpson, and Gabrielle Union all have fantastic memoirs out! People insist on giving me books for Christmas, even though I work in a place where books literally fall out of the sky, but I didn’t have any of those books before and was both surprised and delighted to find that I was absorbed by them. Just in case you’re struggling with anything in your memoir, I thought maybe you could read one of those for inspiration! I’m happy to recommend more books to you at any time, or offer you any other assistance that you need. (FYI, Barack Obama’s is far too long, though Michelle’s is great! But really, would you want to edit a former president?) Looking forward to talking to you soon!
Editorial Assistant to Marta Wallace
She almost laughed out loud at that last line. She didn’t think that she’d ever talk to Beau Towers, let alone soon. She’d probably be sending him progressively more and more unhinged emails every two weeks for years to come.
The thought of that made the smile drop from her face. How much longer could she do this? Her first year at TAOAT had been hard, yes, but still new, exciting, thrilling every day to work with books all around her. But as certain parts of her job got easier, other parts got harder and more overwhelming. Marta gave her more and more work to do—more details to manage, more manuscripts to read, more authors to talk through their work with, cheer up, or get to chill out. And all those new responsibilities were great, and she felt like she was good at most of them, but they were all in addition to her regular work, and sometimes she felt like she was drowning. And since she was one of the few employees of color here, on top of everything else, she was always getting pulled in to give advice about diversity this or inclusivity that or to meet that one Black author who was visiting that day. She had to put a smile on her face and do it all, but it was exhausting.
Plus, what really mattered was whether Marta thought she was good—and when it came to that, Izzy had no idea. She tried to remind herself every day that Marta was brilliant, that she’d learned so much from watching her and listening to her, that she was lucky to have this job. But while that was all true, it was also true that Marta was hard to work for—often curt, not at all friendly, not particularly encouraging, and she rarely, if ever, gave out compliments. What Izzy wanted was to get promoted to assistant editor, and then, eventually, to editor. Not immediately, but someday. After all, Gavin had been promoted after two years, and her own two-year anniversary was fast approaching. But Marta hadn’t dropped a single hint to her that promotion was in the cards.
Very occasionally, Marta would throw a “Good job” in Izzy’s direction, and each time it would thrill her. She would work harder for the next few weeks, in the hopes that Marta would notice her and praise her again, and when no praise came, she would give up in despair. One time, after a particularly curt email from Marta on an edit she’d worked so hard on, Izzy even went so far as to update her résumé. But she’d never done anything with it. Why would she, when she had no idea if she was doing anything right? And that was one of the most depressing things about this job—she wanted guidance, mentoring, a way to get better at her job, a way to someday become the kind of editor Marta was. She wanted to edit great literary fiction, commercial fiction, and memoirs. But she had no idea if she’d even been learning anything.
And, yes, she’d wanted to write some of that great literary fiction herself. But she hadn’t written a word in months.
She’d started to question if she really belonged here, if this job, if this career, was really for her. Something she barely wanted to admit to herself was that working at TAOAT had spoiled her previously uncomplicated love for books and reading. Reading used to be her greatest hobby, her source of relaxation, comfort, joy. Always reliable, always there for her. Now reading felt like homework, in a way that it never had back when she was in school. Now she felt guilty when she read for pleasure, because she knew there was always something else she should be reading, always another manuscript out there, always something Marta was waiting on, an author was waiting on, an agent was waiting on. It made reading stressful, when it never had been before.
Izzy sighed. She might as well deal with that pile of books she’d shoved to the side of her desk.
A few minutes later, Marta walked in, chatting with Gavin. As they got closer to her desk, it was clear they’d run into each other skiing over the weekend. Ah, that’s why they’d both left early on Friday.
Izzy couldn’t help but envy Gavin’s relaxed, easy relationship with Marta, who still completely intimidated her. Even though Marta stressed her out constantly, Izzy wanted so much to impress her. She wished she had any idea how to do that.
Marta nodded at Izzy on her way to her office. That was more of a greeting than she usually got; Marta often didn’t even seem to notice her there. Gavin stopped by her desk on the way to his own.
“Hi, Isabelle. How was your weekend?”
Izzy smiled at Gavin. “Good, thanks. How was yours? Did I hear you saying you were skiing?”
Izzy had heard the whole conversation—they hadn’t been quiet— but she’d let Gavin tell her about it. He was always a little pompous and long-winded, but he’d also always been kind to her—he’d given her lots of advice about working with Marta and had always been something of a mentor for her. Lord knows Marta wasn’t.
Months ago, Gavin had found her in the office, after hours, printing out the draft of her manuscript, and had asked to see it. She’d been nervous to show it to him—she hadn’t really shown it to anyone at that point and had only really told Priya about it, but she’d handed the printed copy over to him then and there. He’d given it back to her a week later without any notes on it and a pat on the shoulder. She shouldn’t have asked him what he thought; she’d known from the look on his face, but she couldn’t help herself.
“It’s a really sweet first effort, Isabelle,” he’d said. “But . . . I’m not sure this is your path. I . . . could tell you were trying to be literary, but, well . . .” He stopped himself. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings. I shouldn’t say anything more.”
And because Izzy was a glutton for punishment, she’d asked him to say more, and he had. At length. She hadn’t written a word since.
Izzy shook that memory off and tried to pay attention to whatever Gavin was saying about Vermont or wherever he and Marta had been.
“Oh,” he said after a few more minutes of talking about how he’d ridden up a ski lift with Jonathan Franzen. “You know how you were wondering last week about whether you’ll get promoted this year—when I saw Marta on the slopes, we talked a bit about that, and . . . don’t tell
Marta I told you this?”
Izzy could barely breathe all of a sudden. “Of course not, I wouldn’t,” she said.
He smiled at her, but she could tell from his smile the news wasn’t good. “Not this year, Isabelle. Maybe not at all, from the way Marta talked about you.”
Sudden tears sprang to her eyes. Why did that hurt so much? She hadn’t realized how much she’d still hoped until just this moment.
“But you know how she can be,” he said. “Are you okay?”
Izzy refused to let anyone here see her cry. She put a smile on her face. The bright, cheerful one she always wore at work. The one she knew she had to wear.
“Oh, I’m fine. Yeah, I know how she can be. Thanks, Gavin, for letting me know what she said.”
He smiled at her one more time and walked over to his desk.
Izzy turned to her computer and let the smile fall from her face. She wanted to leave the office, go outside to scream or cry, but it was too cold outside, and she couldn’t cry in the bathroom where everyone could hear you. Instead, she clicked over to her travel itinerary. That made her smile for real. She needed some sunshine, she needed an adventure, she needed an escape. Even though she was only going to California for a few days, she would do everything she could to make them count.