There’s this long period between selling your book and finally seeing it in print — a close friend told me that she’s heard it described as “the calm before the calm.” She told me to buy a bottle of good champagne to open on my pub date. She told me to have a dinner party. She told me to make a celebration for myself. Because, she implied, no one else is going to do it for me. Which of course I don’t expect, but when I think about the actual day my book arrives in stores (which, to complicate matters, is not the pub date — it’s some date prior to the pub date so the publisher can be reasonably certain the book will be unpacked and on the shelves on or before the official pub date), I don’t feel much of anything. Instead, I’m enjoying the small steps toward publication as they happen.
With the actual date of publication of the novel comes, I’ve been told over and over, a good deal of disappointment. Mixed reviews, bad reviews. Disheartening sales.
In the meantime, we’re in the thick of things. A couple of months ago I sent out the manuscript with the goal of getting some nice blurbs to send out with the galleys — so far I’ve received some very flattering words from Dani Shapiro and Margot Livesey, both of whom are novelists I admire. I’m very grateful to both of them, and will be plastering their blurbs all over this site as soon as I can figure out how to do so.
The next step was, I believe, the copyediting. This was a difficult step for me, but I mentioned to my writers’ group that it made me feel like a diva whining about her rider or something. And they pretty much all had similar stories. Even as I looked at my [bloody bloody] pages, I recognized that copyediting a novel has got to be a tough job. I was impressed at the number of mistakes my copyeditor found in the manuscript — and it’s not like I’m a messy writer, and it’s not like a dozen smart and helpful readers hadn’t read this manuscript before it hit copyediting. Inarguably, the manuscript is in better shape post-copyediting than it was before.
The next step, following blurbs and copyediting, was the interior design. They sent it to me; I liked it. I have no design experience and pretty much no design vocabulary with which to discuss things like font selections and use of white space — so I felt a little silly, but I just told my editor I liked it. You like it? she emailed back. Yes, I like it. I don’t really have anything else to say.
Then, one of the more exciting milestones — the book jacket! I probably shouldn’t post until I know it’s finalized, but it is basically how I imagined it looking. There’s a photo (because honestly, it’s pretty tough to describe Stiltsville without a photo, even though I do realize that’s exactly the job of the writer), and it’s in color, and that’s about it. The sky isn’t blue and clear with puffy white clouds — it’s a medium day, eggshell, soft, average.
There’s also been the trial of the author photo, which I will post below. My husband and his fancy camera gave it a shot, but nothing stuck. Then while camping (unshowered, uncombed, and unmade-up), I took my own photo, then brightened up the face and sent it off to HarperCollins. I liked it, but you could pretty much tell I took it myself, and it was a little fuzzy. So finally, two weeks ago (and three or four months past the soft deadline), I hired a professional, had my hair and makeup done, and sat still, trying not to squinch up my face or tighten up my lips, trying to smile with my eyes but not open my mouth, trying to present my best face without looking like I was trying to present my best face. The photographer, Mindy Stricke, did a terrific job making me feel relaxed — though of course this wasn’t really possible for me — and out of dozens of shots, there were a couple that I liked well enough to make them my public face in hundreds of bookstores (crossed fingers) across the country. In the end, the makeup gave me hives for the better part of a week, and my bank account took a little hit, but I think it was worth it, because it’s done, and it’s good enough. (As a side note, my close friend Jen told me that she likes the photo but perhaps my smile looks a little smug. “Perfect!” I said. I gather that smug is very writerly. Real writers, they’re smug. I don’t think I’ll ever realistically add smug to my list of negative qualities, but a girl can dream.)
Next week I’ll receive first pass pages, which will take a bit of work to get through. These are the pages type-set, as they will look when bound. I believe the next little step in this journey is the bound galleys, which will look approximately like the book itself. It’s almost a little anti-climactic, all these previews — I almost (almost) wish I could have just retired to a den somewhere for the long winter, and emerged to see my book on the shelves. But this is kind of like not finding out the sex of the baby while it gestates in your own body — and I don’t like secrets. I like preparing for the big day. Even if, in the end, that big day won’t really be so big after all.
I wrote a book. I realize this isn’t such a remarkable achievement. I realize many, many people do more interesting, creative, and challenging things with their time — but nevertheless, this is what I’ve done: I wrote a book.
There are people in my life who are surprised to hear that I’ve done this. Many people don’t know I write, that I am “a writer.” I’m shy of the designation — it’s not something I would say about myself without some kind of proof to offer up, maybe a copy of a story I published years ago folded up in my back pocket, so that I could produce this proof when saying the words — “I am a writer” — and then people, naturally skeptical, would be more inclined to believe.
Lately, though, I’ve come back to the designation — I am a writer. I write. It’s what I’m best at, it’s what I love most and hate most, and sometimes, it’s the thing I avoid most enthusiastically.
Several months ago I finished the book I’ve been working on, in fits and starts, for quite some time. Before I finished, I took a break to meet a guy and fall in love. I took a break to get married and buy a house. I took a break to watch my mother die, and to mourn her death. And then I stopped taking breaks and got back to it, because even more than I am a procrastinator, I am a writer. (And also because I found myself pregnant with a little boy and realized: it’s now or never.)
I sent the finished manuscript to a friend, who gave me some feedback. I revised and, a few weeks ago, I sent it to agents. Quickly, I matched with Emily Forland, who had been referred to me by a friend. Emily loved my novel, which in addition to being very flattering was also a great relief. I knew we were in good hands, me and my book. She set to work right away getting my manuscript to editors far and wide.
When the smoke of the submission process cleared, I found myself with HarperCollins. I’m grateful and look forward to the roller coaster ride that comes next.
Meanwhile, I’m writing a second novel, tentatively titled TOURING. Crossed fingers that I don’t take any breaks on this one.