When I was but a lowly bookseller at the chain bookstore in my hometown — which was, you know, about a year ago — I distinctly remember holding a paperback copy of Pam Jenoff’s The Diplomat’s Wife in my overworked fingers. My coworkers raved about it; customers raved about it. But my time with Pam Jenoff was still yet to come!
Because it’s now my pleasure to welcome Pam to write meg! with a topic near and dear to my own heart: a writer’s life. And while I can only hope to one day experience the terror Pam describes below, we’re all fortunate to share in her wisdom — and excellent books. Almost Home, recently reviewed, was a fabulous thriller full of all the British details I love above all else — and I can’t wait to grab The Diplomat’s Wife and The Kommandant’s Girl in the near future.
Fear And Loathing —
The Three Scariest Moments In A Writer’s Life
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Being an author is scary — really scary. Maybe this comes as no surprise, but when I was an aspiring author (okay, I am still aspiring to write, but I’m referring here to the pre-publication days) I thought getting there would be the hardest part. And that was very difficult, but I find the actual process of being published and putting my work out there even more terrifying. There are three moments in particular that send chills down my spine just thinking of them.
First, there’s sending off a manuscript to my editor (and sometimes my agent as well). There can be many weeks (or months) of nail-biting before getting feedback. I’ve actually had a nightmare during this waiting phase about an editor telling me what a stinking pile of poo the book I’d just labored on for a year really was. In actuality, the feedback is more positive and constructive than that. The second part of this phase, after I incorporate the editor’s feedback and wait to see if I’ve hit the mark, is equally frightening. Once it is all over, and the editor is generally satisfied with the manuscript, my stomach unclenches somewhat. In fact, I think the three sweetest words in the English language may be “delivery and acceptance” (meaning the manuscript is largely good to go).
The second terrifying phase to me is the pre-publication reviews. A few months before a book hits the shelves, it can be reviewed by one (or more if you’re lucky) of four industry publications: Publishers’ Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal and Booklist. This is the first taste of what the trade thinks of a book and it is always a real nail-biter for me. Some of these publications may denote books which reviewers particularly like with a star. The much-coveted “starred review” can send important signals to booksellers and can also cause a publisher to pay more attention to a book. But the whole process is so shrouded in mystery: Which publications will review the book this time? Will reviewers like the book, and if so, which parts? Will it get that elusive star?
But I think the scariest phase of being published is the period after the book comes out. You walk into the bookstore and finally hold your baby in your arms. Then you realize: People are going to (hopefully) read your guts-spilled-out-and-bound-up-as-book. People you don’t know, some of whom will post nice-and-not-so-nice reviews. People you do know like (gulp!) your mother. You fiendishly check your Amazon rankings and wait for the feedback.
At some point (hopefully early on while you are still waiting for editor feedback) you have to put the fear away and sit back down at the computer and keep working on the next one. After all as authors, that is what we do — write. (And fret. Lots and lots of fretting.) Then, depending upon the nature of your contract, it’s time to take the next one out to market, and see if the door will open when you knock once more. But that’s a whole other type of fear… and a topic for another day.