Pam Jenoff: Fear and Loathing — The Three Scariest Moments In A Writer’s Life

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.

— Pam Jenoff

Breaking into Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award

I got quite the exciting call from my friend Gwyn this morning! Once again, it astounds me how little I can know about things that actually matter and how much I know about inconsequential, ridiculous things that will in no way further my career or help me achieve total financial independence (i.e., Jessica Alba’s daughter’s name is Honor Marie).

Apparently, Amazon is having holding a major contest right now — and giving out the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award this summer! I realize that this is partially a marketing tool to get writers to inadvertantly become exposed to their new program, CreateSpace, to self-publish, but hey — mission accomplished. I signed up and entered. The deadline looms — this Sunday, Feb. 8. They’re accepting up to 10,000 entries for evaluation! So I pumped myself up, tried to seem marketable, uploaded my manuscript and came up with a snappy pitch. I did the best a sleepy girl could do on a snowy morning in Maryland on a Wednesday. I was eager to get everything submitted — I didn’t want to obsess about it all day.

So now I just get to obsess until they announce the 500 quarterfinalists on March 16. Excerpts from those folks’ novels will be posted on Amazon to be rated and reviewed. And then they whittle down the entries by panel, etc., until the “grand prize winner” is announced May 22. Simultaneously frightening and exhilirating!

Regardless, I entered. And by 11 a.m. today, I’m already feeling quite accomplished! All of my writer friends, I encourage you to submit, too . . . I’m not selfish enough to want to keep the entry pool small for my own gain! Or am I? 🙂 No, I’m not. Check out the rules and enter on Amazon at this link!

Post’s stand-alone Book World to fold

book_world_logoSadly but unsurprisingly, the Washington Post announced today that they’re folding their weekly Book World special section and incorporating their book reviews into the Style section of the paper (see “The Washington Post Is Dropping Stand-Alone Section“). This ties definitely ties in with today’s Booking Through Thursday discussion topic! I’ve yet to weigh in there — the very thought of books as tangible objects disappearing makes my whole body feel tired and achy — but as a newspaper staffer myself, I’m pretty disappointed to know Book World will cease to exist in the form we’ve all come to know and love.

When I worked at the bookstore, customers would pour in almost daily asking about this title or that title, raving to me about the review given in Book World and hoping they could put their hands on it. The Post’s recommendations would often result in sell-outs of those titles at our local branch — and more than a few annoyed folks when we didn’t have the latest hot book recommended in the section! Yes, Book World will continue to live online — reviews and literary events will be posted on the paper’s Web site as well as in the Style section. But Book World itself will disappear.

I think this says more about the fate of the newspaper and publishing industry than it does the way book information is distributed . . . although, since I’m writing on a bookish blog and spend most of my time reading book blogs for book information, the relevance of sections like Book World is . . . questionable. After all, we live in a digital world. Tangible, hard-copy newspapers may be relics of a forgotten age in ten, twenty or thirty years.

Or sooner, the way the economy is going.


Booking Through Thursday: Why buy?

booking_through_thurs This week’s Booking Through Thursday question:

“I’ve asked, in the past, about whether you more often buy your books, or get them from libraries. What I want to know today, is, WHY BUY?

Even if you are a die-hard fan of the public library system, I’m betting you have at least ONE permanent resident of your bookshelves in your house. I’m betting that no real book-lover can go through life without owning at least one book. So … why that one? What made you buy the books that you actually own, even though your usual preference is to borrow and return them?

If you usually buy your books, tell me why. Why buy instead of borrow? Why shell out your hard-earned dollars for something you could get for free?”

Without a doubt, I buy my books — and the ones I haven’t originally purchased for myself I’ve “mooched” from other readers on Book Mooch. There’s something about owning a book as opposed to renting it . . . I like knowing that after it’s finished and I’ve inevitably loved it to death, it will be a beautiful addition to my rapidly expanding bookshelves and stacks around the house!

Of course, that’s a problem in and of itself — I have too many books, as I’ve blogged about many, many times. There isn’t enough space in the world for all the books I would want, either. So why do I still buy them, knowing I’ll more than likely have to eventually give them away?

I don’t like feeling as though I’m on a “time crunch” with books. Just the knowledge that I’ll have to give them back in two weeks — or figure out how to renew them online or something — is a little bit stressful for me! Sometimes I’ll go a month or two where I’m reading every night, getting through two or three books a week. At other, busier times, I’ll take three weeks to finish a single paperback. I like to amble along at a reasonable, leisurely pace — if that’s what I want. And I know I could easily renew my books from the library if I’m taking too long, but I like to have my own books. I like knowing the books are mine. For that same reason, I feel bad borrowing books from friends and family — I get nervous feeling as though I’ve had them too long, need to rush my way through them and return the books before they think I’ve forgotten they leant them to me! And I don’t like the “greasy” feeling of old, used books. I do like fresh books! It’s a quandry.

And I buy all of my books at a discount, anyway. When I was working at the store I got a hefty 33 percent off, and Borders, Barnes & Noble and Amazon always offer great deals if you know where to look. Free shipping helps, too. And the used book portion of Amazon is another great way to purchase without shelling out $14.95 or $23.95 for a new work!

I don’t know how to explain it in any other way! I’m just a huge fan of book ownership, I guess!

And (almost) let the noveling begin!

I admit, I’ve been slacking — after my promotion to editor in mid-October, I’ve found every possible reason not to work on my novels. I finished my second book in May, spent most of the summer editing it and then began the tiring, exhausting and frustrating experience of crafting the “perfect” query letter — only to be met with the demoralizing pain of generic rejections. And hey, it’s all right — I definitely didn’t expect this to be a cakewalk. I was proud that I’d finished two complete novels — start to finish, with editing, proofing and critiquing — in less than a year.

When I started a third in August, I was heavy into the querying process for the second book. Developing realistic, interesting characters engaging in fun, life-changing experiences fell to the back burner as I tried to find an agent to represent me. Though I won’t ever let the polite dismissals of agents discourage me from continuing to write, it is hard to receive e-mail after e-mail telling me thanks but no thanks. I write because I have to write, and I do write for me — but once you decide you’re going to try and become a published author, the game changes completely.

Well, all this procrastination and mental avoidance of the noveling issue is about to end — National Novel Writing Month begins tonight at midnight. I know some folks out there find it a bit silly and maybe just a tad insane, but NaNo was such an enlightening, entertaining and awesome experience last year, there’s no way I wouldn’t participate this go ’round. Cranking out 50,000 words in 30 days wasn’t too much of a problem for me last year, even working two jobs, getting ready for the holidays and attempting to spend time with my family and boyfriend. This year I’m in a much different place, but I’m still grappling with self-editing issues: I find it very hard to write and write and write without editing what I’ve written. I’m an editor by day, spending eight or so hours (roughly!) reading articles, press releases and proposals. To shift from scrupulous spell-checker to wildly uninhibited writer is a bit challenging.

And I’m terribly unprepared!

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Musing Mondays: Books and the economic fall-out?


Today’s Musing Mondays question deals with everyone’s favorite topic — the economy!

“How has the economy impacted your book buying? Do you think it’ll change the reading and book-buying habits of the country? Will it increase your library visits? Will it make you wait for the paperback edition instead of buying the hardcover?”

Up until a week or so ago, I worked part-time for a major book retailer — and got a hefty discount. I won’t lie and tell you that discount wasn’t one of my favorite parts of the job! I love and miss my friends and co-workers, yes, and I did enjoy helping people, but what I really loved was seeing all of the new books fresh out of the boxes — including the incredibly popular new tomes like Harry Potter and Breaking Dawn — and getting 33 percent off their list prices. Yes!

Now that I’ve wrapped up my time in retail, I’m left sans discount. So I’ve already started thinking about how and where I’m going to be getting my new books. Because the advance reading copy well has also dried up! For now, anyway. Like everyone, I’m evaluating my spending habits… and it didn’t take long for me to realize I was spending a good chunk of my biweekly paychecks back in the store on paperbacks.

I’m more of a quality paperback or mass market reader, so giving up hardcovers is no problem for me. They’re way too expensive, anyway. I usually find a book I really want to read, figure out the release date for the paperback (if it’s not too far away!) and then make myself a little note. For instance, I can tell you that Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book will be released in December — and I’ve been waiting a while for that one! I really want to grab a paperback of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, too. I need to investigate that release date.

The economy isn’t change my reading habits, but it will definitely change my book-buying habits — I’m going to be looking more into used books and programs like Book Mooch. I’ve never been one to frequent the library — I’m selfish and like write in, bend up and highlight my books to my heart’s content — but I’m sure I’ll be looking for alternative ways to find my next read. I’ll probably start scoping out Amazon’s used books, too. Before my retail discount, I got tons of books used — sometimes they have more character that way, too! I love finding little notes and scribblings from the previous owner. Reminds me of my used-book college textbook days! Ah, nostalgia!

Due to the economy

So I got a pretty creative rejection letter from a literary agent today, and this goes to show you that the current trying financial crisis we’re in is hitting everyone — everywhere — and affecting everything, as if we needed even more proof:

“Thank you for considering us, but due to the economy, we are reluctant to represent women’s fiction at this time.”

‘Due to the economy’? Reluctant to represent women’s fiction?! They mean, of course, “chick lit” — an incredibly popular genre, if I do say so myself. Books by Sophie Kinsella, Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner are regularly at the top of the bestseller’s list, and just tonight at my bookstore I’ve sold multiple copies of books by heavy-weight writers like Laura Weisberger, Candace Bushnell and Jane Green. Though imprints such as Red Dress Ink may not be welcoming new titles, I beg to differ that the genre is not profitable — in fact, I think that’s downright wrong.

But now I’m being told by a reputable agent that she cannot — or will not — represent me as a new women’s fiction author.

Can someone, like, swoop in and fix this whole mess? That would be great. Kthanx.