Okay, onto this slightly nerve-wracking, but necessary post...
(Warning, it will be LONG.)
It's probably no surprise that stuff changes after you finally get that book deal. No matter how big or small, no matter what form of publishing, having sold a book changes your life. There are a lot of good things, of course. But there are a lot of weird things, too. It's a very strange dichotomy, and today I am going to attempt to give you a taste of what it's like.
Now, I am extremely aware that there are tons of writers out there who want to sell very badly, and that maybe my saying anything "negative" about selling a book will make me sound like a stuck up brat. So I want to make it clear that my intention is not to say "selling a book sucks," because it's definitely still awesome, but like with any Big Event in life it comes with...adjustments. I hope this post can prepare people for the experience when it comes (May it be sooner rather than later!).
Confession #1: The Freak Out
Some people scream for joy. Others sob in relief. There are the dancers. My "OMG I JUST SOLD A BOOK" freak out turned out to be kind of this dazed, awed, shock. Now, granted, I was literally driving to the dentist when I learned, so dancing was out of the question, but picture me in my car, wide-eyed, giggling every few minutes because I ACTUALLY GOT AN OFFER. It was unbelievable, amazing, surreal.
On the way home from the dentist I still was pretty dazed, and as I was stopped at a light this one little thought came to me, "Holy crap, I will actually get to write an acknowledgements page."
Which is when I burst into tears. The gratitude and joy was overwhelming, because books don't get written and published without those people who helped and pushed and taught and loved you along the way. I felt so lucky and blessed and undeserving.
...And then things took a weird turn. The pendulum swung, you could say. As utterly joyful as I was, part of me started to panic. What if the deal fell through? What if Harper changed their minds? What if I can't make back the advance? What if they get to publication in two years and decide, eh, it's not that great after all? What if people read it and go, "This is IT? Well that was a waste of time"? What if? What if? What if?
The catastrophizing got crazy out of control. It was like being in a death spiral, my joy being sucked out with each ridiculous thing my brain chose to panic about. It was almost like I'd been so used to bad news—rejections and revisions and near misses and setbacks—that I literally could not process the reality of good news! There had to be a catch. There had to be something bad in there because good things just don't happen in my publishing life.
This all sounds so pathetic when I read it typed out like this, but it's the truth. As high as my joy was, there was also pain. A dichotomy. Luckily, the pain part passes. The freak out ends, and I'm feeling pretty dang good now.
Confession #2: The Announcement Conundrum
Of course you want to tell people you sold. Of course. After so long, I was excited to let the world know that my years of hard work did mean something, and hoped that maybe it would help others believe that their long journey could end well, too.
But then there's the other side—the very real understanding of how devastating reading about a book deal can be. I know all too well how painful seeing someone sell is, and the thought of doing that to someone else terrified me. The last thing I ever want to do is make another writer suffer. While I was on sub, there would be days that reading a book deal or seeing a beautiful cover announcement or someone's pub date moved up sent me into a pit of bawling, pity party despair.
I knew people would be happy for me, too, but I was honestly concerned about those writers who were struggling and would stumble on my announcement and have their day ruined. But in the end, you have to share. Because, yes, talking about the hard times is honest, but only when it's balanced out with the good times. Life is always both.
Confession #3: The Terrifying Reality of People's Opinions
There's a moment when you realize in a way you never have before that, for better or worse, people are going to read your book now. Which is, of course, what you always wanted, right? The whole reason we are trying to get published is to share our stories with a bigger audience. We want people to love them as much as we do. I personally dream of that fist honest to goodness fan letter from a complete stranger, saying they loved my book more than anything they've ever read.
Lofty, I know, but true. And it is EXCITING to think that in two years my book will be out there for anyone to read. I was starting to think it'd never happen, and I'm so grateful it is.
But...oh, the but. I'm sure you can guess where this is going. What if people don't like it? More than ever, reviews are real now. Like, pre-book deal, they were this hypothetical thing that seemed pretty cool. Like, dang, won't it be awesome someday if I actually have reviews like a real live writer? Now? A wee bit terrifying.
I mean, TRANSPARENT is two years out (maybe a little less than that now, depending on what month I release in Summer 2013), and I already have a four-star rating on Goodreads from someone I don't know at all. I find that...so interesting. I never expected my work to be judged so soon, but it's already started and of course it'll continue. That's the thing about putting your work out there—people will say stuff about it. Go figure.
I really thought I was prepared for that, but I guess it's like going off to college. Never quite what you imagined. Not horrible. Just not what you expected.
Confession #4: Shifting Relationships
Way back in 2004, I announced to my friends that I was engaged! There was some squealing and celebrating, but something...weird happened, too. One of my friends became distant, even a little snippy, with me. She rolled her eyes every time I mentioned my fiancé. She complained about him being around so much. And if I ever expressed frustration with anything? Her reply would be along the lines of, "Well, you're getting married, so stop being such a whiner."
That sort of thing happens sometimes when you announce a book deal, too. And it's heartbreaking on so many levels. First, because you know how much it hurts when you're not selling and it seems like everyone else is, so you get it. Secondly, because there's really nothing you can do to stop other peoples' feelings of jealousy or sadness or whatever it is that causes this phenomena. And finally, because in the long run, you are still the same person, but suddenly people view you differently and it's an adjustment trying to figure out how to deal with it.
And it's not just the people who seem slightly unhappy about your success (or maybe it's more that they want it, too, and it's hard to watch others get there first, which I totally get). There are the...I'm not sure how to say it, so maybe I'll use another example:
In school I was never popular or even close. I was bullied a lot. I was kind of a lone wolf, but I tried to be friendly when others talked to me. Well, in 10th grade I was paired with a popular girl for a class project, and she was really nice to me. Genuinely nice, and I could tell. We became friends, to the point that she'd wave to me in the hall and stuff like that. And because she waved to me, some of her friends waved to me, too.
That's when it started to feel weird, you know? Like, I hadn't changed at all, but one popular person's approval had all those other girls thinking I wasn't so bad. Sometimes that happens when you get a book deal, too. And I'm not even talking within in the writing community—I mean friends and family and stuff. People view you differently, for better or worse. They sometimes put up these walls to separate you into a new category different from them (or equal to them, depending on the situation), even if to you there isn't a wall at all.
Well, I think that's about all on the confession front today. I hope that this comes off right, and if not I swear I didn't mean to offend. I just always find it so interesting to compare "The Dream" I have of publishing to the reality, because coming to terms with those truths has always helped me be happier and more grateful for my own journey, as rocky as it has been. But right now, the path is pretty smooth, honestly, and I plan to enjoy it for as along as it lasts.