I don't remember all the details, of course, but I remember smiling a lot and breaking into random laughter. I called a few friends and my mom while driving/waiting. I told the dentist receptionist, who probably thought I was nuts. I even told my dentist. On my way home, I broke down in tears when I realized I'd actually get to write acknowledgments (which I still haven't done, ha). I had so many people to be grateful for, and finally I could put them all in a BOOK that I WROTE that would be PUBLISHED.
It was a fun day, but like most things, fun also came with challenges and new lessons and a whole heap of work. Today I wanted to talk about some of the things I've learned, some of the things I didn't see coming, and hopefully a little about what it's like to be a debut writer.
The Totem Pole
The biggest thing I didn't expect in the first year was the range of emotions I would experience—especially the BAD ones! I know it was naive, but, having been a veteran of the query and submission trenches (two years in each, baby), I thought I would be immune to the envy and insecurity that I'd heard can plague a debut writer.
Oh, how wrong I was.
After the initial glow wore off, I was left in...well, a pretty significant depression. This is hard to admit, but it's true. I was suddenly very aware of the fact that I was now slotted in a totem pole of importance, which was a jarring feeling, one I didn't count on affecting me like it did.
It's not something a lot of people talk about, but the reality is that publishing does have a totem pole. There are people more important or less important than you. Books more marketable or less marketable than yours. It's just how it has to be. Of course a publisher has to prioritize. Of course they will give more to books with buzz or books selling well. Of course established writers are more important to keep happy than debuts. None of it is personal...the problem is it's easy to let it FEEL personal.
I totally fell into this trap. For about three months or so, I panicked over just about everything. Then one day...I just got over it, I guess. I realized that where I landed on the totem pole was completely out of my control, and that no matter where an author did land there was something to stress over. I didn't want to stress anymore—I just wanted to do my job and write books.
So yeah, my book deal was completely normal in just about every way, and that's how it is for most everyone. I know (really really know) that we all hope to be that one who gets fast-tracked with the big advance and all the buzz and fancy blurbs and marketing and whatnot, but that comes with its own frightening stressors. Not getting that doesn't make you any less valuable, even if it might feel like it sometimes. And where you're put on the totem pole isn't permanent—I think we forget that things are always moving and changing in publishing.
Because a lot of information goes "private" when you sell a book, it can be hard to get used to the timeline of publishing and the fact that yours is maybe longer or shorter than you want.
For example: I still have about a year to wait until my book comes out. I sold almost a year ago, and I still don't have a cover, official release date, blurbs, ARCs, and whatever. (Please note: I am not complaining, just stating the facts.) I think I had an idea that these things showed up sooner than they do, because it's just hard to tell from the outside when this stuff is actually happening (and most of the time it's announced publicly long after it happens!). Well, it seems it's different for every writer, depending on when the book is slotted and how the publishing house schedules that stuff.
And waiting? Yup, waiting is your forever-friend in publishing. It might sound harsh, but just...get used to it. I've been so much happier since I embraced the wait. This year has still been a ton of wait, wait, and some more wait.
That's not to say I haven't been working this year. Oh, have I been working! Whew. Here's a rough timeline of what I've been up to:
April 2011: Offer from HarperTeen
May 2011: Acceptance of offer from HarperTeen.
July 2011: I'm actually allowed to ANNOUNCE that offer.
September 2011: First Editorial Letter!
December 2011: Second Editorial Letter!
January 2012: Discussions about my 2nd novel that I cannot divulge
March 2011: Line Edits and some other news I am forbidden to talk about
April: Copy Edits
Please take note of the GAPS in time. Those gaps were filled with editing, yes, but also filled with just...waiting. I would usually finish my edits within 2-3 weeks and then have to wait about 6 weeks or more for the next round. Which was good! I needed that down time between drafts, and I certainly kept myself busy with other novels and life stuff. But I know in my more restless days I would have found those gaps frustrating. You have to remember that editors have pipelines, lots of authors to take care of, and it's kind of a miracle they do what they do as fast as they do it!
Nothing Changes...And Yet It Does
The weird thing about selling a book is how little stuff changes. I mean, there are some weird shifts, like the way people view you (both on- and offline) or the fact that you are working officially as a writer with real deadlines or that you have to file self-employment taxes. But the actual act of writing remains the same—it's still hard sometimes and magical at others. And publishing? Weirdly enough, that is still the same, too! Whether you are querying, on sub, OR published, it's still all about the next book.
It's funny, but that's the advice I end up giving and taking the most these days: Work On The Next Book. It's extremely comforting to me to know that this part of the process never changes. If you are a writer there is always another story to tell, and you should be moving on to that next one at all times. It takes the pressure off whatever stage you are in, keeps your focus on the potential instead of what you can't change.
Even though I have sold a book, I still feel very much the same as I always have. I still have the same insecurities and same confidences. I am still writing weird books. I still have the same friends (plus some new ones!). Selling a book didn't fix my problems or make my self-esteem suddenly sky-rocket.
Another thing that has change is my ability to be as open as before online (just not possible under contract) and, honestly, the desire to be. Which is rather ironic, seeing as now would be a better time for marketing than the past four years. But hey, I don't think I ever was in this whole blogging thing for the "platform" or the "marketing." It's always been my little corner to connect with others and share my thoughts with writers, instead of my poor family who gets tired of this stuff!
It's been a crazy, fun, trying, whirlwind of a first year in publishing, and I'm sure this year will be just the same. Being a debut—especially a debut who is still waiting for that book to actually come out—has been an educational "limbo place" to be. And then my book will finally be out and the REAL fun (and terror) will begin, I'm sure!