Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Older and Wiser--Reflections of a Birthday Girl

by Sophie Perinot

You are only young once.  And you are only a debut novelist once. Time passes—you can’t stop it. But if you are going to get older than you might as well work on the getting wiser thing. I mean wisdom is a MAJOR perk of experience.

I am just one day shy of another birthday and one week shy of my book-baby’s first birthday. So I am working hard to focus on wisdom—especially because it keeps me distracted from the appearance of new gray hairs.

Here are some of my new, wiser, attitudes towards being a published author—a state-of-being that I believe that I understand better today than I did one year ago:

It is NOT about the 2%.  When your book is published there will be some minority of people who just don’t get it. More than that, who just don’t like it. My sense, from scanning the goodreads ratings and reviews of my own book and the books of others, is that your anti-fans will be about 2% of your readers. Are you really going to let 2% make you feel bad about your book, your craft or yourself?  If you are, I can’t help you. Nobody can help you. Remember that old saying “you can’t please all of the people all of the time?” Well TRUE THAT! So focus on the 99% who think your work is solid, or better still on the sub-set at the top of the spectrum who give you great reviews and write you nice notes saying they can’t wait to read your next book. You will be saner.  You will be more productive.

It IS about the moment.  The older you get the more you realize moments are fleeting. The same is true for your book. In its first weeks everybody notices a debut novel. It’s a review here and interview there the attention is dizzying. Were you enjoying it, or were you worrying about your next appearance or deadline?  Don’t feel bad—me too. After nearly 12 months on the market, however, I’ve learned to savor a nice blog review when it comes in, ditto that hour with a book club on a Thursday evening. I’ve also learn to stop anticipating problems. The one’s you worry about in advance never seem to happen and the crises that do arise are going to gut kick you when they happen so why worry in advance?

Everybody feels competent to judge, but ONLY your judgment matters.  Everybody has an opinion on this writer-gig you’ve taken on. They feel entitled to judge whether it was a good idea, how you are handling it, and whether you are succeeding.  This is true in very few other professions. When I practiced law other lawyers might have an opinion on my professional competence, but the grocery checkout lady—not so much. The only thing I’ve ever done that has attracted more unsolicited opinions is parenting. But, like parenting, the bottom line here is that only YOU can know why you make the writing-related decisions you do. Every writer wants the good opinion of somebody, but not the same somebody. Every writer wants to sell books, but the number that feels like “enough” and the auspices under which we’d like those sales to be made (e.g. Tradtional, Indie etc.) vary. Based on what we want out of our book babies we will make different parenting decisions than other writers.  So what?  There is no “one right way.”  Let other’s “tsk tsk” you. You are the book parent here and you will be the one living with the results of your decisions.

Do not covet you neighbor’s ox—or your fellow author’s book tour.  Envy will eat the heart of out you. And to what purpose? Jealousy of a fellow author’s cover will not change the art on yours if you don’t like it. Hating on someone because his publisher sprang for six weeks of coop and yours only paid for two will not improve where your book is shelved. If you are busy thinking about the inequities of life and publishing you will miss the good stuff (see point two on enjoying the moment). It also has a tendency to seep out—leaving you looking bitter and unpleasant. Bitter and unpleasant never made a friend or sold a book.  Of course we are all human. If (or rather when) you must indulge in a moment of envy do it privately—that is what good friends are for. And speaking of friends. . .

You don’t have to have lunch with people you don’t like.  I stopped having lunch with people I didn’t like about a decade ago. I thought, “I am likely half-way through my life why the heck am I wasting time and calories in situations I don’t enjoy?” Book promotion is like that too. If you make yourself engage in promotional activities that you don’t enjoy it will only end in heartburn and disappointment, because if you don’t like to do something chances are it will show in the results. Don’t’ like blogging?  Don’t’ blog. Concentrate on doing those author-ly things you actually enjoy, and you will be making the most efficient use of your promotional time and money—at least that’s my opinion. Oh and ditto with the actual lunch thing. Networking is important in this profession but you don’t have to sit on every panel you are asked to sit on, or have coffee with every fellow writer who asks. You are looking to develop a support group of fellow writers and it is perfectly acceptable to have liking those writers as one of your criteria. Tomorrow on my birthday I will be lunching with two fellow historical fiction writers whose work I respect and who I adore and that is as it should be.

Never stop learning.  Learning is like breathing—if you stop, you die (or at least part of you does).  You can always be a better person and a better writer. Read with your “writer glasses” on. Keep up with the industry. Beg, steal or borrow promotional and motivational ideas from other writers you respect. Listen. Not only to other writing professionals but to readers. I ask every book club I visit where they think I fell down on the job. You don’t have to react to every bit of feedback you receive, it is within each author’s purview to access whether a critique resonates, but if you never entertain the possibility that there is room for improvement you will not improve.

Your whole goal is be wiser next birthday and next book-baby isn’t it?  That sure is my goal, and possibly an appropriate wish as I blow out this year’s candles. 

Sophie Perinot is the author of The Sister Queens (NAL/Penguin, March 2012) a novel of sisterhood set in the 13th century. Her debut was widely well-reviewed and made a number of “best of 2012” lists.

When Sophie is not chauffeuring one of her three kids or lint rolling the hair of one of her three cats she is currently working on a novel set in 16th century France.

Yes, tomorrow really is her birthday but DO NOT ask her how old she is because she is not telling.


  1. Every bit of this rings true to this recent debut novelist. Thanks, Sophie!

  2. Thanks Joe! I would have lunch with you :)

  3. I also stopped having lunch with people I don't like about a decade ago, and I love how that fits perfectly with book publicity and networking. I also have quite adept at the art of saying no, which confuses many people, including authors.

    Happy Birthday, Sophie!

  4. What wonderful advice! Why is it that a bad reviews stays as a nasty taste in the mouth for days, whilst a give review gives temporary feelings of elation that rapidly give way to disbelief?
    Grace x

  5. Great post! I hope you have a wonderful birthday!!

  6. Very good advice, especially the ban on coveting oxes :-)

  7. Love this post. I also ask book clubs what they don't like about my novel. The answers are fascinating…

  8. Happy Birthday, Sophie and the Sisters! :) Great post.

  9. I love this post, Sophie. Thank you for the great insight and advice. Happy Birthday to you and The Sister Queens!

  10. Wow, such sane advice, and just in time, too, as I approach my book publishing date with fear & anticipation. Happy birthday, Sophie, and thanks for the wise words!

  11. Just getting around to reading this, but great, great post, Sophie.