Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Case of the Whatifs: Pre-Publication Jitters

By Melanie Thorne

I’m going to tell you a secret. I’m scared.

It feels like there is some unspoken rule that I’m not supposed to admit this. As a soon-to-be-published author I should be over the moon with happiness. My book is being published! That’s amazing! Everyone keeps telling me how excited I must be, and I am, of course. It is unbelievably amazing to have sold this thing I started years ago, this thing that went from thoughts to words on a screen to a physical object in people’s hands. But selling a book is not the end of fear or worry or doubt that I think many writers, myself included, imagine it will be. It’s an accomplishment, a huge, wonderful, happily satisfying one for sure, but it’s not an eraser for insecurities. (Wouldn’t it be cool if that existed?)

Please don’t misunderstand my admission of fear to mean that I wish this wasn’t happening or that I don’t appreciate where I am. I’m thrilled—beyond thrilled—that this collection of my words, my story, will be an actual book in actual bookstores next to other real live books. I can’t wait to see what happens when she steps out into the world, how she’s treated, how far she travels, if people understand her. I also worry about what people will say about her behind her back, if she’ll make a good enough first impression, if readers will make promises they don’t keep and leave her alone on cold shelves.

You know that Shel Silverstein poem, “Whatif,” from A Light in the Attic? "Last night, while I lay thinking here,/Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear/And pranced and partied all night long/And sang their same old Whatif song.” I read it in first grade and was relieved to find it wasn’t just me who lay awake at night pondering both practical and ridiculous concerns. Some of the questions in the poem apply directly to my current book launch fears: “Whatif I start to cry? Whatif the fish don’t bite? Whatif nobody likes me?” Of course, my nighttime Whatifs have a million more hypotheticals with varying degrees of terrible-ness for me to mull over, and I bet yours do, too.

Hand Me Down is two weeks from publication. In two weeks this thing that I have slaved over, loved and hated (and loved and hated again), doubted, sacrificed for, and stressed about for years, this thing I invested time and energy and soul into, this thing that has so much of myself in its pages will be available for public consumption. I will be available for public consumption. Exposed. My life is going to change in ways I can’t even imagine, and along with being excited and hopeful, I’m also frightened.

I know some of you want to punch me in the face right now. Some writers out there who have not yet sold their books are thinking, Oh, boo-hoo, poor published author, and I get it. Two years ago I would have thought the same thing. When you’re in the throes of writing, your doubts and fears are about the project itself, about how it’s working, how the words fit together, how the story flows, and also about whether this project will ever make it out into the world the way you hope it will. The goal is to get published, and you’re convinced that if you can just reach that goal, everything will be okay. I am so thankful to have gotten to this point, and I would certainly not want to go back, but my fears and doubts didn’t suddenly disappear when I signed my contract, as much as I wished they would.

There are struggles at every level, but maybe that’s a good thing. Each hurdle is a chance to learn. Richard Bausch says, “Your doubt is your gift.” It’s what keeps us striving to improve our craft, tightening our language, studying the masters. When you think you have nothing left to learn—when you completely stop doubting your work—you stop getting better. Not that you shouldn’t be proud. You should. We should. I am. But as writers, we know how to persist. Our fears of inadequacy push us to work harder; the world’s skepticism strengthens our resolve, which is something I need to remember as I head into publication mode. My doubts will force me to study, to practice, to improve each step of the way. My fears will motivate me to prepare. I will come up with an answer for every single one of those nighttime Whatifs, and I’ll be as ready as I can possibly be when my book baby leaves the nest.

In two weeks my life is going to change in ways I can’t even imagine. Am I nervous? Yes. Can I handle it? Yes. And you never know, Whatif everything turns out better than I could dream?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Blurbs - What are they good for?

(Apologies to Edwin Starr)

A few months ago, my publisher asked me to supply a list of authors who might want to provide a blurb for my book, The Midwife’s Tale: A Mystery. After a few missteps (“Oh, she’s dead? That complicates things.”), I submitted my list, but I began to wonder:

Do cover blurbs sell books?

I have to admit that I began life as a blurb skeptic. In my experience (sample size 1), if I’m not already inclined to buy a book, no blurb is going to make a difference. Moses could come down from the mountain and tell me he liked Twilight, and I’m still not going to read it. And I’m going to read David Abrams’s Fobbit, whether or not there’s a blurb on the front from Joseph Heller. (He is alive, isn’t he?)

So, what good are blurbs?

It turns out the blurbs are for an audience beyond the book-buying public. (Oh, I said. I had no idea.) These people include:

Reviewers and Bloggers. Unless your publisher is going to pay for a national media buy, some of the responsibility for finding reviewers is going to land in your lap. But it’s a competitive world out there, and you are going to have to sell your book to someone before they’ll take the time and energy to review it. This is where the blurbs come into play. As fellow BPer Sophie Perinot put it, “A couple of bloggers I pitched to review my book (and I mentioned endorsements in my pitch) said, ‘you had me at Michelle Moran.’” In this case, you’re not convincing readers to buy the book, but you’re convincing someone else who might convince the readers.

Librarians and other Book Buyers. These folks are overworked and underpaid, and are having to make a ton of decisions in an increasingly-crowded marketplace. Blurbs situate a book among its peers, and will help librarians and other buyers know what kind of book it is, and to whom it might appeal. If a library’s clientele is primarily old, conservative, and devoutly religious, a blurb from Chuck Palahniuk won’t do you much good. But if you have one from Pat Robertson you might be in better shape. In this case the blurb keeps the buyers from having to buy a book sight unseen.

Another BPer, Amy Franklin-Willis, made the excellent point that a blurb can help if you have a book that straddles genres. Nancy Bilyeau’s book, The Crown, is both a thriller and historical fiction, and she was able to land blurbs from writers as diverse as Deborah Harkness (Discovery of Witches), M.J. Rose (Book of Lost Fragrances), and Katherine Neville (The Eight). It’s not going to pull a reader or buyer all the way over the fence, but it can demonstrate that you book has broader appeal than might appear on the surface, and once again this is something that the buyers will want to know.

So while I started the day as a blurb skeptic, I walked away convinced that they do make a difference, just not in the way I expected.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Rules

By Julie Kibler

photo credit Dori Young
My recent first round of edits while under contract has shown me that sometimes the best route from point A to point B is breaking a rule.

You know … “The Rules.” The ones that say how we’re supposed to write. (There are also plenty of "rules" for pregnancy, right?)

This has come as a bit of a shock. We’ve had these rules drilled into us for so long, fully believing they are critical to whether we find an agent, get a book contract, wow the world.

Of course, they always say it’s okay to break the rules at times, but if you are going to break a rule, you better break it well. What does that mean, exactly? How will we know? Oh, you’ll know. You’ll know. Right.

I tried really hard to avoid backstory while writing Calling Me Home. Backstory, according to millions of articles and blog posts about querying your first novel, is anathema. Suicide, really. If your first few chapters, especially, contain backstory, you might as well quit now.

Then, as I was completing my revisions for my editor, I worried and worried and worried over this one point in my story that just wasn’t coming together, and I realized I needed a flashback. (Thanks to the suggestion of someone in a really great online group I belong to ... not mentioning any names … BOOK PREGNANT!)

My kneejerk reaction was, “NO! NO BACKSTORY!” I had totally discounted flashback in the attempt to follow the rules. I inserted what ended up feeling like a really nice section that rounded out a relationship I’d been trying to flesh out in the moment, when what these characters needed was history. We’ll see what my editor thinks. 

On another note, I was shocked to find my editor calling for more of this, more of that, with very little cutting of something else. WHAT? I thought. If I do THAT, my manuscript breaks the 100K word barrier! Oh, nooooo! Run away! Run away! I was being so legalistic, I thought I must lose a word for every word I added in order to stay below that holiest of all word counts.

Guess what? I turned in an edited manuscript that weighed in around 103K words, even while I had pinched it so hard, you could hear the words screaming as I knocked them off the page. And the world hasn’t fallen apart yet. Again, I’ll let you know what my editor thinks later. And, ultimately, that story is stronger, deeper, longer, and brighter, I hope.

This has been a good reminder to me that writing rules are almost always about the spirit of the law, and not the letter of the law. Remember that—when you’re finishing your masterpiece, when you’re querying your first-choice agent, when you’re getting ready to go on submission for the first time. (When you're pregnant and gaining 32 pounds instead of 30.) In the words of someone else, I can't remember who ...

It’s about the story, stupid.

(p.s. It is now a month after I wrote this. My editor loved the revisions and nary a word was mentioned about word count!)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Celebration Time

 by Brenda Remmes
The importance of celebrating small successes can never be overestimated.  Would that we could cheer ourselves on in our daily successes the same way we cheer on our babies and toddlers with each tiny accomplishment.

We are writers and writing is a time consuming occupation.  We write and rewrite; critique and revise, analyze and test and then rewrite again.  We need to celebrate more often.  Each day that we get up and sit down at our computers one more time - celebrate.  Every time we find a better word to express a thought – celebrate.  When we nail an emotion so well that we, ourselves, burst into tears – good heavens, what a moment to celebrate.  If we only celebrate when we finish the book,  find an agent,  get the contract,  or receive the five star reviews there are too many other opportunities that slipped by. What do we hang onto when we don’t find an agent, don’t get the contract, or don’t get the five star reviews?

I had a wonderful aunt who started every conversation by saying, “I have the best news to tell you.  I am so lucky.”  She would then launch into a description of something as mundane as the nicest server who brought her an extra serving of potato salad at lunch.  Regardless, we would all listen intently, smile, and rejoice with her at the conclusion of her story.  I will never forget the day she told me, “I have the best news to tell you.  I am so lucky.  I committed my son today and he understood exactly why I had to.”  I looked at her in complete disbelief.  Instead of bemoaning a hardship, she celebrated her strength in making a very difficult decision that she believed to be for the best.  It was.  What a gift she shared with us.   Her smile was contagious.  Her presence electrifying. 

This weekend I turn sixty-five.  Do I plan to celebrate?  You can bet on it.  I’ve been working for a long time to get here.  I’ll start by trashing all of my underwear and going out and buying new ones, as I do every year on my birthday.  A good foundation is the basis on which new goals hold firm.

This year I might get a book published.  I’ve still got some challenges ahead of me, but regardless, it’s been a good trip.   I learn more about myself each step of the way, and I continue to meet new and interesting people as part of the process.   I plan to continue to celebrate each morning I wake up and sit back down at my computer.  Both of those things deserve applause, individually and together.  If one day I should decide to skip writing and do something different, that’s okay, too.  There are other things in my life that I want to celebrate.  You never know.  I might just get an extra helping of potato salad from a waiter who smiles back.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ten Words to Make You Sound Smart at a Book Party

Try to impress Jacques Derrida.
by Lydia Netzer

As a budding author, you may soon find yourself wearing a sassy outfit, holding a glass of champagne, smelling the way Thierry Mugler wants  you to smell, and standing in a room full of book people. You are clearly engaged in what can only be described as a party. There are drinks, there is food, people are milling around chatting, and the lights are low. However, in your debut author brain, what's going on is more like the GRE, combined with a firing squad, and also a graduation, where everyone is examining you to see if you look different, know your stuff, and deserve not to be shot.

Will you be a good author? Will you measure up? After all, you've possibly just spent a significant amount of time mostly alone, sweating over your novel, maybe even changing diapers, maybe even driving a minivan. How will you be able to converse with these elites, who eat, drink, and live books?

Here are ten words to stock your conversational arsenal that will make you sound like you just spent six years in a PhD program reading Derrida and Joyce and drinking absinthe. Warning: With the wrong audience, you might end up punched in the face or wearing your underwear outside your pants involuntarily. Use at your discretion.

1. Hegemony: This word describes a stronger group inflicting its self-serving ideas on a weaker group, while making the weaker group believe these ideas are awesome. Hegemony is pretty much a cuss word, for book nuts. Example: "This is a total hegemony, man!"

2. Proust: Proust is a fiction writer, and gay, and French, and dead. Those are the facts you need. His most famous work was over 3000 pages long. It's about the nature of memory and art, and no one except his mother has ever read it all. You can say it contains whatever character or plot twist you wish, and never be contradicted.

3. Deconstructionism: Contrary to popular use in reality television shows about fashion and cooking, "deconstruct" does not mean the opposite of construct. It actually means to reduce a written work to its most basic assumptions and then show how those assumptions are paradoxical and therefore meaningless. Instead of good vs. evil, it's neither. This is not a synonym for "analyze." Sorry, Sean Hannity. Sorry, Top Chef!

Marcel Proust is scintillated by your discourse.

4. Hermeneutics: This word means the study of ways to find meaning in a text. There are a million ways to go about finding meaning, all predicated on the idea that it can be found. Believe it or not, there are people who believe that hermeneutics and meaning are stupid and boring. For serious rockstar points, publically discard hermaneutics and everything it implies.

5. Post-colonialism: At some point in the 20th century, the world decided that making colonies was bad. We also decided that reading any native literature from a colonized country as "cute" and saying "It's neat how they keep writing things down!" was also bad. So we had to develop a new term for our new enlightened way of interacting with this type of discourse. Post-colonialism means "after the colonizers decided the colonized might actually have something to say and stopped treating them like a bunch of amusing dopes."

6. Foucault: Foucault is a philosopher, and gay, and French, and dead. He wrote in a very smartypants manner about a bunch of stuff, including how there is no truth or meaning, no way to interpret discourse. He was super-against hermeneutics. In fact, if you want to disagree with something that ends in -ic or -ism, you can probably cite Foucault.

7. French Feminism: French feminists invented the idea of a female kind of writing, "ecriture feminine" which is super-sexy and completely different from phallocentric male discourse. French feminists believed women should write about women, and their bodies. If you use the phrase "writing the body" you will get knowing nods from male friends and phone numbers from the girls.

You fail to convince Heidegger.

8. Joycean: James Joyce's catalog is varied and deep, which means that "Joycean" can go in front of any noun you want, including "Joycean monologue" and "Joycean symbolism" and "Joycean analogy" and even "Joycean discourse."

9. Heterogeneous: Heterogeneity is good because diversity is good. Therefore the word "homogeneous" is bad, just like hegemony is bad. Note: None of these words can be properly applied to milk. Just political movements, world populations, ideas, and granola.

10. Discourse: Use this word in place of any synonym for language. Any chunk of words, spoken or written, can be discourse. Do not ever, under any circumstances, call words "words" or sentences "sentences." Try "heterogenous discursive units." You may note that I've used the word "discourse" in this very article about 47 times, just trying to sound smart!

Ok, but let's set all that aside for a moment.

Because look: the reality that I've been discovering is that book parties are actually really just parties. Book people are not irritating snobs just waiting to trip you up if you haven't actually read that Thomas Hardy novel you just nodded your head about. They're mostly lovely, kind, interesting people who want the best for you and want you to continue writing books so they can read them.

When you're in this situation, try not to be a Debut Author talking to a Bookstore Owner or a Magazine Editor or an Established Author. Just be a person talking to a person. The more human your connection, the more natural and genuine you are, the more fun you'll have and the more you'll take away from the experience. And, by the way, the more impressive you'll be. Because ultimately nobody wants to meet the guy or girl who can really throw around the word dialectic like a rodeo lasso. They want to meet you.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Holding My Baby for the First Time

I have written for as long as I can remember. When I was in elementary school, I sat on my perch high up in our maple tree (much to my mother’s displeasure!) and wrote stories and poems. I pretended I could hear the thoughts of the animals around me, and I would write down what they were thinking. I also loved to read. My favorite stories were about animals, but I also loved witches, too. My father was also a big reader, so once a month we went to the bookstore. We were a middle-class family, but you would never know it at the bookstore. I could buy as many books as I wanted, no questions asked! I loved walking up and down the rows, looking at all the beautiful, glossy covers. Each seemed to beckon, pick me, pick me! If one caught my eye, I’d read the flap copy on the back. If I was intrigued, in my pile it went. I often left with six or seven books, solemnly studying each on the ride home, carefully choosing which one I would read first.  As soon as I got home I would dart up into my room and begin, soon swept up in the story and the world the author created with his or her imagination.
My favorite books not only were well-loved, they looked it! I never used bookmarks, always folding down the page. My dad used to say, It’s your book. Underline it, write on the side if you really like a part. When you’re done, go back and look over those parts. I realize my father didn’t just give me the wonderful gift of literature, without meaning to, he was also training the writer in me. I still do this. Being an active reader not only helps me to better understand the nuances of a book, it inspires my writing as well.
Years later, a dream inspired a middle-grade adventure story about vampires that I finished just as Twilight came out. The good news was that vampire stories were hot! The bad news was that middle-grade vampire adventure stories were not. After years of trying to find an agent and publisher, I put it away and started Celtic Treasure, a middle-grade story about a long lost Irish treasure. I received very positive feedback from the agents and editors I sent it to. They loved my writing; they enjoyed the characters and suspenseful plot. BUT – treasure stories weren’t selling. Ugh. I realized then that I would likely never be published. I also realized that I write because I love to, and if I was never published, so what, it would be my hobby. And so I started The Exceptionals. I owe the idea for the novel to my father as well; he always told me we only use ten percent of our brain power. I often wondered, can some people use more? What can they do? Did Einstein use more of his brain than most people – and what about mediums? This became the foundation for The Exceptionals: a school for students who have “special” abilities. Six months later I finished, and sent it to about ten agents and editors. A couple of weeks later I got a call from my agent, and the very next day an editor that I sent the manuscript to called and made an offer. I could hardly believe it! I was actually going to be a published author!
A little more than two years later, I stood in my local bookstore with my son, Danny. And there, in the front, was a shelf with The Exceptionals prominently displayed. As I held the book in my hand, I imagined all of the other tweens and teens picking it up, examining the cover, reading the back, and making the decision to chose it or not, as I had, so many times. It was surreal to think that someone would choose my book.  Would that person underline a favorite passage? Jot down feelings or questions in the margin? I wondered which character would be their favorite.
After Danny snapped a picture of the books on his cell phone, he darted down the aisle to grab the latest book by his favorite author.  A half an hour later, he found me, his arms filled with books.  As I stood at the counter to buy them, I saw a teenage girl at the New Releases display, holding my book in her hands, reading the flap copy.
It was a great day.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Inspiration: The Twinkle In My Eye

by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Growing up, there was nothing I wanted more than to become a mother. My children were the twinkle in my eye as far back as I can remember, from swaddling my favorite baby doll to picking out my firstborn’s name way back in junior high. What I didn’t know then was that after twenty-plus wonderful, terrifying years of working to turn two human babies into two kind, responsible adults, I was going to have another baby. A book baby.

In between child-tending, clothes-washing, vegetable-growing, house-cleaning, toy-organizing, meal-preparing, party-throwing, kid-schlepping, and teenager-wrangling, I wrote for fun and I have a drawer full of half-started novels to show for it. Of course I dreamt of finishing a book, of being published, of living the “dream”. But writing was just a relaxing hobby, a luxury I afforded myself when I had time. Then, suddenly, the story I knew I had to write came to me--another twinkle in my eye, if you will. 

First, a little back-story. 

My mother came to America alone, by ship, at twenty-one, to marry an American soldier she met while working at the PX outside her village. Just over a decade had passed since WWII, and Germany was still rebuilding. Her family was dirt poor, and the lure of an ideal American life was powerful enough to make her leave her family and marry a man she barely knew. Alas, her American dream was no fairy tale. The American soldier turned out to be dishonest and cruel, and my mother had nowhere to go for help, living on an isolated farm twenty minutes from the nearest town with no car and no driver’s license. Somehow she persevered, giving birth in quick succession to my sister, my brother, and me. Eventually, my parents divorced, and my mother took us back to Germany, hoping to start over. But it wasn’t meant to be. My father insisted she return to the States, even though he had no interest in being part of our lives. Luckily, my mother met and married a caring man who took us in as his own. I grew up traveling to Germany to see my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, longing to live in their beautiful world full of tradition and culture. 

Then, when I was a sophomore in high school, I learned about the Holocaust. To say it was difficult to wrap my head about those atrocities happening in my amazing, beautiful dream-world would be an understatement. WWII was our history teacher’s favorite subject, and he was obsessed with teaching us as much as possible about what happened to the Jews. It didn’t take long for some of my classmates to start calling me a Nazi, saluting and shouting “Heil Hitler” in the halls. That was when I began to understand the concept of collective guilt. I asked my mother questions about what it was like during the war, about Opa’s role, and about the Jews. I soon realized that in her own quiet way, Oma had tried to help, risking her life to set out food for the passing Jewish prisoners, even though she could barely feed her own children. Opa was drafted, fought on the Russian front, and escaped two POW camps. For over two years my mother and her family had no idea if he was dead or alive until he showed up on their doorstep one day. He was a foot soldier, not SS or a Nazi. But I was too young to understand or explain to my peers that being German doesn’t make you a Nazi, that protesting something in America is easy compared to protesting something in The Third Reich, or to ask them what they would have done if they had to choose between someone else’s life and their own. My American father had taught me that evil has the ability to reside in the heart of any man, regardless of race, nationality, or religion, but I didn’t know how to make those points. I didn’t know how to tell my friends that collective guilt as opposed to individual guilt is senseless; that retrospective condemnation is easy. 

Then, over twenty years later, after another conversation with a close friend (ironically one of my former high school teasers) about how much responsibility the average German held for bringing Hitler into power, inspiration struck. I needed to write a novel about what it was like for an average German during the war, while still being sensitive to what the Nazis did to the Jews. But I also knew my book needed a twist if I wanted to sell it. Then I remembered how James Cameron used a love story to tell the bigger story of the ill-fated Titanic. And so the romance between a young German woman and a Jewish man was born. Together with stories from my mother’s life in Nazi Germany, I knew the entire novel, from beginning to end.  

Writing the first draft was a lot like the night my husband and I made the decision to get pregnant, exciting and fun. How long would it take to conceive? Would pregnancy be easy or hard? Who would the baby look like? I finished the first dreadful draft of my novel in three days, in longhand, on a legal pad. The Plum Tree had gone from being a twinkle in my eye to a plus sign on a pregnancy test. 

Then the realities of gestation kicked in. Just like growing a baby, growing a novel takes time. After years of rewrites and research, nausea and fatigue, I heard a heartbeat. At long last, the twinkle in my eye had developed into something viable and real. Now it won’t be long before the big delivery day arrives, when I’ll be able to hold my novel in my hands, to admire and caress it, all dressed up in its newborn cover. Just like putting my son on the bus for his first day of kindergarten, or dropping my daughter off at her first college dorm room, I’m going to be a proud, nervous mother, hoping my book baby will be welcomed into the world with kind words and open arms. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

That's One Ugly Baby

by Mindy McGinnis

Sometimes you just have to admit it.

Chances are that your first baby is a bit of a problem child. It probably isn't the one that landed an agent. In fact it might be the one that you decide to keep under the bed and only feed during the dark hours so that no one is exposed to its ugliness.

And while doing that to a human being is, you know... illegal, it's probably the best route to take with any book babies that aren't quite ready to see the harsh light of day.

A lot of newly agented writers make the mistake of treating their agent like another crit partner, one with awesome credentials and connections. But that's not what an agent is for. Just like a grandparent who's been leaned on one too many times for free baby-sitting, your agent can get sick of the sight of that book baby.

It's called manuscript fatigue, and it happens to the best of us.

As writers we know to walk away from our work and return with fresh eyes for editing passes. But sometimes we can't resist typing THE END and immediately heading back to Chapter One with a red pen in hand. Pretty soon you get muddled. Pretty soon you lose continuity. Pretty soon the forest and the trees have become one and there are nooses hanging from every branch.

You know the feeling, and you know how it makes you feel about your own work. You don't want your agent to feel that way about your book baby, do you? Uh . . . no. You don't.

So give that baby some serious plastic surgery before handing it off to your agent and saying, "Look what I made!" Use your betas, use your crit partners. Use the same steps that got you here in the first place. Deliver a healthy, well-adjusted adult to your agent, not a helpless thing that needs constant attention and will more than likely crap all over both of you.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Don't Be a Helicopter Parent -- Letting Go to Help Your Book-Baby Grow

by Sophie Perinot

Our books are our babies. They’ve kept us up nights, and acted badly in front of company (like those agents we queried too early), but we love them to death and we are very, very possessive of them. And, like most parents, we have high hopes for them. We want them to go on to big things – big sales, good reviews, dates with all the best book clubs.

Sometimes the “possessive” author part of us and the part that wants what’s best for our books are in direct conflict. What do I mean? Have you heard of the “helicopter parent?” I would argue the “helicopter author” also exists—she’s in all of us (guys, you can read “he’s” if it makes you feel better) and if we don’t keep her under control our book will suffer.
Repeat after me – “I am a wordsmith, I write, I write really well. But it takes a lot more than writing to make a book a success—it takes a village (it’s okay, you can steal that phrase from Hillary Clinton, everyone else has). Once I have a publisher I will let the professionals who work there do their jobs.”
That’s precisely what I told myself immediately after I signed the contract for my debut novel (The Sister Queens). Despite being type-A, I decided to make a conscious effort right from the first trimester not to micromanage every step on the publication trail, and not to freak out when I discovered that I didn’t have the political capital to do so anyway. Only a few days before my due date (launch), I am pretty proud of myself. I think I lived up to my pledge not to helicopter parent, and I am going to share the secrets to my tongue-biting success.
Keep your eye on the BIG picture – book sales. I want to sell books. My publisher wants to sell books. We all want to sell my book to people who are not ourselves (and not our friends and family for that matter). So what we like—in terms of a cover, or a title or blog-ad copy, etc—runs a distant second to what a majority of book-buying, cash-carrying potential readers will like.
And the truth is, authors (especially debut authors) may not be in a position to predict what will catch the eye of the average book buyer. I am not trained to do that (nor have I conducted studies or otherwise made it my business to keep my fingers on the pulse of such things) and you probably aren't either. Which leads to my next point.

Remind yourself as often as necessary, that years of experience and professional training DO count for something. Publishing is a competitive industry. The folks our publishers hired didn’t just walk off the street and say “this looks better than working at McDonalds.” They are professionals. The marketing and art department folks are trained to know what gets a book picked up off a “new releases” table. They have been designing covers and brainstorming titles for years. With this in mind, I decided, even as I was offering my own cover ideas (as my editor asked me to) I would stop well short of trying to “direct the brush” of the cover artists and I would accept that they might know best.

Similarly, my editor has been polishing manuscripts since well before I thought of writing them. So, when I received my editorial suggestions back in the second trimester, instead of growling “my baby is perfect as I wrote it,” I consciously adopted a listening frame of mind, and seriously considered every suggestion. My editor gave me the gift of “outside eyes” and not just any old eyes, veteran eyes.

Was ceding some portion of control over a novel I’d lived with and loved easy – not all the time. Did I take every suggestion my editor made – no (ultimately it’s my name on the cover). But neither did I assume I knew best (or if I did assume that for some, giddy, amount of time – I made sure not to email my editor until the feeling passed).

Bottom line: I wanted a deal with a major publisher precisely so that I could tap into the resources and experience of “the best.” Disregarding the type of accumulated expertise my publisher had to offer would have been stupid and stubborn. It would be like going to the hospital and insisting on doing your own c-section.

My book is now four days away from its publication date. I have seen an advanced copy. Am I happy with the results of my “campaign of collaboration?” Yes. My novel is still my baby, but she has my editor’s eyes. She looks spiffy in the cover designer’s custom creation. She’s all grown up and ready to hit the shelves. In case your wondering, I’ll be the woman in Barnes & Noble on March 6th snapping pictures of her on display like she’s a kindergartner getting on the school bus for the first time. “Say Cheese.”