Sunday, February 13, 2011

It Never Ends

You finally did it.

When you first made the decision to write a book, you willingly gave up any semblance of a social life, and spent incalculable hours crouched over your keyboard, writing. You agonized over every word written, every descriptive paragraph, every bit of dialogue. You cleverly incorporated every scrap of your well-documented research, careful to keep the story informative without being preachy. By the time you finished your first draft, your characters were nicely rounded and fleshed out; your heroes were loveable, your villains were horrible, and all the plot holes stitched up tighter than Aunt Bertha's girdle.

Then you diligently, painfully edited your work, carving out chunks that left your soul bleeding because you really, really loved the scene where your hero went shoe shopping, but realized it added virtually nothing to the plot or character development except for feeding your own secret fantasy to throw away fifteen hundred bucks on a pair of Prada heels. You revised and revised and revised, whittling and tweaking until your manuscript practically screamed "bestseller."

After a period of extensive research during which you picked the brain of every writer of your genre you could corner, you pinpointed your market, chose a publisher, and finally sent your baby on its merry way with a wish and a prayer and a query letter that was nearly literary gold in and of itself.

Weeks passed, perhaps months, and although you went about your business of day-to-day living, your book was never far from your mind. Where was it now? Was it on someone's desk, or moldering in some godforsaken slush pile? Who was reading it? Did they like it, or were they passing it around the office, all getting a good chuckle from what they collectively thought might arguably be the worst book ever written? Did someone use it to paper a bird's cage?

You lost sleep. You didn't eat. You got cranky with the cat.

Then one morning, just as you've convinced yourself you must have been out of your mind to consider writing the book in the first place let alone sending it out for strangers to read, an email from the publisher appeared in your inbox. You began to sweat blood. Was it good news, or bad? You stared at the unopened email, trying to discern from the vague subject line (deviously worded, "your submission") whether there's an offer of a contract within or a rejection. It's only after several shots of liquid courage and much pacing and wringing of hands that you found the wherewithal to open the email and read the contents.

Hallelujah! It was an offer to publish. You did it!

Cue the fireworks and tickertape parade.

Unfortunately, your work had just begun. Over the next few months, you were assigned an editor, and repeatedly hit upside the head with the edit mallet. Someone you never met before, who was not there to see blood seep from your pores as you agonized over the original manuscript, or the hives spotting your skin while you waited for the acceptance letter, who had no idea of what your crankiness did to the cat, has red-lined the pages of your manuscript like an English teacher on steroids. They lectured you on comma use, dialogue tags, dashes, ellipses, parentheses, POV, and exposition, and demanded a new scene written in which your hero goes shoe shopping.

You did everything asked of you. You grumbled, perhaps, but spent as many additional hours as necessary meticulously making changes to what, until twenty-four hours ago, you were confident was already a Pulitzer-worthy manuscript.

After this gut-wrenching process, you went through yet another round of soul-searing edits, then line edits, and finally, a couple of rounds of proofing. By this time, you'd developed a nervous tic, and the cat had bald patches and refused to come out from under the sofa.

Your hard work, diligence, self-flagellation, and occasional use of voodoo dolls and pins paid off. Finally, finally, your book released. It had cover art! It had a dedication! It had an ISBN number! It was all shiny and pretty and sitting on the front page of the publisher's website!

Think you're finished with it?

Oh hell no.

You now must begin the arduous task of promoting your book, because if you don't initiate a marketing and promotion plan that is the literary equivalent of guerilla warfare, no one will know about the damn thing or buy it.

In a blizzard of activity, you send out mass release notifications to every email address on the planet, clog Yahoo group inboxes with excerpts, update your website with life-size graphics of your book cover, and hold contests for readers to win fabulous prizes like a chapstick with your name on it, or -- drum roll please -- a copy of your book. You do interviews until the entire world knows you've written a book, the name of your favorite television show, and the color of your underwear. You create book trailers that are worthy of Oscar acclaim. You plaster review sites with book cover and banner ads. You Facebook, blog, and Tweet until your Twitter is sore. You do book signings and make appearances at conventions. In short, you do everything except skywrite your book's buy-link over large metropolitan areas.

Miraculously during all of this, you've managed to write your second book. It was accepted for publication and the entire process began to repeat itself.

So, now you're finally done with the first book, right? I mean, you're a busy author. Prolific, even. You're multi-published, for Heaven's sake. You have a second book to worry about now and a third in the works, not to mention needing to decide if you should dip the cat in a vat of medicated lotion to encourage hair growth, or if it would easier to just tell everyone it's the Sphinx breed. The first book is over and done with, never to darken your computer screen again.

Oh hell no.

As a writer, you must come to terms with one undeniable truth -- you are never done with a book.

The first book simply switches from its much-touted "new release" label to a different, if no less important, one. It becomes your backlist.

Your first book may no longer be the engine driving your career train, but no matter how many freight cars you stick between it and your latest new release, it never really goes away. It will always be the caboose, chugging along at the rear.

Your backlist is important because those earlier books, while perhaps overshadowed by your sparkling, shiny new releases, are what help pad your royalties and keep the cat in hair tonic. As a writer, you can't afford to forget about them.

You'll become quite devious in your methods when it comes to keeping your backlist titles in front of readers. You'll sneak in references to books on your backlist when doing interviews, Facebook posts, and blogs. You'll find ways to work them into Yahoo posts, even when they're sometimes far removed from the topic - after all, you're a writer, and words are your forte. You may write sequels, even if you did not intend to do so when you wrote the first book.

When the dreaded day finally comes, the one in which your first book goes out of contract, it will still refuse to die. After all, a book sitting on your desktop collecting dust will not make you one thin dime. It isn't like an NFL jersey number. You don't need to retire it. At this point, you'll either tear it apart, rewrite and expand it in hopes of reselling it to another publisher, self-publish it, or offer it up as a free read to boost sales of your current titles.

Eventually, given enough time, the cat's hair will grow back, but you'll still be promoting that first book in one form or another. It just never ends.

But you know what? It's totally worth it.


  1. Love this post! Especially the e-mail part... Every time I see an e-mail from a publisher with the subject like "Re: Submission" I taste bile. No matter the response, it's still a little terrifying... LOL

  2. LOL! Great post Kiernan. You described the angst so perfectly, if slightly different.

    I agree with you though. That first book is never far from my mind. Especially since I'm only now writing my third and, hopefully, will soon finish "Learning To Samba."

    I think the first book syndrome is like your very first child. It's the one that makes you a parent. It's the one from which you learn what not to do the second time around. It's also the one that you look at and wonder: 1) what the hell was I thinking going on this crazy journey? and 2) do I have another one in me?