3 Universal Truths of Authorship
The writer's life is ruled by three universal truths of authorship. During my book publishing career, I've seen these truths play out for dozens of authors. May these tidbits help you in those moments of doubt about why you wrote a book in the first place!
1. The Book Never Feels "Done."
Writing is your internal world.
You started with an idea. Developing the idea, you fall in love with the concept, whether fiction or nonfiction. The story is incredible and you want to share it with the world.
Publishing is your external world.
The path to publisher is circuitous. Once there, though, the steps in the publishing production process are the same: copyediting, design, proofreading. You participate in a back and forth over many details. Finally, the book files go to press.
The Taunting of "Perfect"
Shortly before the final copy of your book arrives, you awake in the middle of the night, sweating. You've composed the PERFECT SENTENCE that would make all the difference in chapter two, if you could just revise it one more time! But, you can't.
Your inner critic takes over. You start to doubt the entire process. Happy anticipation morphs into a gooey dread. The cure, here, is to prepare for "done."
How to Prepare for "Done"
Define what "done" means and looks like for you. Write, by hand, a paragraph about the future of your book and how your life will be different as a result of publishing it.
TIP: Create your own "Done" checklist. This is a great way to hold yourself accountable. It becomes much easier to let go of the final manuscript when you know you've met your own expectations. Inevitably, your editor will ask for revisions. Your checklist gives you a baseline for considering her revision suggestions.
2. The Book is Out of Your Control
From the time you conceived the idea through the final proofread, you maintained a measure of control over the book. During the process, you may not have liked some of the decisions the publisher made. For example, almost every author I know has a horror story about how they felt dismissed about the cover choice. Trust me, you were not dismissed. Nine times out of ten, the publisher does know best. It's their business.
When the book arrives in your hands, it is a real, physical thing. My all-time favorite example comes from the final scene of Julie & Julia. Julia Child, played by Meryl Streep, is at the stove when Paul Child, played by Stanley Tucci, walks through the door carrying the mail. Among the letters, there is a package. Julia opens it. It's the book. She looks at it and clutches to her chest. She is so happy. Paul is thrilled. It is a beautiful, private moment.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, just as the caterpillar becomes the butterfly, transformed from a writing and publishing exercise to a new book in the world. At moment of publication, the editor "lets go." Readers judge books. Word of mouth is the primary mechanism for selling books. Your editor moves on to the books for the next season.
You, on the other hand, might be feeling naked and afraid. The reader is a book browser you don't know personally. Think of your readers as the 10,000 people you will never meet in person. It is precisely at this moment when you need to let go and resist the temptation to "correct" readers about what you intended for the book.
Tip: Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell is an excellent example of a blog to book project, plus movie deal!
3. The Irresistible Urge to Correct Reviewers
Once upon a time, one of my authors contacted a book reviewer for The New York Times and told her how she obviously did not understand the book. Another author accused the host of not reading the book at all, during a live, national news show broadcast.
In both cases, these authors were using what Albert J. Bernstein calls their dinosaur brains. According to Bernstein, people's irrational and emotional acts are based on primitive flight, fight, and freight responses.
Of course, it is natural to feel you need to defend your book. You are human. But what is even more important, you are writing other books. Your career path is ahead of you.
As you might image, the publisher gets very angry when authors contact reviewers. Why? It is unprofessional, reflecting badly on you and your publisher.
What to do instead
Be thankful for every review, especially the harsh reviews. It is better to have a review with a strong reaction than a tepid one.
Step back, read reviews for consistency. Are reviewers commenting on the same issues or different issues? What are you learning from the reviews? Learning is key to your future success.
Tip: It's a challenging transition: moving from the publishing process to finished book. Suddenly, the 10,000 people you will never meet are talking about your book. Resist the temptation to "correct" their points of view in reviews.
Try This Exercise to Prepare for Your Book's Publication
Make a list of the ten questions you want to be asked. Then, make a list of the 10 questions that terrify you. These are the questions you fear you will be asked in an interview or at a book signing event. From this exercise, authors discover that the questions they most fear yield some of the best stories about how the book came into existence. Facing your fears is an act of courage. Readers connect with authenticity.
So, no dinosaur brains. Go forward to express the best of who you are. Find your own universal truth.
"So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing." -- T.S. Eliot #amwriting #bookpublishing