Tag Archives: the road thus far

The Road Thus Far: ARCs!

I had very noble intentions yesterday to clean my apartment. Every piece of clothing I own needs to be washed, our floors are crusted with salt and mud after weeks of tracking in snow, and all the plants in the window have gone to plant heaven. And since I have been so steadfastly avoiding writing my current manuscript, cleaning seemed the perfect way to spend a Tuesday night.

But then a thing showed up in my mailbox. It was book-shaped and had my name on it. And all my plans went out the window.

Guys, my first ARC1 came! It is not a finished book, but it is cut and bound and has my cover and a spine and my words inside of it and my picture outside of it and it smells like a book and pages turn and GUH BOOK.

So instead of doing anything I meant to, I spent the entire night snuggling my ARC, and flipping through it, and giggling with happiness, and clutching it to my heart, and moving it around the apartment and flailing over the way it looked in different places.

My apartment did not get cleaned. But my book and I had many adventures together.

We practiced sitting on a shelf, which will one day be its full time occupation.

photo(6)It met some of the neighbors2.

photo(7)“These are going to be your new best friends, book,” I told it.

photo(5)Look at this beautiful book sandwich!

photo(4)Seriously I just carried it everywhere with me, even to completely nonsensical places where there was clearly no application for it.

photo(3)I actually did do a load of laundry, and, without meaning to, carried the ARC into the laundry room with me. I didn’t realize I had done it until I was trying to figure out how to juggle an armful of sheets and the most precious thing in my possession over a tub of water.

Yeah, my book and I did laundry together.

photo(2)And then, because excessive joy is thoroughly exhausting, book and I went to sleep. And I woke to discover it was not just a beautiful dream3.

photo(1)Guys, I am a super weirdo. If that wasn’t already clear, stuffed Appa in that bottom picture probably cemented it.

But my book is almost a real book. It is now a real thing that I can hold in my hands and I refuse to be cool or normal or coy about that fact or pretend this ARC is not the most amazing thing ever or that it is not overwhelming and staggering and humbling to watch your dreams come true. There is a peculiar sort of magic in seeing something I created in the same form as other things that have had such a tremendous and powerful impact on me.

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I am excruciatingly bad at taking selfies but also too shy to ask my roommate to take a picture of me with my book.

My book is a real book. Who’d have thought it?

 

  1. An Advanced Reader’s Copy, for those of you who don’t know that term. Advanced reader’s copies are NOT finished books—they are cheap, flimsy paperbacks, often still with errors and another round of edits before the finished book is printed—but they are what gets handed out to reviewers, bloggers, bookstores, librarians, etc. to get people excited about your book before it comes out. They are not sold. This is not a finished copy of the book. No, your finished copy won’t be in paperback like this one or have that “Uncorrected Proof” red stamp in the corner and on the spine. No, you can’t have one. No, your preorder won’t arrive tomorrow. No, it isn’t fair. LIFE ISN’T FAIR.
  2. And I squeed because MY BOOK is as real of a book as Frankenstein!
  3. But don’t worry—I’ve only had an actual book in my possession for twelve hours and I’ve already had a stress dream about holding a book signing that no one came to.
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the road thus far: on pass pages and preorders

Things are starting happen that are making me aware of the fact that my Book will soon be a real Book. For example, today I got pages in the mail.

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AND THEY LOOK LIKE REAL BOOK PAGES. Not a Word Doc–REAL BOOK PAGES.

They have CHAPTER HEADINGS. AND PAGE NUMBERS. And there is an AUTHOR’S NOTE. And I wrote it! Because I AM AN AUTHOR. Or something.

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Whoa.

Second of all, THIS MONSTROUS THING is starting to show up for preorder on all the major online retailers. Which is fantastic news, and means you can pay a small sum now and in approximately nine months, a delightful surprise you forgot you ordered will show up on your doorstep, and you will think to yourself, “Thanks for that delightful surprise I forgot I ordered, past self.” Seriously, preordering books is the best because you will always forget you ordered them and it will always be a surprise.

Now, if you would like to preorder a copy of my book, first of all, allow me to present you an otter of my happiness:

flattered otter

Really. Thank you.

Now let met suggest where you do it: NOT AMAZON.

Okay fine, if you want to order through Amazon, I get it, and honestly, I really don’t care where you buy because I’m just so flattered you’re buying it at all.

But wouldn’t you rather be supporting local economy, creating jobs, fostering community spirit, promoting literacy, and not selling a small piece of your soul to the devil, all while buying yourself a kick ass book that you will probably love? And on top of that, wouldn’t you rather have your preordered copy of that kick ass book signed by the selfsame author who wrote its author’s note!?

If the answer to those questions is “Yes, of course,” then you should order your copy from Porter Square Books, my favorite local independent bookstore. And if you don’t live in Boston, don’t worry! They will happily ship it to you!

And on top of that, like you needed more incentive to buy from such a fantastic institution, I will sign every single copy that is preordered through Porter! Not only sign then, I will probably draw weird cartoons in some of them. Maybe you will be the lucky recipient of a copy of THIS MONSTROUS THING with an illustrated rendering of the plot by daleks scribbled in the front cover. Maybe I will write you a secret message on page 232. Maybe I will leave Frankenstein related graffiti underneath the dust jacket1.

Whatever the case, all Porter Square preorders WILL BE SIGNED2. So if that sounds like something you would like, go forth and preorder your copy through Porter3!

And end shameless self promotion.

  1. I got a set of calligraphy pens for Christmas and I have been practicing. It no longer looks like I sneezed in the middle of every other letter, and hopefully it will be even better by September.
  2. For a little extra money, not by me.
  3. You can also preorder through IndieBound, HarperCollins, and Barnes and Noble. Take your pick.
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The Road Thus Far: Champagne Problems

I haven’t blogged in a while, and I’m doing it now because a) I am trapped inside by a post apocalyptic snowstorm, and b) I have a novel I should be writing but am stuck on.

So it has now been eight months since I signed my book deal for my debut novel. In that time, I have learned a lot. Mostly that if I can worry about it, I will. I worry about everything associated with publishing, usually irrationally and in maddening excess.

That has been the biggest lesson of debuting so far: You will worry about everything.

You will worry about plot choices you made. You will worry about setting choices you made. You will worry about the words you used in describing these plot and setting choices. You will worry about how you spelled your characters’ names. You will worry that your book isn’t getting enough marketing attention. You’ll worry your book is getting too much. You’ll worry no one will read it. You’ll worry everyone will. Everything that once made sense when it was just you and your manuscript on your own will be thrown into sharp relief and called into question. You will worry this is a fluke and you will never sell another novel. You will worry your book is actually terrible and everyone who has read it and told you they loved it was on drugs. You will worry about the cruel and profanity-laden reviews people will leave for you on Goodreads. You will worry about the equally cruel but less profanity laden reviews you will get in review journals.

You will worry about things you did not know it was possible to worry about. You will worry about everything

And it will probably drive you crazy.

These, my friends, are what I now call champagne problems.

The other week, I was having lunch/writing date with two author friends of mine. We were talking about the sort of things authors talk about when they get together—advances, marketing, covers, editors. Or rather, what happens when your advance is smaller than you expected, when you don’t get the marketing plan you wanted, when your cover isn’t good, when your editor just stops responding.

And then one of them—much smarter than me—said, “Aren’t these lucky problems to have?”

Champagne problems. Luxurious and lucky problems that come with having amazing things happen to you.

But you, as the debut author, will still worry irrationally and constantly about them. And that’s sort of weird gift in a way too, because it means this matters to you. This matters a lot. And it is a champagne problem indeed to have something that matters enough to worry that much1.

  1. Maybe I am writing things blog post to you, the audience, or maybe I am writing a weird letter to self. Who knows?
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The Road Thus Far: Copyedits

I had grand blogging aspirations for the end of October. I was going to tell you all about Geneva, city of my heart, and about the Metropolitan Waterworks, my new favorite haunt in Boston, and maybe about how I helped pack five thousand books for the bookstore the other night.

But then copyedits happened. And that’s been my life instead.

What are copyedits, you ask1? Let me explain: After an author finishes with developmental edits2, your manuscript gets sent to someone who understands things authors often ignore, like grammar and sentence structure and where is the appropriate place to put a comma. Things that, it turns out, I know nothing about. Copyeditors also keep an eye out for things like inconsistencies in the stage business—two paragraphs ago you said this character had blue eyes and now they’re green, the wrench was on the table and now it’s in his hand—and some light fact checking—you realize this historical event actually took place two years after you said it did? Things like that. The copy editor also helps catch the annoying typos you didn’t notice before, thank goodness. Like when my computer decided when I typed Lord Byron, what I actually meant was Lord Bryan. Ah, Lord Bryan, my favorite of all the Romantic poets.

Then I as the author have to go through the manuscripts and address all the copy editor’s queries before sending it back to my editor.

I’ve learned a lot from copyedits3, such as the difference between further and farther, backwards and backward. Also there’s such a thing as a copulative verb4. And birthdays make calculating age somehow infinitely more complicated. And all right and alright are not the same.

Clearly, I know nothing.

Copyedits have put a weird dent in my confidence. When I turned in my developmental edits, I was feeling pretty solid, but I’m starting to get a little panicked about the fact that this book is about to become a book. Copyedits are the first step for me that has really carried this process beyond what I’ve done before I had a book deal. I keep thinking of the part in How I Met Your Mother where Barney is sick and Robin is taking care of him. Barney, in a fit of petulant Barney-ness, shouts at Robin, “I hate you!” At which point she goes to leave, having had enough, and he immediately whimpers, “Don’t leave me.”

gif 1gif 2In this scenario, I am petulant Barney, and my manuscript is long-suffering Robin.

I’ve been doing editorial work on this book pretty much constantly for a year and a half, and by now, I’ve read it so many times that I can’t see it as a whole anymore—it’s all fragments and pieces, draft upon draft overlaid on top of each other5, and I can’t make all those pieces fit together into a coherent story anymore. I can’t decide if that’s because it actually doesn’t make sense, or if it’s because anything will start to sound like nonsense after you read it a billion and a half times.

bowlSo part of me wants to throw this manuscript back at my publisher and shout, “Here just take it I never want to see it again!” but the other half of me wants to cling to it with my Gollum arms and never let it out into the world.

I hate you, don’t leave me. That pretty much sums up my experience with copyedits.

And now, I’m back to work. Gonna read this book again. One. More. Time.

bowl 2

  1. My mom and I were laughing the other day about how this time last year, not a single one of us knew what copyedits were. Now, with me writing this book thing and my mom working at a children’s magazine, suddenly it’s a household word. The times, they are a changing.
  2. These include the sort of things you think of when you think of editing a book—adjusting plot points, rewriting scenes, things like that.
  3. Though knowing me, I will probably not incorporate any of that into my writing because grammar is hard, yo.
  4. Not as sexy as it sounds.
  5. I keep working myself up into a frenzy over things I changed months ago. Clearly I’m losing my mind. Send help.
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The Road Thus Far: Being On Submission

Welcome back to the Road Thus Far, an honest chronicle of what happens after you sell your debut novel.

Things in novel land have been going well lately. Some big exciting things are beginning to happen, things beyond just me staring at a computer screen, so this is all starting to feel alarmingly real. At this point, around a year before publication, I am starting to see marketing plans, cover ideas, and jacket copy. I also got my author photo sorted, which is a whole other blog post.

But this week, I am going to back track and talk about what it’s like to be on submission.

If you are not a writer currently chasing publication, you might not know what it means to be  ‘on submission’. Submission is the term for the period of time while your manuscript has been submitted to publishers—either by you or your agent—and is being considered by editors for actual publication. It is essentially the step before the signing of the book contract, and involves a lot of waiting, obsessive email checking, and alternately playing out worst case scenarios and dreamy fantasies about seven figure book deals and bestsellers. And then it usually involves a lot of rejection, and hearing all the reasons your book is not suitable for publication.

In short, submission SUCKS. It sucks. It never gets better, it never gets easier, it just sucks.

I struggle with bad anxiety. My mother likes to remind me that everyone has anxiety, but I’ve also polled enough people in my life to know that my anxiety often goes above most definitions of normal. It can be overwhelming and impossible to deal with. It can also be irrational, merciless, and consuming.

When my novel went on submission in May of this year, I knew exactly what to expect because I’d already done it once before—I’d had another novel on submission for almost a year with dozens of publishers.

And none of them wanted it.

It was crushing. And made it incredibly difficult to access my rational side when my second book went out.

After two weeks of being on submission and being so anxious about it that my anxiety started to manifest in physical symptoms, I decided I needed to do something. A technique that sometimes works for me when I deal with anxiety is writing letters from my rational self to my irrational self. It gives me a chance to unapologetically access the calm pieces of my brain and let it speak to the part of me that is freaking out.

So this is the letter I wrote to myself while I was on submission, with the note “read this if your book doesn’t sell” on it. Obviously my book did sell, but I still read it when I am freaking out sometimes, because there are things in it that apply to absolutely every step I have gone through—from being a first drafting, clueless writer to querying for an agent to submission to now going through the perils that accompany a book coming out. I hope other writers—no matter where you are in the process of writing or publishing—will find something in it. Or at least know you are not alone in your crazy.

Dear Self,

So your manuscript didn’t sell.

Knowing you, you are distraught over this and throwing yourself a big old pity party. Justified. You can be upset for like two minutes. Okay, maybe twenty minutes. But then you have to get up, turn off the sad music, and listen to me, rational Mackenzi, who you are currently incapable of accessing.

Does it suck that your book didn’t sell? Yes.

But here’s what that does not mean:

  1. It does not mean that this is a bad manuscript or that it was a waste of time and emotional energy to write it. Think about what you learned from working on it. SO MUCH. You will never be as bad as you were before you wrote this book. You are getting better with every book you write.
  2. And on the note of getting better, not selling does not mean you are a bad writer.
  3. This does not mean you will never, ever be published.
  4. You are not letting anybody down because this book didn’t sell. Not your agent. Not your professors. Not your critique partners or writing group.
  5. And not yourself either, because you wrote the best book you could write. You pulled no punches and took no prisoners. Not selling does not change this or cancel out the hard work or lessen in any way that this is the best work you can create at this point in your life.
  6. You aren’t accountable to anyone, unless you let this stop you.
  7. Sometimes books sell in two days. Sometimes it takes years. Sometimes they never sell. Sometimes great writers have long and winding paths to seeing their words in print. The amount of time you are on submission or the number of manuscripts it takes is not a reflection of the quality of that work or your talent.
  8. Market trends and in-house factors suck, but are also totally valid and out of your control. Sometimes awesome books don’t sell for reasons that have nothing to do with their awesomeness.
  9. YOU DO NOT SUCK! As a writer or a person. It is so easy and comfortable to believe you do. Far easier than having confidence in yourself. Also remember that you have so much time to pursue this dream, or you will die young and this will be published posthumously and you will become a NYT Bestseller and you will be remembered as a tragic, misunderstood young genius. Win-win. This is not the last good idea you will ever have. This is not the only project you will ever care about. This is not the only thing you will ever be proud of creating.

Not selling does not equal failure. Not trying again or letting yourself fall apart over this does.

Chin up, sunshine. It will happen.

Love, Rational Mackenzi

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The Road Thus Far: Turning in the Book

Hello, I’m back, and trying something new. I’ve been thinking a lot about how when I was a pre-book deal writer, I was always curious about what happens between the ‘being offered the book deal’ and the ‘seeing shiny new hardcover on bookstore shelf’. The whole process seems very secret, but really it’s not! Well some things are, but mostly I think what happens should be talked about rather than shrouded in mystery. So this is a start of a new series I’m calling The Road Thus Far, in which I will chronicle with as much honesty and transparency as I am able the process of getting a debut novel published by a large house. Feel free to ask questions in comments, and I will do my best to answer them!

So, first and foremost in today’s publishing-related news, I turned in my book1!

It has happened! After editing like mad since my book sold in June, the final manuscript is sitting in my editor’s inbox! And while the journey is far from over, the manuscript itself is now basically out of my hands2 and will soon be off to people who will make it more book-shaped and do things with it that I couldn’t do by myself, like inserting commas in the right places and spelling laboratory correctly3.

Don’t worry: I’ve already thought of at least five things I should have done differently. And it’s only been a few hours since I turned it in. 

This was essentially my last chance to change anything with the manuscript. Okay, sure, there will be copy editing changes because I’m a nightmare of a grammarian who did not realize until a few months ago that suit and soot are two different words, and as I’m reading over those, I will probably find some sentence I just can’t stand and beg them to let me rewrite it, but really the big stuff is now solid and fixed. And after tinkering with this book for basically a year and a half, this is terrifying.

Because what if I’m wrong? What if there were better choices for the characters, or more realistic turns for the plot? What if my world-building just makes no sense and I never realized it? What if my writing is interchangeable with that of a third grader? Or what if my writing is actually worse, because most third graders know the difference between soot and suit, don’t they? And I know you have to trust your editor, trust your agent, trust your critique partners who would have told you long ago if these things sucked. But those voices are so quiet compared to the ones in my head that tell me I have done everything wrong and will probably regret letting other people read this weird thing I wrote. It is so hard to trust myself, and almost harder now that I know people are going to be reading it at the end of all this.

Because really, books are never done, are they? We could all keep tinkering with our manuscripts for the rest of our lives4. So is this version I’ve ended up with really the one that I want to put out into the world?

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Some celebratory coloring after I turned in the book.

For a long time, I told myself the lie that as soon as I got a book deal, I would feel like a Real Writer. Maybe even (gasp!) an author. All my anxiety would go away and I would feel confident in my skills and the choices I made for my book. Spoiler alert—that didn’t happen. In fact, sometimes I feel like more of a fraud now because I have tricked everyone into thinking I’m good enough to be published when I’m really not. As a writer, I don’t feel any different than I did the night before I got my book deal, or the week, or even the month. I don’t feel competent or qualified. Writing is still hard, and still makes me anxious, except now I think about other people reading this thing that is hard and anxious for me. And then I want to throw up.

But something sort of remarkable also happened during this process of sweating out my final draft. Somewhere, in the delirious Diet Coke-fueled haze that comes with doing final edits on your debut novel, I started to feel okay about what I’ve written, and started to remember why I’d written it in the first place. I started to love my characters again, and thinking things like, “If people don’t like these choices I made, who cares? I like them!” There were a few places I actually felt good about what I had written. And even one moment when I thought, “Hot damn, some genius wrote this!” Though admittedly, when I thought that, I was reading the Frankenstein quotations that appear in the manuscript rather than something I had actually written. But still.

And then these stupid little things keep happening that send me into fits of delirious joy, things like my editor sending me the flap copy that will go on the inside of the book jacket, and asking me to write my bio, and giving me the name of the person who will be designing my book. These little things that didn’t happen when writing was just me, my computer, and my anxiety. And as frightened as I am to release this monstrous thing I have created into the world, it is infinitely more exciting, and I am trying not to run from it and instead let myself enjoy it.

Have questions about my road to publication thus far, or what happens to a debut novel after it sells? Leave them in the comments! Just please don’t ask a question that requires me to answer with the words suit, soot, or laboratory.

  1. I feel like I need to admit that I am actually writing this days before I turn in said book, though by the time it hits the blog, it will have actually happened. But I do sort of feel like I’m taunting myself by writing those words without actually having accomplished them yet.
  2. Unless something went horribly wrong and my editor hates all the changes I made.
  3. Which, in spite of the fact that I’ve been writing a Frankenstein book for a year and a half, I still can’t do.
  4. And some of us do. I’m looking at you, Tolkien.
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