In continuing the look behind the scenes in publishing here at Writer Unboxed, I felt compelled to share something I very recently went through—the baby blues. My debut novel BECOMING JOSEPHINE—about the woman who stole Napoleon’s heart and enchanted an empire—just released last month. I should be so proud and still on a high. People are actually reading my words for the first time! I’m so grateful, but the natural high? Not so much. But how can that be? I’m the luckiest girl in the world!
Let’s back up for the long view.
When I got the call my book had sold, the wheels began to turn. Beyond the excitement(!) and utter joy (!!) of being a lead title at a big 5 publisher, I experienced the first REAL pressure since I had started writing.
Yes, surviving rejections, finding an agent, and landing a contract are STRESSFUL and emotionally EXHAUSTING, but they’ve got nothing on the pre-launch jitters, at least not for me. I couldn’t sleep at night as my to-do list grew: blog tours, publicity plans, touring schedules. Do I order bookmarks or postcards? WHAT IF THEY HATE MY BOOK? Which advertisements should I invest in? What sort of publicity was my publisher doing to promote the book? WHAT IF THEY HATE MY BOOK? Who do I distribute ARCs to? How should my new website look?
WHAT IF THEY HATE MY BOOK?
I was especially nervous about the reviews because I marry two genres with my novel—it’s both historical fiction and women’s fiction, which means some die hards on either side of that coin may not have liked it…or at the very least, didn’t really understand my goal: highlighting the inner growth of a woman coming into her true self AS WELL AS her growth from poor-mannered plantation girl into a role model that would impact the history of France forever.
And then this miraculous thing happened. The reviews started pouring in and they were OVERWHELMINGLY good. Yes, every author deals with negative (or downright hurtful) reviews, but for the most part, readers got it—they not only “got” what I was trying to do, but they really, really liked it. Then the second phase of the anxiety kicked in.
WHAT IF THE BOOK DOESN’T SELL?
All the wonderful reviews in the world don’t mean people will FIND YOU, this drop of water in an ocean of novelists, or even buy, buy, buy. On the flip side, what if the amazing happens? What if the book hits THE LIST? The big list, the one we are all striving to dominate.
But I carried on and launch day arrived to lots of fanfare. I held a Facebook party and a local celebration with friends, all the while I feverishly checked my stats on Amazon, B & N, and Goodreads. I did it! Sort of. The book broke the top twenty on three different lists on Amazon for several weeks, though no sign of USA Today or NY Times. But hey, I’m just a debut after all, and there’s lots more time.
But after the flurry of activity and worry (BREATHE), during those post-launch days, the only thing happening was:
The book had been birthed, but my guinea pig still peed on the rug. My kids still got the flu and projectile vomited for three days. I still had piles of dirty laundry. I still had another book to write.
BUT WHY HADN’T MY LIFE CHANGED? I was a novelist!
Not only was my life still the same, but I hadn’t blown up any charts, I hadn’t become an overnight sensation. My publisher wasn’t throwing galas in my honor. That’s when the blues set in. The ol’ crash after the high. All of the bustle and excitement felt overblown and silly, and I had to remember what it was all for. The hopes and dreams, the stress and anxiety. So I contacted other author buddies to see if they had felt the same way. Did they get depressed after their book released? Why did I feel so crappy? I should be dancing on the rooftops, right?
But days went by and I got back into my writing routine. Then the second miraculous thing happened. I realized something–something I knew before I even signed with my agent, or sold a book, or began to drown in the emotional chaos of pre-launch mania.
I LOVE TO WRITE.
Words are beautiful and gritty and life-changing. They paint pictures, build empires, and ignite love stories that make us and destroy us. For all of the songs and slogans that say actions speak louder than words, IT JUST ISN’T TRUE. Words eternalize those actions. And I, ME, this one little drop of water in this great big ocean of novelists, have added my words to the fabric of human history and they’re beautiful—to me—and THAT is what matters. And if they impart hours of entertainment, joy, inspiration to even one reader, I have done what I set out to do, and that is enough. And by God, I want to do it all over again.
Now I’m staring at my second contract for RODIN’S LOVER out next winter, and I know the emotional tidal wave will swell again, but this time, I won’t drown. I’ll be floating on an island of manuscript pages with author friends and readers, sipping a gin and tonic while brainstorming the next great novel.
In parting, I leave you with this:
- Establish balance in your life. Obsession, possession, and anxiety are lethal.
- Remember you’re already living the dream. You’re doing what you love. Many never do.
- Keep fighting the good fight, or keep putting those stories on paper.
- Discover what it means to be successful to you, no one else, just you. Believe in it.
Have you ever experienced a letdown with your writing? How did you cope?