Friday, December 4, 2009

Tick Tick Tick... Kaboom

Okay. So one thing I obviously haven't learned since the launch of my first book, a year ago this month (!) is time management (shout out to Lisa, below - I hear ya' sister!). Heh. I ducked out of last week's posting and disappeared off the face of the planet and for that I must apologize to my fellow Girls ("hi Girls!"). I did it because I was, quite simply, overwhelmed. Also - I'm Canadian. And I already did the Thanksgiving thing weeks ago. All that talk of turkey was making me sleepy. Yeah. That's it.

No, seriously. You see, I was facing down the charging-bull of a deadline (which I've mostly met now, barring a handful of pages I kept back to work on before sending) for... Book the Third.

And here's where it gets weird. I'm still a "debut novelist", technically. DARKLIGHT, the second book in my WONDROUS STRANGE series hasn't even hit the shelves, yet! And I'm worrying about finishing up Book Three!! All of a sudden, time in my universe has become some kind of weird, convoluted Star Trek: TNG plot contrivance. "Help me, Commander Riker! I'm caught in the vortex of a temporal anomaly!" There is the constant threat of explosion. Or implosion.

Tick tick tick. It's the subject of many a pop song, Time.
Songs to which I can now vividly relate:

"Time keeps on slippin' slippin' slippin'..."
"Tiiiimme... keeps flowin' like a river..."
"Time time time... see what's become of me..." (yeah, see, I always hear The Bangles singing that in my head rather than Simon & Garfunkle...)

And that one song to which I quite simply cannot relate to AT ALL anymore:

"Too much time on my hands...."

So much has happened to me in this relatively brief span that, while I feel there is not nearly enough of the stuff (time), I've learned that - given the right impetus - you really can make use of it for all it's worth.

But, at the same time (heh), I've learned that, when something like this (becoming a debut novelist... and moving toward becoming a not-debut novelist) happens, you do really have to step back once in a while and make the world stop for you. Even if it's just for an hour at a stretch. Look around. Take a deep breath. Realize that something phenomenal has happened and let yourself appreciate it. Hell - MAKE yourself appreciate it.

Because, like Jillian said, once the book got out there... I, too, kind of thought it would be an ending of a sort. That the clock had counted down to the launch. And it had. But now there's a stopwatch constantly ticking that measures how I go forward from that point. It's a marathon. It's a series of sprints. I've learned to love the sound of seconds passing. Sometimes it sounds like a grandfather clock. Sometimes, a digital timer on an action-movie bomb.

My fellow Girls are wise. And they always get to this stuff before me. If you find yourself in this situation or one like it (and I hope you do!), follow the excellent advice they have given you below. What they have told is is all the stuff I have learned, and more. And I will add one more thing: it's not just time - it's YOUR time. Treat it as such.

And, know this: You're gonna miss things. And you're gonna screw things up because it all happens so fast. And you're gonna say things like "Dang, I wish I had more time!" You won't. And that's okay. You will just have to make the most of this finite precious resource. Me? Right now I'm on the west coast, hanging out with (regular Novel Girl reader) my mom. And looking out over the ocean.

I'm finishing my third book. I have a second book coming out in a few weeks.
A very short time from now.
An eternity away from this moment.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Just the Beginning

I’ve learned so much as a debut author, that I’m not sure I even know how to begin with this post. I guess you could say that I started this journey, this debut year, knowing close to nothing. For instance, when I first sold my book, the thought of promotion, publicists, sales and marketing teams, never crossed my mind. In fact, I’m not sure it ever occurred to me to consider how my book would get into readers’ hands. I just thought it, um, magically would, I guess.

And then I learned about making websites and diving into the world of social networking. Yes, there was a time, pre-debut, when the word “tweet” had never once entered my vocabulary, and now, it seems like a part of my daily existence. I learned about blogging and group blogging and blog tours and blog interviews and guest blogging. I learned about all the fabulous blog reviewers who wanted to read and help me promote my book. I learned about book signings and book festivals and how chain bookstores buy books. And that was just the beginning.

At a certain point last March, just after The September Sisters came out, I became so overwhelmed with book promotion that I might’ve gone a little crazy for a few weeks in there. I wasn’t writing (or sleeping much) either. And then I realized that I had to take a step back, take a deep breath. Every single thing was not going to go the way I wanted it to or expected it to. And that was okay.

But I think the biggest thing I learned was that my debut was just the beginning of my journey, the start to my career. And I started to actually believe it, that this, writing books, and all the work and promotion that comes with it is actually my career. As I watched the clock tick down to my debut release date last February, I mistakenly thought that when it hit 0, when the book came out, it would be the end of something. My book would be gone, out into the world. But no, really, it was just the beginning.

I didn’t do everything perfectly for my debut. There were things I wished I’d done after the fact, missed opportunities. Questions I wished I’d asked sooner. Blurbs I wished I’d gone after. Moments I wished I’d savored more. But just like anything thing else, this was a learning experience.

So my second book is coming out in two months, but this time I really do feel more prepared. I’ve got all the website/social networking/blogging stuff down, for starters. But most importantly, I’ve vowed to eat and sleep and keep writing. I’ve vowed to stop and enjoy the amazing moments. I’ve vowed to remember that this book is a step – a big, amazing, awe-inspiring step – in what I hope will be a long career.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Eratic Confessions of a Debut Novelist

I'm with Maureen, 2009 has been wild, highly emotional, exhausting, over-the-top crazy, and just downright wonderful. I wouldn't trade it for anything. There are a few things, though, that I intend to remember next time around.

Okay, I'll go ahead and confess right now my biggest surprise over debut book promotion. I wore myself out. I had no idea that traveling around promoting my book would cause me to lose sleep and forget what day of the week it was much less what date and what month! At one point, my adrenaline was rushing through my body so fast and furiously that I lost four nights sleep in a row. I mean I never got one wink's sleep in four freaking days!! This happened while I was in my home-town of Memphis promoting Whistlin' Dixie. In looking back on it I realize now that it was because I had not ever experienced that kind of a high.

The week was crammed with interviews and book signings (as well as a lovely launch party given by my childhood friends) and I was for a brief moment in time someone else other than myself. I was autographing books. Wow. What a new concept for me. For years I worked for a famous musician as his behind-the-scenes, right-hand person. I watched as he was hounded for autographs time and time again NEVER imagining that I would actually scribble out my own for anyone, anywhere, even one time. While I know the very few times I signed books are minuscule in comparison to that of my heroes Fannie Flagg or Pat Conroy, it still blew my mind that I would ever be asked to sign a book.

I've also learned that promoting your own book and not sitting back and expecting your publisher to do it all is also very important . . . especially when you're a debutante and no one knows who in the world you are. As a writer, you need to be prepared to promote your book, dream up ways to get the word out, use every contact or insider you can find and call in your favors!!

One other thing I learned is that I'm not the best at time management. I rarely had time to write while I was promoting my book. I remember distinctly Peter Wolf at Thomas Dunne Books explaining that very concept to me while we were sitting at lunch on a visit to NY. I heard him, but now I believe him. Don't count on being able to write much while you are in book launch mode.

Lastly, I learned to soak up the fun. Live in the moment. You only make ONE debut as a writer. You've worked for it, you've earned it and let no one deprive you of it . . . by all means have the time of your life.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Still Learning

Good Lord, where do I start on this week's topic? 2009 has been the craziest, most fulfilling, nerve-racking and emotional year of my life. And I have learned some lessons along the way--and a couple I'm still trying to embrace. Here's a few:

Enjoy it. If you would've told me in January to make sure I sat back and relished some of the ride, I would've probably laughed. I guess I would compare it to people telling you to enjoy planning a wedding or being pregnant. It's so easy to get caught up in the details--the stuff that you feel like you "should" be doing, that you nearly have to force yourself to sit down and enjoy the scenery once in awhile. Truth is, I miss a bit of the wide-eyed, innocent perspective I had before my book launched. So, if you can, try to stop the forward motion for a few moments and soak in the good stuff.

Do as much as you can without going insane. I mean this in terms of promotion. Focus on what you enjoy doing--blog interviews, book signings, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and forget about the rest. It's so, so easy to get sucked into trying to promote your book everywhere and it usually only ends up burning you out. Sure, this might mean cutting back on a few things, but in the end, your sanity is worth it.

Let go. This is the most difficult lesson--one that I'm still trying to learn. At some point, you have to move on from your book and focus on the next one. Many authors publish a book a year, which leaves a very small window after one book is released before they need to focus on the next one. To be honest, I've just started to switch over into giving Not Ready for Mom Jeans my attention and it feels a bit like...cheating. Which is ridiculous, since the front list supports the back list and all of that. But still. It's hard to let your baby go and think about the next one. I guess it's kind of like having a second child--you know it'll be great and fun, but don't want your first baby to feel neglected.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

I had to think a while about the lessons writing, selling, and having my debut book published taught me, and while there are several of them I could talk about, I'm going to focus on only one. The one that I wish I'd known before I sold: Don't sweat the small stuff.

What do I mean by that?

Here are a few things that aren't worth sweating over (trust me!):

  • Which font to use for your manuscript. As long as the font is readable, it truly doesn't matter. Seriously. Courier? That's fine. Times New Roman? Yep, fine. I mean, I probably wouldn't choose Algerian, Impact, or Curlz MT (to name a few), but if you choose a traditional, easy-to-read, 12 pt font, you're good to go.
  • Single or double spacing your synopsis. Again, no one really cares as long as it's easy to read with 1 inch margins.
  • Which word count to use. Use the word count your word processing program tells you is there. Don't worry about trying to calculate the old way (Courier New font, double space, 25 lines per page = 250 words per page x number of pages in the manuscript). There is no need to calculate word count anymore...not when word processing programs do the work for you! Besides which, you'll get a vastly different number from the calculation method.
  • Ignore the rules! Okay, don't ignore all of them. You want to follow submission guidelines, and you want to deliver a clean manuscript that is easy to read, has 1 inch margins all around, a header with your name and title of the book, etc. HOWEVER, you know those rules that say to never use certain words? Or that say you HAVE to plot, or you HAVE to do this or that or the next thing. IGNORE THEM and write your book the way you need to write it. However that way is. If you're a plotter, then plot. If you're not a plotter, then don't plot.

Naturally, if you're submitting to an agent who specifies the synopsis should be double spaced, then double space it, or if they state they want Times New Roman, then use TNR. Other than specific guidelines attached to submissions (whether for contests, editors, or agents), don't sweat this stuff. You'll drive yourself crazy for no reason.

I hope everyone had a terrific holiday weekend! I know I did, and most of my Christmas shopping is already done. I plan on finishing within the next week, so I can do something different this year and not have a six-hour wrap fest the day before Christmas Eve. THIS year, I plan on wrapping a few things here and there every day. I'll let you know how successful I am!

See you all next week!