Friday, March 4, 2011

Launch Day

The other day I was asked the following question by someone who was reviewing my new book, Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best:

“What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?”

The question itself surprised me. Sure, I’ve learned a lot more about the publishing business since selling a book. I’ve experienced the “process” first hand, of reviewing galleys and going over copyeditor’s notes, and writing bios and jacket flap copy. I’ve sat in bookstores and autographed my book. Stood in front of groups and read aloud (that’s way more fun than signing copies in bookstores by the way …) I’ve done all that sort of published-author-fun-stuff, and yes, it’s fun.

But I guess the biggest “surprise” of all is that I feel like the exact same writer I’ve ever been. Nothing has changed, really. I haven’t gotten rich, although my husband is still planning to retire on the movie rights to one of my books … if and when a big studio decides to purchase the movie rights. People don’t recognize me in the street, except to ID me as so-and-so’s mother. I still buy milk at the grocery store, scrub toilets, fold laundry and walk the dog. Although, now that I think of it, some days, when I’m working, and happen to glance up from the page, I see Frisbee staring at me with more than the usual patient worship. “My owner is a published author,” those brown doggy eyes seem to say. “A published author scoops my poop.”

So, there. That’s something new and different.

The fact is that even if someone decides to give you money and print your stuff, it still boils down to the same thing: hours alone, trying to tell a story and string words into sentences. I’ve been doing it since 8th grade, and the process is … pretty much the same. Although now I have a computer, and back in the dark ages, when I was an 8th grader, I didn’t even have an electric typewriter.

One of my favorite contemporary authors, Anne Lamott, describes this phenomenon brilliantly and irreverently in her book, Bird by Bird. These past few nights I’ve been rereading her chapter on publishing, not only because Tomatoes is scheduled for release this week, but because she just gets it.

Anne Lamott on “Launch Day”:

There is something mythic about the date of publication, and you actually come to believe that on this one particular morning you will wake up to a phone ringing off the hook and your publisher will be so excited that they will have hired the Blue Angels precision flying team to buzz your squalid little hovel …

In fact, Anne spends the day by the phone, waiting for it to ring. I usually don’t hear from my editor on launch day, but I usually send her a little something. Chocolates. A mug. A card thanking her for believing in me and my work.

Anne Lamott on “Being a Published Author”:

I tell you, if what you have in mind is fame and fortune, publication is going to drive you crazy. If you are lucky, you will get a few reviews, some good, some bad, some indifferent. … There will be a few book signing parties and maybe some readings, at one of which your publisher will spring for a twenty-pound wheel of runny Brie, and the only person who will show has lived on the street since he was twelve and even he will leave, because he hates Brie.

And finally, Anne Lamott on “After You Publish a Book”:

But eventually you have to sit down like every other writer and face the blank page. The beginnings of a second or third book are full of spirit and confidence because you have been published, and false starts and terror because now you have to prove yourself again. … What I know now is that you have to wear out all that dread by writing long and hard and not stopping too often to admire yourself and your publishedness in the mirror. Sometime later you’ll find yourself at work on another book, and once again you figure out that the real payoff is the writing itself, that a day when you have gotten your work done is a good day, that total dedication is the point.

For the next few weeks, now that Tomatoes is officially out in the world, I suppose I’ll be reveling in my own “publishedness.” I’ll get to read out loud, to a live audience, which I’ll confess is a lot of fun. There’s a party planned, and a couple of signings.

But then, it will all die down, and it’s back to work. I’m writing a new novel, which means long days alone with make-believe people, my laptop, and my biggest fan: the dog.

And that’s just fine.

No comments:

Post a Comment