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Life as a New Author—Or, What I’ve Learned on My Summer Vacation
I’m the new kid on the block. My first book, THE HUNT, was published by Dorchester in October 2009, which means it’s been on the shelves for eleven months now. My second book, BOND WITH ME, was released by Dorchester as an ebook this week, with a trade paperback planned for May 2011. Selling the book of my heart to a NYC publishing house has been a roller coaster and I wouldn’t trade it for the world (ooh! Hackneyed phrase—do I lose my author license?). Still, here are the top ten things I’ve learned as a new author:
1. There are a thousand and one ways to spend your first advance check (multiple times). Typically, your first advance check isn’t large. At all. Dorchester’s tends to run around two thousand dollars. Of course, the fact that anyone would pay me to write fiction is fantastic—I’m not complaining. But all those people who think all new authors are going to be rushing out to be a gated mansion and book a round-the-world cruise? Not so much. Unless it’s a mansion in the middle of a crack district and the cruise ship is actually a raft. With my first advance check, I treated myself to a large box of daylilies (twice—but don’t tell my husband) and then most of it went straight to the IRS and book promotions.
2. Writing is a family affair. Of course, I suspect most jobs are. Kids lick stamps and envelopes, sort bookmarks, and kiss all the manuscripts for luck before they leave the house (yes, that’s why everything is so sticky around here). They tiptoe about the house whispering at the top of their lungs that “Mommy is writing and has a deadline!” They gleefully help spend the advance check. They take your author photo for the back of your book—and then extort twenty bucks from you every time you want to use it (don’t tell me the younger generation doesn’t comprehend DRM and copyright!).
3. Your editor is going to tell you the truth about your writing. The negotiating and the contracts and the advance check? That was the honeymoon. Revising the book is kind of like when you wake up one morning, look over at the other side of the bed, and there’s the guy you’ve been married to. Forever. He’s twenty pounds heavier. Snores. And his dirty socks are on the floor by the bed. You still love him (and you’re not looking in the mirror at yourself, right?) but, wow… the sexy newness is gone. You still love him and, damn, you’re a good team but… now it’s down to the nitty-gritty of being in a partnership and raising your kid and making sure you have each other’s back. And then, after your editor gets done excising fifteen thousand beloved words and worrying about your lack of character arc in chapter fifteen, she turns around and says “But I absolutely love this bit here!” and you fall in love all over again. Plus, she was right. And the book is better because you know what your strengths and weaknesses are.
4. You’re going to make really embarrassing mistakes. Those mistakes—if you don’t have a fantastic copy editor—are going to be on the shelf of every Borders and Barnes and Noble in the country. Fortunately, I have a very good copy editor. One who realized that the Neva is not, in fact, the river that runs through Moscow. I’m sure that, with my PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures, I knew that and just forgot. In a moment of complete and total insanity. Or the part where my hero apparently had four hands and used every one of them while embracing the heroine. Thank God, however, that my copy editor caught these mistakes before they were immortalized in print and I had to have the “Kick me!” t-shirts printed en masse.
5. Grow a thick skin. I’m not sure any author forgets The First Review. The problem with reviews is that a) they’re not written by family members who have to live with you and b) most reviewers seem to have this pesky little issue of ethics. Like, they have ethics. And they call it as they see it. It’s no problem reading the ones that are naming you Tolstoy Junior (OK—I haven’t had one of those yet—feel free to volunteer!). It’s the ones that point out some unfortunately true, insightful, and well-articulated weakness in the book that hurt. And yet it’s important to listen—when you get feedback from your boss (that’s you readers!), you have to listen. And learn.
6. Reviewers are all over the map. Sometimes, this is good. “This is the best book ever!” (Ummm, no, it’s not, and I can point you to some particular page numbers, but I appreciate the thought—it made me feel really good). “This is the worst book ever!” (Again: not. I can give you the page numbers for the sexy bits if you’d like to skip straight to the action). And, sometimes, the reviewer looks like she wrote the review in Swahili and then used Babblefish to translate it into English.
7. People are really going to read your book. Usually, that’s fabulous. Unless it includes the ladies at your church, your mother, your mother-in-law and your (male) boss. Then, you might want to rethink the sexy. Or blame it all on your editor. It took my boss two weeks to stop avoiding my eyes—and he’d been warned.
8. Nothing beats the rush of ordering your own book from Amazon. Or spotting it on the shelves of Borders. Or sending your mother-in-law into Barnes and Noble to demand they order ten more copies. Right away.
9. Readers are really, really friendly. Somehow, I thought publishing was going to be like the first day of school from some clique novel. It’s not. You all are super friendly and welcoming. As an introvert and the perpetual shy kid, I can’t tell you how much that means. I’ve had emails from people who write just to let me know that they had a really, really crappy week and then they came home and stayed up all night reading my book because it made them feel better—and all I can think is “Yes! I’ve done my job!” Because, really, when I first began to write paranormal romance, all I wanted was to escape from a really, really bad week (I’d just been laid off from my dream job at Pixar). Romance was my happy place, my escape. Finding the fabulous online communities where romance readers lurk was an unexpected bonus—you guys rock.
10. You’ve got to write the next book. Which means starting Points 1-9 all over again. Fortunately, I’m almost done with the next book in my BOND series—Zer’s story, tentatively titled HIS DARK BOND, will be published by Kensington Brava in early 2012. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say about his story.
Ann is giving away a signed copy of THE HUNT (her first book)! Maybe you will be the lucky winner?
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