October 26, 2012

It Takes a Village

Filed under: Frontstory — jenny @ 4:46 pm

I don’t do this on the blog very often, but I think I have to talk a little about the mechanics behind my upcoming book release. Something happened the other day that really stood out in my mind.

I think I am a slow-on-the-uptake writer. I have my process, and insofar as it works, it works very well–at least, I am deeply immersed in the bliss of it all. But I had a *lot* to learn and it took me a long time to learn it. I wrote seven novels before one was acquired. I struggle with the question, even with all those books in various drawers around the house, of whether I know much of anything about this at all.

And for the novel that was finally bought, there were 18 drafts beforehand. Then 3 more rewrites for my brilliantly amazing/amazingly brilliant editor, plus another superb editor at the house who seemingly magically became part of this road, then a copy edit using track changes, before the hard copy manuscript was FedEx-ed so I could go over page proofs, and then a final minute review of remaining things, until I finally, FINALLY finished editing COVER OF SNOW.  I couldn’t have done it without any of the above-named people, not to mention the army in the production department who have a truly unbelievable eye for spelling, syntax, grammar, logic, and details.  To give but one example, I got an email from the production editor with the following:

P. 186
“A river moves sluggishly through the center of town”
Proofer asks if okay to change “through” to “past”
“A river moves sluggishly past the center of town”
As Troy is all on one side of the Hudson, and Watervliet is across from it.

And they are correct:

Troy, NY

We have a dish at my house called Mommy’s Famous Couscous. I think, in reality, this may not be famous. (I mean, have you heard of it?) It’s pretty simple: slivered onions in olive oil, toast the couscous, then finish it all in chicken stock. Anyway, if you try it you may find as I do that it’s a hit with the kids. Even when my son was too little to say couscous, he would ask for it. He called it: tiny things. As in, Can I have more tiny things?

The eye for accuracy, combined with the sense of language, the editorial passion someone has to have to read a sentence like that and know (or think to look up) that the Hudson river, strictly speaking, does not go through Troy, but past it, amazes me.

The investment in making one single book the best it can possibly be is humbling. And to that genius proofer, whose name I haven’t even yet learned, thank you so much.

For caring about the tiny things.

April 9, 2012

Candles & Champagne Can’t Last Forever

Filed under: Frontstory,Kids and Life — jenny @ 9:12 am

OK, I don’t actually think there were candles on the table at that lunch my new editor took me and my agent to. But there might as well have been, as readers of this blog know. It was pretty spectacular.

But spectacular can’t last forever, otherwise it would become, well, non-spectacular. The bar would keep having to rise to make something else fit the definition, right?

I guess it kept rising for a time. At the lunch, there was in fact champagne, for instance. When the waiter approached, my editor looked at us both and said, “I’d say we should have champagne, yes?”

It reminded me of that Seinfeld episode. Was I champagne-worthy? Was my book? No way.

And the atmosphere was so comfortable and chatty and laugh-y that toward the end, my editor invited us both to a cocktail party she was hosting at Random House for the Romance Writers of America the following month. So there I was, one dress just bought, and another one now needed, because I was going to be walking through the hallowed halls of a lifelong dream. In the RH building lives a copy of every single book they have ever published. That building is my cathedral.

There was another champagne drink at that party–tinted pink for the romance authors. It was lovely. Friendly, non-intimidating people, some of whom had even heard about my book. After toiling with only my husband and family to know what I was doing for so many years–maybe an agent by my side, but basically feeling too lame to talk about it with anybody else (how many times can you say, “No, it was another failed sub,” “No, the editor couldn’t get permission to make an offer” ?)–this was a world out of bounds.

But as I said, the champagne has to end, and end it did. I count myself lucky that I got to go three rounds.

(The third was at ThrillerFest. I didn’t actually drink champagne there since I hadn’t paid to attend and didn’t have eight dollars to buy a drink–see? I told you things would get back to normal–but I’m sure other people drank some.)

After a hurried round of introductions to some of the ITW members, me and my family jumped in an overloaded car, and headed west.

(OK, we didn’t actually jump. With two kids, you don’t even climb into a car. What you do is schlep out, two hours over-schedule, amidst shouts of, “Do we have the snack bag?” “Where’s Molly? And Julie?” “Sweetie, we can’t FIT Molly and Julie!” “Yes, we can! Look she’ll go right underneath me on the booster!” “Sweetie, you can’t sit like that for 3000 miles, it isn’t even safe!” “Yes, I can–” “Molly and Julie are both going in a meat grinder if we don’t leave one of them behind!” [That's my husband. He's kidding.We don't even own a meat grinder. It's not like you can ask the guy at the deli to use his on an American Girl.])

But finally we were off and heading west. Way west. We drove to OR, stopping at bookstores along the way, and dropping off bookmarks for Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day.

It was an amazing trip. It was great to be in Portland again, with my brother and his family, and meeting writers, some for the first time, like mystery author Elizabeth Main, who discovered my blog and reached out to me. Or Johanna Copeland Garth, with whom I’d exchanged enough emails to really feel like I knew, but now was only a bike ride away from sharing lunch. Or Connie Jasperson Johnson, an internet-only friend, whom I was finally able to meet F2F. Others, who will appear on this blog before too long, I hope. And of course, Lauren Sweet, dear friend and former New Jersey-ite whose editing I have long relied on.

Which brings me to what happened next in my book deal journey.

No more champagne.


My editor checked with my agent to make sure I could edit while on vacation. Sure, I said. This wasn’t really vaca anyway–we live in Portland most of the summer. Besides, how much editing could there be? My book had sold, after all.

Ha ha ha ha ha.

Hear that? That’s what the writing gods were doing. They were laughing.

Think your book sold, do ya? Think that means it’s in good shape?

Ha ha ha ha ha. And, ha ha ha ha ha HA!

It wasn’t in good shape. It was a terrible, wretched piece of whatever, suited to wringing out like a dull rag, not to reading.

Even worse, I had no idea how to fix it.

February 8, 2012

So Then What Happened?

Filed under: Frontstory,The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:52 pm

So my novel finally sold after 11 years, and the excitement came amidst mundanities, like housecleaning (that’s me at the bottom of the stairs) and routine medical appointments. It took me a while to believe what had happened. It took me a while not to feel numb.

One thing I need to say, before I tell you guys what happened next, is something related to a very core belief of mine. I had enough time, while the publishing world was changing underneath all of us, to learn a lot about the different publishing paths. There are three main ones–traditional, small press, and indie–and I think they all have different things to offer. There are pros and cons to each.

Some of the details I’m going to talk about here are unique to the traditional publishing path because that’s the one I felt was right for me–and the one that opened to me at the right time. In the end, getting published will always be a combination of kismet, stars aligning, and the alchemy of knowing when to leap.

Anyway, some of these details will sound great. Some of them come with a cost (hello, twenty month delay till you see my book). Some of them I don’t even know yet. I pledge to be honest with you, the readers that come here, who mean so much to me. I’ll be honest about everything and I hope that doesn’t ever strike you amiss. If it does, please write me so we can talk about what I might be missing or not understanding.

Anyway…with that said…You know how, when you’ve been trying something for a very long time, you get used to the state where that something hasn’t happened? Then it happens, and you’re catapulted into another state, and you almost don’t feel like you’re you anymore.

This was me: I was unpublished. I was an aspiring writer. I was the one who kept coming close, but not q-u-i-t-e making it.

Now…I was going to be an author.

I still can’t say those words and feel quite like me. It was like when I met my husband-to-be after years of being the single Sally. (Is that a phrase or did I just make it up? Oh well. Let’s go with it). Anyway, I couldn’t get used to saying, “My boyfriend/fiance/husband.” I was Single Sally.

After a book sells, two things happen. I’d been hearing about them for, oh, a decade or so.

The first thing is that an announcement appeared in Publishers Lunch. Pub Lunch is an offshoot of Publishers Marketplace, which is a service I recommend to every writer I meet who’s looking for an agent. On PM there is a sidebar with ‘agents actively looking’. These agents are building a client list and they are GOOD.  I met my agent this way.

But I never expected to see in PM something else, namely the announcement that my book had sold, with a title, description, and whose work the publisher was comparing it to.

By the way, I’m fuzzing two things out for two reasons. The first is the pitch used to sell my book. It contains a spoiler that I am really hoping my publisher finds a workaround for the flap copy. I don’t want to give this away to you guys! It’s a surprise that comes at the end of the first chapter. I’m also fuzzing out my agent’s name. Some of you have written me over the years and know that I do share my agent’s name, even refer someone to her when the work might be right. So never hesitate to get in touch if this is something you’d like to talk about.

Publisher's Lunch Announcement

This is my book. I have to say that again. This is my book, right there, right here, for other people to see. It existed, and now me, my agent, my loyal trustys, and family–them of the Gat Publisht kids–weren’t the only people to know about it.

I felt so…real.

The phone calls and emails started coming in as soon as that announcement appeared. Early. An author whose book I’d loved last year contacted me. I can still see myself, standing by the kitchen counter–cleaning again–talking to a dear writer friend I hadn’t spoken to in over a year. The bringing together of people is one of the most powerful aspects of books for me.

The next thing that happened took some preparation. My new editor invited me and my agent to lunch. Because this is raw and real and I promised to tell you guys the truth, I will add that my husband called up the restaurant website and then he said, “Whoa.”

We’ve lived in or outside NYC all our lives. We’re fairly used to city dining. But to think that someone had chosen this restaurant to take me to–just because I had written a book–well, that was another sort of dream come true.

Of course, I had to buy a dress. And get my hair cut. And do something about my makeup, or lack thereof. I’m someone who spends a lot of days in my pajamas–and this was even more true 8 months ago.

That lunch was like a fairy tale. It was as if some sprite had come and draped the hard, fast-paced city with airy webs of light and sprigs of flowers. It was a time and a place out of time and place. My agent arrived first and she and I had a second to trade a hug and then my editor arrived and we all just really…clicked.

My editor and agent are clearly good people people–you’d have to be in the positions they occupy in the industry–and maybe all authors feel like this at their first lunches, but there seemed to be something special about this one. Something that felt destined. It had taken me a long time, such a long, hard, painful time, but I felt like I had wound up in the place I was always meant to be.

Midway through that lunch, my editor felt comfortable enough to tell me I had something on my lip.

And I felt comfortable enough to laugh about it.

January 24, 2012

What Happened After My Book Sold

Filed under: Frontstory,The Writing Life — jenny @ 11:13 pm

Before my novel finally sold, after 11 long years of trying, I wrote a backstory column on this blog. It contains lots of posts about what brought me to this point, what my struggles were, what worked, what didn’t, how to get an agent, how to lose an agent, and the like.

It’s hard for me to look over that column. There were hard times along the way. Times I despaired, although something kept me at it, and at it again, till my head bled. You know, from the banging against brick walls.

I didn’t have it rough by many writers’ standards, and I’m grateful for that. For 8 years of my journey-to-get-published, I was able mostly to stay home, take care of my kids, and squeeze writing in around that. But there were certainly the nights when, hoping to hear some pearl from an author, something that might illuminate whatever I wasn’t doing or was doing wrong, I drove through snowstorms  in the dark, lost, and crying because I was missing out on another night with my family for this pointless pursuit. Who cared if it was a dream?

Then my book sold, and I figured that backstory column ended with a bang. (If you look at the pic, it did in fact end with a bang.) But then something nice happened. I started getting emails asking what was going on. When was my book coming out? And when I named a date, How come it took so long?

I realized that possibly always, but especially in these changing times in publishing, what goes on behind the scenes at a publishing house is pretty opaque. Mysterious. (And when my book finally does come out, you’ll see there’s little I like better than figuring out a mystery). Thanks to the kind interest from readers, it started me thinking that maybe people would like one bird’s eye view of this process.

I can’t say what debuting in traditional publishing circa 2011-2013 is like for everybody, of course. But I can share details about how it’s going for me. I hope they interest you. As always, if you have any questions or thoughts, just email me. This new column–let’s call it frontstory–is a conversation between us. It’s a journal I’m writing about this momentous journey.

And I thank you for sharing it with me.

I’ll start with where I was when I finally got the news from my agent that there was an offer, just because it speaks to how life sometimes pairs the most elevated with the most mundane.

I was Swiffing my living room floor. My agent actually apologized for calling me twice–apparently she’d left a message a little earlier and I’d missed it. I hope I wasn’t doing something even lesser at the time, like scrubbing the tile grout.

“I have some good news,” my agent said, in her dignified, understated way. (When my agent promises something big is about to happen, oh boy, do I listen. This is not a woman who embellishes. A welcome trait in today’s marketing-laden world.)

After she told me that BE (Brilliant Editor) had made an offer, I squealed at her: “And you were apologizing for calling me back??”

Then we laughed together.

My husband and I picked up my son at preschool, and drove to my daughter, who was in first grade at the time.

“Where are we going?” my son asked.

“You’ll see,” said my husband. “Just wait. We can’t tell you yet.”

We called my daughter out of class. We told both kids in the lobby of the school. They hugged me for long enough that I could almost–almost hold onto that moment. These are the kids that held a parade around the house, carrying posters which said, Gat publisht. To whom I had to apologize when the words took me away from them for too long. They knew what this meant.

After that I had to do something even more mundane than Swiffing or scrubbing grout–one of those annual medical tests women and men have to endure (though they’re different ones usually). It was from the waiting room that I called DWF (Dear Writing Friend) to share the news.

Things got a lot less mundane than housecleaning and checkups a few weeks later. A few moments stand out. And, since every mystery has a cliffhanger, I’ll tell you about them in the next frontstory post.

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