Friday, January 15, 2010

The Weirdness of Being a Writer

by Susan McBride

Here I go again, getting all geared up and nervous for a new book release (11 days from today, to be exact!). I'm strapping on my mental Kevlar vest and my sturdiest virtual helmet, and I'm crossing fingers, toes, legs, eyes, whatever's remotely cross-able. On January 26, THE COUGAR CLUB will be available in bookstores all over the place, and three women who have lived in my head since I signed a contract in September of 2008 will be unleashed on the world, at which point they will cease to belong only to me. They will be wide open to public scrutiny, and I'll have to accept the inevitable: some readers and reviewers will find these women fabulous and inspiring and all sorts of good things, and others will hold their noses and declare them odious, pounding out angry one-star reviews on Amazon that warn others not to spend a single penny on such drivel. Gulp! And I will have no control over either. (Sweat is breaking out on my upper lip as I type this but my positive thinking will surely evaporate it in no time, right?)

It's a weird thing sometimes, being a writer. I mean, it sounds really fabulous when you decide at some point, "I want to be Margaret Mitchell (or Harper Lee or Barbara Taylor Bradford)! I have stories to tell! I want to share my wild imagination and love of words with the universe!" Only you don't stop and think how unsafe an occupation it truly is, and there are no OSHA rules to protect those of us determined enough to proceed. It's one thing to have your mother read your first manuscript and declare, "This is brilliant! Pure genius!" It's another to peel one eye open enough to read what Publishers Weekly or Library Journal or Romantic Times decided about your latest opus. To put it bluntly, publishing can be scary!

Like, simply writing a book isn't tough enough. I was emailing with Ellen Byerrum (who's on a crazy deadline) the other day, and she asked me if the process ever got any easier. I didn't need to think too hard to answer, "Nope, it never does." THE COUGAR CLUB will be my 10th published novel--and number 11 has been in the can since last January--and even before I was under contract, I wrote 10 manuscripts that will never see the light of day. Whew, it makes me tired just recalling how much blood, sweat, and tears I've dripped on my keyboard through the years. Those of us who write don't do it for the glory or the money. Anytime I hear a starry-eyed novice proclaim, "I'm going to write a book and make a lot of money so I can quit my job and support my family," I have to fight the urge to say, "Are you crazy?" How nice it would be if it worked out that way! (Plus, you never know. I mean, if your name is Stephenie and you had a dream about a vampire, then that's pretty much how it went.)

For those of us who are mere mortals, success doesn't come overnight. It comes through persistence, determination, sacrifice of time with friends and family, lots of travel and self-promotion, and the unflagging hope that "maybe this will be the one." Because, honestly, in this business you never know. It's not always possible to predict where lightning will strike in book publishing (or else publishers would only be putting out best-sellers, as they say).

Despite the odds, despite how weird this game is to play (with the rules ever-changing), despite the naysayers declaring things like, "Books will be obsolete by 2025"--okay, I made that up but someone probably did say it!--I can't imagine doing anything else. Words have always been my passion. I was the kid in grade school scribbling stories in my Big Chief tablet just for fun, not because it was homework. I was the student who grinned when I heard the phrase "essay test," because I knew I could write my way through anything. I've always played "what if" in my head: "What if that boy on the bike is running away from something...what did he do and where is he going?"

It's who I am, it's what I do, and, God help me, but I love it. It's never easy, but it satisfies some part of me that I can't even explain. And I worry over every new book that's about to be released, no matter that I realize I can't control what happens to it any more than I can control the weather. So in eleven days, I'll hold my breath for a second when I wake up, knowing that I'm letting THE COUGAR CLUB out into the wild. At least I can be sure of what my mom will say about it: "This is brilliant! Pure genius!" (You've gotta love moms!)

6 comments:

  1. Susan: Having read The Cougar Club, I can say that it is fabulous. You gave me very good advice, which I repeat constantly, and it has saved me a lot of angst: a) don't Google yourself; b) don't look at your Amazon number and/or reviews. And let's throw c) in there: don't read reviews. Then you can go blissfully along, knowing that you wrote the best book you could, and remain sane. :-) Maggie

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  2. I try to avoid reviews when I can, but sometimes they are sent to me in the body of an email...then it's harder to ignore. It's easier not to seek them out, trickier when your peeps are forwarding them! But I will keep working on preserving my sanity, Ms. Maggie! And thanks again for your praise for Cougar. That's one review I'll happily read again. ;-)

    Cheers,
    Susan

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  3. So very true - I would say you had peeked into my head this morning but I know you don't have to - we're both writers. Congrats on the guts to write a book called the Cougar Club - lol! I imagine it'll get attention of all kinds of people. I mentioned your book on my blog yesterday and the hits soared. Kudos to you - you rock!

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  4. Kathy, you rock, chica! I just went to your very cool blog and read what you said. So thank you, thank you! You're so sweet to mention Cougar...and I love that you're married to a younger man, too! My hubby's nine years younger, and I was more of an "accidental Cougar" than anything. He was the first younger guy I dated, and we just clicked. Anyway, sending you a big hug! We're so happy to have you hang out with us here at Stiletto. You are such fun!

    Cheers,
    Susan

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  5. Susan, I'm confident this novel is going to be a big hit (!!), but I appreciate your point that reviews and rankings are irrelevant. We're in this crazy business (and it IS insane ;) because we love the stories and the magic and the make believe... On some days, when the nasties come out, that love has to carry us :-). But I think MANY women will relate to this story, love it and want to share their delight with others. I can't wait to read it!!

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  6. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Marilyn! I hope women will relate to the characters in Cougar and enjoy their stories, and I kind of feel like I'm holding my breath, wondering what'll happen. So I really appreciate having friends around me who understand what I'm going through and can tell me to snap out of it when I get too wonky over things! :-)

    Hugs,
    Susan

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