On Tuesday, I sent the page proofs for IF I SHOULD DIE to Ballantine. Page proofs are the last step for the author in the publication process. After writing, revising, and reviewing the copyedits, the page proofs are the last time an author can make changes to her book before it goes to press.
Though the proofs are on regular letter-sized paper, it’s formatted like the book will be. There are few changes at this stage—double checking timelines, making sure the copyedited changes were made correctly, fixing typos, tweaking a word here or there. The book is done, just this one final read. It’s exciting for many reasons—but for me, this is the first time I’ve read the entire book at once (usually in two or three sittings) with all the changes from all the other stages made and looking like a book. And usually, the book isn’t as bad as I feared it would be. Of course I have to tweak (and cut repetition!) but by the end, I’m satisfied that I did my job and wrote a book of which I’m proud and that I think my readers will enjoy.
Normally, I love the page proof stage; this time, it was bittersweet.
IF I SHOULD DIE is my last book for Ballantine. I wrote seventeen books with the same editor, lucky that I could keep her even after she moved across the ocean to England. Charlotte knows my writing, my creative mind, my bizarre thought-processes, better than anyone. She knows when I send in a crappy first draft that I can revise it into a readable story. In fact, I trusted my editor so explicitly that I trusted her with literally my first, unedited draft. That’s somewhat lazy of me, I suppose, but inevitably, I’d toss most of that first draft and write something completely different. I remember one time I said to Charlotte that she must get bored reading the same book over and over again. Not me, she claimed, because she never knew how I was going to change the book, who lives and dies, and I always change the ending in the final draft so if feels like a brand new book.
I did say I have a bizarre writing process.
There are so many amazing people at Ballantine who really supported me and my books and I’ll miss them. Changing publishers was solely a business decision made harder because of the fantastic people we love to work with and personally like and respect. While it’s good-bye on one hand, I still have seventeen books with Ballantine, and know we’ll be in business together for a long time because of it.
My new beginning is two-fold: yesterday I went back to writing SILENCED after a ten-day hiatus to carefully read my page proofs for DIE. Beginnings are the hardest part for me. It used to be crossing the first threshold (starting the second act), but now it’s the beginning. That first chapter. The starting point. Well, let’s face it–the first 100 pages is pretty much the most difficult part of the book for me. When I came back to SILENCED, I saw all the flaws in the first couple chapters and am completely restructuring the beginning. Doing a lot of deleting and rewriting. Almost (but not quite) starting a new book.
SILENCED will be published by Minotaur Books (St. Martin’s Press). I have a new publisher and a new editor. And while I’m nervous as anything that when she gets my draft the first week of October my new editor is going to think I’m a talentless hack who doesn’t know how to write myself out of a paper bag, I’m hugely excited about the new partnership. (Okay, I’m scared shitless, but trying to be brave.) Kelley has an outstanding reputation in the mystery/thriller world, and her authors rave about her. I let her during Thrillerfest and she’s smart and knowledgable and says she really loves editing. Yeah! And, like Charlotte, I hear through the grapevine that she is a ruthless editor. That’s exactly what I want—and need. I’m not afraid of notes. And lots of them. Every book I’ve written I’ve revised, sometimes twice. And every book is much better for the revisions.
As I was slicing and dicing the opening of SILENCED, I realized I was letting the unknown scare me. After all, I just read the proofs for DIE and it ended up pretty good. I can do that again, right?
SILENCED is my eighteenth full-length novel. I have two novellas and five short stories published or in the can, and another novella and two short story in the works to be finished by the end of the year. I know how to write a story. But inevitably, as I write each book, I want to make it better than the last book. I expect it to be easier, when in fact every book is harder than the last. What really makes life difficult is that after reading a polished set of page-proofs, I have to dive back into a rough draft. That makes all the doubts rise to the surface. I think, There’s no way in hell I’ll be able to write another book even close to the last.
The desire to be better coupled with the fear that I can’t do it again is the single hardest psychological hurdle for many writers.
My friend and mentor Mariah Stewart told me once that even after twenty-five books, it still wasn’t “easy.” That each book is a challenge, that writers are constantly pushing themselves to do better, not only with the craft of writing but also the storytelling.
Whenever the fear threatens my creativity, I pull out my well-worn copy of THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield. This small little book has saved me from my doubts many times.
This time, it was about fear:
“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. … The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself.
Is he scared? Hell, yes. He’s petrified.
… The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.”
We all think if we’re scared we need to get over it. Not true. We need to recognize it and work in spite of the fear.
I was having a hard time with that this week. Of leaving the safe and comfortable and known for something new and different and unknown. Remember that no matter how many books you have written, how many times you’ve hit a bestseller list, every book is a challenge. This business is not for the faint of heart, and not just the business end. I love writing; that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
I’m ready to stretch and jump into the uncharted waters. There’s no turning back.
Great news! Our own Debra Webb’s DIRTY, the first book in the Jackie Mercer series, is on sale for 99 cents for a digital copy. Now’s your chance to try it if you haven’t already!
So a question for you all: what slogan or saying or inspirational quote keeps you moving forward when the fear begins to take over? Share and three people will win copies of any book in my backlist. AND if you have an e-reader, I’m throwing in a copy of DIRTY for good measure!