Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Wait and Hurry Up

Back when I worked in sports medicine as an athletic trainer, we used to say the job was comprised of thousands of hours of boredom interrupted by brief moments of sheer panic. You'd stand on the sidelines day after day watching game after game, and the most thrilling challenge you faced was trotting out on the field with a rack of water bottles during a time out and trying not to trip and fall on your face.

But always, in the back of your mind, was the knowledge that any moment could be THAT moment, when an athlete fell and didn't get up. When you raced onto the field reciting the A-B-C's of basic life support, replaying CPR class in your head, and running through a checklist of how to treat a spinal chord injury. In fifteen years, I'm happy to say I never needed to apply any of those skills, though there were times we immobilized and back-boarded a player as what turned out to be an unnecessary, precautionary measure. And I can honestly say, there's nothing that'll get the ol' adrenaline rushing like the sound of a human bone snapping with enough force to be heard from forty yards away.

Then it was back to the sidelines to observe a few hundred more hours of football or baseball or soccer without having to deal with anything more life threatening than a blister.

You're probably wondering where I'm going with this. Me, too. Give me a few minutes and maybe I'll remember what the point was when I started.

Oh, right. I was thinking how really, working with book publishers isn't all that different. In movies, the heroine gets a big book deal and is instantly whisked off on a glamorous tour of the world where thousands of adoring fans line up to fawn over her. Which actually happens to some authors, I've heard, but they skip over a few things. Namely, the months between when you sign on the dotted line and when something actually happens, because the gap between selling your book and actually seeing it on the shelf can easily stretch to a year. Or two.

Scheduling a book release isn't as simple as scribbling your name in an open slot on the calendar. A savvy publisher is looking at all kinds of factors. What other books are they releasing at the same time that could compete with yours because it's aimed at the same audience? Or, if they've picked yours as a book that's going to get an extra promotional boost, they'll want to avoid releasing on the same day as one of their big name authors who'll be monopolizing a lot of marketing resources. What books are other publishers releasing that might overshadow yours, especially if you're a relative unknown? What time of year do books like yours sell the best? (Yes, good marketing people know these things.) Plus a hundred other factors unknown to anyone outside the publisher's inner sanctum. 

All of this to say that yes, I signed a contract for a new, three book series with Sourcebooks back in November. And then...nothing. Well, mostly nothing, at least concerning the first book, which is already complete. I got to meet the whole Sourcebooks team and my lovely editor at both the Romantic Times and Romance Writers of America conferences and learned that due to reasons stated above, the first book is tentatively scheduled to be released in June or July of 2016. I gave them a few chapters and an outline of book two and floated some book three ideas past my editor. Other than that, I've just been cooling my heels over here on the sidelines. And writing another book that I fervently hope they won't hate on sight.

Then yesterday, POW. First email from the editorial/marketing/art department with a list of what they needed from me. Author Bio, character descriptions, book blurb, etc., etc., and by the way, is there any way you can get that back to us by Friday? Or before would be better.

I felt like I'd flashed back to my athletic trainer days. Wait, wait, wait, wait.....OH MY GOD WE NEED YOU NOW.

My first reaction was, "EEK, IT'S STARTING!" And my second was, "Oh...dear...Lord....I have to look into that manuscript I haven't opened in over a year and what if it has moldered into a pile of drivel in the dank basement of my hard drive?"

I'm happy to say, it didn't spit in my face for ignoring it. And in the process of reminding myself how I described these long ago characters, I even found a few things I liked. This line of description in particular, a welcome surprise considering character description is my least favorite part of writing. If I had my way, I'd start every book with photos of the guy and the girl and say, "Refer to this as necessary".

Anyway, the line goes like so:

"This close she could smell the clean sweat that had his hair hanging in damp clumps around his face, and see that his eyes were green. The color of luck, and money, and the grass on the other side of the fence."

I like to think the description tells you something about his character, and how the person doing the describing feels about him. That's the goal with good physical description, anyway, to reveal something of the character of both the subject and the person looking at them, not just an inventory of parts.

The other bit of good news is, I've already done this once before and knew what to expect, so I had most of what my publisher needed already in mind, if not on hand. One frantic email to my agent's office got me the hardest bit, so for once in my life I got my homework done and handed in ahead of time.

If only I'd learned this lesson sooner. Perhaps I wouldn't have procrastinated my way through eight years of college. Or not. Sometimes it's more exciting to just be ready to take the leap at a moment's notice.


ABEhrhardt said...

Gak! The pressure!

It doesn't say much for their planning and organization that they send you such an email - and expect you to drop everything and make up for their lack of forethought.

They've known since the beginning they would need this stuff - you signed a contract - and they do this all the time, so should know their own schedules.

I assume there was no reason given, such as 'a publishing slot opened up 6 months early and we've decided to give it to you if you want it.'

What a way to run a 'business.'

I'm ever so glad I'm not going there, but, since you want this, I'm wishing you the MOST satisfaction, and the least possible amount of angst. It's not sour grapes - it's my lack of ability to respond as you just did.

Hope it goes well from here on.


PS Feel free to delete this comment if it annoys you.

Anonymous said...

It is definitely not a business for people who like things to be predictable, Alicia. Six or eight years ago I would've felt the same as you. Since then, I've learned a whole lot more about all the interlocking gears that make up a publishing company, and truth to be told, the one most likely to throw a wrench in the works is the author. An editor has a schedule of her upcoming projects and a general timeline according to which she hopes to accomplish them. Then an author submits a book and it turns out to need a whole lot more work than projected (dear Lord let this not be me and the second book in this series). Maybe an author has a family or personal health emergency and can't turn in a book on deadline, and the whole schedule has to be rearranged. Maybe 911 happens or Hurricane Sandy happens and turns New York City upside down for months, including the publishing industry. Even now, different metro lines are shut down for rebuilding, making it nearly impossible for staff outside of Manhattan to get into the city on a daily basis at a predictable time.

But most of all, they are creating art and working with artists, and both are known to be difficult to nail down. The trick is to either roll with it, or learn what will most likely be requested and prepare it ahead of time so all you have to do is tweak and compile. And they know when they're pushing the limit, so if I'd emailed back, "So sorry, I'm at the lake until Sunday and can't possibly get this to you until the middle of next week", they would have worked around it. But since I was home and had time, I cranked it out and got it back to them the next day. Having met all of the crew who'll be working on my book personally, I know they're enthusiastic and competent and determined to make my book the best it can possibly be. My job is to make their job easier, because doing so benefits me.

This isn't to say there aren't publishing houses out there that make ridiculous demands. Luckily, I have yet to stumble into company with any of them.