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what it feels like for an author
notes from the far side of publication
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)
8.3.11
writing

First of all, it's all unexpected. All of it. Because you don't know what's going to happen, there are all these years of dreams and anticipation and wondering leading up to having your book published, and there's the day you hold your book in your hands for the first time and that is a great day, it is an awesome day, it's just like you pictured it, it's amazing, but then there's the day after that and the day after that and the day after after.

And they all bring something new.

There's the day when you get your first bad review for using profanity. You were warned about that, frankly. You were told that if there was even a single swear word in your book some readers would take umbrage, and some of those readers would take to the internet to express their displeasure. And yet, it takes you by surprise. Because you didn't know it would be that day. So: unexpected.

Then there's the day where you get an email from someone you've never met thanking you for telling the story you told, and sharing the parts of their life that are similar to your character's, and you feel lucky and strange and blessed, and you're not sure what to write back because it's this kind of unbearably intimate moment to have with a stranger, and you end up going with something imperfect like "I'm so glad you connected with the story," which you feel bad about, but there are moments when words really do fail.

There is the day when you go into the Borders nearest your apartment, which you used to go to for other authors' readings and wonder if you'd ever be lucky enough to have a reading there, but on this particular day they already have their STORE CLOSING EVERYTHING MUST GO signs up and you check for your book and every copy has been sold, and it's a good thing on one level, because those books have found a home, but on the other it's unbearably sad, because every copy of your book that will ever be sold at that store has already been sold now. Over. Done.

There's the day where you go to a conference and introduce yourself to someone and as soon as you say your name she says "Oh, yeah, I follow you on Twitter!"

There's the day when you show up at a bookstore for a reading and you are flat-out terrified that no one will come, that it'll just be you and the nice lady who invited you and then you'll be humiliated, not just because it means no one bothered to show up, you will also have let down this nice lady, which you would really hate to do. (But then people do show up. And it's wonderful. Nerve-shattering and stressful and bizarre, but also, truly wonderful.)

There are days when you feel so joyous and thrilled and lucky you can barely contain yourself.

There are days when you feel so miserable and envious and discontented you are swamped with anger and regret. These days, largely, you keep to yourself.

There's a day where 65 people show up to hear you speak, and you sign books for an hour and your face hurts from smiling.

There's a day where you check your Amazon rank approximately 39 times and it just keeps going lower and lower and lower and you keep swearing you'll stop checking it but you never do. (Not that day, anyway. Eventually, you learn to let it go.)

There are days you feel like a genius.

There are days you feel like a fraud.

There's a day where you go into a store to take a picture of your book and the staff yells at you because you're not supposed to take pictures so you point and say "But I wrote that one" and they offer to have you sign stock and you end up signing all seven copies in the store and they put those nice little "Autographed Copy" stickers on the front. And you don't delete the picture, either.

There are days you wish you'd done everything differently.

There are days you feel like everything magically falls into place.

There's a day where you have a beautiful three-hour stretch that you could spend working on your next book, or at least writing more guest posts and interviews to promote this one, and you waste the entire three hours playing Plants vs. Zombies.

There's the day when you have your first live radio interview and you pace the room for at least eight minutes beforehand, drinking tea with honey and singing to warm up your voice, and your heart is hammering, and that clock moves more slowly than possibly any clock you've ever watched before.

There are days you feel like if you have to tell the same damn story over again you'll scream, but there are also days you remember how lucky you are to have people even asking you questions and caring about your answers at all, and these are often the same days.

There are days when you're petrified you'll never write anything worthwhile again, and you have to remind yourself that no matter what happens from here on out you have this one book, and it's a good book, and you're proud of it and it's published and no one can ever take that away from you, and you hope that that never has to be enough, but if it does, then, well, it is.

And there's the day, the wonderful day, where you get a single email from a reader, and it makes your day and your week and your month, because there are only three words in it but they're the only three words a writer really ever needs to hear: "Please write more."


ABOUT JAEL MCHENRY

Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry

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COMMENTS

william carr
8.3.11 @ 7:42a

Please write more.
Please write more.
Please write more.
My eyes are hungry for your new words.
God give you strength to persevere.
Nedra (Russ' Mom) Carr

wendy p
8.3.11 @ 10:05a

I have no idea what the right words are to say but you're amazing and your book is a living, breathing piece of literature that had me walking the streets with your characters. That's a beautiful gift.



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