When the Book Stops Being Mine and Becomes Yours

I’m spending the month of August in limbo. Part of this is due to my Macbook breaking, which kind of derailed my plan to spend all of August offline at a café writing retreat of my own making, but I will restrain myself from complaining about that here. (And also, as of yesterday, E fixed it enough for me to be able to use Scrivener to write!! MS Word I can’t use, so I can’t freelance right now.)

Besides, my feeling of being in limbo is so much more than my computer blahs.

My newest book—17 & Gone—is about to slip out of my fingers. This very weekend is my last chance to look at the pages and make changes before it releases for ARCs. This is that frightening moment when the book is still mine and part of me doesn’t want to let it go just yet, and the other part of me wants to set it flying and share it and see what happens, and these two parts jumble up together to make me so conflicted and confused, I really don’t know what I want anymore except to carry the pages around with me all weekend.

I will have to let go, obviously. I have to give any final comments to my publisher on Monday. Then the interior will be released to make ARCs. And then I guess the terror, um I mean the excitement, yay!, sets in.

It’s different this time, for me. The first time, with Dani Noir, I wasn’t a part of any author community or connected to bloggers or reviewers or anything. (This was before Twitter was a big thing!) So when there were ARCs, I gave one to my mom and kept one for myself and just waited for reviews to come in from places like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, and that was pretty much the extent of my nerves. Not much was made of the book, and barely anyone knew of it, so there wasn’t anything to expect or wish for. The first time I knew someone was reading was when a coworker came downstairs to tell me she’d reviewed it on Goodreads (and she liked it!), and that was handled all to my face and seemed small and contained, and easier to deal with.

There was the book. And there was me. And I was able to separate the two without much issue.

My second experience with ARCs was with Imaginary Girls, and this was far more intense. There were more expectations—on my part, because this was the book of my heart, and on the part of others involved because I had an agent this time and this time I had a publisher who was more invested in the book. More ARCs were printed, more people were paying attention. Then the reactions started coming, some awesome and blush-inducing, but also I guess maybe some people thought the book was one thing (more straightforward? Not paranormal… or more obviously paranormal? Easily able to fit into a certain kind of box? I am not sure) and their reactions were sometimes more about that than what the book actually was. Also, at this point, Twitter was in full-force, and I was a Goodreads Author, so the reviews were more in my face—like right there in my face, being rated and tweeted with me tagged so I couldn’t help but see—and this affected my experience and excitement. I felt steeped in it and unable to escape. Even the little things, like if I knew someone—an author I admired, for instance—had read the book and never said a word about it, I felt sure I knew what that meant and knew what s/he truly thought and I buried this and felt worse about myself. This changed my feelings of achievement of having a book published to something more conflicted and mealy and spotted and, yes, truly fantastic at times and other times kind of ugly because it exposed all my worst insecurities and silly ability to hear only the bad things, like that scene from Pretty Woman. It was an experience in extremes.

You see, this time there was the book. And there was me. And they were—to my detriment—one and the same.

And I guess I never got over it. Ever since those moments when Imaginary Girls entered the world and people started reading it—starting with the day ARCs were released and then through all the months that followed, with trade reviews and reader reviews and the months after the book came out—my writing was filtered through that noise. I questioned everything. About my writing. About my personal taste. About my style. About who I was. I lost my confidence and sense of self-assurance. I had an exceptionally difficult time writing, and I still am having a hard time. I lost the ease.

My writing suffered immensely from this, which is absolutely and entirely my fault.

So you can see why having 17 & Gone become an ARC has me full of nerves right now.

On a smaller scale, all this reminds me of workshops in my MFA program. I got off easily at Columbia University; some workshops were cruel, and more than once I discovered the writers crying in bathroom stalls after class. But for the most part during my time in grad school, people were constructive but kind to me—never cruel, never making me question my entire being and think of giving up writing, which happened to some students I know. (Aside from my experience with my thesis, which I’ll leave aside for now.) I was one of the youngest students in the program, fresh from my tiny college in the Midwest, and such a newbie and used to praise, so it’s surprising that I wasn’t crushed my first month there. But I remember one workshop where my piece was getting praised and good suggestions were being made around the giant rectangle table in Dodge Hall overlooking the beautiful university campus… until we came to the guy sitting beside me to my right.

He was usually a soft-spoken guy. But that day, he spat out his reactions with brutal honesty. He hated my piece. Hated it. Hated my voice. Hated the subject matter. Hated the title. Hated the character. Hated the setting. Probably hated the font, too, who knows. Really he hated it all, and he had quite detailed reasons as to why. I don’t remember the reasons. I don’t even remember the piece itself for sure. What I remember is his impassioned hatred for my writing, and how close he was sitting to me in the room, so I could feel this hatred radiating off of him in waves.

But then some other students in class passionately defended me, and stood up for my work, arguing with him on my behalf, for my piece and for me as a writer—my style, my voice. I remember one guy in particular, across the table from me, who loved the piece so much and thought it was the best thing I’d written all year. (I couldn’t stand up for myself at that point; we were not allowed to talk while being workshopped; only to take in and listen.) But afterward, I remember being just as stunned by the students who loved my work enough to defend me as by the person who hated it so much. It was the same piece. We were all in the same room. It was a lesson in extremes, one I know we authors face all the time when it comes to reviews.

Even so, after that jarring workshop, I kept on the way I was. I still wrote the way I wrote, about the characters and places I liked to write about. The voice I had when I was 22 and just starting out at Columbia has been honed and polished and grown as I’ve grown, I hope, but it’s the same root voice I had in the beginning. I didn’t let that guy’s hate affect my writing. I simply knew it wasn’t his thing, and that was fine. So what’s different now?

A year or so after that memorable workshop, I remember being at a party with the guy who despised my writing, and then taking a cab home. The cab was packed, and he was in the front seat. He was turning around in his seat, being nice to me and joking and kind of normal, like we were friends or something—because, maybe, to him, that first-year workshop was gone and forgotten, or at least not something he thought about every time he looked at me. Maybe because he was mature and could separate the writing from the person who wrote it. But the thing is, I hadn’t forgotten, so I was reserved with him and didn’t want to be friendly that night. I guess I’d taken it personally. Even now, when I hear about his published books, I don’t wish him ill or anything, but I’m not a supporter of his. I’ve bought many books written by my MFA classmates, pretty much every one I’ve seen in a store. But not his. I’ll always remember him for being my most impassioned hater, so I have no interest in reading what he’s writing now.

I think of this a lot when it comes time for my books to be read and reviewed. How there will be extreme reactions. How some people will hate what I’ve done just as much as some people might just love it. How I have no control either way. And how all I can control is my reaction and behavior—and my knowledge of reviews, by staying away from Goodreads, which I do, and Amazon, which I do, and not clicking blog reviews, which I do not click unless told by someone I trust to read it. But more, I should be like 22-year-old me. I can remember the bad reactions all I want.

But I should not let it affect my writing, or my confidence.

So this is where my nerves about 17 & Gone come in. Soon the book will be yours—no longer mine. Soon you can read it and see what you think, and I do hope you read it and are honest about what you think. And speaking of, if you want to request an ARC, here’s a place where you can.

Look… we are so close! The book is almost yours:

And while all that is going on, I just want to keep my eyes on my own paper and keep writing.

After writing this post and getting this all out, I’m weirdly excited to reach this next step. Which I’ll take as a good sign that I’ve grown as a writer and as a person.

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