The Courage to be Published

Next Tuesday, Deadly DesignJune 2, is a birthday of sorts. If a book can have a birthday, that is. Let’s say they can.

My friend Debra Dockter is going to see her first book in print. Sitting in bookstores. In hardcover. With a dust jacket. (It’s awesome cover art, by the way). It’s humbling and inspiring to have seen this entire journey.

We joke that Deadly Design is my step-book – I’ve certainly spilled enough ink on it! I’ve read almost every draft that exists. I’ve seen scenes come and scenes get cut. I’ve seen characters get cut. I’ve seen characters come back, only to die in the next round of revisions, and be resurrected later.

Being a beta reader is tough.You have to be supportive and constructive, and not be afraid to tick off the author, and be ready to stand your ground. Hopefully, you’ve phrased your words well enough that no offense is taken, that the author reads your comments and slowly nods and says, oh, yes, of course, why didn’t I think of that, you’re so clever, what would I do without you? Being a beta isn’t about being a rude, brash, sanctimonious SOB. It’s not about destroying someone’s baby; it’s about helping them raise that baby. Every writer should be a beta reader, because it lets you see this entire crazy roller-coaster without having to actually be on the roller coaster.

I honestly don’t know how Deb did it. I don’t know how any of us do it. Her perseverance and dedication are phenomenal.

I remember the book that Kyle originally appeared in, sort of:  a medical mystery she’d drafted. The character I liked most was this smart-ass twelve-year old. Sometimes, characters demand their own books. I knew even then that Kyle was too big for this one – he couldn’t be a secondary character. And Deb knew it, too.

But that roller coaster. My God. How many drafts? How many red pens? I remember one year for Christmas, Deb gave me red pens. 🙂 How many queries to how many agents? She’d send out queries, and the cars would slowly start to inch their way up. There was no telling how long it would take for them to reach the top – sometimes, not more than a day or two, other times, a month or two. One memorable agent responded more than a year later with “Hey, sorry! Send me the first chapters!”

And I remember sitting in my favorite coffee house one afternoon and getting an email. Penguin’s interested. They’ve made an offer. What do I do? I sat there for a minute, and then typed back, Let’s sit here for a moment and appreciate how surreal this moment is, okay?

We talk about how brave it is to finish a book — and it is, definitely, that takes work and patience and dedication and time away from things you’d also love to be doing — but I think the real work begins when you start querying. When you start putting your baby out there into the world to be either rejected or accepted. Over and over and over and over and over. That takes a special kind of courage. A kind I’m not sure I have. Courage to open the emails and see the rejections. Courage to keep trying. Courage to sign on the bottom line, wondering if this is really the right agent, or should I hold out, or what do I do? Courage to remain patient as your agent shops your book to editors. Courage to either accept or reject the first offer.

And the courage to face the re-writes! Because there will be rewrites. My God, will there be rewrites.

So when you see a book – any book, but hopefully Deadly Design – on the shelves at your local bookstore next week or the week after, remember that. I don’t think being published is about fame and glory and money; I don’t even think it’s about sharing your creation with the world, as noble as that sounds. (Dr. Frankenstein wanted to share his creation with the world, too, remember!)

I think it’s about courage.

So, Deb and all the other published authors out there — I’m raising my cinnamon dolce latte in salute to you.

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