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DIY MFA: What Happens Next — Wrap Up (Part Eleven)

Welcome back to your Do-it-Yourself MFA program.

We’re now at the end of the journey — the book is in hand, the readings are set-up, the reviews are pouring in … so what happens next?

Well, first of all, I think we need to examine where you are emotionally.  Anne Lamott described it best in Bird by Bird, and if you haven’t yet read her book, this will be the perfect receptacle for all of the anxiety that accompanies the release of a book.

I believed, before I sold my first book, that publication would be instantly and automatically gratifying, an affirming and romantic experience, a Hallmark commercial where one runs and leaps in slow motion across a meadow filled with wildflowers into the arms of acclaim and self esteem.

This did not happen for me.

It didn’t really happen for me either.  Which is not to say that there weren’t exciting moments; happy moments that came close to Hallmark-land.  For instance, the first time I held the galleys, the first time I held the finished book, the first time someone read it and told me they liked it, the first review to go up on Amazon.  All of these were huge happy moments.

But in between, there was self-doubt and jealousy and anxiety and frustration.  You wonder if you chose the best words for that paragraph and wish you could still pick at the manuscript.  You’re jealous of other writers and what you perceive to be their easy success (after talking to them, you realize that they too are going through the same emotions as you, so “easy success” becomes more myth than reality.) You worry that no one will read the book.  You’re frustrated with the pace — it’s race, race, race, wait.

Hopefully, knowing that everyone else is going through those same emotions will help you be able to set them aside for the moment and savour the happy parts of the experience.  Because if you don’t, you may miss the fact that this is a very happy experience too — a nerve-wracking one where you never feel as if you are doing “enough” or getting “enough,” but happy nonetheless.

And you wouldn’t trade having a traditionally published book for the world.

You’re also probably wondering what happens next, I mean, after the book signing parties and interviews and readings and reviews peter out.  Because traditional publishing is a bit like a drug.  You want to quit — book writing feels so good, but publishing makes you feel terrible — yet you can’t because you’re also addicted to the book publishing highs.  I mean, there is someone out there who thought your writing was good enough that they were willing to make an investment in it.  And then there are people — not even people who know you at all — who are willing to buy your book and read it.  And those highs are what make you wrack your brain for the next book project.

Something you should know before you dive into the next book is that you probably have a ROFR or Right of First Refusal written into your book contract.  This means that your publisher has the right to see your next project before anyone else and decide whether or not to purchase it.  Even if you have a fantastic ROFR that says that you can show your next project to your publisher two days after you turn in your final manuscript, you are probably going to see a large lag time between when you can start working on your next project and when you should.

Publishers are going to want to wait and see how the first book does with sales.  Unless you already have a multi-book contract, they are not going to want to see your next idea for a bit unless there has already been incredible pre-sale buzz for your book.  So you may find that there are years between when you turn in the manuscript for your non-fiction book and when you should aim to turn in the next book non-fiction book proposal to that publisher (and yes, baring a terrible working relationship, you do usually want to remain with the same publisher if you had a decent deal the first time around.  There is a lot to be gained from an ongoing publisher-writer relationship).

So what do you do with yourself in the meantime?

You can always go a different route and try your hand at a different piece of writing.  For instance, if your last book was non-fiction, you can fill the gap with a fiction book at a different publisher (which is the route I took).  You can write freelance articles, directing traffic to your published book (and you should do this regardless).  You can take the time off to really savour and reflect on your first publishing experience.  Or you can race ahead with the next proposal and tuck it away so the second your agent tells you that it’s okay to shop it, it’s ready to send out.

Now that you’re an author, you’re going to field two kinds of requests — ones that help you while helping someone else, and ones that only help someone else.  Let’s examine both kinds:

  • Interviews Requests: you are going to get requests for quotes or interviews from journalists, and I recommend that you help them for two reasons.  (1) It helps get information about your book out there, even if it’s simply a line such as, ” … says Melissa Ford, author of Navigating the Land of If.” (2) They are a writer just like you, and it is karmically good to help another writer with their project.
  • Book Blurbs or Book Reviews: you are going to be asked to blurb books or review someone else’s book, and I recommend that you do it.  This helps the other author a lot more than it helps you, and it is a big time commitment, but it is difficult to get book blurbs and reviews.  Hopefully, what goes around will come around again when it comes to your next project.  This is about supporting a fellow author.
  • Agent Introductions: you will probably be asked to introduce people to your agent.  Sometimes, you’ll be excited to pass along a good find to your agent because it helps both your friend and the agent.  Sometimes, you won’t know the person doing the asking, but their project will sound so interesting, that it’s probably worth your time to pass the introduction along.  I’ve never been asked by a complete stranger to vouch for them, but if this was an ongoing situation, I would probably put up a statement on my website explaining why I don’t do this.  I love my agent and would hate to abuse her time by becoming a human slushpile.  So, for anyone reading this who was considering asking a stranger to recommend them to the writer’s agent, please rethink that.  People you know = okay to ask.  People you’ve never met or even emailed with = please don’t go there.

Hopefully, you’ve gotten to the end of this series and haven’t been scared away from the world of publishing.  I think it’s always best to enter with your eyes open and realize that there is a HUGE difference between book writing and book publishing.  Again, Anne Lamott said it perfectly in Bird by Bird:

I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be.  But writing is … It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony.  The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.

Writing is unbelievably wonderful, and I’ll always be grateful that I get to attempt to make a living doing something I love.  But book writing has nothing in common with book publishing.  They are two completely separate entities (hence why self-publishing has little in common with traditional publishing, and why self-publishing may be the best route for you if you love book writing, but can’t stand book publishing).  I went into book publishing thinking it would be just as much fun and just as creative as the writing side of things, and it probably is for the editor or publisher.  But for the author, it’s the hard work.  It’s a struggle because it’s outside your expertise.  You are a writer, after all, not a salesperson.

But you learn how to fit these other hats on your head because to return to the original point, there is no business like book business, to paraphrase Ethel Merman.  There is nothing like getting that phone call from your agent that an offer is on the table.  There is nothing like opening the envelope that holds your advance check.  There is nothing like walking through a bookstore and seeing your book on the shelf.  And that’s why you keep plugging away, even when you have a huge stack of rejections and you’re frustrated as all get out with the publishing industry.  Because, unfortunately, if you want the highs, you also need to take the lows.  You need to send out those query letters and edit that book opening and beg other writers for book blurbs.  But I promise you, it’s worth it.

Okay class, any questions on what was discussed here or in any other section of this series? Please leave them in the comment section below and I will answer them in the comment section below. This is the last installment in this series, so consider it a free-for-all for any unanswered questions.

Heads Up and Looking Back: topics that will be covered in future installments or that were covered in past installments

1. Before You Even Get Started

2. Are You Ready to Be an Author?

3. How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal

4. Why You Need an Agent

5. How to Get an Agent

6. Querying Agents

7. What Happens Next–Waiting for a Book Sale

8. Self-publishing and Self-representation

9. Working with an Editor

10. Be Your Own Publicist

11. THIS POST

4 comments

1 Anjali { 08.22.10 at 7:55 am }

Bravo, Mel. I’ve loved this series, and will be looking back at it many times in the future!

Thank you!

2 MaryAnne { 08.22.10 at 3:45 pm }

What a wonderful post. It’s making me want to write a book! You seem to have really struck a wonderful balance between the positives and negatives of publishing your work. I think it’s really a brave thing to have your writing out there for the world to judge, and I know the world will leave you lots of love! Your writing is wonderful :)

Happy IComLeavWe!
<3MaryAnne aka thepunkrockmom #135

3 Kathy { 01.08.11 at 10:24 pm }

Thanks Mel! :) I started reading through your U of LG ~ D.I.Y. MFA posts this week and am inspired, overwhelmed and excited! I am seriously considering working on a non-fiction book proposal over the next year or so. The information you shared is invaluable and so appreciated! It is definately a reality check as to what is involved in the process. I am going to get started, see how it goes and take it from there. Thanks again for this and EVERYTHING you have done and continue to do for our A.L.I. community!

As an aside, I really enjoyed Life From Scratch (I finished it this week) and I am really looking forward to participating in Lori’s book tour in the coming months and the sequel! :)

4 Shasta Kearns Moore { 06.14.11 at 6:56 pm }

So much great information in this series. Thank you for helping out aspiring writers like us!
It also make it sound like book publishing is just as much work as book writing. Sigh.
Well, since I’m already a published writer, I think I’ll give finding an agent and a traditional publisher a shot. I hope it’s not a big waste of time. With twins, one of whom has cerebral palsy, I certainly don’t have a lot of time to waste!

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