For some reason I find it impossible to avoid hyperbole in my post titles. And everything else, for that matter. Universe: please do not kill me over this cover.
Anyhoo… if we’re just meeting for the first time, I wrote this book, see, and it has THE WORLD’S MOST GORGEOUS COVER.
Here it is. If you don’t like it, you are cray. That is to say so crazy you cannot even spell crazy.
I love this cover for so many reasons, and one of them is that it is NOT what I would have chosen if I had been in charge of the process.
If I were in charge, I would have picked something brainy and quiet. There would probably be the bottom half of a girl in a vintage dress and she would be darning something, and all the colors would be muted and blah and even owning the book would be a huge downer. In fact, I actually told my editor I loved nighttime covers. Never mind that exactly two scenes in the book take place after 5pm, there are no vintage clothes, there is nothing muted about the beauty of coastal Maine, and my writing is neither brainy nor quiet. Never mind a lot of things. Ever heard of Body Dysmorphic Disorder? I have Novel Dysmorphic Disorder. I have no idea what my book looks like to the outside world.
This is why I am not an art director.
Luckily my editor did as I asked her when she first asked me for my thoughts about covers: ignored my bad ideas.
Which brings me to this amazing thing I learned when I first started out in the book business: authors really don’t have much to do with their covers. Basically, most authors get up or down votes, and, in a pinch, a veto.
At 21, in my uncomfortable shoes and ill-fitting Ann Taylor blazer, this fact blew my mind. Somehow I’d gotten the idea that authors, from the lowliest debut author with no track record to the superstar bestseller with millions of copies under her belt, basically roughed out sketches of how they wanted their covers to look, delivered them to their publisher, and the publisher Made It So.
Hahahahah, ah ha, ha ha ha… sigh.
If that were the case the bookstore would be the ugliest place in the world. Sorry fellow authors, but have you seen what you are wearing right now? Hint: IT IS PAJAMA PANTS. Here is how it really is: Sometimes authors and art directors have a meeting of the minds. Sometimes art directors think bigger than their authors, as in my case. Sometimes something gets lost in translation and cover and contents are in conflict. Sometimes–maybe usually?– there’s some aspect of all three outcomes all on one 8×5 piece of cardstock.
But cover design is a rigged game. No matter how winning, appealing, or original, I’ve yet to find a cover that every single reader loves. Not even mine. So. If I called you crazy at the beginning of this post–if you, for whatever reason, don’t like my cover, know this: it had nothing to do with me.
Lucky for us all.
I have secrets. Deep dark… nah–just kidding. I can’t keep my own secrets–only other people’s. By now you have probably figured that out.
But here’s something you may not know that I can spill today: My book has a huge secret in it. It may seem like it’s about winning a dream home and the stuff inside it, or falling in love with Maine and the world outside, and it certainly has lots of cooking and eating and drinking and laughing in it, so one might think it’s about food or friendship. But while I think it’s about all those things, I somehow managed to squeeze in not just one but several secrets. I’m the sort of reader who likes big reveals when you least expect it, and the sort of writer who cannot resist them.
So I guess my secret is, I like secrets. The only thing I like more is sharing them.
Earlier today Jason Collins came out. He had a secret, and he told it, because as he said, no one else was telling theirs so… what’s a gay NBA player to do. I wept when I read his interview–it’s no secret that bravery makes me cry. Bravery, and commercials for Nicholas Sparks movies.
Collins said he was “baking in an oven” until he came out, and I have been thinking about that phrase all day. It’s so writerly and brilliant. That’s what secrets can do to you. And think of this: a secret keeper isn’t always in the oven alone. The people around them might be roasting, and not even know why. They might think that they’ve gone crazy, or they can’t trust themselves, or they can’t trust anyone. So Jason Collins got out of his oven and probably let out a few zillion other people by doing so.
You may think I bring this up just because I want to lend my voice to those congratulating Collins today. Sure, that’s why, but wait for it and I promise I’ll bring this around to our topic: As a publishing professional, I read some (a lot of) submissions where the whole of the book was based on a secret, the plot balanced delicately on the tippy-top of a secretive spire of lies and half-truths that could topple–and would–if one of the characters had had a moment of sense or integrity. Alas, a secret or a lie or a big misunderstanding, whatever you want to call it, is not enough to hold up an entire book/life. But you’ve got to hold something back for your characters to reveal over time too. And that’s a balance that can be tricky. Too many secrets and you’ve got an eye-roll. Too few and you’ve got a yawn.
As a writer, when you dream up your secrets, think about Jason Collins’ oven. Now that’s a secret. If you are going to give your characters a secret, make it a worthy one, and make it pervade every aspect of their lives. Put your characters in an oven and remember that they are hot to the touch. Remember that a secret does not make a character whole, but it can undo him. And see how, like in life, the revelation of a secret can be one’s ruin–or one’s making in the realm of greatness.
I have gotten, and given, in my life, a metric buttload of writing advice. The only advice that works every single time, of course, is to put your bottom in a chair and write. Writers write. You know that. I know that.
I have met approximately four billion people in this world who want to be writers and don’t write.
There have been times that I am one of those people.
What insanity is this?
Why do we as humans talk about writing so much and then do so precious little writing?
Here at the Deb Ball we have a trained mental health professional on staff. Deb Kerry always has a smart solution, a new way of looking at a problem, a sympathetic ear and a level of compassion that I could never match. She knows that there are a thousand good and understandable reasons that a person might not write, even if she wants to write.
Today is not Deb Kerry’s day to post. You’re stuck with me.
I am the Jillian Michaels of writing. If I could come to your house and yell at you to write until you barf, I would come to your house and yell until you barf. “Write!” I would scream. “What are you doing with those dishes? Put down those dishes! Have you written yet? I didn’t think so. Go write!”
While you were in the shower I would knock on the bathroom door. “Are you done in there? It is time to write. You better be plotting! I am coming in there!”
At night just seconds before you fell asleep I would pop out from the closet and shout “MY GOD HOW ARE YOU SLEEPING WHEN YOU DID NOT WRITE TODAY!?!?!?” And give you a heart attack.
And you know what? I would not be the only one shouting at you all day long. If you are a writer, that shouting voice already lives in your head. She is screaming at you to write or else. She is telling you, like the brilliant Bernadette in Maria Semple’s terrific beautiful hilarious novel, that if you don’t create you will be a menace. You may only be a menace to yourself, but if you long to write and don’t, you will probably find yourself shouting all day long at yourself until you do. And yes, though I am being tongue and cheek in this post, you can and probably should work on the shouting. The shouting, ultimately, is not that helpful. But it is often easier to just do as the shouty voice says than fight your own longings every step of the way.
So get that voice out of your head the only way you can. (No, not from coming after me with a baseball bat.) Write.
It’s what writers do, after all.
Okay, I might have oversold it a bit at the title. But here’s what I’m about today: I’m shoulder-deep into a book called DARING GREATLY by Brené Brown, whom you’ve surely heard about from her lovely Ted talk about vulnerability or from your friend in Chicago who gives good book recommendations or from Oprah because am pretty sure Oprah is into this lady too. The thrust of this book is not news to anyone: To get rewards, you gotta take risks.
Alas, my summing up thusly did not save you reading 300 pages of sometimes anecdotal self-help–you still gotta read it. Or, at least, I think you do if you’re anything like me. That is to say, if you are a writer, or a mother, or a person with real human feelings and not a robot. If you don’t like rejection, and you shouldn’t, because it is freakin’ rejection, I like this book for you.
The thing is, writers have two great enemies: that weird butt spread you get from sitting too much, and rejection*. A standing desk might help for the first but for the second there is no beating it.
But maybe there are a few ways to make it less powerful.
Here’s what Ms. Brown and her book have made me think about lately: You know that thing where you get a email or a phone call or telegram from someone you’ve been waiting to hear from, and you panic and don’t open it/pick up the phone/turn on your wayback machine? I know this is not just me because I have placed a few “the calls” in my day and one time an author told me she let me go to voicemail because the New York area code on her caller ID made her vomit. That, my friends, is anticipated rejection, and we all do it before the rejection comes. We play with how it will feel and try to get super comfortable with it and sometimes we don’t even need to send out a query letter because we already know exactly what the pass letters will feel like in our minds and it is so bad that it’s not worth it.
The rejection, when it inevitably comes, does not feel as bad as all the practice. Actually, to me it feels a little better because then the bad feelings have a cause that isn’t total craziness. The practicing works in that it somewhat softens the rejection by comparison, but it is completely counterproductive in that it multiplies the amount of rejections you have to experience before any given success you might be seeking comes your way. And worse, it makes it hard to be joyful when rejection doesn’t come–because you are in the habit of seeing rejection around every corner! It must be stopped!
So here’s my authorly experiment for all y’all who are reading this and are thinking of putting something new out there in whichever form it might take. Can you dare to not practice the next rejection you might be anticipating? Can you dare to think, while you’re producing your next project or writing your next query or I don’t know, getting ready for your debut launch, that you will be a huge success? Or at least not a failure? Can you be brave enough to set yourself up to be blindsided by rejection?
I dunno, but I am trying it. I think if you can pull it off, the rejection will feel just as painful when it comes, and sometimes it will come. But there will be less of it in your life as a whole. And when you are accepted–and that will happen too, sure as the rejection–you will be practiced and ready.
*Oh yeah, and digital piracy. But I’ll think about that tomorrow. Fiddle dee dee.
Q: April showers bring May flowers. What do May flowers bring?
A: Who the hell cares, as long as it’s not March.
There are few things I love as much as turning the calendar from March to April. In my house, March has been called everything from Smarch to Fartch. It is the worst invention ever, and one day when I am Queen of Practically Everything I will eliminate Smarch and replace it with two shorter, more manageable months: Teeveeber and Napth.
March is the month where I surrender to winter. It actually starts in late February. Though I powered through most of February by swinging on a vine from New Years to Valentine’s Day, the vine stops swinging on the 15th, and I find myself dangling precariously over a great iced-over and windy lake, covered in slush, being beaten about the head and shoulders by Daylight Savings Time. In March, my favorite shows are all on hiatus. My favorite books are all checked out by someone else at the library. The movie theaters are full of duds with no hope of Oscar contention. The backyard is so high with snow I cannot even get to the composter. Which is fine because the last time I saw a fresh fruit or vegetable was in 2012.
And it is time to do my taxes.
March. It is the worst. 31 days that feel like 31 years. Cabin Fever. Seasonal Affective Disorder. St. Patrick’s Day. Smarch.
And then one day, every year, you wake up, gaunt, fat, exhausted, miserable, and cold, and realize. It is April. Oh thank God it is April.
The first thing I do every April is lose five pounds without trying. Next, I find myself needing less sleep, and so have more time to stay up late reading all the excellent books that seem to fall from the sky in April. Some of my favorite hardcover authors release their paperbacks in April, and going to the bookstore feels like winning the lottery. There is a film festival. At the theater, there is a trailer for a new summer comic book movie and I get excited.The backyard starts to thaw and the sun starts to shine and I suddenly realize, there is this other place, besides my house and my car, and it is called Outside, and it is huge.
The birds in my backyard sing. My BLB starts to see bunnies out the window, and he wants to go out there, and I don’t have to worry about doing a finger count before we come back inside. I go a week without shoveling. Then two weeks. I wash my down parka and tuck it away.
And then, one day, I am at the store, and there they are. Soft, rich, ripe and red. California strawberries. $2 a pound, organic. And boom. I know I lived through March for a reason.
April. If you made it to April, you know, it will all be okay. The rest of the snow will melt. Your car will start every morning, without extraordinary measures. Your neighbors will reappear. Your lake will thaw. Your heart along with it. To everyone, every single person, who passed an open window this March, may I present:
Congratulations. You earned it.
Gratuitous Spring Cuteness
I’m not an especially religious person (unless you count science as a religion) but with this week’s topic being about waiting right in the midst of Passover, the week of Palm Sunday and Good Friday, my mind does turn to spiritual matters. I’m a wildly impatient person and the thought of having to sit around waiting for the 10th plague to pass or waiting for history’s first frenemy to betray me to the Romans puts my irritation with the amount of time it takes my toddler to eat a single scrambled egg into perspective.
When it comes to waiting in the publishing gig, I short-circuited the worst wait (submission) for this debut novel I keep talking about (The Good Luck Girls of Something Something…) by doubling that process up with waiting for BLB to be born. He came early, thoughtful boy, and the book itself sold right around when his due date was supposed to be. I don’t remember it very well. I was so crazed by breastfeeding insanity and postpartum ouch that when my agent called to tell me about an early bid, I actually answered the phone saying, “I am completely topless and sitting on a doughnut right now; what do you need?” (Someone remind me to send her flowers on my pub day.)
In other words, it could be said that I have not had the proper experience of waiting, waiting, waiting for the phone to ring. It has been said.
But here is a secret I have confided to very few people: when I first started out writing I attempted to write a straight up romance novel. Apparently I wasn’t that good at it. But I wasn’t bad enough to get turned down quickly. I would submit, wait a month, two, three, get kind editorial letters, revise painstakingly, and then submit again, rinse and repeat. One time I waited six months for a read, and got… yep, another editorial letter. I did this again and again, for several kind editors, and never got past the revision letters. (The romance business works a bit differently than the rest of publishing, in that you can knock directly on the door of the publisher instead of needing to secure an agent first–if you are up for the bald rejection and long wait times.) The take away from this is that 1. romance novels are incredibly hard to write well, and 2. oh, I’ve waited, all right. The whole process took years. It chiseled away at me, filled me with doubt, and eventually, taught me how to wait.
I learned to meditate, to distract myself with elaborate pursuits, to keep my head down, to scream in frustration and still keep going, and overall, I learned the fundamental truth behind a saying that became my mantra during that time: A slow yes is better than a fast no.
But most of all, I learned that every now and then, a quick yes is pretty freaking amazing.
1. Hello, My Name is:
“Susan, how are you?”
“Awesome, Carol. How are you?”
“So awesome, Susan. Have you seen the new book by Kelly Harms, Susan?”
“No, I haven’t, Carol. Do you think it’s any good?”
“No, Susan, I don’t. Not unless she got a really good editor.”
2. Play-by-Play and Color:
“Hi again, Carol! I’m just going to go turn on this light in the closet and look in here to see if I have anything for your clothing drive.”
“Great, while you do that, I will take off my hat and gloves.”
“Super. Hey, look, I do have this wedding dress I don’t want anymore. My husband left me because he said I described everything I do whenever I speak. I will pick it up now and hand it to you.”
“Thanks! I’ll take it from you now and put it in my car.”
3. Exposition, Exposed:
“Oh, Susan, that brown hair color looks great on you. Clearly you are thriving ever since your husband left you last year during the charity clothing drive.”
“Thank you, Carol. I see you have not lost the weight from your failed stint as a restaurant reviewer that you tried after getting fired at your job in event planning. Did that angry chef ever return your Apple brand laptop?”
4. Fancy Taggin’:
“You know what I miss? I miss when people used to just say things,” Carol sighed woefully.
“Me too, Susan.” Carol parroted. She paused for a moment, then amended, “Still though, it is nice to know exactly how something gets said. You know, adverbs do have their place,” she added thoughtfully.
“Sure, but at what cost?” queried Susan meditatively.
“What cost indeed,” echoed Carol pensively.
5. The Party Line:
“Susan, you are the best. Through thick and thin–literally–you’ve always been there for me.”
“You too, Carol.”
“You too, Francine.”
“You guys are all the best. Thanks for your support as I learned to be a slightly less awful dialogue writer, especially you. You were always there for me.”
“You who? Does anyone know who she’s indicating here?”
“You, of course. Thanks a lot. Really. I’m not being sarcastic.”
“Wait. Does anyone here know who is even talking right now? I’m not even sure who I am at this point. If my opinion ever starts to differ from my peers in this conversation, the reader is going to be totally lost.”
“Totally lost. I have no earthly idea what’s going on anymore. I mean, if we were real, I would see someone’s lips moving, and we wouldn’t need dialogue tags. But we are totally not real. We’re fictional characters. We need dialogue tags. Just not onerous ones.”