It’s halftime in the Big Game and I’m taking a moment to chill in the locker room and reflect on the touchdowns and fumbles of the first half in what is possibly the worst football metaphor ever.
Although — bear with me here — there is something to the “halftime” analogy, because I’m learning that the period from four to five months before a book comes out is a period of unusual, somewhat unsettling quiet. The edits are done, but the “last pass” pages are still to come. The galleys have gone out to potential reviewers, but nobody’s written a review yet. The sales force has begun to promote the book to booksellers, but it’s too soon for significant preorders to come in (or not), and too soon to start scheduling events. It’s an anxious time, but it’s also a time of nervous excitement, the sort of jazzy almost-panic you feel whenever Something Big is about to happen to you. Much like the summer before going to college or the sixth month of pregnancy, it’s a time when the world is about to shift on its axis in ways you can’t possibly understand yet. It’s a feeling that, when applied to the debut novelist, is described perfectly by Jonathan Lee in his fabulous essay in Lit Hub:
“The space between writing and publication is a strange one, its own little tragicomedy of insecurities and longings, of coffee drunk and coffee spilled, of days spent in excitement and days spent in regret and days spent entirely in one’s pajamas. The ground here is littered with your abandoned ideas and sentences, the paragraphs you worked on for months and eventually cut, the commas you can no longer move around…After the sheer joy and luck of the book deal there begins this peculiar, self-indulgent period of unease. You have got what you always wanted—publication is imminent—but you are more afraid for the future of your book than ever before.”
Abandoning the football metaphor for a carnival one (which is also terrible but somehow seems more appropriate): I’m at the heart-stopped pinnacle of the rollercoaster, where the tracks lead down and away and up and aloft and around the bend but, in the instant before gravity claims me, nothing moves at all. Six months from now, the ride will be over — the book will be six weeks old and the launch-related frenzy of readings and blog tours and reviews and interviews will have subsided, leaving an occasional event, a giveaway or two, a book club appearance once in a while. The book’s progress will be something I nurse along, but it will mostly be up to it to find its way in the world, by word of mouth, by its own merits or lack thereof.
When that day comes, I will be exhausted, emptied out, and filled all the way up all at the same time. I will stand with my feet firmly planted on the asphalt, looking up at the impossibly high arc of the rollercoaster, and I will try to remember what it felt like to be poised at the very top. I won’t be able to remember it, not exactly. Just as I try to, but don’t quite, remember what it felt like to be seventeen and waiting to drive off to college, or six months pregnant and folding brand-new baby clothes into a dresser. There will be other books, I hope, just as there were other adventures after that first one, and another baby. But I will never again feel exactly this way. The first time is always unique, always special.
So for me, this small silence before the roar is a welcome opportunity to take stock, to appreciate all the complicated emotions I’m feeling — some negative, some positive — and honor them as fleeting, irretrievable, and, because of that, magical. I’ll savor the respite for the unique, never-to-be-repeated moment in time that it is, and, while I’m at it, come up with some truly hackneyed analogies.
Then, when the whistle blows, I’ll strap my helmet back on, adjust my pads, and head out for the second half. (Oh God, it’s SUCH a terrible metaphor! But I can’t help myself. Sorry!)
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