I went from being a writer obsessed about getting an agent to being a writer obsessed about whether or not my agent would sell my book. Turns out, though, once the book is sold, that’s when the real obsession begins. Who knew that after all of the editing is done and the book goes into production, there could still be so much to fixate on, especially in the few weeks leading up to the publication date?
1. My New Life
My publisher offered pre-publication copies of my novel on social networking book review websites. So I sit at my desk, with its view toward the hazy Hollywood sign in the distance, and click from site to site four million times an hour to see if anyone has reviewed my novel. They have. And while I calculate the average of the stars I’m accruing, what starts driving me crazy is the reader who offers a comprehensive and very positive review while calling my main character Lillian – her name is Irene! I drink some coffee and email my marketing person at my publishing house and ask what I can do about this. Her answer leaves no wiggle room: do not correct anything or challenge anyone. And welcome to your new life!
2. The Gray Lady
Dawn breaks and I leap out of bed, hoping to keep one step ahead of a panic attack. I turn on my computer to check if there’s anything new on the review sites and instantly realize my mistake. I should have changed my home page. It’s The New York Times book review. As I stare at it, my mind races. Will they? Won’t they? And if they don’t, why not? What do the others have that I don’t have? Which leads to …
3. The Others
Still at my computer on another overheated L.A. day, I reread the terrific magazine article that includes my book in a series of reviews about debut novels. Before I can stop myself, I’m Googling every one of the books and investigating where each is being reviewed and what lists it’s showing up on. Shaky, I switch from coffee to tea and ponder any and all reasons why the others might or might not be getting better coverage than mine. Walking my Chihuahua, I ignore my neighbors and try to figure out how to compete with the descendant of Melville or a Khmer Rouge survivor. Returning to my desk, I Google all of the names one more time, and the fixation takes on a life of its own, developing its own sub-fixation.
I trade the black tea for decaffeinated tea, and feel not only childish but guilty. Among the others there is a specific other, one who is burdened with carrying the weight of all my attentions. In this case, she and I have the same agent and the same publication date. I like this woman, I’m sure I’m going to like her book, and I want her to succeed. But I agonize over why her forthcoming book brings up 72,100 Google results while mine only brings up 42,300. Then I open one of the pages and gasp in pain. She has been chosen as an Indie Next pick and I have not … me, a former independent bookseller!
5. OMG, Another One?
Between Googling and fixating on fellow debut novelists, I Facebook and I Tweet. And just when I think I’m about to explode, the message comes through from my cousin: I must now Pin! Pinning is the only way to sell anything these days! Not only that (I can feel the muscles tensing in my neck as I read on) I must connect my Facebook and Twitter to my Pinterest and vice versa. And while I’m at it, I should perhaps post on my literary blog more than twice a year, and make sure to connect that to … well, you get the idea. As I reply to my cousin, I try to figure out how I am supposed to find the energy to Pin when I waste most of it clicking the bookmark bar to see if I have any new ratings on the review websites?
6. Say Cheese
Everyone tells me that my author photo is lovely. But as I attempt to go cold turkey on the Googling, I pull up the photo on my screen. Staring at it, I increase the resolution, just a bit and then some more. To my dismay I find that there is the slightest sneer in my smile, as if I am in my little house back in Vietnam downwind from the dried cuttlefish factory. I shift from decaf tea to chamomile and try not to think about being known as the author with the “she-smells-something-stinky” smile.
7. The Unmentionables
I have to sleep at some point, but when I do, it is punctuated with things I want to explain, things I want to denounce, things I want to declare. I toss and turn, shouting it all out in my head, because I hate people who need to purge so badly that they’re willing to hurt others’ feelings in the process. So #7 is for all of the things I can’t say. Enough said!
8. Making Peace
But before I go to bed, there are the evenings to fill, and I climb onto the sofa with my Chihuahua and the cup of calming chamomile, and while I watch Columbo on Netflix, I chastise myself for all of the time that I’m wasting obsessing when I could be productively promoting my novel or writing my new one. Unfortunately, I watch Netflix on my computer, and there it sits above Peter Falk, that darn bookmark bar. One more click, that’s all, I promise myself, just one last look to see if anyone else has reviewed my book. I click and then click again and then again and again, my fingers trying to outrace my thoughts.
And then something shifts inside me.
I’m panicked. I’m anxious. I’m obsessive. And I don’t care. I am about to become the one thing I’ve always dreamed of being: a published novelist! Defiantly, I make myself a strong cup of black coffee and Google to my heart’s content before going to bed, where I spend an hour or so shouting in my head before fidgeting through the night as I anticipate checking the review sites first thing in the morning.