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  • [SWP: Behind the Book] The Nightmare of Publication and the Happy Afterlife of Books
[SWP: Behind the Book] The Nightmare of Publication and the Happy Afterlife of Books
Written by
Nancy Kricorian
January 2015


Much has been made of the analogy between publishing a novel and giving birth to a child. Having given birth to two children and published three novels, I can say the two things have very little in common. One of the traits they do share is that the pain involved is quickly forgotten, almost erased from memory, so that one is willing to undertake the process again. When I was in labor with my first child—a labor that lasted 24 hours—at the height of the agony, I insisted that my spouse repeat this sentence, “I promise I will never let you do this again.” Of course, several years later I was the one lobbying for another child, and when I went into labor a second time, the pain of the first rose up in my bodily memory like a hammer, and I thought, “Oh no! I didn’t want to do this again.” But by that point I had no choice.

About six months before the publication of my first novel, I had lunch with a writer friend who had already published three books. He kindly offered to pen a laudatory quotation for use on my novel’s back cover, and we talked shop about publishers, first print runs, foreign rights sales, and the like. I was working as a literary scout for international publishers at the time so I knew a fair amount about the business, but I was a neophyte as an author. When he said, “The three months around publication are a complete nightmare,” I was shocked. For years I had been longing to hold in my hands a copy of a book with my name printed on the cover. Wasn’t that the whole point of writing? Wasn’t that every unpublished writer’s dream? And here he was telling me that the achievement of my heart’s desire was going to make me miserable. I didn’t believe him, and even if I had believed him, it wouldn’t have made any difference because, as with childbirth, no amount of intellectual knowledge can prepare you for the lived experience.

Yet when my novel Zabelle was published in early 1998 I entered, as he had predicted, a dreadful realm where I couldn’t see the cover of a newspaper or magazine, including automotive trade rags, without wondering if my book were reviewed in its pages. I read all the reviews, getting a quick, temporary high from the good ones, and inadvertently memorizing the nasty bits from the bad ones. In the middle of the night the derisive comments would come echoing up in the voice of a wicked Disney Queen. The book tour had similar highs and lows—at one reading there were over a hundred people in the audience and for an hour I felt like a rock star; at the next gig only five souls showed up and I felt humiliated. I checked my Amazon.com sales rank on a daily, if not hourly, basis. I was still working in publishing then, and when I heard news about novels my editor had subsequently purchased, I was jealous if she had paid higher advances for them than she had for mine. I was, in fact, suffering from jealousy about what other “literary” (as opposed to commercial) writers that I knew had achieved: advances, print runs, foreign sales, film sales, starred reviews, twelve-city book tours, awards, honors, speaking gigs, and teaching positions.

But eventually the publication ordeal was in the past, the anxieties receded, and life got back to relative normal—until the aftershocks of the paperback launch a year later. It was difficult, if not impossible, to work on another novel during the months around publication of the hardcover and later the paperback. Then I was finally writing again—working on a second book. I went through a similar process when that one was published in 2003, except that it was a less successful book (fewer reviews, fewer copies sold, no translation sales). The Armenian community had avidly embraced Zabelle, which was a fictionalized account of my grandmother’s life as an Armenian genocide survivor and immigrant bride. The second book, Dreams of Bread and Fire, was a coming of age story about a half-Armenian young woman named Ani Silver who hops a freight train, has sex, experiments with drugs, and gets involved with a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary who sets off a bomb outside a Turkish airlines office. Two years after the 9/11 attacks was not a great moment for a book with a bomb in it, and if Zabelle was everyone’s beloved grandmother and mother, Ani was the daughter and granddaughter nobody wanted. If I had titled the book The Bad Armenian Girl it would have sold more copies. But my imagination resists commercial considerations.

I started my third novel not undaunted, but definitely unbowed. By the time the All the Light There Was, a novel about Maral Pegorian, a young Armenian girl growing to maturity in Paris during World War II, came out, the publishing world had undergone a sea change. While the book was a success in many regards—I earned out my advance, I sold over three times as many copies as I had of the previous book, and it was well reviewed—the process was fraught for all the old reasons and a few new ones. In addition to the mainstream reviewers and Amazon customer comments, there were now dozens if not hundreds of places people could vent their feelings about a book: Goodreads, Library Thing, and professional, literary, and personal blogs. No matter how many four- and five-star reviews my book accrued, I had to train myself NOT to pay attention to the snarky one-star reviews. Then, in what seemed like an unimaginable setback, the publisher decided not to do a paperback. For a few weeks I was devastated, but rather than wallowing in despair, I followed my hero Grace Paley’s dictum, “The only recognizable feature of hope is action.” My agent was able to get the publisher to revert the paperback rights, and I approached my friends at She Writes Press about the possibility of doing the paperback with them. She Writes was in the business of producing paperback originals, but the publisher told me I was the third writer who had recently approached her with this kind of reprint saga and they would indeed be able to help me.

The paperback of All the Light There Was appeared in October 2014, and the sales have been good, far outstripping the low expectations of the hardcover publisher. Now I’m starting work on my next novel, the fourth in what my editor has labeled The Armenian Diaspora Quartet. I have been researching for over a year—the book will be focused on an Armenian family in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. I haven’t started writing yet, and my psychotherapist asked me, “Are you sure, after how hard the publication process was on you, that you want to do another one?” I answered, “The writing is the good part, and the rest . . . I’ll deal with that when the time comes. I’m such a slow writer that it won’t be for another five years in any event.”



The other aspect to all this is that, despite my complaints and pains, all three of my novels are still in print. And when I reference the “happy afterlife of books,” I’m using the word happy in its original, archaic meaning. The word “hap” comes from Middle English for chance, luck, or fortune. I have the great good fortune that my books are available in paperback, in e-book versions, and in audio format. I have even recently signed a contract for a French edition of my second novel. I am lucky and grateful.

Each time after the promotional push around publication, I’ve had the feeling that my novel, which had the shelf life of yogurt in the brick-and-mortar bookstores, has been laid to rest. As far as the publisher is concerned, it’s done and they have moved on to the next season’s titles, but the funny thing is that my books are out in the world—in libraries, in people’s homes, available through online retailers, and in second-hand bookstores—and they continue to circulate and to have lives of their own, lives that I know nothing about except when I see a new customer comment on Goodreads, or when someone contacts me via Twitter or Facebook to express appreciation, or when I receive a fan letter through my agent. Another way that I’m fortunate is that I have a readership that cares about my work. I’m a minor celebrity in a minority community. At a recent Armenian fundraiser, a man seated at my table, when he found out that I was the author of Zabelle, told me that his mother has kept a copy of the book on her nightstand for many years. I love the idea that Zabelle Chahasbanian, Ani Silver, and Maral Pegorian are living in the hearts of unknown readers. It gives me the necessary drive to breathe life into my new heroine. Her name is Vera Serinossian.


Nancy Kricorian

New York City 

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  • Nancy Kricorian Writing

    Thanks J. Dylan….Interesting blog post about your different careers and ways they mirror each other. I also love the title HAPPY ACCIDENTS. Thanks so much for the kind words about ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS. 

  • J. Dylan Yates

    Love this post!!!!  

    I found more similarities between publishing and childbirth, however!  Here's my take:  HAPPY ACCIDENTS

    We all have such different responses to the process, but the resulting blessing of a published piece of work makes it all worthwhile. All the Light There Was is a brilliant and beautiful child.

  • Nancy Kricorian Writing

    Kamy -- Wishing you so much luck and fortitude with your launch. 

    Pam -- Wishing you much luck with finishing your novel.

    Ann -- Having a niche is crucial. And good luck with the audio book!

  • Ann Anderson Evans

    Thanks for posting Nancy. I went to a reading by an Estonian author, Nancy Burke, as few months ago, and the Estonians were delighted that their story was finally coming to light.  Those niche audiences can be supportive through the low spots. My "niche" is women who want to date again after bad experiences. A pretty big niche. They tell me their stories, or their grandmothers' stories. This is a niche the sociologists have clearly missed, because we know so little about our grandmothers' sex lives.

    I spent months doingpromotion, and am now mired in editing and producing the audiobook, which is quite an ordeal, much heavier work than I had expected, but my audio engineer is egging me on saying "It's going to be great!"  Don't they all say that?

    Writing is like teaching - you don't know how you will affect others, really not ever.  Sometimes I envy people who sell things, where they can count their success.  But I'm writing my next book now -- that's my first priority.  Having had more sales than I had expected, I can try now to become a professional author instead of someone who had always wanted to write a book.  That's done. 

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    I love this Nancy -- I am in that awful place right now, four months before publication and finding it impossible to start the next book, I'm so consumed with promotion, writing shorter pieces that will hopefully promote my book, and generally feeling anxious and a little gloomy all the time. But it is such worthy work, and fulfilling in an utterly unique way. How incredible too that all three novels are still in print! My first book isn't anymore, but I still get fan letters from time to time, eight years later. 

  • Pamela Olson

    I relate to so much of this. After my first (and so far only) book was published, it was such a crazy, tough time it took me a long time to dare put pen to paper again. What I ended up writing (a novel that I've almost finished) is about a writer who gives up after ten years and two books, throwing her hands up and admitting she has wasted her time. And then the (lightly paranormal) journey that follows to convince her otherwise.

    I hope it will convince me to continue, and maybe give hope to a few others who, like me, spent too much time worrying about external (and very ephemeral, and highly subjective) measures of success.

    Chapter One is posted here (I've found it strangely useful this time around to do my editing online): http://fasttimesinpalestine.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/bracelet-chapter-one

    And yes, THANK GOD for self-publishing and hybrid publishing as extremely viable options if we have slightly different visions and sensibilities than the current publishing world!

  • Kathryn Meyer Griffith

    Oh Nancy

    but we are our books. They're like our shadow selves out in the world...with our thoughts, beliefs and hopes hidden underneath the fictional words. And my books might play nicely, depending on who's reading them. It takes two to make a book, the writer and the reader. So each experience is different. Grin.

  • Nancy Kricorian Writing

    Kathryn -- I also meant to tell you that I had a similar feeling to what you described about your books as children. I even wrote a blog post called "Sending a Child Out Into the World" the week that my third novel launched in hardcover. Brief excerpt: "You have devoted years to grooming this child to go out into the world among his or her peers and into the care of others. It’s a little scary—will your kid get along with the other kids? Will the teacher like her? If she uses a curse word or slaps another kid, will everyone think you are a terrible parent? Your child is not you, but in some ways she is a reflection of your parenting and therefore an extension of you. I am not my book, but I devised the plot, wrote the sentences, and animated the characters. And now it is time for them to go play—nicely, but not TOO nicely, I hope!"

  • Nancy Kricorian Writing

    Thanks for the responses Brooke, Carole, Cate and Kathryn. Being part of a community of women writers who can share information and offer support makes this all a little easier, which is why publishing the paperback of my latest novel with She Writes felt a bit like coming home.  

  • Kathryn Meyer Griffith


    good post.

    I've always told people that my 23 novels are like my children (I only have one real child, a son) ...but for me the strangest realization comes when you encounter the book (your book or in this case my books) many years later...it's like a child that has grown up without you and suddenly, sometimes, you can't even recognize it because it's changed so much. My oldest book was begun 43 years ago now and the first one was published in 1984, Evil Stalks the Night; rewritten, updated and republished in 2011 as most of my older books were. Now that rewrite was something...I hardly recognized my "baby" 30 years later, or the others for that matter. My child has grown up and, like many children, became something I never would have thought they'd become. To me THAT's the real comparison to children that books have to some authors or to me at least.

  • Carole Bumpus

    Thank you, Nancy, for laying out the facts of publishing as you've experienced them. Your article is heartfelt, heartwrenching, and gives hope to those of us who are still stunned by the light.

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    Thanks for sharing this, Nancy. It's a helpful perspective. You're so right that there's an expectation that once the book is out it's going to be the culmination of all your dreams come true. And then it's so much work! I appreciate you acknowledging how important it is that all your books are still in print. This is that long tail of publishing you hear about, and having all that "inventory" always bodes well for future books. It's hard to think about that when you're writing your first book, but once you're a career writer it's always about what's next. It's a brutal business!