by Barbara Claypole White
Launching a novel is not my idea of fun. I love engaging with readers and booksellers, but the angst that accompanies, “How’s that book selling and when’s your next one due?” has me reaching for the maximum strength Zantac.
My second novel, THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR, hit the bookshelves on New Year’s Eve. I watched the acorn drop in Raleigh, North Carolina—acorns are classier than balls—and prayed that I would hibernate until March. Obviously God had more important matters to deal with, but I woke up on February 1st and realized I had survived the month I’d been dreading. I’d like to tell you I have seasoned coping skills, but that would be a lie. I have, however, discovered a few things this time around that I hope to remember for novel three.
The crap of everyday life doesn’t stop for book release hoopla. During the launch of my debut novel, THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, I had a hard time shifting gears. I was a novelist! Surely my life was about to become a Disney movie with fireworks and confetti falling from the Carolina blue sky! This time around I bought fuzzy slippers and vowed not to check my Amazon rankings. After a reading /signing at a local indie one night, I swopped my author togs for pjs and worked on the family errand list while my husband fixed omelets. By the time I crawled into bed, the adrenaline from my event had vanished and I was anticipating the next day’s activities: picking up dry cleaning, supermarket shopping, and dropping off the recycling at the local dump. I bet even Sue Monk Kidd did a little errand running in January.
On the theme of keeping it real…not long after I launched THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, our son’s obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) returned full-force. We spent the next two months in hell, and I barely clocked what was happening with my novel. Funny thing though, THE UNFINISHED GARDEN—TUG, as I like to call it—kept chugging along, selling through word-of-mouth and book clubs. There comes a point at which you have to trust in your book child and let it go. You can’t always be a helicopter parent.
Use writing to escape the pressure:
Throughout the fall, I struggled to find a writing schedule that worked. Our son left for college, and without active mom duties that included driving 100 miles to and from his school, and stealing writing time during guitar lessons, I was strangely adrift. But in December my publisher, Harlequin MIRA, offered me another two-book deal, and I had to stop piddling around with my work-in-progress and get serious about a mid-July deadline. I started a new schedule during the holidays that allowed me to achieve what I needed to achieve on my WIP but also provided a window of escape from the pressure of the launch. I got up at 6:00 a.m., as usual, but I put off my old routine of treadmill / email / shower until I had produced 1,500 words of first draft rubbish. During that time I focused on nothing but my new characters and their story. By January 31st I had finished my first draft--as intended.
If it doesn’t need to be tackled during launch month, file it away in a mental box and keep it there. I haven’t cleaned the house in about six weeks, but no one has died from dust or mold inhalation. In the last month I've kept up with the laundry, Friday afternoon cocktails with my BFF (therapy), and regular phone chats with my sister in England (we have aging parent issues). Pretty much everything else has been shoved aside—except for getting the leaves raked while the Beloved Freshman Delinquent was home on break and able to help. Have I ignored my domestic to-do list in the last month? Yup. Has the world stopped turning? Nope. (And yes, I kept the Christmas decorations up until mid-January.)
Don’t look at the big picture. In the world of fighting irrational fear (i.e. OCD) we have a word: awfulizing. It means that your thoughts quickly escalate to the worst-case scenario until you’re overwhelmed. Here’s an example: my book will bomb, my WIP stinks and I can’t make my deadline, I don’t have time to write all my blog posts, and my car is so overdue for an oil change it’s going to die, etc. Stop the thoughts before they pile up by breaking life down into manageable chunks and daily goals. Make sure all your readings / events / deadlines are on the calendar, but only focus on one day at a time. (Remember that 1,500-words-a-day goal that kept me sane?)
Don’t take it personally when you become yesterday’s news:
Publishing news moves fast, and it can feel as if your novel has faded from the headlines far too quickly. One day you will wake up to no new reviews on Amazon and no email from Google Alerts. Don’t panic. Your book has not done a kamikaze jump into remaindered hell. The first flush of success is over; now your novel must find its own way in the big wide world, and it may surprise you. (THE UNFINISHED GARDEN surprised the heck out of me.)
The most important lesson of all—be nice to your family:
Remember that your family will also be in hell. A book launch adds a whole new dimension of chaos to family life. Try and steal one evening a week to stop the world and watch a family movie or at least talk to your loved ones across the dinner table. I’m super lucky; I have a very supportive family, but the first time around, I wasn’t as appreciative as I should have been. That’s one mistake I will never repeat.
Barbara Claypole White is the author of THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, a love story about grief, OCD, and dirt. TUG won the 2013 Golden Quill for Best First Book. THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR, which was chosen by the Southern Indie Booksellers (SIBA) as a Winter 2014 Okra Pick, is the story of two broken families coming together to heal in rural North Carolina. Visit her at barbaraclaypolewhite.com, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.