HALLIE EPHRON: I so remember the long long wait after I "finished" my first novel, the waiting waiting waiting to hear from agents. Then the waiting waiting waiting to hear from publishing houses. It was excruciating, cruel, and unusual punishment for finally writing a book.
Then there were the demoralizing comments that came back ("I think it has many strengths, but it seems to me it needs some rethinking..." "I was not so drawn into the story that I felt a compellig need to read on..." "...he didn't set the recurring character lights flashing") and the prolonged soul searching that followed. Should I forge ahead? Revise? Give up? Eat a banana split? Go shopping?
All of it on the way to YES! Of course that's happy 20/20 hindsight.
CANDACE HAMMOND: There’s a song by the band, Zero 7, “In the Waiting Line,” that’s been running through my mind a lot lately.
I am a journalist. I write feature stories and columns for a mid-sized newspaper and various magazines. There’s a certain instant gratification to that pursuit. Within a few days I can interview someone, write an article, turn it in to my editor and see it in print.
My novel, “The Best Worst Year,” has taken somewhat longer. Seven years to be exact. Started when my youngest child headed off to college, I worked on it at night and early in the morning. There were times I put it aside, times when I was convinced it was the worst thing ever written, and times I just wanted to give up. But I didn’t.
A year ago an agent I’d queried called me. This was about as out of left field as George Clooney calling me and asking me to join him at Lake Como for a vacation. She loved my book. She told me it was the kind of book she’d like to, “curl up with a cupcake under a quilt and read.” After that it’s all a bit fuzzy, but when I hung up I had a pile of notes scribbled on Post-Its in front of me and a lot of work to do.
Two major rewrites, (loving my book had some provisos) and working with an editor in New York later, I finally have an agent. I’d spent nine long months unraveling the book like a beloved sweater and knitting it back together, hopefully making it a better fit with fewer holes.
I’d always thought getting an agent was the toughest hurdle you had to negotiate, but things have changed in publishing. Houses have downsized, you’re expected to have a platform before you are out of the gate and your book has to sparkle and wow.
So now here I sit, an agented, debut novelist waiting for the phone to ring. My book is out at several houses, I’ve had a couple of rejections, but we’re keeping positive.
I’m not good at waiting. I’m really not. So I’ve been distracting myself with various ploys, some more effective than others. I’m hoping soon I’ll be off the waiting line and on my way to holding a copy of my just published book. Until then, here are a few things I do to make the wait less agonizing. Sort of.
1. Planning what to wear at my book signings and when Kathie Lee and Hoda have me on “The Today Show.” This takes lots of time and study. Skirt? Pants? They have those high stools so heels could be a problem. These things are important and shouldn’t be left to the last minute.
2. Writing my acknowledgments for my book. I look at this as the writer’s equivalent to an actor writing an Oscar acceptance speech before their movie even comes out – something you don’t tell anyone about, but you know everyone does it.
3. Thinking about what actors will play all the parts when my book is made into a movie. This involves reading “Entertainment Weekly” religiously and visiting various gossip blogs – just to keep current. It’s research!
4. Working on my next book. Yes, I am just that foolish that I would put myself through all this again.
5. Reading other writers and comparing myself relentlessly. Often by page ten I’m flogging myself for my lack of imagination and become convinced I’m a hack. This is not terribly helpful so I then return to number one – planning cute outfits.
Writing a book is hard. Getting published is even harder. It takes a certain mix of talent, determination and a touch of insanity to pursue something where the only guarantee is you’re going to work harder than you ever have never knowing if it will pay off. That’s kind of crazy. But if it’s what you love to do, you have no choice but to keep trying.
A writer friend of mine told me recently that her uncle once said to her, “I always wanted to write a book, but I don’t know how to type.”
For those of us who have done it, we know being able to type is the easy part.
HALLIE: Oh, Candace! Love your sense of humor about this. I've been there, and I was far less sanguine.
Seriously, #4! START THE NEXT BOOK! (Ask our Lucy Burdette about that one.)