As Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D. hits the shelves this week, I thought I’d offer my reflections on how it feels to be a first-time author.
August 31: The “Day Before”
Tomorrow, my first book, Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D. breathes its first breath of life (at your local booksellers). Awaiting that day has been akin to anticipating the birth of a first child. This day is filled with excitement, fear, anxiety, hope and trepidation. The butterflies that fill my stomach aren’t quite as painful as labor pains, but the waiting game is equally excruciating. Will anyone buy it? Will reviewers savage it (and me)?
Chasing Zebras isn’t likely to make the New York Times Bestseller list. It’s not a hot new novel, a self-help book or expose of anything. It’s a television book—hopefully engaging and well written. But for me, seeing my name on the cover of the book (never mind the photo on the back cover) is the dream of a lifetime. And much more importantly, I hope it’s the starting point for a new phase in my professional life.
The journey of the past two years has been full of highs and lows: the inevitable rejection emails and the joy of finding an agent who truly believes in your work; a publisher enthusiastic about the project. In her fabulous book The Forest for the Trees (which I highly recommend to every first time author), Betsy Lerner suggests that writers are prone to “magical thinking.” She argues that authors always fill in the lack of news (whether from agents, editors, publicists or whomever) by imagining the worst possible bad news. It’s usually not. She sure has me pegged.
While my book was in the first edit, weeks went by; my neurotic half was sure that the editor was doing a slash and burn on my manuscript. In my mind, whole chapters bit the dust and my best work lay in tatters (or with big red lines through them as only Microsoft Word can so cruelly do). Finally, a week after I thought I would have the manuscript back in my hands (or on my hard drive), I began to panic about the delay, imagining the worst. I was positive they hated the manuscript and were deciding how to politely tell me they couldn’t publish it!
Of course there was perfectly reasonable explanation for the short delay. Chasing Zebras is a long book, and the edit was taking a bit longer than anticipated. And when I finally received that email with the edits, I was undeniably relieved. The angst of the previous few weeks immediately lifted and I was happy to see only minor edits and a suggestion here and there. Phew! Magical thinking, indeed.
Jump forward a few weeks and the galleys, essentially a PDF of the book’s interior. I’ve never been one to get excited about galleys. Having been a magazine writer/editor, I long ago learned that galleys were the thing you reviewed using a straight-edge to do a line-by-line, letter by letter proofread with fingers crossed that you didn’t find more than three mistakes (because then it costs and you get on the executive editor’s sh*t list).
But to a first time author, galleys are living proof that the project is real; it looks like a book. The manuscript had been transformed into a book! Typeset and sidebarred, adorned with photos my publisher had kindly licensed, this was no longer the 600 page manuscript I’d written months earlier. This was a book. My editor wisely suggested that I print it out and read it—like, you know, a book. Like I was reading it for the first time.