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A Book is Born: Reflections of a First Time Author

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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)?

B/N at 86th and Lexington, ManhattanChasing 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.

Looking Backwards

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.

About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • Flo

    Well, judging by your articles, I think you don’t have to be too worried about the critics.

    It is a great accomplishment and I hope the sells will reflect that. You deserve it.

    I really can’t wait to read it. Can’t believe I have to wait till late October here in France. It’s gonna be a long wait!!!

    I already said it on twitter but Congratulations again. And thank you for this article, it’s nice of you to share your experience with us.

  • Orange450

    Thanks for sharing your reflections on this tremendous accomplishment and dream come true! Your journey is an inspiring one!

    Nice picture :)

  • Veresna

    Barbara,
    My husband (who loves the show and tolerates my obsession with HL) is going to be coming to see me and our son this weekend (I moved for a job in North Carolina while he is remaining behind at his job in West Virginia for the moment). He saw your book while browsing through the bookstore this week and called me last night to say that he bought it for me and will be bringing it with him—just wanted to let you know that there must definitely be something ‘eye-catching’ about the cover and contents of the book!

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    Thanks so much for letting me know. We know what ‘eye catching’ about the cover :) Hope the contents pleases as well. Looking forward to your reaction.

  • savtaof5

    I thought my copy would arrive in the mail yesterday since I ordered it so far in advance. Just got an email notice that my copy has been shipped. I hope it appears at my door tomorrow so I can read it over the weekend. I don’t think you have to worry about the success of your new book. It will fly off the shelves to great reviews.

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    Cool. Enjoy. And let me know how you like it!

  • Tigerfeet

    Hi Barbara! I am soooooo looking forward to reading your book. You really give me so much extra House-enjoyment.

    Unfortunately I got this message from Amazon yesterday:

    “We’re writing about the order you placed on March 11 2010 (Order# 105-xxx). Unfortunately, we are unable to ship the item(s) as soon as we expected and need to provide you with a new estimate of when the item(s) may be delivered:

    Barbara Barnett “Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D.”
    Estimated arrival date: October 20 2010 – November 01 2010″

    I live in Norway, but still. If in stock it normally takes just a few days even when ordering from US Amazon.

    This is obvioulsy not a complaint towards you. I just thought I’d let you know since I see from your Twitter that you were gonna look into the delays from Amazon.

    Anyway, congratulations and the best of luck with the sales and everything else.

  • Tourmaline

    Fantastic article Barbara! Looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of the book.

  • Elisabeth

    Clarke wrote “Trumpet Voluntary”

  • BT

    I pre-ordered the book in June and just checked in with my Amazon account. It is scheduled to be shipped next week. Hmmm. So I called our local B&N in PA and they said they didn’t have it because it had not been released yet. More hmmmm. I guess I will have to wait for a few weeks before I get my fix.

  • http://notesfromnancy.blogspot.com Nancy

    Now you can focus on sales ;) Considering how popular the show is, sales should be brisk. It just might take a bit.

  • 60 plus

    Barbara,

    I ordered mine from Amazon in March. Received an e-mail earlier this week saying it was shipped. It arrived today.

    Haven’t had a chance to read any of it, but I was pleasantly surprised by its length! Looking forward to spending a lot of enjoyable time with it this holiday weekend.

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    Enjoy it! It is a whopping 430 pages! I can’t believe I had that much to say about one television show

    Let me know what you think!

  • Mary D

    I am amazed by your book. WOW. A lesser writer could have simply pasted their blogcritics pieces together to make an okay book but ‘Chasing Zebras’ is not simply okay. It is brilliant and reading carefully I realised it is totally fresh as not once have you taken the option to take from your previous work. I spend most of my life working in film and television and believe this book will have very wide appeal.

    While ‘Chasing Zebras’ by Barbara Barnett will give great reading pleasure to the fans of House MD it is likely to have a much wider readership throughout those involved in the television industry. The insightful analysis of plot character and performance and careful observation of detail provides understanding of the astonishing success of this complex character driven drama series. The author has not only written a compelling, entertaining and beautifully constructed book but also has the intellect to provide those working in the industry or studying television drama with added perception of character and plot development which can be applied to any series or one-off drama. This should be in the professional library of any producer, writer or media student and take pride of place on any fans coffee table.
    This book is a zebra not merely a horse.

  • lori

    I’ve just begun to read the book and it is really outstanding. There are great insights in each chapter/section and I particularly enjoy how you weave the material together. There is something in every chapter of this book for the neophyte as well as we House junkies.

  • http://twitter.com/b_barnett barbara barnett

    Lori–

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I’d so much hoped to write a book that spoke to those of obsessed with the show and those not yet obsessed :)

  • Elisabeth

    Barbara, I am only about 1/3 of the way through the book. In an ideal world, I would just sit down and read it cover to cover, but life gets in the way… Anyway, it’s great and I love the details that you marshal to support each of your points. I have to say that I think you’ve pegged Cameron (and particularly the Cameron/House interaction) better than anyone else has in other books or web reviews.

    For those of you who have read the other “House” books and are debating whether or not to purchase “Chasing Zebras”, please do – this book is head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd.

  • http://barbarabarnett.com barbara barmett

    Elizabeth. You are incredibly kind! Thank you so much!