Yesterday, my husband equated the creation of my book with the creation of our children. At first, it’s totally secret. Those nights of the summer of 2010 when I would stay up until two in the morning, possessed. I had an idea! I had passion! It flew out of my brain, thousands of words a day. I was on fire. I just wrote and wrote.
And then it was done. Conception had taken place. Now, what?
The first few months where only you and a very special inner circle know your news. Full of hope. Everyone’s really excited! You wrote a book! or You are having a baby! Oh my god! That’s so great! When they walk away from you at a cocktail party they murmur, “That’s the craziest idea for a book I ever heard…good luck with that.” or “They are never going to have sex again…good luck with that.”
Then, the professionals come. The doctors, the nurses, the sonogram, the amnio, the genetic counseling. Or, in the case of a book: the agent, the publisher, the art department, the marketing department. The wonderful stewards of my experience. My spirit guides. (That’s a joke for my husband, with whom I have a shared suspicion of anyone offering to guide me on a molecular level through deep space.) I have always loved professional opinions. When my husband and I met with that genetic counselor I don’t think she knew quite what she was in for. My husband adores statistics. He reads Karl Popper. For fun. (Did someone say empirical falsification? Chug.)
So that part was great in terms of my book. I had a chart of agents to query. My agent had a list of appropriate editors to whom she sent my manuscript. And one of them loved the book! We’re getting into those awesome pregnancy months 4-5-6 when you are glowing and are pregnant enough that people can congratulate you without worrying you are just fat, but not so huge that they pity you.
This past week was, well, probably the beginning of my third trimester in terms of my book. The advance reader copies (ARCs) are being printed. Right. Fucking. Now. Literally, somewhere in the world my words are going onto pages specifically to be reviewed. (That’s just a nice way of saying, “Cruelly dissected by evil reviewers who hate bunny rabbits and dance naked around glowing embers.” But I digress.) By the third trimester of pregnancy, things are pretty much set in stone. That’s when reality sets in. That’s when I started to segue from oh-look-at-all-those-cute-clothes to who-the-hell-is-going-to-wash-and-fold-all-those-onesies.
After all these past months of jumping up and down and (justifiably, come on, it is fucking awesome, my first book is being published! YAY!) being so excited, I am now in the awkward position of being utterly terrified and wanting to hide in my garage and/or cry in the shower. “What was I thinking?” “I can’t write!” “And now everyone will know!” “This is a disaster!” “I will buy back my advance!”
I really thought that last week. I even email’d that idea to my agent. I added that I suspected I might not be thinking rationally. In addition to the ARCs closing (can you hear the printing press churning away and the evil reviewers rubbing their hands together in anticipation?), this is also the final phase for cover and title decisions.
Whimper. That would be like, I don’t know, what was the name of those contractions that really hurt and then the OB smiles and pats you on the head and says, “Oh, those aren’t really contractions, those are just…Braxton Hicks!” (I didn’t even have to look that up after all!) Anyway, after dinner on Wednesday, I clicked open my computer and there was an email from my editor with the subject, “Final Cover for Author Approval.” Braxton Hicks. Braxton Hicks. Braxton Hicks.
Now, an aside about Titles of Books. I wrote a whole other blog about titles, but you know, it wasn’t good, so I threw it out. Suffice to say, PSA to aspiring authors, don’t get too attached to your title. It can change. Sometimes it can change several times. As my fabulous editor said when I kept asking, “Is it final? Is that definitely it?” She answered, “Don’t get off the roller coaster until the ride is over.” That has become my mantra. I picture myself unbuckling in the middle of The Hulk at Universal. Bad Idea.
So, here’s what happened. The supposedly-final title, the one on the email Wednesday night, had a problem. My twelve-year-old daughter brought to my attention that the latest title (the one that everyone was gaga about, including The Buyer From The Big Bookstore) was also the title of an increasingly popular YA book that all her friends in seventh grade were reading. She showed me the cover. I FREAKED OUT.
That YA cover didn’t just have the same title, it looked EXACTLY like my book. Not just, pass-me-a-shot-of-vodka-to-smooth-my-frayed-nerves similar. I was lost. Jesus in the desert. I vaguely remember my husband’s voice from another room, “No, you don’t need to turn on the light, Mommy wants to sit quietly in the dark.” I was a quivering mess. I am contractually obligated to accept the cover and title provided by my publisher. Not just accept. I need to enthuse. I quivered more.
Keep in mind, my book has sex in it. Grown up, big girl, happily-ever-after sex. And the idea of some twelve-year-old girl picking up my book instead of the book she’d intended to buy? Whimper.
Yesterday morning, I sent a whimpery email to my agent and told her I just didn’t think I could get behind that cover/title. I listed my reasons. I asked if I sounded irrational. She said I sounded rational. (This is why I need an agent: I did not need to buy back my advance; I did need to tell my editor my concerns.) And then the craziest thing happened: my editor totally listened. She raised my concerns to the art department and marketing department and they listened. It’s being changed. The title. The aspects of the cover that might have misled people to believe it was for a younger audience. Resolved. I stared at that end-of-the-day email in fascination.
Of course, I know that I am still contractually obligated to accept whatever the publisher provides, but it turns out my concerns were not emotional foolishness. They were real. And it turns out that the publisher, okay MY publisher at least, is interested and concerned about what authors think. I will spend this weekend in a state of gratitude.
I should have a definite title by next week. Maybe. Until then, I am still firmly buckled into The Hulk, preparing for Labor & Delivery on September 1.
For further reading, here is a wonderful article on other authors’ experiences with covers and titles from The Awl.