Open Blog Weekend: Don’t Crack Under Pressure by Jan M. Leotti
Part I: Your Publishing Team
Assembling a publishing team for your first novel is a daunting task, but once you’ve hired an editor, cover artist, designer and formatter, does that mean your work is done? Hardly. It’s just begun.
Unless you’ve decided to do all of these tasks yourself, you are going to need professionals to help you. So, let’s say you’ve researched and chatted with prospective team members and have decided to hire some of them from the list you compiled. (You compiled a list, right?)
You’ve worked for months, maybe years, on your novel, and now it’s finally ready to publish. Your team is finally in place. They begin working and everything is going well! You’re half way to your release date and then—something goes wrong. Horribly wrong! What to do? Here’s how I handle out-of-my-control and in-my-control situations.
1) When your team doesn’t seem to take you seriously.
What I want to do: cry and show them all the old boxes of novels and stories I’ve written prior to this one piece of gold. If that’s not serious—sniff, sniff, tear-stained face looking out a rainy window—then what is?
What I do instead: First, I take myself seriously. You can help your freelancers understand how important this is to you by acting like a professional. For example, stick to your writing schedule. Direct your freelancers by giving them deadlines for cover art, edits and design. It is very important from a marketing perspective to keep to a publishing schedule, and your freelancers should understand this. And last, but certainly not least, treat your freelancers with respect and pay them on time.
2) When the people you’ve hired are late, take vacations without telling you, put other people’s work in front of yours, and basically cause other types of unexpected delays:
What I want to do: Throw glass kitchenware.
What I do instead: First, you have to look at the big picture. Be honest with yourself. Is any of this your fault? If it is, see where you went wrong. Did you schedule things too tightly? Leave room in your schedule for mishaps—I learned this the hard way. Life happens while you aren’t looking, so show compassion for the people you’ve hired to help you on your journey. They have lives, too, and journeys of their own. And, while you’re waiting for them, you can fill up that extra time with something, can’t you? Hmmm…what could it be…oh, yeah, write more stories!
However, if the situation is not your fault, take action. You have the right to create deadlines, reject sub-par work, and nudge your freelancers. Find out what the problem is and what will solve it. See if there’s anything you can do to help. Be polite, even if you’re emailing them from your kitchen table surrounded by all those coffee mug shards.
3) When something goes horribly wrong (and it will!).
What I want to do: strike down the evil-doer with a bolt of lightening from my fingertips.
What I do instead: Recently, one of my pieces was released without any promotion whatsoever. How did that happen?
Basically, one of my team members input the wrong release date into Amazon’s pre-order form (which couldn’t be changed). This meant that my piece was coming out three weeks ahead of schedule. It meant I couldn’t do any of my planned promotional blogs, email blasts, tweets—nothing. It meant my piece was coming out in three days! Let’s just say I was…unpleased. Since I was still working on last minute edits, my manuscript wasn’t going to be ready until after the piece was released on Amazon for all the world to see…
…But I’m a professional, right? So, I crammed. I worked through the night and finished my edits by sunrise. I wrote to my team member asking, “If I get the manuscript ready, will you do your part to fix this?” Luckily, my team member is highly professional as well, and worked with me to fix the mistake. The correct version of the manuscript was uploaded later that morning, and rainbows and butterflies appeared without worry. (I think at this point I was slightly psychotic from lack of sleep, but you get the idea.)
So, what’s the lesson here? You need to choose team members who will work as hard as you do. Your team members must be able to communicate their ideas and work with you to fix mishaps. This is important, because everyone makes mistakes once in a while, sometimes even big ones. So, if you have a team member who does not communicate with you, who doesn’t keep you apprised of what’s happening on their end, who doesn’t come to you for help if they need it, then it’s time to hire a new team member. Communication is key.
Part II: Yourself
One of my very dear friends once said to me, “No one will care about your career more than you.” This sounds obvious, but it becomes more poignant when you think about it in terms of being responsible for the work you release into the world.
At some point dark thoughts and doubt plague most writers, and they are worth thinking about and reframing so they don’t slow you down or stop you altogether:
1) When editing your manuscript is taking forever.
What I want to do: Raid the local college’s chemistry department for explosive liquids, place the printed version of my manuscript in the middle of the road in blinding sunlight, dump all the chemicals on top, light a match, back away, and yell, “Die novel, die!”
What I do instead: If you’ve ever finished and edited a novel, you’ll understand the above sentiment. You’re at that place where you’ve read and edited your novel five thousand times, had someone else edit it, input those changes, found additional areas to polish, and polished them until your fingers grew numb. Now you’re reading it one last time before sending it off to the formatter (or before you format it yourself). It’s a long process—a marathon, not a sprint—I just read that somewhere—and it’s true. Before you cremate your love, understand that the frustrations you’re feeling are normal. (No really. Put down the match!)
These frustrations are good because it means you’ve taken the time to do your best work. You are considerate of your readers. You want them to enjoy your book, and you want your words to flow, hopefully creating an unbreakable dream your readers can step into and experience.
So before you tear it all up (yes, I’ve been that close, even after five years of working on a project) remember why you’ve taken this journey—to write good stories. It’s worth a little frustration, isn’t it?
2) When you think your words suck, and even Mr. Deeds’ greeting card to Babe Bennett sounds like freaking Shakespeare. (I liked it. Made me cry.)
What I want to do: Pull a Sylvia Plath and find a nice, cozy oven.
What I do instead: Work my ass off. Yes, it’s maddening. Writing like shit can make you want to walk into oncoming traffic. (But don’t. It’s messy, and your fingers won’t work afterwards. Instead, write a horror novel about a writer who gets hit by a car, dies, becomes a zombie, and kills other writers she thinks write like shit.) Writing is hard. And writing well is harder. I’m in the midst of trying to discover the kind of writer I am, and trying everything I can to make my writing shine. But it’s not going to be perfect the first, second, or third time. Hell, it might be shit for the rest of my life! I hope that’s not true, but it’s a possibility. (I’ve heard practice has saved many a shit writer. So I practice.)
It’s easy to get discouraged when nothing is going right. But write. And write. And write. And suddenly, your world will write itself.
When Jan M. Leotti was a child, an evil uncle told her to come back to Reality and stop living in Fairyland. He said it was rotting her brain. In her teens, she and her friends attended a handwriting analysis party. “Those large loops on your ‘J’ and ‘L’ show that you are too dreamy. Get out of your head,” the analyst said. Although Jan tried, she couldn’t figure out how to detach her brain from her skull. In despair, she cried, her tears falling upon the loops in her name. One by one, the loops turned into bubbles. They puffed up and grew until they engulfed Jan in their iridescent skins, lifting her into the air. Sailing over the seas and over the lands of earth, Jan steered until one day she found it. Fairyland. When she disembarked in a state called New York, she bought a sky-blue cottage with an enchanted mulberry tree in the back yard. She set up a computer near a window tall enough to see the moon rise at night, and wrote two short stories and two vignettes, which were published in literary magazines, Peregrine, Primavera, and Vine Leaves Literary Journal, respectively. She also wrote a ghost story called The Headless Bartender and her first novel titled Close To Dark. She rescued two cats, placed twenty-two orchids on her sunny front porch, and married an award-winning landscape painter named Paul Bachem, who just so happened to be the prince in her loopy dreams. Jan and Paul still live in the sky-blue cottage and eat enchanted mulberries every summer. Jan has no intention of returning to Reality. Her brain has its own opinions about the uncle and the analyst. Jan blogs at: http://janmleotti.blogspot.com