Finished Has Never Been So–well–Finished!

For the last year and a half, I have been blogging about the process of getting a first book published, and as the process has unfolded for me, I’ve found it easy to talk about each step along the way–waiting for revisions, doing revisions, getting a new title, seeing the cover, the page proofs, etc.

This week–in fact, this whole past month–I have very little to blog about. The book, or at least my part in it, is done. It’s off to the printer. No more editing, no more tweaking.  My publisher’s marketing team isn’t quite ready to get going on it yet, since it is the fall list, and they are still working hard on the summer list. So basically, nothing is happening. The crickets are chirping. The cobwebs are forming. The author is doing increasingly neurotic things to pass the time.

In truth, things are happening. The book has gone out to authors to receive blurbs, and it has gone out to reviewers, who won’t be posting their reviews for some time because they have to have time to read it first (one would assume.) Somewhere far, far away, in a kingdom known as Simon and Schuster, meetings are going on, in which my book is at least on the radar. But for me, nothing is happening, and whatever is happening I have no control over.

If you are a control freak, this is not going to be your favorite part of the process. Not that I’m a control freak, mind you. I’m just a perfectly normal person who prefers to be in control. Of everything. Always.

So really, this part of the process is necessary for a “non-control freak” like me. This is the weaning period, the letting go period. The period where I have to say to myself, “there is nothing more I can do to my book,” and learn to feel comfortable with that. Katerina’s Wish is what it is going to be, for better or worse, and not only must I be at peace with that, but I must also be at peace with the reactions it receives in the world. It may be loved or hated, but either way, it will stay exactly as it is (Unless of course, it gets thrown into massive bonfires, in which case, I guess it will change quite a bit.)

This is an odd place to be. In the past, as my book has received criticisms, I’ve used them to improve it.

In March of 2006, the opening paragraph read like this:

 Trina found so many things unbearable about her new home, it was difficult to say which she disliked most. The air was dry, filled with coal dust and the constant smell of burning from the ovens that turned coal into coke. Her throat constantly felt dry and itchy. The two room house was cramped, and they rented it from the coal company for twice what it was worth. Worse still, Momma, Trina, and her little sisters washed endless piles of other people’s laundry every week just to make ends meet, and they worried constantly about Papa’s dangerous job in the mine. Here little Holena and Aneshka never had toys or treats, and Trina had nothing but endless chores. But despite all that, every morning when she stepped outside and saw the endless sweep of dry, brown, featureless prairie to the east, she hated the lack of trees the most.

It needed work, I was told. More than I cared to put into it, so I put it away. Between the fall of 2006 and fall of 2009, it lay in a drawer, abandoned, only to be revived because some people who had read it criticized my choice to discard it. I took their advice and revised.

By the spring of 2010, it looked like this:

 My papa’s dream brought us to America.  My mother said only a fool believed in dreams, but she knew Papa, so she packed our trunks.  And whether she believed or not, that dream swept us out of Bohemia and across the ocean.  To my sisters and me, those dreams were as much a part of my father as his big laugh and strong arms, and like his strong arms, his dreams caught us up and carried us all the way.

 “A new century and a whole new country!” he had declared on New Year’s Day of 1900, after talking to American recruiters the month before. Sure enough, seven months later we were leaving Europe behind.

It sold, but at the request of my editor, the first eight pages were condensed into one. The opening paragraph that will come before the world in August 2012 reads:

 My papa’s dream brought us to America. Momma said only a fool believed in dreams, but she knew Papa, so she packed our trunks. And whether she believed or not, that dream swept us out of Bohemia and across the ocean. We’d arrived, in the autumn of 1900 in “a new land for the new century,” as Papa put it. By May of 1901, neither the dream nor the country felt new. They felt old and worn out. As I stood behind our house staring at a dozen bundles of filthy laundry, I couldn’t help but think Momma had been right.

All of these changes have been in response to the opinions of readers. But now, I enter a new era, in which the reader’s opinion will not–cannot–change the story. It might, however, change the fate of the story. Word of mouth remains a powerful tool for selling books, especially among young readers.

So it is sobering to realize that there is nothing more I can do to my story. It is FINISHED in a way no other novel of mine has ever been finished.

Maybe it’s good I have this calm before the storm of reviews, and reader comments, and sales figures. Because I think I need to take a really, really deep breath.

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22 Comments

Filed under Editing and Revising, Reviews, Writing

22 responses to “Finished Has Never Been So–well–Finished!

  1. I like when Erin says, “We wish these books into readers’ hearts” and especially about your book, because that’s exactly where your book is going. I’m so happy for you, Jeannie. I’d guess most writers are control freaks; letting go of the reins is an adjustment, but your work is with a good team.

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  2. Jeannie, thanks for sharing the three different versions of your opening page! That kind of stuff is so interesting to me. I really love where you ultimately ended up with it (and with the rest of the book, which is wonderful). Congratulations on finally being finished, and I can’t wait until more reader reactions start rolling in!

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    • Thanks, Tara! I enjoy seeing those changes for other people’s work, too, so I thought they might be fun to share. I have to admit, though, it took some bravery to put that first one in. I cringe whenever I look back at those earliest versions of it. Just goes to show how much we gain by listening to our readers and honing our craft, as well as our stories!

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  3. Congrats! Thanks for sharing your journey.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your journey, Jeannie…I am of Bohemian descent, so I’ll look forward to reading your book when it is released…congrats!!

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    • Awesome! When I first got the idea for the story, I wanted the characters to be immigrants, but I hadn’t decided what country. I had recently read Willa Cather’s My Antonia (which is about a Bohemian family) and had loved it, and it made me think about some of the ethnic groups that came to America that haven’t been written about so much. So as a nod of respect to My Antonia, and in honor of some less well known immigration experiences, that is the direction I chose. Now I am itching to travel to the Czech Republic!

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  5. L.B. Schulman

    I feel your pain. Your words struck deep and true. I am using this time to do some positive thinking about the book. I read the ARC, for the first time as a reader, and I can honestly say that I did my best. This is insurance against bad reviews, because one can only do their best. I love your new first paragraph, especially the line about mom knowing dad. I can’t wait to read it, Jeannie.

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    • It sounds like you had a similar “revelation” on reading your ARC as I had on my proof pages. Seeing it typeset and laid out as a real book gave me a different perspective. It gave me the distance to feel like a reader just reading some book, rather than an author re-reading my own work. It did help. It was a moment where I realized, “I would like this if I was a reader, not just liking it because I wrote it.” That is a comfort as the poor thing ventures out into the unknown. 🙂

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  6. Thank you for sharing your journey, including your first paragraphs, with us. I look forward to holding your book in my hands and reading Katerina’s story for myself. As a fellow control fr– ahem, easy-going person, I can understand your feelings at this time. All you can do is breathe, right? 🙂

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  7. Great post, Jeannie! Add me to the list of people who can’t wait to read Katerina’s Wish.

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  8. Jeannie, I loved reading your beginning, middle, and end openings (if that makes sense). I’m sure you can now see, hard as it was to do, how much better each successive one became. Thank you for sharing them and your wisdom about reviews–over which, as you point out, we have no control. I’d like to point out, however, that you’re hardly doing nothing. Not only are you involved in EMUs, you’re also working on WIPs. And, you’re preparing to bask in all those glorious, uncontrollable reviews!

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    • I’m also shampooing all my carpets, thowing out backlog in obsolete files, washing walls and woodwork, etc. Do you think this is nesting instinct as I approach the birth of my book? (Actually its just that I’ve been so busy I have abandoned the cleaning!)

      But I am in a very strange lull with this book. I feel like I should be doing SOMETHING to get ready for the release, but right now I keep getting told we’re too far out to start that yet. It’s another hurry up and wait, then panic sequence, I suspect.

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  9. Many congrats on where you are in the process. But I can only imagine how difficult it must be to no longer be in control of your work. We get so attached. Opening work reads beautifully and I’m looking forward to seeing the final work. Congrats again!

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  10. Beautiful opening and I love seeing that progression! It’s amazing how much work it takes to really master any craft, and writing is no exception. It’s clear you weren’t just sitting on your thumbs all those years the book sat in the drawer! Katrina’s Wish is going to do amazingly well I just know it! Congratulations on being truly finished. 🙂

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  11. I loved seeing the evolution of your first paragraph. It’s all about refinement and getting to the point. I am looking forward to reading Katarina’s Wish.

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  12. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    I’d already been looking forward to reading your book, Jeannie, and am even more eager to dive in after this post. Revel in the letting go, knowing that your book is ready for readers who will love Trina and root for her happiness. My pom poms are ready to go!

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  13. Victoria Hanley

    Yay for you and Katerina!

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  14. Pingback: Why, yes, It IS all about me. Um…unless it’s not. | EMU's Debuts

  15. Jeannie, I’m only now finding my way to this post. As someone who has loved Katerina’s story since reading the first version you shared an excerpt from here, and then the second version which I loved even more, I have to say that reading this latest opening paragraph has me all the more eager to read the final version. I’m so glad you stuck with Katerina all these years!

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