In The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler offers the twelve common stages of plot that comprise the Hero’s Journey. I’m not the first to contend that every person, at every moment, is living his or her own hero’s journey. But, since we here on EMU’s Debuts are all about celebrating the up-and-coming author experience, I decided to experiment with what the debut author’s hero journey might look like.
Stage One: The Ordinary World (As if there is anything ordinary about being a writer)
If you are at this stage, you are referred to by many names: apprentice, pre-published, up-and-coming, agent-editor-author stalker, dreamer. You’ve written scads of manuscripts and collected drawers of rejections. You are recognizable by the look of longing in your eyes, as you fold the laundry or clean the litter box while simultaneously reading your friend’s book. You often wear fuzzy slippers. All day. Publication begins to feel impossible.
Amount of time in this pre-published stage: Likely years.
Recommended Action: Eat chocolate, commiserate with other writers, scowl when people ask when your book will be in stores. It’s okay. We’ve all been there.
Stage Two: THE CALL to Adventure:
OMG, a publisher wants to acquire your book! They offer you money! Less than you hoped, much less than J.K. Rowling, but they like your work! You yee-haw right in the middle of the produce aisle, then apologize to the apple-stocker for your spontaneous twerking.
Recommended Action: Breathe! And do not quit your day job.
Stage Three: Refusal of THE Call:
Refusal? What, are you nuts? Move along…
Your agent mentor begins contract negotiations. If you’re on your own, you research standard publishing contracts and seek advice from a publishing professional until the contract verbage no longer looks like Greek confetti on the page.
Recommended action: Release the death grip on the telephone. Step away from your email. Go to a movie. Despite your best efforts, telepathy will not influence this process. I know this from experience.
Stage Five: First Threshold. Into the Publishing World
The Contract is signed. The P.M. or P.W. announcement has been made. Cue the hallelujah chorus. OMG, there is a publication date! You wonder how you can possibly wait That long to hold your book baby in your hands. You are officially a debut-author-in-waiting. Happy G-rated dance! Go ahead, tell everyone you know that your book sold! When you get your advance (probably only a portion of it), go out and celebrate.
Average time between contract and publication: An eternity! Or one to four years.
Recommended action: Work on other manuscripts. Set a goal of selling your second book.
Stage Six: Tests and Testiness
You receive your first revision letter from your editor. You love some of her suggestions. You disagree about some suggestions. You feel like an over-protective parent, hesitant to touch your little darling. But, you do. And your revised manuscript sparkles.
Your second revision letter arrives. You revise again.
The third letter arrives. Rinse and repeat. Your words sparkle more and more every time, but you want to see your words as a real book on shelves. Now! People remind you that it takes a village to raise a manuscript into a book. Whatever!
Amount of time at this stage: Varies
Recommended action: Double your chocolate intake. Add a bottle of bubbly. Keep working on those other projects.
Stage Seven: Allies
You meet other debut-authors-in-waiting. You form supportive friendships, cheering each other on through all the stages. You revel in the fact that, when asked, you can say that your book is due to release in 248 days, 1 hours, 22 minutes, 56 seconds-55 seconds-54 seconds. Not that you’re counting. You will soon be inducted into the exclusive club of published authors. Ahhhhh! You experience the longest pre-Christmas anticipation EVER!
Your hair turns gray.
Amount of time at this stage: BFFs forever. Once you’ve scaled the debut journey together, you are permanently linked.
Recommended action: Polish up your website and social media platforms, create a database of contacts, populate your calendar with dates of book festivals, writer’s conferences, etc. Practice patience. Keep working on those other manuscripts.
Stage Eight: The Ordeal. Aka: the Noooooooo! stage
You announce your publication date widely. You pick out swag and reserve a venue for your launch party. Then your book is delayed.
You and your editor are both disappointed. You double your chocolate intake.
The countdown starts all over again.
Recommended action: Remember those other projects? Keep working on them. By now, you might have another book sold.
Stage Nine: A Book Cover Emerges from the Inmost Cave
ARCs or F&G’s arrive. It’s like… a book! A real book!
Copies are sent to reviewers. You tell yourself you don’t care about reviews, because you’re proud of your baby.
Amount of time at this stage: ARCs and F&Gs often arrive 3-6 months before the book officially releases.
Recommended action: Stop eating chocolate and get back to the gym, for goodness sakes. There’s a launch to plan for. Send a mailing to people from your contact list, with postcards or business cards that include your book cover. Don’t forget press releases. Order swag for the party and author visits to come.
It’s here, it’s here! A box of author copies arrives on your doorstep. You cradle your books in your arms while convincing your family that, yes, you really do need photographs of your book in different poses.
Then the countdown ticks to 0. Launch party day. Friends and family gather to welcome your new family member to the world. Eager fans file into a line that reaches out the door and around the corner, all to buy your autographed book. Eureka! The great day of jubilation has arrived.
Amount of time planning your book launch: That’s up to you.
Recommended action during launch event: Do not make eye contact with your loved ones, or your mentor. Doing so has been proven to worsen leaky-eye syndrome. Do have someone take photographs of the occasion.
Stage Eleven: Pursued, Just When you Get Comfortable
Just when your membership card is stamped for the published author club, you read reviews of your book. Glittery comments make you swoon. Awards make you melty. Less than glittery reviews make you want to pull the covers over your head.
Recommended action: Stop it! Ask a friend to monitor reviews for you. Stay in the glowy euphoria as long as you can.
Stage Eleven: Third threshold. Transformation
You haunt local book stores and libraries, in hopes of spotting your book in the wild. You strategically pose your book next to titles by your literary heroes. This is a fundamental requirement of all new authors.
Stage Twelve: Return to ordinary world with wisdom.
The big swoosh of signings and celebrations eventually dwindles. You spend days in your fuzzy slippers, doing laundry or cleaning the litter box. But you are changed. Your book baby is now a full-grown hardback, out in the world. Congratulations, you survived the debut journey. You are now a sage author with experience. Just in time to start the process all over, with your next book babies.
Donna Janell Bowman is a debut Texas author who hasn’t actually passed stage eight of the debut-author-hero’s journey herself. Her forthcoming books are: Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Taught the World About Kindness (Lee and Low, 2016), En Garde! Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words (Peachtree, 2018), and an as-yet-unannounced title scheduled for a 2017 release. In addition, Donna has written four books for an education publisher. Recently, she has sworn off sleep for two years while pursuing an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. You can learn more at her website: http://www.donnajanellbowman.com, which is currently under construction.