Time to take the next step

Oh, my feathered friends—the time has come for this Emu hatchling to stretch her legs and race off into the sunset. But first, perhaps, there’s time for one last stroll down memory lane?

I joined this blog more than two years ago, within weeks of getting my first book deal. You might say that I was a little overenthusiastic. I will be eternally grateful to founder Jeannie Mobley and the rest of the early Emus for welcoming me so warmly to the mob.

In my first year, I shared what it was like to see kids read (an early, unedited version of) my book for the first time.   I learned the ropes by helping to launch several Emu books. I made plum dumplings in honor of Jeannie’s debut, Katerina’s Wish, and accepted the dare of stuffing my face with chocolate cake while reading Matilda to help launch Jeanne Ryan’s Nerve. 

To this day, I still can’t eat chocolate cake.


There’s nothing quite like seeing the cover for your first book.

2013 arrived, and I tried to write some quasi-helpful writing- and publishing-related posts. I shared my star-chart method of motivation. I obsessed about selling a second book…and then I sold one.  And then, suddenly, All Four Stars had a cover and 2014 was looming and, lo and behold, my debut year had arrived.

In the first week of 2014, I published my most personal post—“A Different Kind of Call,” about my mom’s illness and the joy of being able to share an advance copy of my novel with her. It went a little bit viral, thanks to WordPress picking it up for their Freshly Pressed page. What an unexpected honor, and my first real experience with a large number of strangers connecting with my writing.

And then what happened to the rest of the first half of 2014? I’m really not sure, though I know I tried (and often failed) to remember that there was life outside of my looming book launch.   We launched Adi’s and Joshua’s awesome novels, and then it was my turn. The Emus were their brilliant, creative selves, inventing “Flat Gladys”s and custom recipes and sending Gladys Gatsby out into the world with all of the love and enthusiasm she could ever hope for.

The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman

*pets the pretty cover for book 2*

So, now I’m a published author. My day-to-day life isn’t too different from how it was before–I still write, and teach, and hustle to get the next book project going. But I do get the occasional awesome e-mail from a fan of All Four Stars, and sometimes I get to go to libraries or schools or bookstores to talk readers and sign books. (Event alert—I’ll be in Larchmont, NY, this Monday evening doing exactly that!) And, of course, I’m gearing up to do this book-launch thing all over again next May, when my second book—The Stars of Summer,  sequel to All Four Stars—is released. (I just revealed the cover over at my own blog, and you can enter to win a signed ARC over there as well if you’re so inclined.)

So the time has come for me to move on and help make room for the next clutch of Emu eggs. I know that they’re going to hatch into incredible authors, and I can’t wait to read each and every one of their books.

Meanwhile, I hope to see you around on the Internet!




*waves her wing*

*gallumps off into the unknown*


Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, was published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


Filed under Farewell, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

Gladys Gatsby is Amazeballs!


Mise en place. Note small, sneaky hand at bottom right.

As I read Tara Dairman’s delicious ALL FOUR STARS, my mouth watered.  I longed to eat all the delightful desserts described therein.  What better way to celebrate Tara’s delectable debut than to eat something scrumptious?  And what better way to honor the indefatigable Gladys Gatsby than to invent a dessert?

And so, in the spirit of Gladys, and because ALL FOUR STARS is, let’s face it, totally amazeballs, I decided to invent some, you guessed it:


The vague vision: The final product would be 1) shaped like a ball and 2) amazing enough to please Gladys.  Maybe it wouldn’t garner all four stars – that’s a little ambitious for the first draft of a new recipe – but perhaps I could achieve three! I initially thought about adapting a Mexican Wedding Cakes recipe, because those things are heaven.  But then the author herself, Ms. Tara Dairman, mentioned something about how she thought amazeballs ought to involve coconut.  So I decided to make…

Spherical mini-lamingtons!  Don’t know what a lamington is?  You clearly have not watched enough episodes of MasterChef Australia.  A lamington is a square serving of sponge cake dipped in chocolate icing and rolled in coconut.  Let’s begin, shall we?

Part 1: Baking

BookTo satisfy a true gourmet like Gladys, I knew I’d have to aim high.  So I opted to use Julia Child’s Biscuit au Beurre butter sponge cake recipe, which I won’t reprint here because I don’t have permission (any good sponge cake recipe will do).

EggYolksI recruited my three-year-old sous chef to help me with the process.   For some reason (temporary insanity?), I let him use one hand to pour egg yolks out of a martini glass and into the mixing bowl (right). Fortunately, and perhaps miraculously, nothing broke. Amazeballs proceeded in style.


Julia Child’s sponge cake recipe first asks us to beat egg yolks and white sugar together for several minutes. Then vanilla is added, and it all becomes a lovely, lemony color.  So far, so good – I think that Gladys would approve!


Julia’s recipe doesn’t call for baking powder.  Instead, it gets its magical lightness from the careful whipping and folding of egg whites, which looks pretty gross while it’s happening.


Eventually, the sponge cake gets baked, then cooled on a rack.  If your cake turns out a little raggedy looking, like mine, then take a picture from farther away so that no one will know.  Also, the picture will look all glowy and meditative.  Or something.


Part 2: Balling

I don’t have photos of Part 2, because things got a little crazy at this point.  I split the cake into thirds, to experiment.  One third went into the freezer.  One third went into the fridge.  One third was supposed to remain at room temperature.  Instead, it got eaten.

I used a melon baller to get spherical, bite-sized sponge-cake pieces from the frozen and refrigerated cakes. (For the record, the refrigerated cake worked better, which was not what I anticipated.)  However, it didn’t yield as many balls as I had hoped, and I was running out of time.  Which brings me to the moment where I fell far short of Gladys’s bar:

I went to the grocery store and bought a frozen Sara Lee pound cake.  Oh, the shame. While this choice moves me further away from Gladys-level invention and much closer to Gladys’s parents’ level of cookery, I confess that it was easier (and oddly satisfying) to ball the pound cake with the melon baller.  When I make this again, I’ll do a scratch pound cake rather than a sponge.


Sara Lee pound cake on the left, from-scratch sponge cake on the right.

SaraLeeAnd then the melon baller snapped halfway through, so I had to resort to cutting the rest of the cake into squares.


Part 3: Dipping


Once you’ve got balls of cake ready for dipping, make your icing.  Mix together 4 c powdered sugar, 1/3 c cocoa, 1/2 c warm milk, and 2 tbsp melted butter.  You’ll also need shredded coconut, toothpicks, and a tray covered in wax paper.

(Note to coconut haters like my husband: this recipe still works fine if you decide to leave off the coconut… it’s just not amazeballs.)

ButterCocoaMilk2If you have a small sous chef handy, this part is fun.  Lots of pouring, mixing, and dipping, and no raw ingredients, so plenty of opportunities for licking fingers.



Using a toothpick, dip a cake ball in the icing, and then in the coconut.  Set aside on the wax paper, repeat.

After making a half dozen of these, I ate one and realized that immersing the cake ball in icing is overkill.  With a traditional lamington it works fine, because the square of cake is much bigger, but with these little spheres, full icing resulted in a mouthful of sugar.  Bleh.  Toothpicks2

Since the little mini-spheres were overwhelmed by full dunkage, I decided just to dip their tops in the icing and then the coconut.  This resulted in a better balance of flavors as well as, I think, a cuter bite-sized treat.


Back row: dunked and drenched. Front row: dipped and cute.

And there we have it: Amazeballs!  But would my invention pass muster with Gladys Gatsby, our celebrated sixth-grade connoisseur?

Well, I didn’t want to bother Gladys.  She was busy with the launch of her writing career!  So I took the amazeballs to my family’s 4th of July celebration, where they were a big hit.  I think that, in the end, Gladys would give this dish 3 stars: 3.5 for taste, minus 1 star for using store-bought pound cake to supplement, plus 1/2 star for determination to see it through.

Bon appetit!

(p.s. For more recipes, check out Tara’s blog, where she’s been posting all kinds of yummies inspired by Gladys’s cooking and eating adventures in ALL FOUR STARS!)

Remember, you can get your own copy of ALL FOUR STARS from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as PenguinPowell’sB&Nor Amazon.

And, don’t forget, comment on any post this week for a chance to win a signed copy!


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Launch, Promotion

I am not my book

My debut novel, All Four Stars, is just about two months away from publication.

Its lovely jacket arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago.

All Four Stars full jacket

Its first trade reviews have started to roll in.

The book’s New York launch party is confirmed (please come!), and its Colorado launch party should be set up within the week (please come to that one, too!).

I wrote those last three sentences very carefully. Note that I didn’t say that “my” jacket arrived, or that “I” got reviews, or that I’m planning “my” launch parties. I did that on purpose, because—as I’ve been trying to remind myself daily of late—I am not my book.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m incredibly proud of All Four Stars, and I’m proud of myself for having produced it. I worked on it (on and off) for seven years before it scored me an agent and a book deal. My main character, Gladys, is in some ways a lot like me, and her story is very close to my heart.

But, the book is just something I made. Actually, thanks to the long publishing process, it’s something that at this point I can say I finished making quite a while ago. I’ve written other books since, one of which will come out in 2015 (hooray!), and I’ve got plenty more stories in the pipeline. I’m dedicated to my work, and most of the time I love it, but I try to be careful not to let it be the only thing it my life that can bring me joy or fulfillment. (I succeed at this some days better than others.)

Being a writer is more than just a job. The work we do as writers is often inspired by and bound up in our lives and experiences, so it can be hard to leave it behind mentally even when we’ve left the writing space for the day. And then, when it’s finally time for that work to find an audience, it can feel impossible not to take each and every reader’s reaction personally.

But I’m trying. I’m trying really hard, because the alternative is to let everything in, to believe every contradictory review, and to let them drive me crazy. And as much as my writing is part of me—a big, important part of me—it isn’t all of me.

Since this post has gotten a little heavy, I will leave you with a few lines from one of my favorite musicals, Avenue Q.

There is life outside your apartment.
I know it’s hard to conceive.
But there’s life outside your apartment.
And you’re only gonna see it if you leave.

-From “There is Life Outside Your Apartment” (whose other lyrics, I warn you, contain a delightfully hefty dose of profanity)

Over the next couple of months, I may have to make this my theme song (replacing “apartment” with “book”…or, better yet “first novel,” for the sake of meter). As much the debut process will surely try to take over my existence, I know that there is a life outside of it, a “me” who is not her book—and for the sake of sanity, I’m going to make sure to keep her around.

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Launch, Panic

The Second Time Around

One of the pieces of advice I’ve heard most frequently from authors who have published multiple books is “Enjoy this time—you only debut once!”


You’re official! Now please rewrite this piece-of-dreck manuscript.*
(*Not an exact quote.)

For about a year after I sold my first book, I kind of got where they were coming from…but there was definitely another part of me that thought “Yeah, right. Because it’s sooo enjoyable is it to be a clueless noob about absolutely every single step of the publishing process!”

I regularly felt like I was flailing around in those months. I had no idea when to expect my contract, my editorial letter, my advance check. The conferences that more experienced authors referred to with casual ease sounded like alphabet soup to me. And let’s not even mention the looming challenge of how to promote a book when you have no fan base yet and zero name recognition.

But today, four months before my debut, I think I finally understand what those old hand authors were talking about. It just took selling a second book for me to get it.

Now, I’m absolutely ecstatic that All Four Stars will have a sequel. And this time around, I definitely feel more at-ease about the whole editorial process, since I’ve already been through it once. For instance, after I turned the manuscript for book two in to my editor, I found that I wasn’t constantly refreshing my inbox like I did after turning in book one; I was actually able to appreciate and enjoy the enforced time away from that story while I waited for her edits.

But I also have to admit that the things that felt like big milestones for me with my first book just haven’t been as thrilling this second time around.

I took copious pictures of myself signing my first book contract, and my first check. I may have squealed a little with delight when I received my first editorial letter, if only because every page had that official-looking Penguin logo. But that wasn’t really because other authors had told me to “enjoy it”—it was because these were pieces of hard evidence that my long-held dream of becoming a published novelist was really coming true.

The second time around, though, I just signed my contract quickly, wanting to get it back in the mail so my payment could get processed. When that payment came, I deposited the check with no fanfare. And as happy as I was to get my editorial letter for book two a few weeks ago, this time I didn’t squeal over how official it looked. I’d already done this once, so I knew how much work was ahead of me—and that I really needed to get right down to it.

So, I guess I’m on the brink of becoming one of those authors who warbles the song of experience, warning the whippersnappers that they’d better enjoy every little moment of their debut process, or else. “Never again will paperwork feel so exciting to you!” I’ll preach.

But you know what? I’m okay with becoming that person. Where I used to feel clueless and anxious, I now feel confident and…well, not exactly mellow, but at least a little more chill than I used to be. Publishing may not feel like a thrill a minute anymore, but overall, I think that the trade-off will be worth it.

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


Filed under Advice, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Editor, Helpful or Otherwise, Satisfaction, Writing and Life

A Different Kind of Call

I got a voice mail from my mom a few weeks ago—just 10 seconds long, saying “Call me when you get this.”

My heart plummeted. For a year, I’ve been getting messages like these, and they almost always mean that my mom is back in the hospital. Or, at the very least, that she took a trip to the ER and was sent home once she’d stabilized. It’s the kind of information you don’t really want to leave—or receive—in a voice mail.

But over these past couple of months, things really looked like they were taking a turn for the better. Mom had not needed any emergency hospital trips for weeks. She’d slowly weaned herself off of supplemental oxygen, and her once-enormous trach tube had been swapped for a smaller size. She was getting out and about town, and was even talking about starting to drive again. A year after a string of medical procedures had left her intubated and fighting for her life on a ventilator—half a year after she’d basically relearned how to walk after months in a hospital bed—she finally seemed to be making real progress.

That’s why I didn’t want to return her call.

I didn’t want to hear that she’d been rushed back to the hospital, unable to breathe—that recovery was, once again, slipping out of her grasp.

My fingers shook as I hit the buttons on my phone. Mom answered on the second ring, but then told me to hold on for a second. As I held, I heard coughs rack her lungs, and I knew that when she came back on the line, the first words out of her mouth were going to be “I’m in the hospital.”

But they weren’t.

“I’ve been up until two in the morning every night this week—” she started, and after a millisecond of elation (she’s not in the hospital!) my heart sank again. She can’t sleep. She’s been up coughing. She has bronchitis again, or pneumonia. But then she finished the sentence with “—reading your book.”

“And it was wonderful!” she went on brightly. “You know I’m a slow reader, but I just couldn’t stop reading the story to go to sleep. And the ending is so good, it just left me wanting more. So I just wanted to call and tell you how much I loved it.”

ALL FOUR STARS arcsSuddenly, I was the one who could hardly breathe. This wasn’t a bad-news call at all. It was a great-news call. When I had visited my parents earlier in the month, I’d left them with an advance copy of All Four Stars, my first novel. My mom had read a draft years earlier, and given how long it had taken her to get through the manuscript that time, I’d expected that it would be months before she finished this version. But she’d blasted through it in a matter of days, and was now excited to talk about the changes I’d made and how she could help recruit friends to attend the New York launch party I’m starting to plan for its release.

That release will be just a few days before my sister’s wedding, and if I had to pinpoint a day this year when my mom’s health really seemed to take a turn for the better, it was the day that Brooke got engaged. Suddenly, instead of dwelling on the struggles of this past year and discomforts of the present, Mom had a concrete reason to look forward to the future. And it seems that now that she’s read my book, there’s an extra something to look forward to.

For writers, the year before your first book comes out is filled with exciting milestones. You do final edits, see the pages get designed and laid out, see your cover, hold advance copies in your hands. But the one thing that has surprised me most about this past year is how my book has brought me closer to various members of my family. I’ve reconnected with cousins and in-laws who have middle-grade-aged kids and grandkids. I’ve come to rely on my foodie aunt more and more as both an early reader of my drafts and a final reader (she has a great eye for typos). And now I’ve gotten my mom a little more excited about the book’s launch.

As my debut year—with all of its obligations and stresses—starts to pick up steam, I’m sure that I’ll find myself at times to be in desperate need of clarity and perspective. In those moments, I’m going to try to look back to this call with my mom. To remember what kind of impact the right story, at the right time, can have on a single reader; and to remember that, no matter what reviewers or Goodreads users have to say, my book has already done a little bit of good in this world.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2014, everyone.

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


Filed under ARCs, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

Cover reveal: ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman!

Recipe for a delicious book cover:

Start with one strip of sparkling city skyline…
Skyline only

Stir in 22 mouth-watering desserts…
Desserts only

Add a dash of determined heroine…
Gladys only

Season with one generous scoop of lovely blurb…
Blurb only

And get an incredibly talented artist and design team to cook things up…

and maybe…

just maybe…

if you’re very lucky…

the stars will align…

stars only

and you’ll end up with something like this. 🙂

Gladys Gatsby has dreamed of becoming a restaurant critic for New York’s biggest newspaper—she just didn’t expect to be assigned her first review at age 11. Now, if she wants to meet her deadline and hang on to her dream job, she’ll have to defy her fast-food-loving parents, cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy, and battle Manhattan’s meanest maitre d’.

On a menu (by which I mean, in bookstores) near you in summer 2014. Hooray!

Many thanks to amazing cover artist Kelly Murphy (whom we’ve interviewed on Emu’s Debuts before!) and the design team at Penguin Young Readers Group for producing such a perfect cover for my story. Also, today I’m being interviewed by Krista Van Dolzer over at Mother.Write.Repeat. about this cover, the editorial process for All Four Stars, and its sequel-in-progress, so feel free to stop by over there, too, if you’d like a little more behind-the-scenes info on any of those things!

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Stars, her debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com.


Filed under cover art, Illustrators, Promotion

So much for a quiet summer

Weekend break: out on Colorado's Grand Lake.

Summer weekend break: out on Colorado’s Grand Lake.

It’s said that summer is a slow season in the publishing industry. Offices release staff early for summer Fridays. Editors go on vacation. And everything just happens more slowly when it’s hot, right? So submissions idle longer, and the pace of progress on books under contract stalls out.

At least, that’s what I’d heard.

As it turns out, the summer of 2013 was anything but quiet for me and my debut middle-grade novel, All Four Stars (which comes out in summer 2014).

First, in June, the book formerly known as The Delicious Double Life of Gladys Gatsby (and, before that, Gladys Gatsby Takes the Cake), got its official title—this after many months of brainstorming on the part of me, my editor, and countless other people at Penguin.

Then, in July, I received and reviewed copyedits.

I got first pass pages in August. First pass pages are a PDF of your book with pages designed and laid out as they will be in the print copy. For many authors (self included), this is the most exciting step of the entire editorial process, since now the book you wrote actually looks like a real book!

What happens when you forget the foot pump.

What happens when you forget the foot pump.

Seeing your cover for the first time is also a “whoa” moment for most authors, and—of course—that happened for me this summer, too. In fact, over the past three months, I’ve seen the cover evolve from a black-and-white sketch to a full-color masterpiece (which I adore and can’t wait to share!).

Hm, what else? I drafted jacket copy this summer; I filled out the detailed Penguin publicity questionnaire (this took days); and there was the excitement/anxiety of approaching a few authors I admire to possibly provide blurbs for my book.

Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, in July I got the green light from my publisher to start working on a sequel to All Four Stars! That deal was announced officially on August 8, and I wrapped up a first draft on September 11. (Yes, that is crazy fast for me—in fact, 96% faster than my drafting process for All Four Stars.)

Now it's fall. ARCs are coming. So are scary candy-corn-flavored snacks.

Now it’s fall. Bye-bye, inflatable kayak; hello, scary candy-corn-flavored snacks.

Looking back on everything I had to do this summer, I’m surprised that I don’t remember feeling more stressed. But believe it or not, I wasn’t. The fact that I got away from my desk every weekends—hiking with my husband, or trying out our new inflatable kayak—surely helped.

But I think I also recognized that this was the honeymoon period for All Four Stars. The heavy lifting of major edits was over, but the demands of publicity and the onslaught potentially soul-crushing reviews hadn’t started up yet. This was pretty  much the last time that my book would belong almost exclusively to me.

Now it’s fall. ARCs are coming. I need to revise and turn in Gladys #2. I’m going to be busy—but I think I can handle it. In fact, I may finally be getting the hang of this author thing.

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Stars, her debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com.


Filed under Anxiety, ARCs, cover art, Writing, Writing and Life

When to Stop Asking for Feedback

Pat Z. Miller’s post on Monday, about getting great early reviews (hooray!) for Sophie’s Squash, got me thinking about feedback—the times when it’s helpful, and the times when it’s not.

Feedback Scenario #1: Early (prequery, pre-book-deal) days 

When I finished writing Gladys Gatsby (well, thought I’d finished!), the occasional friend or family member would ask me if they could read it. They probably didn’t expect the file to show up in their inbox before they’d even finished the sentence, but hey, I was a newbie author—unsure whether she’d ever be published, and desperate for readers and reactions.

The kind souls who suffered through that early draft hardly ever said anything critical about it, even when I pressed. Remember, they weren’t fellow writers, but people who were related to me, or had at least known me for a long time.

The tough love that draft really needed didn’t come its way until I took advantage of online critique opportunities and started to meet fellow aspiring novelists. And hooray for that feedback! It made the novel so much stronger, and eventually nabbed me an agent and a book deal.

Conclusion: There’s plenty of time to make big changes, so this is a good time to seek out fresh feedback on your story.

Feedback Scenario #2: The 11th hour of edits

A year and a half (and some more hard revising) later, I was on my final round of edits for my editor. I finished a section a few weeks early and had doubts about one element, so I sent it out to some fellow writers—folks I had beta’d for, and whose work I liked, but who had never read any of my writing.

These crit partners were fabulous, proposing all sorts of ingenious workarounds for the issue I had asked for help with. But the problem was that they didn’t stop there. I’d told them that I was open to any kind of feedback they might have for me…and they delivered some big-picture questions I hadn’t anticipated.

Did I really need that backstory in chapter 3? Had I thought about playing up the quirkiness more throughout?

These were issues I’d addressed in previous rounds with my editor; choices I had already made and accepted. We‘d decided together to sacrifice some quirkiness for realism, to expand the backstory to establish Gladys’s motivation for loving food. Hearing those decisions questioned by new readers—when I was otherwise basically at the polishing stage on the manuscript—was pretty disconcerting.

“You worry too much about what other people think,” my husband told me when my second-guessing finally reached a fever pitch.

“Story of my life, dude,” was my clever retort. “Now, please pass the chocolate.”

He was onto something, though—at least regarding that round of revisions. The polishing stage is probably not the time to start asking new readers for general feedback. It’s the time to trust yourself and your editor, and to commit to the choices you’ve made.

Conclusion: Close to a deadline may not be the best time for your fragile writerly psyche to invite fresh feedback.

Feedback Scenario #3: Postpublication

Your edits are done. The ink/e-ink is dry/(pixelated?). Bring on the industry reviews, newspaper columns, Amazon customers, Goodreaders, etc.!

(At least, that’s how I hope I’ll feel a year from now. Check back in with me then. 🙂 )

Conclusion: Once the book is published, there’s not much you can do to keep feedback at bay. So brace yourself.

Wise fellow writers, what do you think? Are there points in your process when you close yourselves off from feedback?

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Stars, her debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com.


Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Panic, Writing

No Fault in These Stars

April stars bring...May book deals?

April stars bring…May book deals?

Last week on Facebook, a friend of mine posted that she’d “resorted to using a star chart” in her toddler’s potty training. “Never say never in parenting!” she wrote. So, of course, I had to chime in in the comments that she knows someone well past potty-training age who’s still using a star chart: Me.

My stars, of course, are for writing, not for using the toilet. (Though anyone who’s familiar with Anne Lamott’s concept of “sh*tty first drafts” could argue that they’re essentially the same process.)

Then, on Monday, Laurie Thompson’s post about deadlines kicked off a discussion in the comments that once again led to admissions of star chart use on my part. I even went into more detail about my methods this time:

2 hours of drafting time = 1 gold star.

30 gold stars = 1 trip to the movies.

No drafting = no gold stars = blank stretches on the star calendar = SHAME.

Motivation accomplished!

Want to make your own? All you need is one free calendar...

Want to make your own? All you need is one free calendar…

As Laurie said in the comments, “It seems kind of silly that we need these simple tricks to make us do something we already love doing,” and I agree. I wish the spirit constantly moved me to write more. I wish I was the kind of person who woke up every morning full of confidence and motivation, unable imagine life without my daily five-hour stint at ye olde writing desk. And it’s not like the magic never happens, like I’m never excited to sit down and work. I used to be a write-when-the-spirit-moves-me sort of writer…it just took me more than five years to draft a single book that way. So now I use the shiny stickers to help speed the process up a bit.

Foil stars! Or "Etoiles en papier d'aluminum," if you're fancy.

…and some foil stars! Or “Etoiles en papier d’aluminum,” if you’re fancy.

Another advantage to having a star chart (or, better yet, star calendar) is that you can look back at your writing patterns over time. This year, I got off to a pretty good start in January, but then my second editorial letter came, so I had to put my WIP aside to work on more Gladys edits. February only has a couple of gold stars, since most of that month was devoted to edits and travel, but things pick back up again in March, and April is my starriest month so far. If I can keep it up through May, I may even have a (stinky, poopy, cr*ptastic) first draft on my hands.

So, they may be silly, but I’m sticking with my stars. In fact, I’m just a couple away from my first reward, a night at the movies! Of course, being so devoted to my work, I have no idea what’s even in theaters right now. Any recommendations, guys?

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Stars, her debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com.


Filed under Advice, craft~writing, Writing, Writing and Life

The first book vs. the debut book

It’s pretty obvious that EMU’s Debuts is a blog for debut authors (heck, it’s right there in the name). And being “debut authors” means that we’re all getting a book we wrote published for the first time. But what may be less obvious is that for most of us, our debut book is not the same as our first book.

While I don’t have any hard facts in front of me, I’ve talked with plenty of writers and hung around on writerly forums enough to know that most writers have a book or four “in the drawer” (or, more likely these days, buried in a folder on a hard drive somewhere). These “practice” novels or picture books helped the writer learn his craft, but will probably never end up getting published.

For our young readers—and for many beginning writers—this fact can be mind-boggling. How could someone go through all the work of writing a whole book that no one else (except maybe for the writer’s mom) will ever read?

Well, for some of us, it’s not all that hard. We see that the book we wrote has serious flaws, we get all excited about a new story idea, and we move on.

But for others, it’s a lot harder, especially if that first book was a story that had real personal significance—if it was the “book of your heart.” YA author Beth Revis wrote an excellent blog post about this very topic last year, and it has stayed in my head ever since. A first book of this type can be very difficult to let go of if it doesn’t snag you an agent or a book deal. And some writers find this experience so disappointing that they never write another book.

Still, most of the published novelists I know wrote at least one book before they wrote the one that got them an agent, and for many the book that snagged their agent’s attention wasn’t the one that ended up getting published. And I imagine that most picture-book writers have even more books in the drawer than novelists do!

Of course, there are always exceptions to these kinds of rules–and on paper, I’m one of them. GLADYS GATSBY (final title still to be determined) is, technically, both my first novel and my debut.


It took me almost five years to write a first draft of the book, and then months of intensive rewrites to get it into agent-baiting shape. Then there was more intensive revision for my editor before she made an offer on the book, and let’s not even talk about the wringer the manuscript has been through over the last few months of the editing process. I recently took a look at the first chapters of that first draft of the book, and…shudder. They will be staying deep in the Drawer of Bad Writing (preferably under a protective layer of smelly socks).

The handful of other writers I know whose debuts and first books are the same all have similar stories–as many years of toil and rewriting on the same story as many other writers would put into two or three books. And I bet that most of them would agree that while their first book and their debut book may share the same title or storyline, they really aren’t the same book at all.

The bottom line is that there’s no one right way to reach the point in your writing career where your work is ready to debut; five authors will tell you five different stories of their paths to publication. But whether they rewrote the same book nine times or wrote nine practice novels (or, um, 90 picture books?), their paths are all almost guaranteed to have been long, challenging, and highly educational.

Put another way, here are the immortal words of Anne Lamott from her excellent book on writing, Bird by Bird:

“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much.”

Replace “first drafts” with “first books,” and you get my drift. 🙂


Readers, are you surprised to learn that an author’s debut book is often not their first?

Writers, care to share how many manuscripts you have in the drawer, or how long you wrote (and rewrote) your debut book if it was also your first?

Share in the comments!

TaraDairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. Her debut middle-grade novel, THE DELICIOUS DOUBLE LIFE OF GLADYS GATSBY, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com.


Filed under Editing and Revising, Helpful or Otherwise, rejection and success, Writing, Writing and Life