2.26.2013

A Writer's Form of Stage Fright


As of this writing, the production on my novel, The Last Supper, is well under way. Its release will herald the culmination of a long-held dream of mine, to be a published novelist. But some of you might be saying, "You're already published, Allison! Why, I see you have a couple novels and a whole bunch of short stories already up on Amazon. This should be a total cakewalk!"

Sure, I've self-published, and I'm sure there will be scads of folks in the indie world ready to leap at me with all sorts of criticisms for daring to differentiate between self and traditional publishing when it comes to getting one's work out in the world these days, but I don't care what you say. It's different. Way different. 

In self-publishing, you are wholly responsible for a book's success or failure. You don't have a company investing a bunch of money in the success of your book. In self-publishing, readers already have a lowered expectation of you and your material, so the bar is therefore set a tad lower. The audience is also comprised of a small segment of the reading population, and they have a more accepting mindset and understand that what they're reading will be a little less than perfect. In a way, they're kind of like the faithful groupies of those unpolished but otherwise talented rock bands who grace the local watering hole on the weekends and practice in their garages or basements after work. I love these kinds of people and I'm thankful for them every day.

Also, in self-publishing, if you don't like the way your book is doing, or if you find it has typos or a plot hole or some other bad thing the readers picked up on and mentioned in reviews, it's as simple as taking it down, fixing it, and then re-publishing it. You can't do that so easily when there are a few thousand copies of your book (or a few hundred thousand, depending on your particular book deal) already printed and being distributed to the public. And any changes you want to make to the e-book have to go through a bit more of a process.

As for the audience, the expectations are nothing short of perfection. The editing must be spot-on. And your your story had better not suck. 


But those are all mostly external pressures. The internal stuff is far worse. Because inside your head, there lives an angel and a demon. The demon feeds off the blood of the good angel who was there when you first finished your book, who coaxed you through all the rough times when you didn't think you'd be able to finish, who told you how good an author you were, how great your book was, and how when this gets published, everything is going to be amazing.

Turns out the angel is also a bit of a wimp. It can't handle the altitude of heightened expectations or the borderline mania that comes with a lack of total control over the process that self-publishing gives you. The angel doesn't like interacting with others, and it certainly doesn't like hearing the hard truth. The demon has no real love for your book or you or your peace of mind, either. He just wants to wreak havoc. He wants you to tell you your book is trash and that you're destined for failure and humiliation. He wants you to think anything that angel told you was a lie. 

Well, to both the angel and the demon I say: Screw You.

Neither of them are doing you any favors. The angel does nothing to prepare you for the realities of publication, and the demon is just a flat out sadist. 

Yes, I'm terrified people will hate my book when it comes out. Or worse, that it won't sell and that my career will be dead in the water. I'm afraid that the investment my publisher has made in me won't pay off and that good people will suffer the consequences of having faith in me. I'm angry that I couldn't muster the same love for The Last Supper on this most recent reading that I had when I wrote it and when I edited it and edited it again before even submitting it, and that now, of all times, my eyes are refusing to see that it was the SAME book I loved before, and that the only thing that has changed is me. That I've started the inevitable detachment process that I think we all do in order to protect ourselves when the world takes our work into its hands and has its way with it.

The production process for this book is like standing behind the curtain before your play's opening night and feeling absolutely certain you're going to tank, that you're going to forget all your lines and trip and fall and they're all gonna laugh at you. But that never really happens, does it? In most cases, your body and your brain go into a sort of autopilot, and you soldier through it and prevail, despite all the nerves and absolute certainty of failure. And then, when it's all over, you wondered why in the hell you were so nervous to begin with.

That happens, because the demon, for all its destructive nature, can't handle the spotlight. It lives in the darkness. It couldn't invade the part of you that lives down deep and knows the score. It knows the lines, knows the marks, knows you're a good writer. Or at least good enough to get where you are, because that's all you need to be.