Recently I heard someone say they wrote a book in seven days, thanks to AI.
I wouldn’t say they wrote a book. I’d say they wrote a draft.
As we navigate the brave new worlds before us, one question I’m asking me and my process is, What’s the right amount of time for my book to bake?
If you’re hankering after the traditional industry, get ready for your book to take a bit in the oven. If you’re talking indie, obviously, your timing is up to you. But still you need to find your way of doing things that feels right.
Here’s my history of getting @nervesofsteel out in the world. Dates are a bit fuzzy. History is written by the forgetful striving to remember. None of this is necessarily recommendation as much as it is trying to make sense of how things happen and what we can and can’t control.
Start scribbling ideas about a book you name How Minerva Mae Christopoulos Started the Chastity Club (because you are in love with long, weird book titles).
This I know: sometimes a book begins with a voice talking to you. Go on with your weird self.
Write various chapters while releasing your first young adult novel, How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought. While also releasing ten years’ worth of short stories in the collection, The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future.
Learn from an astute friend that teens are, in fact, NOT using Facebook anymore, nor are they using phones for phone calls. Instead they are using Twitter and texting. (You yourself own a flip phone at this time.) Get schooled when you go on Twitter and see what teens you know are up to in full public view.
Be horrified. Quite horrified.
This I know: Keep asking questions and never stop learning. Humiliation is great fodder for writing.
Write and write some more. Give the book to two different developmental editors and find the book’s purpose. (Memory serves this may have happened over two years.)
Watch adults you know behave badly on social media. Behave badly yourself during the midterms.
Keep trying to parent a teen. Fail. Try again.
This I know: Human editors have eagle eyes and better-than-bot brains. Don’t let an AI tell you different.
Also: Sometimes you will wish for the neutrality of a bot while parenting.
Release the prequel as the graphic novella, Minerda, with your pal Robin Follet.
This I know: collaboration with other artistic souls is so much fun. And knowing character backstory is powerful since all things can’t make it into The Book.
After querying a bunch of agents, go to the Chicago Writers’ Workshop with your lucky cowgirl boots on. Pitch agents. Be told nobody wants to hear from a 13 year-old protagonist, not in YA. Get 5 requests for the manuscript.
Come home, send the manuscript off to those agents, and keep querying. Get an offer from an agent. Sign with the agent. Rename the book Nerve after a heavy revision.
Learn from beautiful beta readers and get your best title idea, @nervesofsteel, from a teen boy.
This I know: The world has many opinions while you write, but only a few matter. Seeking feedback at the right time, when you’ve figured out the book’s reason for being, is super helpful. Sometimes feedback is too early; sometimes it’s too late. But at the end of the day, you have to decide what you can live with.
2016 – 2017
March on Washington.
Try to parent a teen while they are in college.
Go on submission to editors (aka “on sub”). Learn there are rounds of subbing. Learn that editors can like very specific things about the book but not want to buy it.
Shelve the book with your agent and start another, No Small Thing.
Continue to write about the things you care about.
This I know: The industry wants what it wants. The scarcity model is king. Never stop writing.
Go on sub with No Small Thing. Learn your agent is leaving the business. Drink wine and cry.
Discover that many authors are on their third agent.
Listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic podcast. Read Big Magic. Remember why you write.
Attend more protests.
This I know: There’s creativity, there’s persistence, and there’s luck and timing.
Find another agent. Sign with her. (After 100+ queries.) Sub out No Small Thing after a heavy revision. Learn that there are not just rounds of subbing but tons of creative moves on the part of an agent to keep looking for new opportunities.
Learn that some editors don’t think there’s a market for books about sports.
Start another two books.
Apply to grad school.
This I know: I’ll never run out of ideas for books.
Shelve the book.
Start grad school. Meet awesome people.
Be approached by NCTE to write more Shakespeare books.
Quit your day job.
Batten down the hatches as Covid-19 strikes.
Agree with your agent that a complete overhaul/retry of @nervesofsteel doesn’t make sense.
Start a business.
Start Teaching Macbeth: A Differentiated Approach.
This I know: if I’m still alive, I can change. Adapt.
Win an award for the book in progress. Finish that book. Grow the business. Edit the book with your agent. Keep going to grad school.
Work with NCTE editors on Teaching Macbeth.
Write a creative thesis on why YA is indeed literary.
Still believe in Minerva. Edit @nervesofsteel.
This I know: some books spring eternal. Life not only happens fast, but it seems to be getting faster.
Go on sub with When Pigs Fly.
Learn that some editors love the protagonist and voice but not the plot. Learn that some editors love the plot but don’t love the protagonist and voice.
Learn that you and your agent still really believe in the book.
See Teaching Macbeth release and learn yet more about the industry that you will reveal on another day.
Graduate from grad school.
Still believe in Minerva. Decide to make it historical fiction and really own that identity.
Send @nervesofsteel to a proofreader, and begin planning the book launch.
Read a recently-released YA book set in 2014 that’s called “historical fiction.” Feel vindicated.
This I know: Books must be shared.
Get an R & R request from an editor (Revise and Resubmit) for When Pigs Fly.
Keep revising. Set aside hours per day and dig in. Do what your professor Martha Brockenbrough said, “POUR YOUR HEART into this.”
Try not to perseverate on whether or not you’re any good at promotion, when you are a writer, first, last, always.
This I know: Truth will out.
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