What I knew about the publishing industry two years ago could be summed up in one word: The.
It would not, admittedly, be a great summary.
Since the idea for this book came about a couple of years ago, I’ve learned a tremendous amount, at least in relation to what I started out knowing. And since we are here on the eve of US publication of my first book, I thought I’d share a bit of that with you.
Now, I don’t know how many of you out there ever thought about writing a book, or wondered what the process is like. I can tell you if you’re interested. If you’re not, no biggie – there are other websites out there and they have an inside scoop on what’s up with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, so it’s not like anybody’s gonna blame you for checking that out. Come back anyti – hang on, your scarf is caught…there you go! Okay bye!
The first thing you do when you want to write a book is to write a proposal. (With novels, as I understand, you have to go ahead and write pretty much the whole thing if you’re a first timer.) In my case, because it was a memoir, the proposal consisted of an outline of the story I was going to tell, plus a sample chapter so that the publishers could hear the voice, get a deeper look at the characters and, most importantly, to see where my writing skills ranked on a scale from “Mary Karr” to “Feral Boy Found Living in Hollowed Out Log.” The entire proposal was about seventy pages.
I had an agent, a brilliant woman named Trena Keating with whom Liz and I became close friends. She found me after reading this blog and reading the article about Next Generation Nepal in Readers Digest. She helped me out outline the chapters and edited it, then we sent it out to publishers.
We were blessed to have the phenomenal team at William Morrow (a HarperCollins imprint) take a liking to it, and suddenly I was being contracted to write a three hundred page book. Which was partly dream-like and partly made me throw up in my mouth because basically somebody had just told me “We would love for you to write a three hundred page book OKAY GO!”
After that, it was just a whole lot of writing. The funny thing about that is that I was in business school at NYU Stern at the time. I was in my first year, when they work you like an Alaskan fisherman (Deadliest Catch? Hello?) and so I just kind of applied that b-school work ethic to writing. That meant that for the first few weeks I would write for about eight hours straight until I could smell my brain burning and I would take a break and immediately fall asleep, right there at my desk, drooling into an empty bag of Pop Chips.
You’re not supposed to write that way. Apparently you’re supposed to write, like, three hours a day, because it’s mentally exhausting. I still write more than that, but I spread it out throughout the day. I’ve never gone back to that insane initial pace. It was Trena who set me straight on this matter when she asked me (about seven or eight weeks into the process) how it was going and I told her I had written two hundred and eighty pages and she almost choked on her gum.
Little Princes went through about fifteen drafts just between me, Trena, Liz, and my father (the poet Eamon Grennan) before I sent a single page to my editor at HarperCollins, Laurie Chittenden. Laurie proved to be a phenomenal editor – I was stunned at how much better it was when I got it back a couple of weeks later. After fifteen drafts, you think you have it all figured out, but she made it, quite simply, a much better book. She and I probably went through another five or six drafts together. Then the book as we know it, Little Princes, was completed. That was almost exactly a year after I had started writing it.
After that was a discussion of the cover art – they showed us one that wasn’t quite right, I made some vague suggestions (“I’m thinking it should be…I don’t know…different, maybe?”), and on the second try they produced what I think is an absolutely stunning cover. I love that cover. Not only is it beautiful, but the blue door is evocative of the blue gate that leads into the Little Princes Children’s Home, a blue gate that is branded on the side of my brain.
People regularly compliment me on the cover and I regularly take credit – the fact is I had nothing at all to do with it except to say “I really like this!” and for Liz and Trena to agree. That was my contribution.
In late Spring of 2010, a month after the book was finalized, I was in a meeting with the Harper publicity team – amazing group that they are – and they kept mentioning arks and French flaps I just kept my mouth shut until they asked me a direct question and I had to admit that for the last twenty minutes I was furiously trying to work out what the crap an ark and a French flap was.
It turned out it was an “ARC” and that meant an advance copy, and I got excited because I didn’t realize they made advance copies of the book – so the timing of my excitement, again, about twenty minutes in, must have seemed alarmingly delayed, and given the team at least a moment’s pause wondering if they had just worked for a year on a book by an imbecile and would it, at least in theory, be possible to hide me from the world.
The advance copies came out over the summer. They were sent all around. Apparently there is a whole world of bloggers out there who read about a book a week and just review books online because they love to read. (Which I find so, so cool.) Publishing houses send them these advance copies, hoping they’ll review their book. Yet another thing I knew nothing about.
With the books sent out to bloggers, booksellers, and librarians, the pre-publicity tour was about to begin. And that, my friends, I shall regale you with next time. Don’t forget to come back! Door’s unlocked! Also, I may have stolen your checkbook when you were in the bathroom, so you sort of have to come back, don’t you?
See you soon!