The ARCs are here!

The electronic ARCs for A Dead Man’s Eyes have arrived and the physical ARCs are on their way. I am nervous and excited.

Why?

ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) are copies of books that are distributed to book stores and reviewers three to six months before publication with the understanding that there is more editing and a polished cover to come. Their arrival means I can start begging for reviews and mailing copies to authors I admire in hopes that they will write a few kind words for my book cover.

My publisher, Level Best Books, will send ARCs to industry publications for reviews and will make the ARC available on the website NetGalley, where book reviewers, librarians, educators, any readers of influence, can read it for free. NetGalley members are urged to review the books they choose to read, so that will be a good reality check for me.

It also means that round two of editing has begun, the cover art will soon be on its way and that I have some work to do. I have to write acknowledgements, a bio and a dedication for the book, and get a professional photo taken to go with it all.

The photo part makes me nervous. I have put on a few (a lot) of pounds in recent years and I have aged, but I am counting a movement initiated by author Laura Lippman for confidence. She wrote a tweet in 2014, encouraging female authors (all women, really) to post bare-faced selfies in support of Kim Novak, who was criticized for her appearance at the Oscars.

The tweet went viral. The photos that emerged showed me that most female authors get boosts from make-up and Photoshop and that many of them, in reality, are just like me. I found their bare-faced photos stunning in a more honest, artistic way. It also helped me relaxed about the prospect of in-person events. Physical perfection is not critical for book sales.

Whew!

My journey to publication has switched gears with the arrival of the ARCs, and I will need to learn a few new skills to navigate at this speed. I am looking forward to the challenge and to sharing some of those adventures here. Thanks for all the support and encouragement along the way.


Preparing for the inevitable: negative reviews

I’ve yet to publish a book, so I can’t say what a negative book review feels like.
I’ve had only one review on my published short stories and that got five stars, so I’m in la-la land over that.
But my journalism days … oh, my journalism days!
You’d think those experiences would have hardened me, but newspaper articles don’t really get reviewed.
They get reactions.
In the best cases, I received loads of phone calls, interest from the national media, thank-you notes and teary-eyed visitors offering hugs, cookies and flowers. Those reactions made me feel good about my career choice, like my stories made peoples lives just a little bit better even for only a day.
In the worst cases, I was lunged at by prisoners; yanked into a mob angry relatives (It wasn’t even my story! I was just returning the photo.); stalked by a man who was grateful  I had made public his illegal incarceration, but who was also mentally ill and untreated (He later proposed to the female deputy who told him to leave me alone!); stolen from; cursed at; and wished an early death for myself and my future children.
But even such negative reactions to news stories can be, in a sense, a good thing.
Bad people don’t like it when their wrongs or their weaknesses are revealed, especially to the general public.
They get mad.
That’s okay by me.
So even 11 years of journalism has not prepared me for the inevitable — for my first negative novel review, the day when someone takes my heart right out of my chest and stomps on it, ripping my work to shreds.
That must be what it feels like, right?
I think about this whenever I read a novel that, for whatever reason, rubs me wrong.
How would I react if my work were publicly bashed?
Could I stand it?
I found comfort recently in a post by author/blogger Beth Revis.
She has a good point.
I don’t like beef.
Why?
I just don’t like it, so I’ll never give a steak or a burger or a pot roast a good review.
Yuck!
That poor chef will just never win over a non-beef lover like me.
That’s what I need to remember.
I have to think beef.

Sniffling gets you nowhere

To pass the time while waiting for the next round of cuts in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, many of us 500 quarterfinalists chatted on an ABNA online forum. A common topic was whether we would be upset if we made it no further.
Most of us agreed that we’d be thrilled regardless.
Our novels had been selected from a pool of up to 10,000 first-time novelists. That earned us critiques of our excerpts from two Amazon reviewers and, we would soon be receiving full manuscript reviews from editors at Publishers Weekly.
The reviews alone, we said with skin thicker than armadillos, were worth it. We couldn’t wait to read the critiques from Publishers Weekly, we wrote. And most all of us agreed that harsher was better. What good was a pat on the back? We wanted to know how to make our novels better.
Bring it on, Publishers Weekly editors.
Bring it on.
So they did, and virtual lips started quivering.
Not all of them.
Most folks took it well and vowed to move forward.
But the volume of the sniffling few hurt my ears.
One woman wanted to throw in the towel because, amid all the compliments, a reviewer wrote that her novel suffered from disorganization. Gee. A disorganized first novel? Writing takes skill and talent. Organization is simply hard work.
My advice to her?
Get working.
Disorganization is fixable.
From what I read, every criticism by the Publishers Weekly reviewers focused on an issue that could be addressed: organization, depth of characters, pace. Now I didn’t read them all, but I didn’t find any that bashed a writer for lousy writing.
A successful writer needs thick skin and an open mind. And, for that reason, I have a feeling that the loudest of those rejected and dejected contestants will never be successful. That’s a shame. They had some good stuff there.
My own review was everything I had hoped for.
Before entering the contest, I had shelved Spring Melt for further revisions. Too much back story, especially in the second chapter, I figured. I had wanted to rip those parts up and incorporate the same information more smoothly and at a faster pace throughout. But I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing.
Then I saw the announcement for the contest. Entry was free and, with each round of cuts, contestants got more reviews.
Why not?
With the first cut, I learned that my pitch (the general storyline) and my first 17 pages were good enough to attract professional attention. That was, for me, the validation I needed that my novel was worth my time and effort.
(As the rejections pile up, you start to wonder, you know?)
On April 15, I learned that I did not make the semifinals, where the field was trimmed to 100, but I did get that Publishers Weekly review last week. That single paragraph consisted mostly of a well-written synopsis.
But, in that paragraph was a one-sentence gem.
A precious one:

“At times muddied with flashbacks and digressions, this is still a solid story with believable characters and a pleasant and surprising resolution.”

Those words –“muddied with flashbacks and digressions”– were the words I was looking for. That meant that I was on the right track. That meant that If I could just resolve that issue, I would probably have a pretty good book on my hands.
I wasn’t just guessing any more.
Now I have to admit that my skin is not thick all over. I’m more like a well-frozen river. I’m super thick-skinned in most areas of criticism, but my skin gets dangerously thin in those few areas where currents run fast underneath.
I’m human, afterall.
But the folks at Publishers Weekly knew just where to skate.
My lips didn’t quiver. I didn’t start sniffling. I didn’t throw any towels.
I did, immediately and with renewed enthusiasm, started tearing my novel part.
So thank you Amazon.
Thank you Create Space.
Thank you Penguin.
And thank you friends, family and strangers who posted encouraging reviews.
I lost.
And I feel good.