2015, Archives, December 2015, The MFA Years

On Publishing a Novel

Tonight I began listening to the audiobook of Moby Dick. They sure do like to talk about whales, right? I wonder if anybody would still be my friend if I talked about whales that much. Probably not. Maybe it’s strange that I’ve chosen finals week, of all times, to embark upon such an endeavor, but it’s kind of the best form of procrastination—I feel like I’m doing something productive while at the same time avoiding all of the other productive things I’m actually supposed to be doing. I wonder how Melville felt when Moby Dick was first published, if he was like, Yay! Or more like, meh?

I’m about to do that same thing for the first time, that “novel-being-published” thing, and it’s surreal, a very surreal experience filled with both excitement and doubt. Here’s the lowdown/background/what have you: for my thesis project as an undergraduate at Brown, I began writing a novel about a scientist whose wife and daughter had disappeared one day and never returned. The seed of this idea had actually emerged from a piece I’d written in a fiction workshop with Thalia Field during my freshman year, but it took a few years to decide to expand it into something larger. By the time I graduated, I had written about 50 to 60 pages, and over the next year, I finished a first draft. I had lots of folks read it, worked on revisions, and about a year ago, I came to the point where I felt like the novel was more or less “done” and there came the existential issue of what to do next. Did I want to query agents? Submit to small presses? Self-publish? There were strong opinions around me about the pros and cons of each of these choices.

I know for some people, the answer is obvious. Duh, you query agents. If your book is good, they’ll snap it up and find it a home with a sizable advance. While that may be the right choice for some people (and is likely the right choice for me sometime in the future), it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my first novel. I knew that I wanted to maintain more creative control, that ultimately, what I wanted was to put out a beautifully designed novel that stayed true to my vision, and as a previously unpublished novelist, I wasn’t convinced that I would have the leverage to do so if I went a more traditional route. This is partially due to a poor experience with a previous agent (I wrote a YA novel in high school that was briefly represented but never ended up selling) and partially due to the fact that I’ve written a weird novel, and I want it to be able to maintain its weirdness rather than making sacrifices for commercial purposes.

Through word of mouth recommendations, I ended up deciding to publish with She Writes, an independent, hybrid press that focuses on female writers. The truth is, I have doubts about this decision—not specific regrets, but the niggling “what if” in the back of my brain about whether I should have instead queried agents or submitted my manuscript to a more diverse range of small presses, to bigger, more respected small presses. I’m nervous that some people won’t be interested in my book because I don’t have the giant stamp of approval that is FSG or Random House or someone like that, that I will have somehow wasted my debut novel (if such a thing is possible?)

While back home in Los Angeles for the Thanksgiving break, I fielded pointed questions about whether this was a real press, why it was only being published in paperback versus hardback, if I was paying for a publicist and if so, how much? And the thing is, I know that there are going to be some people in my life, friends and family and the like, who won’t buy my book, and others who will and won’t like it, and that maybe a lot of people will read my book and care about it but also maybe not many people will read it and that’s a bit unnerving to consider.

But at the same time, then I think, I wrote a fucking novel! And I’m publishing it and it has a gorgeous cover and great blurbs from authors I love and every time I read it over (and believe me, that’s been many, many times, oh the fun of infinite revisions and edits), I still fucking love that novel, and there’s a little part of me that wishes I hadn’t written it just so that I could read it with totally fresh eyes. Is that self-indulgent, narcissistic, whatever? I don’t know, probably. The only things I do know are the following: 1) it’s okay to have doubts, 2) that you have to listen to those doubts, give them their moment of glory, and then let them go, and 3) that you have to be your own biggest advocate, you’ve really got to stand up for yourself and what you’ve written, because if you can’t do that, nobody else will for you.

So hey y’all, my novel, Glass Shatters, is coming out in April and you should get it and if you like scientists and marionettes and doppelgangers and creepy houses, you should especially get it! And if you don’t like any of those things, then you should get it for a friend (and/or reexamine your taste in literature?)

Next post I’ll do a wrap-up about all miscellaneous things MFA-related, but in the meantime:

Currently Cooking: Homemade Pad Thai and Cucumber Salad

Currently Watching: Master of None

Currently Listening: Moby Dick (whales on whales on whales)

Currently Reading: Remainder by Tom McCarthy








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