Sunday, August 8, 2010

Guest Nadine Doolittle: On becoming a published author

On becoming a published author...

I was just as eager (and just as desperate) to get my manuscript published as any writer. But after ICED UNDER was released in November 2008 at a wildly successful launch party hosted by my local bookstore, I was stricken with terror. I lost five pounds. I couldn't eat, had trouble sleeping, and certainly couldn't write. Not anything worth reading at any rate. What I thought would be the most exhilarating time of my life turned into an intense year of trying to understand what just happened. When I was an unpublished novelist, I knew what I wanted-to get published. Now that I was published...where did I go from here?

My publisher is a small press: advances are not paid nor does my contract extend beyond the book under contract. No three book deals here. I had a book out but I was back in the starting gate for the next. I had to earn a living, promote the book that was on the shelves and somehow write the next novel. No problem, I told myself. Getting published was the hard part.

I drew up a plan of action. I scheduled my day. Write, do "business" and somehow earn money. I sharpened my pencils, sat down at my desk to launch into the next book-and promptly developed writer's block. (Which I thought was a myth until I had it.) Writer's block doesn't prevent you from putting words down; it prevents you from wanting to. I felt physically sick every time I faced the computer.

Panic set in. If I didn't produce another book, the first book would be for nothing. All that work, the struggle to get published in the first place-for nothing. And I was broke! I'd burned every employable bridge I had to write this book. I was aging too. Starting over again in another career was out of the question-I'd already had three. I spent long hours huddled in my office, sobbing. I was suffering a severe crisis of confidence, second-guessing the intuitive voice that led me to write in the first place. If getting published was so great, then how come I was so miserable?

At this time, readers started to pop up expressing how much they enjoyed ICED UNDER. I was almost too ashamed to hear their compliments. I felt like a fraud. Until it dawned on me that the only person I had to please in all of this was the reader. If the reader liked my book, who was I to say it was a mistake?

Then I fell in with a couple of writers who wanted to form an online critique group. We would send pages to each other twice a month. I was terrified but took the leap. The process restored me to the computer. Progress!

Writers are shy to begin with when it comes to promotion, but for a writer who has lost confidence, promotion is the seventh circle of Hell. Local writers and booksellers came to my aid with advice, wisdom and common sense and a bit of promotion of their own. The best tip I received was from a savvy old author and marketer extraordinaire who said to regard my first book as my loss leader. I should do what I could do to promote it, but this one book was not the career. A weight lifted off my shoulders.

One day while rocking in front of the computer as I worked out a tricky bit of plot, I had a revelation: Writing wasn't something I chose to do-writing chose me. In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, I was a writer and there was no going back. I finally finished my second book. At this writing THE GREY LADY is with an agent in the U.K. who requested the full after reading the first ten pages. ICED UNDER continues to sell well through word of mouth and has received three decent professional reviews.

And I've plunged into my third novel.

Nadine Doolittle is an award-winning reporter formerly with the Low Down to Hull and Back News, and On Track columnist for the Ottawa Metro News covering transit issues in the nation's capital. "Iced Under" (published by Bayeux Arts Inc. in November 2008) was short-listed for the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel in 2009.