“Writing a book, seeing it published, why that must be the most wonderful feeling in the whole world. To hold it in your hand, a book that began just as an idea in your imagination!”
So says a character in a novel of mine that is still under construction. It’s not an autobiographical novel, but I can attest to the experience she describes. I have published some twenty books in the US and the UK (not all under my own name) but I have never become so jaded that I fail to thrill to hold that book—the real thing—in my hands. Even before the actual book, the Advanced Reading Copy, the ARC that goes out to reviewers well before publication. This week there arrived for me, the ARC of The Great Pretenders. I wasn’t expecting it, so it was both a surprise and a delight.
To open the box and see its lush, California cover in shades of pale blue, green, and a brilliant gash of yellow! Wow! To fan through the pages and smell the fresh print! Wonderful! To see my name at the top of each alternating page! To read the dedication shared by my youngest grand-daughter and my mother, thrilling! To open any page at random and see dialogue I had slaved over, looking glossy and effortless on the page! To feel the actual heft of the object! It was longer than I’d thought it would be, 372 pages in print (398 pages as a Word Doc).
I felt like opening a bottle of champagne and toasting the book in my hand that had begun in my imagination. I didn’t, but I was too elated to go back to work. I called my mom. I emailed my sons and my closest friends. Then I took the ARC in the other room to read.
I had already done my part of the proofreading on galley pages some weeks before, so there was no obligation to read, but I thrummed through the pages, stopping here and there to linger. I loved seeing my prose on the page, but I hated the internal writerly instincts that whispered, nagged I could have made that better. I should have struck that line, or connected these sentences, or ……
Once a person has graduated from enthusiastic reader to writer (enthusiastic or not) one begins to read differently. One must. Come across something admirable in someone else’s book, and the first thought is: How did he do that? Take a deep breath at a scene masterfully rendered, and one wonders: How did she do that? How did she make that work. Do this for decades and the questions become reflex. I have been writing for so many years that the urge to revise, alas, does not stop with the manuscript or the computer. It extends to the printed page.
When I was writing and revising The Great Pretenders, no page, no paragraph, no sentence escaped my merciless scrutiny. I made changes over and over. I made that book as good as it could possibly be. And now was its moment of truth because here’s what I know for sure after all these years of publishing:
Once the ARC is in the author’s hands, the book is out of the author’s hands. No more changes. Soon the book will be in readers’ hands. (April 2019, pre-orders available now.)
Yes, like the character quoted above, I was delighted to touch a book that was once a mere flicker of my imagination. But I had to ask myself: can I just read it and bask in its being on the page? Can I read it without wishing to revise?
As they say on the Rachel Maddow Show, watch this space.