On Friday I held, in my own two hands, the proof copy of my first mystery novel, Leap of Faith. It gave me goose bumps. It made me smile until my face hurt. It made me dance around the room, the book as my partner. I kissed it. I considered getting one of those baby slings and carrying it around pressed to my chest indefinitely—especially if I could find a transparent sling so that everyone who saw me could see my precious book in front of me. Did I mention this is a good feeling? And that even though I had blocked out this day for writing, I couldn’t stay focused. I had to look at the cover again—so perfect! I had to read the dedication page and the acknowledgment page. And then I had to read the first chapter. It’s a book! It’s lovely! It’s mine! See, my name is on the cover! Wow.
This has been a long time coming. I wrote Leap of Faith several years ago and the novel has spent most of its life as a printed manuscript stuffed into a file cabinet and copied to a thumb drive. I shopped it around when I first wrote it. I even found a well-regarded New York literary agent to represent me. She was enthusiastic about the book, even put my photo on her website along with the other authors she represented. I told my friends about it. I was excited! Then, months and months and months went by. The agent didn’t sell it, though I do have a very kind rejection letter from an imprint of Random House. In retrospect I have convinced myself that the quality of the manuscript was not the problem here, but that took a long time. At first, I was mortified. Friends kept asking, “When is your book coming out?” And I’d have to explain that it wasn’t. I walked around like Eyeore for a long while. I stopped writing, believing that my work must be terrible. But after a while I moved forward. I started writing again. I wrote another novel. Not a mystery. I was done with mysteries.
Then, several months ago a writer friend of mine, Waverly Fitzgerald, told me she was considering starting a publishing business. As a mystery writer herself and a teacher of writing for many years, she felt that there were several good Seattle mystery novels out there that hadn’t seen the light of day. She wanted to change that. She asked me if she could publish my mystery, Leap of Faith, as her debut as a publisher. I said yes! But then she got busy with her own writing and her own mystery series got published in the old-fashioned way and I figured she’d lost interest in her publishing venture. I moved forward. I wrote a sequel to the first mystery novel.
Then, several months ago, Waverly reopened the conversation about publishing. She still wanted to publish Leap of Faith! So I sent her the manuscript and she re-read my novel. She still loved the story but told me we needed to hire a copy editor. Apparently I have some problems with non-standard usage— something about commas. So she found a copy editor and that person read the novel and fixed the problems. Then we hired a local graphic artist, Aaron Weholt, to design the book cover. That process was surprisingly time-consuming and harder than I thought it would be. My problem was that I had in my mind exactly how I thought the cover should look, but when I described it and Aaron rendered it exactly as I suggested, it didn’t look right somehow. Waverly says that’s because we were trying to tell the whole story on the cover, rather than simply evoking the mood. After many tries, with much back and forth, input from me and from Waverly, changes in color, font size, even the title, the cover began to look just right. Aaron was amazingly patient with his two novice clients. And I so appreciated being involved in the process – usually authors have no say in the cover design. Of course, after the front cover was finished, we had to think about the back—soliciting blurbs from other authors, an author photo, a bio, a book description. So many details!
So, here we are with a proof copy of the book! See how pretty it looks on my bookshelf next to all its friends! It has been a lot of work and there is still work to be done. I will ask some trusted readers to read the proof copy to make sure it is error-free. Waverly will talk with the local book distributor to persuade them to carry it – this will make ordering it more convenient for bookstores. We will have Advanced Reading Copies printed and send them to local bookstores and the Seattle Times for possible review. I will put the finishing touches on my author website. An e-book version will be created. We will ask total strangers to read it and write reviews. Finally, sometime this summer we will have a book launch party to celebrate. Stay tuned. You are invited.
I’d say that despite, or maybe even because of the very long period of gestation for this baby, holding her in my arms for the first time Friday filled me with an incomparable kind of joy. Sure, writing is satisfying all by itself, but creating an actual book is amazing.