“Bird by Bird” if you’re ever to read any books by Anne Lamott, it should be this one. She wrote it as a memoir focused on her wisdom on writing, but I can’t get those words out of my head now when I think about any project I’m working on. Because when you break down any project, any larger than life vision into smaller steps you can achieve day by day, eventually you reach the goal.
Even my neighbor, a painter, has read the book, and now she laughs and says, “Bird by Bird, Janice, right?”
Maybe that’s why books have chapters. The increasing numbers are a subtle sign motivating the writer to keep going until the end.
Without realizing it, I used the “Bird by Bird” philosophy to write my book. I tried to write a thousand words per day until I reached The End. Some days it was tough to write anything, even just junk. But sometimes the junk got me to the next breakthrough which is where it’s best to stop, at least according to Hemingway. It works. It was easier to get out of bed the next morning when I knew what I wanted to write.
Once the book was written, I tried to edit one page each day. That may seem slow, but the first edit was tough. I cut about 25% out of the first draft. Somehow I found new words to replace the deleted ones. After three edits, my book is at 87,000 words.
Each edit has gone faster for me, but I know it needs an outside opinion. I can leave it for a couple of months, which is what I did back in December, and come back to it. Or work with some professionals.
So now I’m here. What is the next step? Decide whether to go with traditional publishing or self-publishing.
Many famous authors have endured numerous rejections through traditional publishing and made it big anyway. J.K. Rowling had 12 rejections with her Harry Potter series, and then became the first billionaire author.
I came across a recent debut author who received 70 rejections before finding a traditional publisher for her book. You can’t help but be impressed with that level of determination and belief in yourself and your book. She might have been buoyed by the consistently positive reviews of her work, which makes me wonder about the criteria. It’s a great book, but we don’t have the audience for it? Someone decided they would. I for one can’t wait to read it.
Today the self-publishing option gives authors who might be overlooked by vague criteria, or criteria of the masses, a low-cost opportunity to get their work to the public. I can’t help but think of the parallels to publishing in science journals today. You can try for a couple of years to get your work into a high impact journal. Or you can choose a lower tier journal and have more citations by the time it ever hits the public in what are now deeply political journals.
A sophisticated pipeline exists now for those who choose self-publishing. There are professionals just as in traditional publishing who can help you get your book out. Of course, this path costs you some money up front. You can rationalize spending money on it in many different ways. For me, it’s less than the cost of a dive trip, which I didn’t get to take this year because well it’s 2020 and it’s still lockdown in California.
Yesterday I talked to a book designer. She’s someone I know. It was one small step, but a big one, to announce to a professional that I have written a novel I “might” want to publish. Like saying anything out loud to someone else, once you do it, you are somehow committed.
Negative comments keep rolling through my head though. The book is not that great. It’s not a compelling read. It’s not Hemmingway. But I started to imagine the book cover, and how it might feel to send a paperback copy out to a friend. Then I read an Instagram post saying “Love your work out loud and others will love it too (@Amanda_Evanston).”
I don’t know if this works (it didn’t work in Norway), but I’m willing to try it. I’m convinced the book still needs a lot of work, but I do love the premise. And it makes me laugh.
It’s a romance novel, involving expat living and travel, scuba diving, and science. I have yet to google romance and scuba diving. I don’t think there’s any such genre, but the novel makes me feel like I’ve lived a unique life (although not around friends who are in the dive business living in Bali or Africa or Hawaii).
The self-publishing model has many advantages. I can upload the book to Amazon. I can do it now even. Love the company or hate it, they have shown respect to books from the beginning. You can buy an ebook or get a printed copy. Print-on-demand which means Amazon prints a book only when someone orders one. That you can do that proves just how crazy it is not to try this. As an author, I can buy any number of printed copies I want. Even just one. Sure Amazon takes its cut from any form of the book you sell, but so do traditional publishers.
Some books became famous only after self-publishing. Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James and The Martian by Andy Weir were made into movies, but were originally self-published. A possibly lesser known novel, Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre Deroche, was also self-published and later picked up by a traditional publisher. The rights were bought for her book, although a movie was never made.
I can dream. One thing is for sure, if I never publish the book, no one will read it. While it might take a significant amount of hubris, I think some people will get a kick out of it, namely my friends around the world. The main character is sophisticated and goofy at the same time. Somehow I feel this way about myself, not very sophisticated, but always landing in circles of smart, funny, and interesting people.
Her adventure is the kind I would have. Almost.
But with self-publishing, I have control over when it will be published. That means more of a marketing effort on my part. My contact yesterday told me, “A book doesn’t sell until the world knows it exists.” Mine exists, only in my own world so far. The interesting factoid is that by all accounts the best mechanism for selling a book is word of mouth.
The main challenge now will be to get past the criticism an editor might have, and the additional work I will have to put into the book.
Now I’m anxious to publish, but I want to do the best that I can. A career at the lab bench maybe has trained me well in the value of patience. I always tried to wait just a bit longer and work on a more challenging problem so that I would have a better chance of achieving a meaningful, lasting result. Get more of the candy.
Until then, I am shouting out that I have a printed 197-page, 5-pound copy of my book sitting on my kitchen countertop. I’ve got “a lot” of pages as I might have said in another life.
Stay safe and use a mask! I don’t mean the kind underwater…:).
©Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com
Looking for a scientific editor or writer? Contact Janice Nigro at Janice Nigro Ink. I have published in Cell, Science, and Nature, and articles I have edited have appeared in Cancer Research, Clinical Cancer Research, PLoSONE, the Journal of Surgical Oncology, and Oncotarget.