Thursday, December 11, 2014

Contracts and Deadlines and Expectations, Oh My!

Hi Secret Lifers!

So, in case you haven't heard, I've had a pretty big couple of weeks, between welcoming my first baby  and selling my second book to Simon and Schuster! And while honestly I'm still in new, totally-enamored Mommy mode and all I want to do is stare at my (currently sleeping and totally cute) daughter, today's post is obviously going to be about that latter bit of big news.

Because that's definitely weighing heavy and shifting to the front of my mind in the few spare moments in-between feedings and diaper changes and getting spit up on--because as awesome and exciting as it is to know that FALLS THE SHADOW will have a real, live companion novel on the shelves in a little over a year, it's also a bit daunting when I think about how said novel isn't actually written yet.

Some of you probably already know this, but a behind-the-scenes tidbit in case you don't: in the case of option novels and second book deals in general, things are often sold on proposal. In my specific case, that means that all that was written of this new book at the time S&S offered on it was around thirty pages and a very basic synopsis. So it's a very different experience, of course, from FALLS, which was already more or less a book (albeit one still in need of editing) when I signed the contract for it.

When I was writing FALLS, I was still agentless, and like every other book I'd written before then, I had no idea if it was going to go anywhere. And to all of you still in that spot-- I haven't forgotten how daunting *that* can be, facing a blank page and filling it with words that people may never see (*cue sad trombone*). What I'm discovering now, though, is a new kind of daunting-ness. The pressure of expectation, of knowing I *can't* quit--or even take a break, really--because I have a deadline and a contract to fulfill. This book has to be written, and it has to be written like, nowish.

While I was waiting for this second book deal to happen, I told myself that I would never complain about deadlines ever again, because deadlines mean you have contracts, which is a very, very awesome thing that I am very, very grateful for. So let me be clear: this is not me complaining. It's more me saying: this is the reality of life after that debut book, and this is how I cope.

And how is that, then?

Well, I'm still learning (still very much a baby published author here!), but a couple things that help:

1. Staying away from reviews. I should point out that I don't (or didn't) entirely do this at first. When FALLS first started getting reviews, of course I read them. It's hard not to. And, at least in my case, it caused more anxiety to not know what people where saying as opposed to just checking and reading all of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Plus, you can learn a lot from reviews--and I want to learn. I want readers to like this second book more than they liked the first, so of course I'm interested in what readers liked and didn't like about FALLS. But there's a difference in interest and obsession. It can be a hard line to draw, too; I draw it by literally blocking both Goodreads and my book's Amazon page on my laptop via a parental control add-on I installed on my laptop.

Trust me, it's better this way.

Besides, I've noticed that after the first few dozen reviews, few of them are saying anything you haven't heard before, anyway.

2. Paying no attention to sales numbers. Two dangerous things I have now: an Amazon sales rank, and an author portal on the Simon and Schuster website that allows me to check the number of books sold in a given time period. I let myself check these things once a week, and that's it. Just enough to satiate my curiosity. And then I remind myself that, regardless of how FALLS is doing, the best way to sell books is to publish more books. It's basic marketing strategy. So the best thing I can do for those numbers, be they good or bad or ugly, is to go back to writing this new book and making it as kickass as possible.

3. Paying no attention to the looming deadline. Are you noticing a pattern of avoidance here? Basically I work in a cave now and the only thing I let myself worry about is getting as many words down as possible on any given day. Of course I know my deadline, and I plan to do everything possible to hit it. But personally? I can't think about it. I don't count the days I have left until it, or sit and figure up how many words I have to write each day to hit it. I know a lot of people operate like that, and that's cool. But for me, that just leads to me being overwhelmed and disappointed with myself when I don't hit a day's wordcount, and that in turn makes me much less productive during my next writing session. Now I just make sure I write everyday, and try not to be too concerned with the numbers. Oddly enough, in this way I think I'm less disciplined now than I was before I was published. But so far I'm proving just as productive, and feeling a lot less stressed.

4. When all else fails, taking stare-at-the-baby breaks. I can't help it. She's cute. And at the end of the day, even if the book I'm creating ends up sucking, at least the baby I created doesn't. Win! ;)

 What sort of expectations do you have for your works-in-progress, and how do you deal with them and still manage to be productive? Let us know in the comments!

Stefanie Gaither writes YA novels about killer clones and spaceships, with the occasional romp with dragons and magic-users thrown in for good measure. Said writing is generally fueled by an obscene amount of coffee and chocolate, as well as the occasional tennis and/or soccer break. She's represented by Sara Megibow of Megibow Literary, and her debut, FALLS THE SHADOW, is available now from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers. 

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