Whenever I want to write a book, I am obliged (by contract) to submit an outline to my publisher first. My editor reads it, decides if she likes the idea, the premise, and the story I describe in a 40 or 50 page outline, that is supposed to include the characters, plot, and details of the book, broken down by chapter. The fact that I have to do that always surprises people. They assume that after all the books I’ve written (107 to date), I can just write whatever I want, send it off, and my publishers are thrilled. That’s not how it works in real life, or not mine anyway. (I used to have to submit several sample chapters or even half the book. Now I just have to submit the outline). The editor then calls me or writes to me, and makes lots of comments about what they don’t like, want changed, or what doesn’t work. And if I don’t agree with those changes, I have to defend my point of view. But on the whole, they call the shots. They’re buying the book, they write the check, and sometimes they have some good ideas (or sometimes I strongly defend my point of view if it differs from theirs).
After that, with their notes well in hand, and my outline, I write the book. The book itself stays very close to the outline, although there are always some unexpected twists and turns in it that surprise even me. But I follow the outline very closely. If I’m going to make changes, it’s a lot easier to do it on the outline than the book, although I do a lot of re-writes and editing on the finished book too.
And then, after a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears, the first draft of the book is finished. It’s an amazing moment. When I finish, I look like I’ve been shipwrecked, have worked on it endlessly for 20 hours a day, or even more, and it sits on my desk, a fat stack of paper with the story on it, and it is a major ‘Wow!’, an extraordinary feeling when you finish. I bask in the warmth of the moment for about 5 minutes. I feel good about it. I love it. And after I catch my breath, and catch up on my desk (I don’t even read messages when I’m writing, and eventually stop reading mail), then I re-read it. The moment I finish writing it is pure pride and glory, like giving birth. When I re-read it is another story, and I start to worry. Is it too long or too short, too fast or too slow, did I get the message across, is the story interesting enough, is the writing okay, or do I sound dumb? Re-reading it is like looking in a huge magnifying mirror where you see every pore, speck and flaw on your face. And then, finally, I send the book to my editor, and the real worrying begins.
Every time I send a book to my agent and editor, I am always terrified they will hate it. Always. I imagine them telling me that it’s my worst one ever, what was I thinking, and telling me I should burn it. My heart is in either my mouth or my shoes for days while I wait to hear. I imagine the worst news ever.
And then I finally hear from them. They love it, or they almost love it. They always suggest changes and then the long editing process begins (over 2 years), with many re-writes, corrections, changes, to polish it up before it’s published. But they don’t hate it, fortunately, and I finally heave a sigh of relief. It’s okay. The book is good, and it will be published. People imagine that I just write it, send it in, everyone applauses and it’s all a breeze. The first time I ever sent a book to an agent and a publisher, I was terrified. And I still am. I never assume it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. I am always terrified they will hate it, as most writers are. And even after 107 books, every time is still like the first time for me.