Opening week butterflies

Aaron asked, in the previous comment thread: Do authors get nervous when their works become accessible to the masses? With this book, perhaps less so, considering this is a series work in progress with an avid readership. However, I can’t help but wonder if you (in particular) get butterflies the first “opening days” of your releases.

Since I was more or less thinking about writing about this very thing, it’s the perfect question at this time.

But first, the usual very strong and very relevant disclaimers. I can’t speak for authors in general. No author can. Writing process–from start to finish–is so individual that what works for one author perfectly will cause another to seize up and wordlock. This is true when writing a novel; it’s true, as well, in the ways we react to the entire publication process.

So although it’s never charming when someone is speaking in a way that is “all about me”, this is, in fact, all about me.

I think for the first book there is a huge amount of excitement because it’s the first book, it’s a real book, and it’s often the end-product of years of work; years of learning to write well enough to tell the story, and then years of honing, learning about the business and submissions, finding an agent, etc. There is something enormously special about holding that first book in your hands, because it’s what you’ve been working toward for so long. There are also a lot of nerves. The usual “what if no one likes it”.

For me, this has grown stronger, rather than weaker, with the passage of time. It is not as exciting to hold a finished book in my hands — but it’s still pretty darn close.

I’m always slightly nervous when a book is released into the wild. I am nervous because writing is an act of communication, and there’s no actual communication in isolation, since in theory you need at least two people in order to communicate. Yes, it’s my story; yes, it’s a story I want to tell. But I can’t be certain that I’ve told it clearly enough that it speaks to other people until other people read it. My editor, of course, helps with this, as do first readers. But ultimately, they see the book in so many stages that it’s almost as easy for them to become lost in the process as I am. It’s hard to read each iteration as if they’ve never read it before.

It’s impossible for me to read any of it as if I’m a reader.

When writing a continuing series, like the Cast books, I think the anxiety actually gets stronger, rather than weaker, as the series continues, because the book or the story can go in directions that some of the readers who did like the first book might not enjoy nearly as much.

So, yes, I do get butterflies. I get excited, and I get nervous, and they really can’t easily be separated. Every writer has to tell the stories they can tell, the stories they love, but readers are in no way obligated to love those stories in the same way. As a reader, I don’t feel that sense of obligation when I buy a book or begin one; if the book fails to engage me, I don’t immediately feel that the fault lies with me.

Nor do I feel that the fault lies with the reader if the book they happen to bounce off is one that I wrote. Sometimes, the reader wants things that I’m simply not writing — and that doesn’t really hurt all that much. There are many, many books that I simply have no interest in reading; to demand that readers behave in a way that I don’t as a reader is just impractical.

However, when someone who did love the first book suddenly hates, or is bored, by the second, or third, or one of the subsequent books, that does sting a bit, because I clearly did manage to both engage them in the world and then lose them as it progressed.

At that point, I can sit in a corner and try to enumerate all the things that I might have done wrong–which is often pretty paralyzing–for hours at a time. And it’s not terribly productive, because in the end, I can’t write to a single, specific reader or opinion or I second-guess the book for the entire duration and it slowly gurgles to a grinding halt. Fear, which is not my favourite of human emotions, saps both the joy and the heart out of the book; I can’t write when I feel that inhibited. I can’t spend time thinking about what people will think of me every time I type a sentence, because what ends up on the page if I do that is so horribly superficial I might as well write a book about the weather. Or cooking. Or gardening. (I choose these things because they are not hobbies of mine, so any conversation I have about them is entirely social pleasantry. Or horror story, if you do happen to be an expert.)

This doesn’t mean that there are things that I couldn’t change as I go. Sometimes people have complaints not with the story itself, but with small elements in the way it’s told, and those, I try to keep in mind when I’m moving forward.

And, I suppose I should add that I am overjoyed when the book works for people, and they love it — but, because I’m a writer and all writers are somewhat neurotic, I then look at the work-in-progress and think “but…everyone will be so much more disappointed in this one.” No, this is not rational.

But, it keeps me honest.

So, yes: Butterflies.

18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kim
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 01:22:27

    I love it, Michelle! It’s fantastic. I mean, I was a bit apprehensive – not that I wouldn’t like it, but with the grim summary, I was scared of a terribly grim story. The title didn’t help. Silence just doesn’t sound like a good thing.

    But I do love it, and my fears do not seem realized.

    I know you told us this, but I’ve forgotten… do you already have the next book contract (for cast), or are you getting it?

    and I was wondering what happened to Catti, if you can tell me.

    but even if you can’t tell me anything about the next books, or catti, or, well, anything, I love your books, and I love Cast in Silence!

    Reply

  2. Aaron
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 09:41:42

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

    Reply

  3. Michelle Sagara
    Jul 23, 2009 @ 02:32:56

    @Kim: Catti is still at the foundling hall, although she’s almost of an age where she won’t be there for much longer. I admit the last two books (Silence and Chaos) have been hectic enough, and deal with very compressed events, that Kaylin hasn’t spent much on-screen time at the Halls.

    I have been contracted for three more Cast novels: The one I’m almost finished now, Cast in Chaos, and two others whose titles I don’t have yet because I haven’t started them :)

    Reply

  4. Michael
    Jul 23, 2009 @ 18:30:54

    Any chance we can get a taste of Cast in Chaos? I mean, if you plan on reading bits of it at conventions anyway, maybe you could show those bits to devoted fans who can’t make make the trip to see you this year.
    What do you say?
    (If it will help, I am not above begging…)

    Reply

  5. Michelle Sagara
    Jul 23, 2009 @ 18:34:54

    Ummm. Yes, but not now >.>. I probably won’t read Chaos for either Confluence or Worldcon because I’m not sure that anyone will have had a chance to read Silence, and since you have, you know there’s a bit of a state change in the lives of some of the regular characters.

    Although for the most part the opening bit doesn’t necessarily spoil. Hmmm.

    Reply

  6. Michael
    Jul 23, 2009 @ 19:03:03

    …Any chance *I* can get a taste of Chaos?

    I was giddy for weeks after reading “Angel” following last Confluence. Just imagine how happy I’d be after this!

    ::Numerous paragraphs deleted to maintain a scrap of dignity in the face of my Michelle addiction, though some of them were pretty funny, imho::

    Have a good convention! If I’m lucky you’ll return next year, and (expletive, expletive) prelims won’t stand in my way.

    Reply

  7. Kim
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 12:21:44

    Thanks for telling me about Catti! She is one of my favorites : ) (along with all my other numerous favorites)

    good luck on Cast in Chaos!

    Reply

  8. wolfbaby
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 22:09:46

    I got my copy of chast in silence wed and was worried because i knew i couldn’t stay up all night reading because i had to work thursday so i was afraid if i piked it up i wouldn’t be able to put it back down and go to bed and all the way home from the store i was like.. “i’ll just wait till thursday cause i have friday off and it won’t hurt me if i stay up all night reading it.” Ya well best intentions and all.. *sigh* i did try to keep my hands off of it but alas I am weak when it comes to my favorite stories and in the end i had to pick it up and start reading. my husband recognized the signs and groaned as he recognized the signs and knew he was going to be the one making dinner for the kids. I was thankfully able to put it down though it was late and i only got 4 hours of sleep and i did pick it up again thursday and finished it;)) The story was great as always and now i sit here slightly depressed as it is done and i now must wait a complete year for the next one caste in chaos……

    I don’t supposed you need any what are they called proof readers? i’d cheerfully voluntere.. though obviously i couldn’t help with the spelling i can point out differences in characters and stuff:)))))))

    Reply

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  10. Jenn
    Jul 29, 2009 @ 13:49:06

    Totally and shamelessly unrelated D: I noticed one of your tweets on the side spoke of fanart! And ever since I drew them years ago, I had imagined you seeing my pictures of your wonderful characters, and I hadn’t even imagined you’d appreciate the anime/manga style I drew them in :P

    Since I don’t tweet at all, I’ll just put this link here.. http://shironami.deviantart.com/gallery/ I wish I could throw only the relevant images in their own gallery, but I’m not even sure that’s possible :x There are 6, black and white, and near the top :)

    Reply

  11. msss
    Jul 29, 2009 @ 21:48:29

    Well, it works for me. I managed to draw out the reading of Silence for a whole 24 hours, rather than gulping it down all at once, and it was beautiful. I think one of the things that I find so satisfying about this series is that each episode has an ending. Even though I immediately want to read the next one as soon as I finish the last page (*insert shameless begging*), this story is complete in itself.

    Thank you.

    Reply

  12. Ericka
    Jul 31, 2009 @ 22:05:28

    I am re-reading Cast in Silence and loving it. I really enjoy this world and the characters. Thanks for giving us two books this year :D.

    Reply

  13. TheF
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 22:33:33

    Cast in silence was brilliant, the best in the series yet. Thank you for these books.

    Reply

  14. orannia
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 23:51:28

    I have Cast in Silence (CIS) waiting for me at the library! I can’t wait to read it, particularly since I ‘pimped’ the series to two work colleagues, one of whom has just finished CIS (and loved it BTW) and the other who is currently reading it (and also loving it).

    And I’m so happy there is a release date for City of Night…more Jewel! *happy dance*

    Reply

  15. Alicia
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 18:16:10

    I really enjoyed Cast In Silence. I appreciated the look into why the relationship between Kaylin & Nightshade exists as it does. I won’t lie however, I want more. Additionally, I am curious if a point will come where you explore the possible romantic angle between the two or even Kaylin & Severn. But most of all I am wondering if you have a release date for Cast in Chaos? Thank you for your work, it brings me great joy.

    Reply

  16. catherinepp
    Sep 20, 2009 @ 16:03:14

    j’ai apprécié chaque livre de la série au point de les relire plusieurs fois chachun, en anglais ou en français. Il est dommage que certain passage en français ne contiennent pas autant d’émotions qu’en anglais.. j’attends avec impatience la sortie de cast in chaos, rien que pour voir réagir nighthade.
    je ne pense pas qu’il soit reellement judicieux d’explorer une relation amoureuse entre kaylin et severn: il est humain,ce que ne va pas rester kaylin sauf erreur puisqu’elle doit devenir – selon les propos de nighthade – une sorte de deesse (confere tome 1). par ailleurs qu’elle mère pourrait pardonner le meurtre de ses deux “enfants”…à un conjoint – même avec le temps? enfin, il me semble que leur partenariat reste sur un nivrau fraternel au moins de la part de kaylin…
    s’il vous plait, quelqu’un pourrait ‘il me dire ce que veut dire erenne? après 5 livres,je ne l’ai toujours pas compris. est ce un probleme de langue?
    merci d’avance;

    Reply

  17. Kel
    Nov 22, 2009 @ 17:13:16

    I found it very interesting that you’re nervous about readers not enjoying your books. I can honestly say that your Cast series is one that I’ll follow desperately even if a particular book doesn’t speak to me as much as the others, simply because I’ve become so attached to the entire cast of characters, and watching their interactions change and grow fascinates me almost as much as the advancing plot.

    The whole series has become comfort reading – I read all of them before the next one just so I don’t forget anything, and periodically re-read them when I’m just in the mood for something that engaging. I don’t know if you’ll get a kick out of it or not, but I’ve even considered buying a second set so that I can re-read them even when I’ve loaned one out to a friend.

    So while I understand your nervousness, I can honestly say that I and everyone I’ve loaned them to is firmly in the “good experience” corner.

    Reply

  18. Audrey boutet
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 11:42:35

    bonjour,

    j’adore vos livre, j’ai un gros soucci je parle pas un mot anglais,et grace à la collection Harlequin LUNA, j’ai pue vous devouvrir hors, je viens de lire qu’il allait arreter la serie donc le quatrieme opus concernant ELANTRA (SERIE CAST) ne paraitra pas.
    Pourriez vous me dire s’il existe une version française et quel editeur va le publier et surtout quand !!
    merçi de attention que vous voudrez bien porter à ma demande.
    dans l’attente, d’une reponse de votre part.
    une lectrice française

    Reply

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