The Lost Days, or Babble, Babble, Babble

by J.T. Ellison

Ever have those days that no matter what you’ve set out to do, you can’t make it happen?

I’m having one of those days. It’s Monday, after a hugely successful library event in Alabama. Copyedits were turned in Saturday, jetting to New York overnight in their glorious little envelopes. There’s something special about overnight mail. The sense of urgency, of expectation, of accomplishment, well, it’s just one of those fun things. Whether I’m expecting it or sending it, I get a little thrill.

I had a very intense round of copyedits last week, making sure I made the book the very best I could make it. Copyedits are the last chance to make substantial changes, and I knew I wanted to plug a couple of holes in addition to whatever issues the CE caught. I had to be doubly careful to make sure all the little things we left or changed in the first book were consistent in this one. Like calling Taylor by her nickname on the force, LT. Common usage among police officers. It’s short for Lieutenant, obviously. In the first book, we kept it as LT. This copyeditor wanted it to read L.T. Which meant a ton of STET scribbled on the manuscript. When that happened, I realized I needed to be extra careful that everything from book 1 was consistent with book 2. Which meant twice the work.

No worries, that’s what we’re here to do. Make things right. Right???

So I was especially happy to send these CE’s back to New York. I count my blessings. Being copyedited is an eye opening experience. Much to learn, much to absorb. Every house has their style guide, so there’s that to consider. I’ve learned so much about formatting through the CE process… silly little things like the chapter heading is simply the spelled out number. Don’t indent the first paragraph after a heading or break. Little things like that. I try to incorporate the typesetting into the development of the manuscript. I now understand when published authors tell writers on submission not to worry about fancy formatting. The CE will just remove it anyway. Don’t waste your time. Got it.

Once the CEs were off, it was early to bed for a Sunday appearance, and plans to finalize for a Tuesday night signing. Busy, busy, busy. I figured Monday would be a perfect day of rest. I’d read, maybe watch a movie or two.

Instead I found myself hitting refresh on my email. After a morning that is better unremembered (I may blog about what upset me at a later date, once I’m sure nothing can be done about it) I got myself into four separate conversations and we spent most of the day "e-talking." I mindlessly refreshed Crimespot, my email, the news sites, my email, reread the same three or four blogs (I guess wishfully thinking that a fresh post would appear by magic for my enjoyment,) cleaned out my bookmarks, checked my email, debated about what organizations to re-up and which to let memberships lapse, checked my email… I read a grand total of one page, looked at the clock and saw it was 4:00 PM. Lost the whole day, for nothing. I decided to heck with it, I’ll just nail a few blog entries. So here I am.

It’s funny how I get myself derailed on the "day after." I’m finding this more and more. If I’ve traveled over the weekend, I have to have a day to goof off. If I finish writing a book, I need at least a week, if not a month, to recover. If I’m waiting to hear back from someone about something, I have a very difficult time not checking to see if that answer has come in. It irks me, these lost days. I hate that I’ve wasted a perfectly good opportunity to do… well, anything but goof off.

I was so excited last Sunday morning. I was digging in my overnight case for my mascara, getting ready for the Alabama gig. It was only and hour and a half drive, no sense in overnighting it. (I asked them to take my accommodation stipend and donate it back to the library, and they were pleased. I was fed well instead.) So as I was putting on my makeup, I realized that wow, I can actually unpack this. I don’t need to go out of town overnight for, let’s see… oh. I might as well leave it packed. Two weeks. A grand total of two weeks at home. If it gives you any perspective, that case has been packed since November.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change anything. Lost days are just the nature of the beast. But being on the road in support of a book is hard work. To be honest, I’m tired. I can’t even imagine what people like John Connolly, who tours for a month in a different country, must feel like. Nowadays, I get overwhelmingly excited that I have a weekend at home. Of course, that means people who’ve been neglected need to see you, but at least I don’t have to dress up for them.

There’s no such thing as taking a vacation anymore either. You have to plan to do drop ins wherever you are. It’s a mind boggling turn of events. You never look at travel the same way again.

They say be careful what you wish for.

My biggest problem is the more I’m on the road, the longer it takes me to get back to my rhythm. And one of the things that newbie writers don’t realize is when you write two books a year, you are working on three at once, at all times. Start from this moment in time. While the copyedits are being done on 2, book 3 is being read by my editor, and I’ve started on book 4. In another couple of months, there will be galleys of book 2 and edits of book 3 while trying to finish book 4. Then there will be launch of book 2, copyedits on book 3 on the 4th book being turned in, which just means that work on # 5 needs to start. It’s insane. And I love it.

Add into this that writing and touring and getting exhausted is FUN. Let me repeat that. It’s FUN. I love
meeting new people. I’ve nearly licked the fear of speaking in front of a
group. I love meeting people who’ve read the book and liked it. I love
meeting the librarians, and booksellers, and festival coordinators —
people who love the written word as passionately as I do.

But since I’ve always been able to write four hours a day and not travel, it’s taking some time to adjust to the new expectations. What do you do when you travel to get your head back in the game quickly? Is it better to schedule a month to do all the promotion, then stay home the remainder of the time? Do you really lose out if you don’t travel to all the conferences?

I’m more convinced than ever that I need to limit myself to one or two of the biggies (next year I’m thinking about BCon, RWA and Romantic Times) and intersperse one or two smaller cons in. I love the book festivals, and think they are an excellent way to get your name in places you’d otherwise never be known, so you have to add in a few of them. Then you have your regular signing events… I’ve actually said no to a couple of invites because A — the money wasn’t available to make it happen, and I just can’t talk myself into making a huge monetary commitment to get myself in front of ten people, and B — I’m burning out. When, in the midst of all this travel and promotion, will I have time to write?

These are the issues new writers need to grapple with. You vets out there know how to manage all this. Can you throw some advice my way???

Wine of the Week: Cascina Pellerino Langhe Nebbiolo

15 thoughts on “The Lost Days, or Babble, Babble, Babble

  1. toni mcgee causey

    Well I’m not a vet, but I agree that the crush of deadlines and the travel are a rough, stress-inducing mix. Over this next year, I’ll make several trips. They’ll be fun, (which makes them so difficult to turn down) and I love seeing friends and feeling recharged afterwards. I’m not very good at writing on the road, though–my focus is broken and with the constant interruptions, I just don’t get much useful stuff done. I wish someone would hurry up and come up with a way to teleport.

  2. billie

    I vote for teleportation too.

    I haven’t actually done this yet, but my version of grappling ahead of time is to work on three books at once now, when I don’t have to. I’ve heard the story from enough writers who’ve jumped in the deep end to know that after the first blissful book being the “only” things just get more and more crazy.

    Not unlike having the second child, I suppose!

    Crazy, but mostly in ways you’d never change.

    Hope you’ve got your rhythm back, JT – and thanks for sharing the real details of a writer’s life.

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    OF COURSE you need a day off just to space out, baby! But none of us give ourselves that indulgence. I’m really tired of the guilt/worry aspect of this business – the constant feeling that we’re not doing enough.

    I just canceled Love Is Murder this weekend because I CAN’T DO IT. I need to write. I won’t let it haunt me (hah!). The priority has to be the writing. If that doesn’t work, well, I’ll figure something out. But this year is about the writing.

  4. wendy roberts

    It’s sooo tough to limit those conferences but, yes, I’ve had to do it too. I’ll be doing Bcon and a couple smaller conferences this year but I’ve added in 2 B&B writing retreats with author friends. I’ll miss rwa national but I found it hasn’t been giving me what I need the last couple years.

  5. pari noskin taichert

    Ah, grasshopper . . .

    Every writer needs those days off. The trick is to make them count, to not water them down with half-a**ed relaxation. Maybe even something as drastic and turning off the computer for 24 hours.

    And then . . .Alex nailed it: The writing is what’s important.

    What a hypocrite:I just looked at my schedule for the next two months and am flabbergasted. Seventeen events. Four out-of-state big trips. How the heck did that happen?

    And, this year I’d decided NOT to do as much direct promotion as in the past.

    Maybe the biggest difference is that I’m NOT feeling guilty about “missed opportunities.”

    Again, the writing IS the priority.

    I keep that square in my heart now. That doesn’t mean that I’m always mega-productive, but it does mean that I know that promotional opportunities come daily.

    Writing has to come even more often.

    Am I making any sense at all?

  6. JT Ellison

    Toni — teleportation would be ideal! Please sign me up. So awesome to hang with you this week.

    Billie, smart move!!! I decided early on that I wanted all three books in my contract done before book one came out. I worked like the dickens to make that happen, and was so relieved when I turned book 3 in two weeks before ATPG launched. Getting as much work done early is definitely the way to go. But the houses production schedule forces you back to reality, so no matter how far ahead YOU are, there’s still the balance to be found.

  7. JT Ellison

    X, good for you! I would have the most difficult time actually making that choice — funny story about that, actually. Last week, I picked up a box of books and put my back out. This happens all the time, but this was especially bad. As in I needed to take drugs and sit in my chair because I couldn’t move at all. It was so bad on Saturday that I tried to get up, and literally couldn’t get out of the chair. I managed to get onto the floor, and was crawling toward the kitchen, looking for leverage (you can imagine this, can’t you?) Randy comes into the room, raises and eyebrow and says “How exactly are you going to go to Alabama tomorrow?”

    Good question. I knew I had to go, there was no way I was canceling after all the work they put in, but I couldn’t move. So we managed to get me in bed, knock me out, and I slept for a few hours. I woke up and tried to roll over, and something went CLUNK in my lower spine. The pain eased a bit, and by Sunday morning I could move. Stiffly, but enough to get ready and go. I was so happy. I would have gone to that even if I had to crawl, but if it were something else, I would have pulled out.

    Point is, I need to learn when to say no.

  8. JT Ellison

    Wendy, and don’t you think it’s more special when you aren’t at every single conference, on every panel and in every conversation? I know we all hate to miss out on the fun, but self-limitation is certainly a wise move. It’s more affordable, at least ; )

    Pari-san and Alex-san. You are so right. The writing comes first. No. Matter. What.

  9. Allison Brennan

    Promotion is nice if you have time and money to do it, but the single most important this is exactly what Alex said (and I would have said if I got to the blog first) — your next book. The best promotion for your first book is writing another great book. Period.

    I do 3-4 events a year. That’s two conferences (RWA and TF this year) and maybe two smaller conferences where I’m speaking. That’s it. I will do local book signings when my book comes out, but when you’re in mass market signings just don’t have the impact if you’re someone big in hardcover. And it takes TIME.

    Right now, I’m finishing up PLAYING DEAD due to my editor on 2/6, which comes out 9/30. I have the page proofs for TEMPTING EVIL (5/20) on my desk that have to be in NY on 2/13, but I can’t start them until I finish my manuscript. I had a book out on Tuesday and planned signings for the next two Saturdays, but I had no time to do the stock signings I normally do. Once TE is back in NY, then I will either 1) start the book due 6/1, or revise PLAYING DEAD if my editor is done reading it. And I know that sometime in the middle of writing the book due 6/1, I’ll be getting copy edits that HAVE to be done by the deadline.

    It takes discipline and practice and a lot of late nights and quad-shot lattes. It also means I don’t do a lot of promotion.

    AND I write when I travel. I write on planes if the jerk in front of my doesn’t put back his seat. I write in hotels. I don’t put in the same hours as at home, but I need to keep the forward movement. You might need to learn to do that if you’re going to keep jet-setting around the country! 🙂

  10. JT Ellison

    Allison, your schedule makes me dizzy. I think you’re one of the few who is writing multiple books a year and publicly discussing their schedules. You’ve got the dedication and focus, and that’s why it works so incredibly well for you! (BTW, saw Killing Fear EVERYWHERE, and am thrilled for you! We had it up on the table with ours at the Killer Year signing in Nashville.)

    It’s this incredibly fine line — the publishers need/want you to promote, to an extent, but mine, thankfully, hasn’t been pushing it. I wasn’t planning to tour ATPG at all, and that whole Borders thing happened. I know I’ve gained readers I wouldn’t have had, and when the next book comes out I’ll have a group to build on. But I don’t want to go to everything.

    I don’t write when I’m on the road because hubster is with me. Hey, we’re young, we’re getting a chance to see cities and towns we wouldn’t otherwise, and I’m sure it’s going to taper off after this first year. But he’ll always travel with me — it’s no fun not to have him along. Which means I have to make the most of my time at home.

    So if you don’t hear much from me starting next week, that’s why…

  11. Allison Brennan

    Aw, that’s the key difference, JT! I don’t bring hubby with me (though he is coming to TF–because he wants to visit NY.) I love the solitude of no hubby and kids for five days! Freedom! Escape! Writing in bed! (My husband hates the click-click-click of the keyboard while he’s trying to sleep.)

    BTW, Nora talks about her schedule on her website. She writes every day, even when traveling. She breaks to exercise, eat lunch, check email, then it’s back to work until 6. Proofing, copyedits, reading is done in the evenings after dinner. Now there is a writer with discipline.

  12. JT Ellison

    A STET stamp? Do they make them??? What a great idea!!!

    To answer B, I have to say, I don’t know if that’s completely true. I’ve been incredibly blessed with all of my appearances. The lowest turnout I’ve had was 9, but I still sold 12 books. I’ve had two big sellouts during meet and greets, and it wasn’t because there weren’t enough books. As a result of three of the small events I’ve been invited to three other, bigger, better and more prestigious events, two of which pay.

    And in accepting one of the events, I made enough to offset an entire three day trip, including airfare and car rental.

    I think it’s different for each author. I’ve always viewed this as I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If you’re not willing to put some legwork in, it’s difficult to get going. And I know everyone says you can’t tour a paperback, but here I am, midway through a ten-state tour (including cons) and I’ve been happily surprised. Especially the meet and greets. I’ve heard horror stories, but mine have all been a blast. I’m not outlaying a ton of cash to do this, and yes, I’ve caught some major breaks.

    I do think you need to get your face out there a bit. And since I can have a good time by myself in a paper bag if necessary, I really haven’t had much to lose. On the contrary, I think I’ve gained a great deal.

    But I am tired ; )


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