This weekend I finished taking my final look at the page proofs of By the Rivers of Brooklyn. Now it goes back to the publisher with the goal of having it released (and in your hands!!) sometime in May.
I’ve heard people compare the process of writing a book to the experience of pregnancy and giving birth, which isn’t far off, although the gestation period for a book is often significantly longer than nine months.
I’ve also heard people compare the process of sending your manuscript out to a publisher, to sending your child off to Kindergarten. I’ve had both experiences, and I agree there are similarities. In both cases, something precious that up until now has been yours alone, is going out there into the world to be scrutinized under the harsh gaze of others. Suddenly there’s a possibility that your baby will be criticized and rejected. Other people have entered the process and it’s no longer yours alone.
On the bright side, when you send your baby off to Kindergarten, you know she’ll be back after school and on holidays for at least the next 12 years. She’s no longer yours alone; she belongs to the wider world, but she’ll be coming back and you’ll have a lot more opportunities to influence and shape who she finally becomes.
Manuscripts are much like this, too. Unless you’re the rare lucky author whose book is accepted the first time anyone glances at it, your baby will be coming back. Sometimes more often than you’d want it to. And you will have opportunities — lots of opportunities — to keep working with it and shaping it.
When a book is finally accepted and you’ve been through the editing process with the editor your publishing house supplies, the final stage — the last thing you see before the book is printed — is usually the manuscript proof. Everything is laid out and typeset, looking exactly as it will when the book is published. It’s your last chance to catch typos and make any final changes before everything is printed and your errors are lovingly preserved for all eternity.
I’m going to compare this to an experience I haven’t had yet in real life, but have witnessed often enough to have a sense of what it’s like: returning your page proofs to the publisher is like sending your child off to college (or away from home for their first job, or to the army, or whatever).
It’s like kindergarten, but the stakes are so much higher. You have the confidence of knowing that your baby is all grown up and ready to face the world, but you still have those last-minute doubts. Just because the book has been accepted by a publisher doesn’t mean readers and reviewers will like it. It could get panned — just as your child could drop out of college, or get fired from the job. The difference is … now it’s out of your hands.
It’s the giving up control that feels scariest at this stage (as, I imagine, it will when my kids are ready to leave home). You’ve done all you can, and yet you know it’s not enough. But it’s time to take your hands off. You literally can’t do any more after this. Your baby has to stand and fall on its own merits, because after today, it really doesn’t belong to you anymore.
It belongs to the world, and the world has to judge it.