Thoughts on Writing: Navigating the Road to Publication

thoughts on writing 3So, you’ve sent out your query letters, signed with a literary agent, and secured a book deal. Your dream is in writing, in the language of a contract. Now what?


The Mighty Scope

I swear HarperCollins purchased my book based on its potential. My editor’s first request was to rewrite the entire ending, beef up a handful of characters, and completely change the chronology of the book. In six weeks. 🙂

The Editor-Author Partnership

Up till this point in my life, I’d had two critique relationship experiences: in college, where if my professor suggested something, it was in my best interest to make those changes; and with my writing group of peers, where I collected ideas and feedback, but it was fully my decision whether to implement them or not. Working with my editor at HarperCollins was different– she was not my professor, though she did have more experience with writing and with story than I did; and she was not my peer, though she treated me with respect and genuine warmth. It was just a new scenario. We were partners in this project, and I had no idea what that was supposed to look like.

Ultimately, I learned to try everything she suggested. Usually I ended up loving it. If I didn’t, I would talk to her about why it wasn’t working, and we’d scrap it. There were very few things that we completely disagreed on, and in those 2-3 things, she let me win.

The Panic

The anxiety that followed my book deal was so intense and unexpected and alarming that I ended up back in therapy.

And so it goes.


I’m often asked how much influence I had on the cover of my novel. I had always heard that an author had zero input— but that wasn’t quite true in my experience.

First, I was asked for my thoughts:

We will fill out a form to share with our designers—who work serious magic and make the best looking books in the industry—but we want your thoughts, too. What sort of design or image do you picture for your cover? Photographic or iconic? Is there anything you absolutely don’t want? Are there other books whose covers you admire? As much info you can give us will help us—and the designers—create the perfect look for TRUEST.

truest-doodlesI was later shown eight choices and asked for my opinion again. They ended up going with my second choice (although by the end it was my absolute #1 favorite!), and let my thoughts guide multiple changes.

To see the detailed evolution of my book cover, click here.


A couple months after my publication day, I made some notes about what I learned:

  • I loved my street team, but I did everything too early and put too much money into it. I tried to come up with enough swag to entice readers to join the launch team, but I think the people who joined it would have joined it for less. In future, I will probably do a street team, but I will a) give them only the ARC plus some exclusive content, b) do everything within a month of the release date.
  • I would absolutely dish out the money to do a couple book tours during the release month. I’ll be doing a couple of those here in November and December, but I really wish I’d had the foresight to do them in September. Newbie!
  • At every event (except maybe the launch party), I would also promote other books that I enjoyed. I really want to give back in this way, plus I want bookstores that host these events to sell more than just my book.
  • I made a handful of promo materials. I probably should have just come up with one incredible idea, made a ton of them, and then given them out EVERYWHERE.
  • Here’s one that might shock you: I would have been more spoiler-y in my flap copy (i.e. the text on the inside flap of the book). A story about three teens in the summer isn’t particularly compelling, but once I mention that one of them has a disorder that causes her to question whether she’s in real life or just dreaming, I see lightbulbs go on. Every time. I’ve been looking at the flap copy of other books, and theirs is open super spoilery … and it doesn’t hurt the experience of the book. I think this was a big mistake of mine.


Celebrate Like Crazy

I will never regret having a huge launch party on the day my book came out! It was so much fun and so special to have people I love from so many parts of my life come together to celebrate my book … and to celebrate me. I had heard from so many writers that their launch day was “just another day,” and I wanted so much more than that: a celebratory climax to the day I’d been counting down from for nearly two years (or my entire life, depending on how you look at it). YES to release day parties.

The Magic of Kind Words

It’s hard to explain just how special it is to hear words of praise about your book. In the midst of fear and reviews and silence, sweet words at the exact right moments are each like a miniature rescue.To hear that you’ve made someone rethink things or that your book changed their life or became a new favorite or that they connected with a character or that it gave them hope during a particularly hard experience … it makes it all worthwhile. Please tell authors when you love their work. It’s like fuel, an instant battery-charge, strength to continue. I have an Instagram comment that has taken up permanent residence in my heart, ringing like a little bell.


You get back to work.

This is the writing life.


Did you miss the other parts in this series on writing?

Part One | Part Two

thoughts on writing 1thoughts on writing 2

25 Steps to Revisions for Writers with Anxiety Disorders

revisions with anxiety.png

  1. Get critique letter or email. DO NOT OPEN. DO NOT READ.
  2. Wait until you are in your safe place.
  3. Apply essential oils.
  4. Pray, if you pray.
  5. Decide to take a nap instead, just in case this is the last time you are able to find peace.
  6. Oversleep.
  7. Read editorial letter.
  9. The next day, email editor to say thank you and acknowledge receipt of editorial letter. Ask for a few days to process things.
  10. Do not actually process things. Probably best to continue avoidance tactics at this point.
  11. When avoidance time runs out, go back to safe place.
  12. Apply essential oils.
  13. Pray, if you pray.
  14. Re-read editorial letter.
  15. Boil letter down into themes.
  16. Journal about each theme. Make a list of questions.
  17. Finally reply to editor.
  18. Repeat steps 1-8 with editor’s reply.
  19. Ask for time to process again.
  20. Do not actually process.
  21. Stay busy. Let the revision requests exist in the back of your mind while you let the sting and fear subside.
  22. Optional: take Ativan or similar prescription drug. Not optional: take nap.
  23. Depending on deadline, keep revision requests at the back of your mind until they begin to tiptoe toward the front.
  24. When they have stealthily made their way to the front of your brain AND you feel excited, return to safe place to make a plan.
  25. Revise.

Writing & Anxiety

I wanted to write a little post about writing with an anxiety disorder. I understand that what I’m about to say might sound ungrateful, especially to writers who would give anything to have a book contract. I hope you can take it for what it is: my honest thoughts. I love my editor to pieces. And I love HarperCollins. This post is not about them. It’s about anxiety as a writer, which exists regardless of editor or publishing house. I repeat: this is not about my publishing house. This is about my anxiety disorder.

I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, an anxiety disorder that has been well-managed since 2008 when I underwent intense exposure therapy. In the first year and a half after exposure therapy, my obsessions and compulsions dwindled down to zero. Nothing. Nada. It was this rush of freedom that I hadn’t experienced since I was a child (no really– my OCD kicked in around age seven). In the years after that, it picked up a little bit, but nothing like it used to be.

It was probably a little foolish to think that anxiety was behind me.

In 2012, I started writing the novel that would become my debut, Truest. I had a blast writing this novel– there was no pressure, no deadline. I loved (and still love) the characters and the themes I dove into, and there was no timeline for the book to take shape. If it took four years or five or ten, it was all good because I had a full-time job and was writing for pleasure and passion and calling.

It ended up taking about a year and a half, at which point, I queried literary agents. I was lucky enough to be offered representation within a month or so, a tremendous blessing as querying can sometimes be long and torturous. (And actually, it still felt long and torturous.) My agent is incredible, and he found a home for Truest with HarperCollins only a couple months later, a two-book deal. I was over the moon for this opportunity and still am.

I got my book deal on a Wednesday in November. Two days later, I talked to my (now beloved) editor for the very first time. That night, I had my first panic attack.

In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, And so it goes.


The anxiety that followed in 2014 was so intense and unexpected and alarming that I ended up back in therapy, although not for OCD-related anxiety but for … writing-related anxiety? Was that even a thing? Apparently, for me, it was. And is.

But I battled through it. I cried a lot. I experienced enough panic that I got a prescription for it. I was meeting with a therapist every single week. I prayed. A lot. I had hard conversations with my editor, who was receptive and brilliant through it all. In the end, I had a polished book: Truest, which came out in September 2015 on one of the proudest days of my life. I love Truest. It’s the book I was called to write, and I stand by the decisions I made. I’m so delighted that readers have enjoyed it and that it’s been thought-provoking, something that’s really important to me.

I thought, “Okay, I survived. Now I know what I’m up against. Now I know my editor is on my team. Now I’m armed with resources. I can write another book.”

It was probably foolish to think the anxiety was behind me.

It was on my heels. It is on my heels. It whispers to me that I’m worthless, that I don’t know how to write, that I’m not cut out for this life. And, to be strictly honest, I’m not at this exact moment sure whether I am or not. Not for writing. I love writing and will always write. But for the life of publication. I’m not sure if I’m built for that life.

Writing my sophomore novel has not been the same fun, carefree experience of writing Truest. There are deadlines– and even though they are sometimes flexible, there is a real horror in that flexibility too (What I mean is that there is this fear that you will never produce something of publishable quality again … and so the deadline is perpetually extended, and that obligation is perpetual … is that not its own form of hell?). There’s money that has exchanged hands, and so there is a figurative and literal debt hanging over you. There’s this overwhelming blank slate: my editor bought Truest after reading it, but she bought novel #2 sight unseen, so there’s not that same devotion to it, not that same buy-in, not that same feeling of I-love-this-particular-work-and-want-to-publish-it. It’s like trying desperately to create something that will capture the publishers in the way your first novel did … except that your second novel can’t be too similar to your first. So now you have this request to write something distinctly separate from the novel you know your editor liked … something distinctly separate but something your editor will like regardless. It can feel like living in a paradox. It can feel like you’re a performing monkey.

Sometimes it means that you spend fourteen months on a novel that, in the end, just isn’t cutting it. And you start over. And then, when you start over, a (huge) part of you thinks, “What if I work on this for fourteen months and have to start over?” And when you have an anxiety disorder sometimes you live in extremes and you start to think, “What if I do this over and over and over, and nothing is ever good enough to be published, and I live my whole life in this struggle to produce something quality and I just can’t hack it?”

And when the anxiety ratchets out of control, you might even find yourself resenting writing under contract … you know, that contract that you wanted all your life, the one that made you feel like you won the lottery, the one that you’re still so desperately grateful to have with a publishing house that’s a giant. A giant … and you feel so small, and your books feel so small, and your fear seems so huge. And you think, Oh my gosh, I’m in Honey I Shrunk the Writer: a world and career so much bigger than you feel you could ever be, and the shame and anxiety and pressure and stress just pile up more and more and more.

You wonder: am I the only one going through this? 

I asked around, found out that several of my writer-friends had some of the same experiences with their second books too. I don’t know if they also deal with anxiety because they seem to handle it a thousand times better than I do, but maybe that’s because I have a blog that straddles the line between vulnerability and TMI.

But the bottom line is this: I love to write. I am called to write. So I will write.

Will I always write as a career/for publication? Who knows. I’m learning and growing with every experience. Ativan helps. Therapy helps. Prayer helps. Hearing from readers who love Truest helps. Having an editor with a huge heart and a whip-smart mind helps. Having a team of best friends and encouragers helps. Experience helps.

And so it goes.