23 January 2014

Author Article: Lynn Marie Hulsman

Today I am thrilled to welcome one of Harper Impulse's new authors Christmas at Thornton Hall. I read and loved the eBook a few weeks ago, and a review is coming later today. It's a lovely idea of Christmas at a posh British hall, with an American chef, lots of goings on and a bit of romance along the way too. Lynn Marie was kind enough to write an author article for me about being a debut novelist, and it makes for great reading!

You can buy Christmas at Thornton Hall as an eBook now.

"The Wild Emotional Rollercoaster of a Debut Novelist" by Lynn Marie Hulsman.

If you are anything like me, you’ve dreamed of being an author from an early age. Once I got down to business, and wrote my first book, I pictured myself chatting to Oprah about how my oeuvre would literally changed the way humans approach life. I mentally chose the writerly outfits, ranging from a black turtleneck and beret to a J. Jill-style flowy caftan, to a sexy secretary starched white blouse and black pencil skirt accessorized with horn-rimmed glasses. I would, of course, wear these when accepting the Pulitzer and the Orange Awards, and eventually walk the red carpet at the Oscars.

I envisioned myself hobnobbing at cocktail parties with John Irving, Meg Wolitzer, and J.D. Salinger (I know he was a recluse and now he’s deceased, but this is my fantasy) all of them jockeying for position so they could win me over with their anecdotes. And the advances! I would take my unprecedented 7-figure signing fee and purchase a writer’s cottage (think Gatsby’s spread) where I could alternately seclude myself like a mad genius and entertain the who’s-who of the publishing world.

That’s not quite the way it happened. To be fair, that’s the way it happens for maybe a fraction of one percent of people who pen books. While I still dream of monetary success, and a modicum of notoriety, I’ve learned first-hand that being a writer isn’t as much about launch parties and swilling martinis at The Algonquin as it is about doing the work. And when I say “work,” I’m not speaking in the airy manner of a 20-year-old Shakespearean thespian who considers herself an “artiste,” I mean work. Like labor. Like the kind you show up and do even when the mood doesn’t strike you. Like a day job.

The work started with a rough outline. After I sketched out my plot, and got to know my characters and my world, I sat down to stare at a blank page. For me, getting started was hard. What if I picked the wrong first sentence? What if I spent time writing this thing, and no one (including me) liked it? The triumph of reaching page 30 was huge for me. With that under my belt, the rest felt possible.

The next part of my job was asking for criticism. When I hit “send” on the partial manuscript I sent to my agent, and my first reader, I nearly threw up. I’m not saying that descriptively: I honestly nearly threw up. My fear had my cells humming. I couldn’t sit still, and I couldn’t think straight. In hindsight, I wonder why I allotted so much heft to the opinions of others. Now that I’ve broken through the first-book hurdle, I am more balanced. Critiques are critical to the success of a book, and must be considered and applied. Every writer, however, needs to trust her own voice and point of view. Not every story, or way of telling it, will be everyone’s cup of tea.

When the first draft was edited and dusted, my agent sent it out to editors. Knowing this, and waiting for answers, took a few years off of my life. I was rejected by a few editors that I hoped would like me. It stung. Looking back, I see that it wasn’t necessarily that they didn’t like me. It wasn’t even necessarily that they didn’t like my book. It’s about timing, personal taste, what a publishing house’s list required, and whether or not the editor is two days away from leaving the office to have a baby and take maternity leave for 6 months.

In the end, my book was acquired by the perfect imprint of the perfect publisher. I was elated. I walked on air. I never missed an opportunity to say the words “my publisher” and “my editor.” Then came the edits. I was terrified to open the document lest the first sentence be “We’ve made a terrible mistake, please don’t ever contact us again, and we recommend that you have a professional write your grocery lists and post-it notes from this point forward.” That didn’t happen, but there were serious edits. After a day of feeling that I was being picked apart, I reframed my thinking and became truly grateful that I had a professional partner who would help me make my book stronger and better. Editors and proofreaders really are a writer’s best friends.

When my book launched, the world stopped for a day. I wondered how people were going about their normal lives, hitting the post office and driving to work. I waited for something huge to happen. It didn’t. Friends congratulated me, I was taken to tea and dinner, I got some gifts, and it was nice. But my life didn’t change irrevocably. This is my first book. There will be another, then another, then another. I see now that it’s a slow build, and a long-term investment. Sure, there’s the occasional 50 Shades of Grey, but for most writers, it’s about the dedication and perseverance to build a list and a platform.

And the reviews! Oh, the highs and lows of reading people’s opinions. At first, I eagerly awaited each one, refreshing my browsers again and again. It’s a gift when a reader takes time to give thoughtful comments. What I’ve learned, though, is that I need to stay in my own head, and on my own path.

Now my first book has been written, critiqued, sold, edited, published, and reviewed. It’s been a wild ride, and not at all what I expected. I’m proud, and I’m satisfied, and I’m pleased that I’ve come this far. And now, it’s time for me to get back to work. Book Two isn’t going to write itself…"

Thanks so much, Lynn Marie!

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