Book day nerves and why they’re a good thing

Dark Rite booksI’m trepidatious. Kinda nerve-wracked. The novella I’ve co-authored with David Wood, Dark Rite, is due for release tomorrow. Hopefully it will become available then, or very soon after. I’ll be sure to let you know. And because of its imminent release, I’m quietly terrified.

I’m also very excited, of course. It’s great to get a new book out there. While this is technically a novella, it kind of bridges the gap, because it’s bloody long for a novella. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America specify word lengths for each category of its Nebula award categories like this:

Novel – over 40,000 words
Novella – 17,500 to 40,000 words
Novelette – 7,500 to 17,500 words
Short story – under 7,500 words

As far as I know, the Aurealis Awards here in Australia use the same categorisation. Dark Rite is something like 42,250 words. Which is sorta dumb of us, because it will be classed as a novel rather than a novella for awards and we could have cut 2,251 words and dropped it back into the novella category if we really wanted to. But we talked about it and were happy with the tightness and finish of the story. It seems presumptuous and counter-productive to chop at a story purely for award lengths or to accurately describe its category. The story is exactly as long as it needs to be, so we’re sticking with it. And I’ll describe it as a very long novella, even though it’s technically a very short novel.

Nelson MuntzBut I digress. Nerves. I was talking about book day terror. Whether it’s a full-length novel, a long novella/short novel, a novelette or a short story being published in a magazine or anthology, the same kind of nerves are always there. Will people like it? Will people read it and point and laugh like Nelson Munz? Will I be revealed for the try-hard, pointless hack my inner demons often tell me I am, in the darkest corners of the night when I’m wondering why I fucking bother.

If it’s a magazine or anthology, the terror is that mine will be the story reviewers talk about for all the wrong reasons. “A tremendous collection of short fiction, with only one story out of place. You have to wonder what the editor was thinking, including this sloppy turd by Baxter.”

Of course, that kind of thinking is an insult to the editor, because they picked the story and included it for a reason, and their name is all over the publication. But publication nerves know nothing of common sense and laugh in the face of logic.

If it’s a book or novella, something that is going out there on its own merit, the nerves are the same, only amplified. There are no other works to hide among. It’s just you, out there in public without your pants on. Metaphorically speaking. You know you can’t please everyone, even Neil Gaiman gets one star reviews, but you hope to please more people than you offend. You want more cries of Bravo! and very few Ha-Has! But you don’t know if you’ll get them. Hell, you don’t know if anybody will even read your work. The only thing worse than bad reviews is no one turning a single fucking page of the thing you slaved over. At least a bad review meant the thing got read.

But I realised, especially reinforced after the recent series of guest posts I’ve run about Ongoing Angst, that this stuff is not only common among writers of every level, but actually a good thing. I’m bloody nervous, because I care. I care not because I want people to like me, but because I want them to like the work. I want people to read my stories and get something out of them, be moved in some way, have a rollicking good time and recommend their friends and family read my stuff too. They don’t ever need to know who the fuck I am, as long as they know and enjoy the work. And my fear comes from the thought that my work might not be good enough. And that fear drives me to always do my best, to always try to be better.

I strive to get better all the time. I work my arse off trying to make my writing as good as it can be. Nerves like this are symbolic of an artist striving to be good enough. If I ever don’t get nervous when a publication is due I’m going to wonder where my fire went. Because I’m certainly not arrogant enough to think people are automatically going to like everything I get published. Nerves are a good thing – they remind you that you’re alive and striving. That this shit matters. Because it really does matter. Through fiction we look at our lives and the life around us, and it matters. Even fun, pulpy horror like Dark Rite has things to say about society and humanity. It’s deeper than just a gloss imagery. And I care about it. I really hope readers do too.

I’ve got a bunch of stuff due for publication over the next two or three months, in magazines and anthologies, and it’s all kicking off with the release of Dark Rite any day now. So I really hope you like it. I’ll be over here, chewing on the bony tips of fingers, cos I finished eating through the nails a couple of days ago.

(Of course, the beauty of this one is that it’s co-authored. So it if does go down well, I’ll bask in all the glory. If it tanks, I’ll just blame David Wood.)

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