It never stops being nerve-wracking

According to the Scripps News Service  it’s a “sure bet” that 

“anything written by the big guns – on the level of, say, Larry McMurtry, Janet Evanovich, Alexander McCall Smith, Tess Gerritsen – will find a home on bestseller lists.” 

And several news services have listed THE MEPHISTO CLUB as one of the fall’s anticiipated “big books.”

If that were all true, you’d think that I’d be far more relaxed about my upcoming book releases.  (VANISH comes out in paperback this coming Tuesday.  And THE MEPHISTO CLUB goes on sale two weeks later.)  I’ve been in this business for twenty years, and in recent years, I’ve pretty consistently hit the bestseller lists.  So I should be feeling utterly confident, right?   

You wanna know the truth?  At the moment, I’m a blubbering nervous wreck.

It happens every year, when I have a new book out, either in paperback or hardcover.  First come the tense weeks leading up to the on-sale date, when I incessantly check my stubbornly  immovable sales index on, and start to feel ever more desperate because no one seems to be pre-ordering.  

When the on-sale date arrives, and I can’t stop myself from peeking into bookstores, to see if my book is actually on display.  And all too often, I’m plunged into gloom because the book’s nowhere in sight.  Or there are piles of them, and they don’t seem to be selling.  I’m like one of those doomed sailors drawn inexorably by the song of the Sirens, only to dash himself to death on the rocks.  I can’t stop myself from checking every store, every grocery shelf, every drugstore, even though I know that the chances are, I’ll walk away depressed.  Please, will someone protect me from myself and lash me to the closest ship’s mast?

Then there are all the other things that can — and too often do — go wrong.  In 1997, two weeks before my medical thriller LIFE SUPPORT was scheduled for release, UPS went on strike.  Boxes and boxes of my books ended up sitting in a warehouse somewhere.  I went on book tour as scheduled, only to find that in store after store, my books hadn’t even arrived.  There’s nothing like a protracted two-month laydown date to kill your chances on the bestseller list.

In 2001, my book THE SURGEON went on sale … two weeks before September 11.  When the Twin Towers went down, I was in an airport in Seattle, waiting to catch a flight to continue my book tour.  Needless to say, after that morning, I had no desire to continue the tour.  I just wanted to go home and be with my loved ones.  I couldn’t even think about bookselling — and neither could anyone else.

In the days after my new book is released, I’ll start to get phone calls from my agent and editor, with news about how the book’s doing.  Of course you want to hear an ecstatic:  “these numbers are amazing!”  What you dread hearing is: “we just don’t understand why this campaign isn’t working.”  That’s the kind of call that will cause me to go catatonic on the couch while I ponder what other occupation I should fall back on, since my writing career is so obviously doomed.  The only treatment for such catatonia is a good stiff drink, plus endless re-runs of Harry Potter movies.

I do believe in the healing properties of Harry Potter.

Maybe I’m just more neurotic than other authors, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop doubting my abilities as an author, or the durability of my career.  With every new book I write, I feel as if I’m trying to prove myself all over again.  There’s a lot of reality behind those doubts.  This is a tough business, and it doesn’t take much to transform an author’s promising future into a death spiral.  That’s the hard truth.  So my anxiety isn’t completely unfounded.

The only way I can deal with the uncertainties of this business is to remind myself why I got into this job in the first place: because I love to tell stories.  It’s not about the sales or the reviews or the money. 

Well okay, the money is pretty darn important, because it’s what allows me to keep doing what I’m doing. 

But even if I never again got paid for this, I’d probably still be writing … because I can’t help myself.  And because there’s no better job in the world. 

17 replies
  1. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    You should be fine…hopefully we won’t have another hurricane hit us here on the gulf and I’ll be able to run to walmart and pick up your book. Writing does seem to be the best job in the world, but it’s so darn hard to get published, etc…Well, Dr. G, I wish you all the luck with the selling of your new book, but I’m sure you’ll be fine! Everyone loves reading your novels!

  2. struggler
    struggler says:

    Tess, don’t forget that every day, someone somewhere discovers you for the first time and it may be in the form of a book you wrote ten years ago that gets them hooked. Ten minutes ago I was lying in the bath reading the chapter in which Warren Hoyt takes a tablet that raises his white blood cell count and is about to be taken to hospital. You wrote this three or four years ago, but to me it’s fresh and new and I’m loving it. I want to read this series in the right order – The Sinner, Body Double and Vanish are an arm’s length away from where I’m sitting right now (in my home office) and I’m eagerly looking forward to devouring them before I work my wy on to your imminent new release, The Mephisto Club. I have to confess that I don’t sympathise with your neurosis because you have long proved yourself as a successful writer, you’ve made it. Your insecurity is touching but I’d swap it with mine any day of the week – at this moment I’m where you were 20 years ago, and probably a lot lower. I have absolutely no idea if I’m going to make it, and I might make a fool of myself trying. But as always, your honesty shines through and that’s what I like about you. We plebs out here in the void all know for certain that Mephisto will be another big success for you, so multiply this sentiment by about a million and maybe it will take those nerves away.

  3. Jen
    Jen says:

    Tess – Don’t stress yourself…you are an excellent author!!!!
    I got addicted to your books and so will everyone else!
    I know that you have a lot of fans in Germany.. And “Vanish” isn’t even translated in German.. So it might take some time until “The Memphisto Club” gets published.

    Thank god, I’m reading your books in English 🙂

    And I can’t wait to order “The Mephisto Club” on Amazon.

  4. Rachael from NJ
    Rachael from NJ says:

    Tess you are a DAMN GOOD WRITER!!! I love everyone of your books and I am excited and counting the days until I can get my hands on The Mephisto Club! If you beleive you will succeed, you will. I know you will make the NY Times Bestsellers List with this book. I got that feeling!

  5. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    tess-i don’t take your “neurosis” as a bad thing-it means you’ve not gotten complacent-and that is what keeps your writing fresh with new ideas and takes on things-i did some things on my job so many times you’d think i would’ve taken some stuff for granted,but it wasn’t an option unless i wanted to put myself and others at risk-there’s a kind of nervousness or even fear that keeps us sharp-it has a real basis-you will probably be saying to yourself”what was i worried about?” along about 9/13-and then around this time next year you’ll be raiding the harry potter dvd’s again

  6. Dakota Knight
    Dakota Knight says:

    Wow! I would have never imagined that you still went through the “pre-release neurosis!” Your writing is so good. I’ve been going crazy as my release date nears (in three months) and I’ve been trying to deal with it. (Step number one for me: Stop checking Amazon every time I get online)! I’ve already pre-ordered and looking forward to the read!

  7. Jenny K
    Jenny K says:

    It’s crazy to me to hear that you are nervous about your new book coming out! I’m a huge fan of your writing. In fact, when I get nervous about a big test at school or something at work, my treatment is a stiff drink and the healing powers of the Jane Rizzoli series! So believe in your own healing powers as well as Harry Potters 🙂 I can’t wait to read the new book!

  8. Charissa
    Charissa says:

    I love to lose myself in Jane Rizzoli’s life everytime mine gets too stresful. So Jenny K is right, your books have healing powers too! I always feel so much better after reading one of your books. Although, I do use Harry Potter as well 😉

    The other day I was looking in the second hand bookstore, and the owner asked me who my favourite author is. I rattled off a few names, beginning with (of course) you, and Kathy Reichs. He said “Oh yes, Tess Gerritsen – she’s very, very popular!” He didn’t seem to notice I’d said any other authors, he just wanted to talk about your books (I was more than happy to oblidge (sp?) and I spent quite a while discussing Jane Rizzoli!)

    – Chrissy

  9. Alexandra Sokoloff
    Alexandra Sokoloff says:

    Thanks, Tess – just as you gave that reader permission to read ice cream the other day, you’ve just given me permission to be nerve-wracked. And oh, man, did I need that!



  10. raylene056
    raylene056 says:

    My mom started reading your books, which she got from the Hospital Library where she works. I looked you up on the internet for her and found this journal which I started reading through an rss feed on Livejournal. I recently went on a nice long vacation, which is when I get to do most of my reading, and I read Harvest and Gravity. I just want to say, nice job. I’ll be getting around to the rest your books as soon as I can and adding you to my ‘favorite writers’ list on my website, hopefully that’ll get you a few more Amazon sales.

    I love your journal. It makes it seem like I’m reading books that a friend of mine wrote and it makes me proud to share them.


  11. Barbie Roberts
    Barbie Roberts says:

    I think when people start becoming over confident about their abilities, their celebrity, whatever, they begin to lose touch with whatever fan base they have. And I think that their work starts to suffer. Because you worry so much about how well you write or tell a story, I believe you have a better story. The worry causes you to work your hardest and pour every ounce of sweat and effort into your writing. If that was not so, your books would not be the marvels they are. Your writing is more about telling the best story you can tell than about becoming the most famous, best selling author out there. And we readers are the lucky benefactors. Thank you!

  12. Cumulus
    Cumulus says:

    I first encountered your books a couple of years ago when I went to Marcia Mulder’s book signing. The bookseller (at Mystery, Tea, & Me), said that if I enjoyed Mulder, I’d love Gerritsen. She was right. Since then I’ve given copies of your books to many friends and acquaintances (mostly in the health care business because I’m married to a doc) and now they are fans. We grab newly published novels as soon as they are out and anxiously wait for the next one. Why do you write so slowly? We could devour a book a week.

  13. thomas ocallaghan
    thomas ocallaghan says:

    Thanks for sharing your true feelings. I thought I felt insecure and anxious because I’m a newcomer, who’s working on Book II. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone. I’m sure THE MEPHISTO CLUB will be another run away hit for you. With writing talent like yours, you can’t miss.

  14. fatimat
    fatimat says:

    hi there…
    is the first time in a blog.. and i was curious abt cause i’m a portuguese women and i’m reading a book from tess.. and i’m loving it.. thanks vmuch…

  15. SF fan
    SF fan says:

    Hi. Catching up on your blog and saw this post. I was traveling in Germany during the first weeks of September, and one day I was rushing through the Munich airport to catch a flight when I stopped dead in my tracks in front of a store — The Mephisto Club was in the front window! I remembered that your book had just been released. If I hadn’t been in such a rush, I would have stopped to see if it was in English and bought it to read on my flight.

    Oh, and based on an old post you wrote, just wanted to let you know I bought a signed copy of one of your books at the Stonestown Mall Borders in San Francisco. Was delighted to find it, thank you!

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