Still hanging in there

THE BONE GARDEN has managed to stay on the New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists for a fourth straight week, which led me to celebrate with a few glasses of sparkling Cava and a marathon session of making Chinese potstickers.  While rolling out the dough and stuffing the little dumplings, I got to thinking about how success can simply breed more anxiety — for me, anyway.  No longer is it just about writing a good book, which is all that should really matter.  But now it’s also about how high you get on the list, how long you can stay there, and is your publishing team happy with your book’s performance?  (And if they aren’t happy, what did I, the author, do wrong?)

The pressure has made me dread Wednesdays.

Wednesday evening is when the New York Times Bestseller list is released.  Around 5 PM, I’ll start to watch the phone, waiting for it to ring.  Hoping for good news, but always bracing myself to be disappointed.  Needless to say, very little writing gets done on Wednesdays since I tend to spend it doing mindless yet comforting tasks.  Ironing is very therapeutic.  I get a long of ironing done on Wednesdays.  (The rest of the year, forget it.  It’s wrinkled clothes for me.)  Then the phone rings and my agent or editor breaks the news with the long-awaited number.  If it’s in the top-15, it’s a hurray.  If not, it’s a long sigh and my cue to move on and start focusing on the next book. 

Because, in about a year from now, we get to do it all over again. 


14 replies
  1. tuttle
    tuttle says:

    Theres something I’ve been curious about-
    NEXT year…when Bone Garden comes out as a mass marketpaperback,the publisher traditionally will have an excerpt from the NEXT (hardcover) book or at least one page in the back with a look at the cover so that anyone who buys the paperback version of Bone Garden, they will (hopefully)want to buy the hardcover which would be on sale in a month or so after the paperback. Doesnt that help the sales of the new hardcover? Does the publisher include that possibility in their ‘numbers’?

    I would think an excerpt in paperbacks (which at times sell more then the hardcover –which translates into more possible loyal fans) would be an important (and somewhat cheap) form of advertising for both the author and the publisher!

  2. knaster
    knaster says:

    Hi Tess,

    When the phone rings on Wednesday, it could be Spielberg wanting to make one of your books into a screenplay. Let’s face it, Tess. You’ve got what it takes to be a big screen author. ARE YOU LISTENING HOLLYWOOD?

  3. struggler
    struggler says:

    I think you’ve hit on a very important issue, Tess. How many writers (not to mention other creative artists too) focus 100% on the quality of their work when they’re just starting out but as the years go by a different set of priorities mysteriously takes over? I suppose it would be indiscreet at best to drop any specific names here – so I won’t – but I could reel off a fistful of authors who hit the big-time with a debut novel years ago but somehow faded away with the publishing of each novel later on. One of your peers used to get glowing reviews at the start of his/her career but over the past decade has slid inexorably towards a situation in which a poor critical review is pretty much expected. Another mega-bucks novelist who had most of his/her first few novels converted into hugely successful Hollywood movies now produces utter crud. Surely, if you are a talented writer, that talent never goes away if you focus on what made you start writing in the first place? I should hastily add that I am not, of course, including YOU in this question, as you have very clearly managed to sustain a high standard of writing for more than 10 years now (particularly since HARVEST in 1996) during which time, imho, every single novel you have written has never been less than very good. But you are in the minority in this respect, to be candid. Many ‘big-name’ crime fiction of thriller writers who have been around for as long as you have are simply not producing the standard of writing – again imho – that made them successful in the first place. Maybe they’ve taken their eyes off the quality aspect and focused too much on the numbers, the position on the NYT list and so on. This could be why this year, of all the new books I have purchased, THE BONE GARDEN is one of a very small number from my ‘heroes’ and the majority have come from new, unknown writers. I would like to drop the name of Brian Freeman if I may (because this is a positive plug) whose debut novel IMMORAL was excellent and the sequel STRIPPED even better; other ‘first-timers’ I have experimented with this year have, in general, rewarded me with greater entertainment than many of the big-name authors whose work I would have snapped up without thinking a couple of years ago but more recently I am willing to leave on the shelf. Must mention Sandra Ruttan too, whose novel SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES is in a superior league to most of the latest efforts from the superstars.

    For me, among the eleven novels between HARVEST and THE BONE GARDEN, I still single out THE APPRENTICE as my personal favourite (just!) with VANISH a close second, and as long as you put the same kind of passion, energy and good old heart ‘n’ soul into your writing as you have done consistently for more than a decade, you’ll be doing the right thing and placing quality before quantity. I’m sure you’ll want your grandchildren to know, in 50 years’ time, that you are remembered for being a great writer of memorable stories because nobody’s position on a NYT bestseller list of 50 years earlier will be of much interest. If I wanted to leave my grandchildren a legacy, it would be that I was a good story-teller rather than just a rich one!

  4. Debbie
    Debbie says:

    Congratulations Tess! Proof that writing is a continual nail biting process even after the book is finished. As for the ironing, I can only bear it on a snowy day when I cant seem to get warm, LOL. Im still trying to master the wet towel in the dryer trick!

  5. bob k
    bob k says:

    Tess obsessing again! Can’t say I wouldn’t do the same, but you do make things hard on yourself!!

    On the bright side – a marathon session of making potstickers must make the family happy!! Yummy!

    Steamed? Or do you fry them like the Koreans do (yaki mandu…a real treat!). Oh for a Hannaford size Asian Market in Maine somewhere!

  6. Craig
    Craig says:

    What I enjoy is going into my bookstore and looking at the top 10 fiction and non-fiction, especially the latter because the books are lined up in numerical order in spite of author or subject. Ann Coulter next to Hillary next to Bill O’Reilly next to Al Franken. I just checked the top 15 for this week and we get OJ next to Mother Theresa. Lordy!!!

  7. ec
    ec says:

    Gee, Tess, I think you need a little practice in the art of ‘Count Your Blessings’

    As I understand it, TG started a blog for the purpose of venting. I have no problem with that. Most writers I know tend to be a tad neurotic. It’s almost a job description. We consider all possible scenarios (aka “plotting), and wonder how people will react to a given situation (aka “character arc:). We perseverate (aka “revising” and “proof reading”.) This is part of a writer’s life, and it’s helpful to know that other people go through it–and occasionally come out the other side.

    Plus, I for one do not really want to wade through a litany of TG’s blessings (“OMG, I’m sooo talented and successful and cute as a button and a sought-after speaker and I even play the frickin’ fiddle and yadda yadda….”) before she gets down to the industry nitty gritty and her candid thoughts and reactions to the writing life. The good stuff comes through. IMO, people who are happy and content and grateful are still allowed to bitch or hand-wring every now and again.

  8. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    I have a confession Dr. G…I JUST picked up your book today! I know I’m a horrible fan! My mom got it for me at the local Books-A-Million because I had to go to the ER last night to have a pilonidal cyst I&D’d…let me just tell you how much fun THAT was! Anyway, so I’m doped up with narcotics and mom thought it would help if I had something to read. And boy was I excited to see she had bought your book for me! You know something, you don’t realize how much you need your butt until every time you sit down it just about kills you! Talk about something greatly underestimated! So I’m off to start on your book and will return shortly with my opinion of it. Talk to you later!

  9. wy82331
    wy82331 says:

    Hello Tess,
    We do what we do best. We do it because we enjoy the results. In the world of many authors they come and they go. Some just churn stuff they call novels out. Others , like yourself , put your heart and your soul into the work. Don’t fear nor worry. Just keep doing what you enjoy; and let the clothes be wrinkled.
    Waiting for your next work of love.

  10. nann tyler
    nann tyler says:

    Did you read or research the novel, The Cry and the Covenant, by Morton Thompson….about the Viennese Dr. Semmelweiss? This story is so detailed about the concern with childbed deaths of newly delivered women….outstanding details and background of the medical thinking and approaches to maternity patients….and quite authentic.

    I also, would say that your biggest concern as an author would be to present authenticity to your writing….the story, its development, and to the characters and how they develop and present their viewpoints of their times…
    In working with young children in their daily writing in their classroom journals, authenticity and voice are strongly encouraged and developed through the teacher’s reading and commenting on journal entries…..if a character’s voice is “off” in a novel, then the novel is off, also….it becomes stilted and disruptive to the reader, as well as to the story…I think, too, that not every novel is an author’s best effort, even though it might be published….something about keeping the author’s name in the marketplace every year….I am really picky about the authors I read….and will be happy with one very well written authenitc story, rather than 8 or 9 novels by the same author.
    Editors and publishers need to be well aware of this, too.

  11. Tess
    Tess says:

    Nann, I read several biographies of Semmelweis, and he is mentioned in the “modern” section of the novel. I chose to stick with the nonfiction about Semmelweis, rather than be influenced by a novelist’s view. Also, keep in mind that BONE GARDEN is set in 1830’s BOSTON, not Vienna, and my characters were unaware of Semmelweis’s existence, so he simply could not be part of the story.

    As a physician, my goal was to focus this story around the subject of childbed fever, told from the perspective of American medical people. Perhaps you might want to give the book a try — you’ll find that authenticity was my strict goal.

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