When I thought about the topic of “a year of writing in place,” I realized that a lot of my author work over the last year was getting everything ready for my book to come out in September. Looking at the emails with my project manager and my publicist from that time, I found so many details that I had forgotten about. Somehow there is a strange poignance to see an email to my publicist from March 16, 2020, saying that I would have a lot of time to work on things she needed, since my county had just announced that non-essential workers should shelter in place.
In the next weeks the flurry of activity kept my mind occupied, although every day I also obsessively checked the COVID statistics. Two of my family members are physicians, and in those early days everything seemed like such a question mark. A grim reminder of how vulnerable we might all be came when my publisher asked authors to let her know who our heirs were.
There was a lot of discussion with other writers about marketing a book during the pandemic. Sometimes it felt insensitive to give so much effort to something so relatively unimportant during a time of such suffering for so many people. We told ourselves that people need books, that books can at least provide momentary distraction, and at their best, they offer joy.
So, the work continued. One task was to get blurbs, those quotes you see on the back of books. I was lucky in having a couple of contacts, and in getting some suggestions from my publicist of who to try, which netted me some lovely endorsements. I also had “dream” requests, and I remember how grateful I was to the famous author who bothered to reply, even though it was to say that he doesn’t have time to do blurbs.
There were all kinds of decisions to be made about the physical look of a book. Choose from the six cover designs my publisher offered. Select which fonts I wanted. Decide whether the letters handed down over generations should be in italics, script, or neither.
I learned a whole new vocabulary, too. Fleurons are the ornaments, or flourishes, that might appear below the chapter title, or are used to signal a scene change at the end of a page, when the change can’t be denoted by a space. Did I want drop caps, the extra large letter at the beginning of a chapter? (No) Did I want page numbers at the top or bottom of the pages? (Bottom) Did I want the Prologue to be page one, or the first chapter to be page one? (Prologue)
Then came first pages, second pages, and third pages, or galleys, each one an updated version with corrections I had asked for. I approved the design for the back cover and the spine. Finally, they were ready to print my ARCs, advance reader copies. My publicist would send these to a lot of people, in the hope of garnering reviews. When I got the ARC, I read it aloud, and was embarrassed to ask my program manager if it was too late to ask for about forty minor changes. She graciously replied that it wasn’t.
The only writing I did at this time was articles that my publicist would try to place, some of which were picked up for online sites. I planned my online launch, which had its upsides. I didn’t need to look for a venue, though a local bookstore did play a part. Best of all was that people from all over the country could attend, and it was wonderful to see so many family members and friends support me.
Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time on social media, trying to get attention for me and my book. I’ve experimented with Facebook ads and Amazon ads. I’ve networked with other writers. I’ve gotten onto a couple of podcasts. I’m writing guest blog posts. And, finally, I’ve worked on my next book.
Research for historical fiction, especially something as long ago as the seventeenth century, can be daunting. I thought that the fact that my second novel would take place in the same period as my first one would be a huge help. As it turns out, seventeenth-century Madrid was a very different place from seventeenth-century Amsterdam. So, I continue to do research, but sometimes I let myself write a scene or two for the novel. Even though I know those scenes may never make it into the final work, those are the best days.
Award-winning author Rebecca D’Harlingue writes about seventeenth-century women forging a different path. Her debut novel, The Lines Between Us, won an Independent Press Award and a CIBA Chaucer Award. Her second novel, The Map Colorist, won a Literary Titan Award and a Firebird Book Award.