The Word Is Out

It’s official. My secret is out and, consequently, my anonymity is shot.

It’s no great surprise I’ve kept my writing quiet the past few years as I’ve sought publication. Like many of you, I’ve told close friends and family, but in general I didn’t want to deal with the plethora of questions from acquaintances and neighbors regarding my status. Have you published yet? Have you sold? What’s taking so long? Why are you continuing to write when you still haven’t made it? Writing is a very personal business, and it’s slow, and most people (I’d say 98% of the population) doesn’t understand any of this. I’m very proud of what I do, but I haven’t been ready to share that yet with the world.

It seems my days of silence are over, though. In part because my family – who, in their excitement – have mentioned it in passing to neighbors and other friends. I went to pick my daughter up from school a few weeks ago and was chatting with another mom. She looked at me and said, “So I hear you’ve been writing. What’s happening with your book?” I was taken aback for a minute, and finally found the voice to ask, “How did you know I was writing?” She responded with, “Well, when you were in Atlanta at your writer’s conference, we took your daughter to the pool and she told us all about it.” Not only did said daughter tell them about my conference, but she told them about my book – the fact that it was a romantic suspense and what the main character did for a living. Obviously the seven-year-old is more canny than I thought, and she’s got radar ears when I’ve mentioned things in passing to the DH.

But I wish I could say it was just her. No, the DH has been telling people, too. For awhile I made it clear to him I didn’t want to spread the word, but ever since I signed with my agent (or maybe since he read part of my book), he’s been telling people all about it – neighbors, friends, guys on his softball team, people he works with. I understand he’s proud of me, but I don’t think he realizes it could still be a looooong time before anything happens.

So it’s out there. And it’s strange to have to field questions about my career, especially when those questions come from people who know zilch about the publishing industry. Case in point, last weekend I went to a friend’s get-together. Women only, chatting, drinking wine, hanging out. It was fun, and after two glasses of merlot I was pretty relaxed after a stressful week. And then the questions started. I swear they came out of nowhere, and they sobered me up really fast. The mom who’d talked to me at school a few weeks back started asking about my book, and suddenly I was surrounded by women wanting to know all about it. Did it have sex in it? Was it a Harlequin romance (as if that were a bad thing), and the question I still cringe at hearing, When can we read it? I fielded questions as best I could, but I know I did a lousy job. Up until that point, I didn’t realize word of my writing had spread through the neighborhood like wildfire. Now, I know some of you may be thinking, no big deal, right? It’s just your neighbors. But let me give you a clear picture of my neighborhood. We are the real-life version of Desperate Housewives. My cul-de-sac – all of 20 houses or so – has a newsletter, and a website. There are activities happening ever week – whether it’s poker parties or bunko or ladies-night-out or a rip-roaring party just for the heck of it. People all around the city know our neighborhood. We’re legendary. And while I happen to be one of the more quiet ones on our street (locked up in my house writing), you can kind of picture why I didn’t want my writing news to spread just yet. I’ve already had a roomful of women tell me I need to write a book about our street.

But the clincher of the night was when another woman started asking me questions about my book. She, also, has been writing. A non-fiction book, apparently, which she’s trying to sell right now. Now, granted, I know very little about selling non-fiction because it’s not my area of interest, but when she asked me if I’d had my book edited yet, I was a little bewildered. I said, no, that I haven’t sold it yet, but that I had critique partners and that my agent had gone through and made a few comments on minor things to edit. She said, “Oh, well, yeah, okay. Then you haven’t had it edited yet. I have a professional editor who’s been working on my book. She’s so great, she takes my words and changes them and makes them simply shine. And now that she’s done with it, it’s this really great book. If it doesn’t sell right away, I’m going to self-publish it because it’s such a great book, it needs to be out there. ” I was shocked. Because in my world of fiction, that sounds like someone else is doing the writing for you. Maybe I’m naive, but I didn’t know what to say.

It occurred to me later that no matter how I answer questions from people outside the publishing industry, they’re never going to understand the steps it takes to get published. My DH does, simply because he watches me and listens to everything I tell him, but friends, neighbors, acquaintances, even family to some degree will never really get it. It’s in my nature to try to explain things to people, to justify why it takes so long to get things done in this biz, but I’m slowly learning that’s not to my advantage. Smile, say “thanks,” and “No, I haven’t heard anything yet.” I’d prefer to not even field the questions in the first place, but it seems that’s not going to happen now that my news has spread, and I guess I’m just going to have to get used to it.

So, how do you answer the questions when thrown at you? What’s your best response? I’d love to hear how you deal with this issue – published or unpublished.