Well, I don’t exactly have a serenity prayer. Other than, “Please God, let me finish this re-write by the deadline.” I’d really like to reflect on the things in my writing life that I can and can’t control.

First, the “cans.” I can come up with a nearly infinite number of ideas (note 1–I have plenty of my own ideas and thank you, but I don’t need yours). I can settle on one idea and expand it into a compelling, full-fledged story (note 2–this, and not ideas, is the hard part).  I can create what I hope are appealing characters. I can write and re-write the resulting book into something I think is so wonderful my agent will be ecstatic and any editor in her right mind would be crazy not to buy. I can submit to my agent. And wait. And re-write based on her suggestions. And wait.

Once the waiting is finally over and we sell the book, I can work hard on the re-writes requested by the editor who bought the book. I can swallow my pride when my editor notes some bone-headed or confusing element in my manuscript, and fix said problems without whining.

Once I’ve polished the book to my editor’s satisfaction (said satisfaction is a “can’t control,” btw), the book is out of my hands on its journey to publication. What I can do next is start on another book. Meanwhile, I can count the days until publication.

Finally, once the book is on the shelves, I can tell everyone I know. I can go to booksignings and conferences where I’ll talk up the book with an enthusiastic rapture usually reserved for those in houses of worship. I can e-mail everyone in my fan database, I can post blogs about it, I can lurk in the young adult sections of bookstores and shamelessly beg people to buy my book.

The above is what I have control over. The things I can do.

Now, what I can’t. I can’t guarantee that my agent will indeed love everything I’ve written. I can’t force an editor to buy it. If an editor does buy it, I can’t dictate what the cover will look like. For my covers on previous books, I’ve had everything from zero input to making cover art suggestions that have largely been ignored (no mutant heroines, though). For my most recent book, TANKBORN, I’ve been lucky enough to see the initial cover concepts, but my editor and not me has the final say.

I also can’t be sure that the book will be perfectly typo-free. A million pairs of eyes can look at that sucker and still miss a misspelled word or misplaced punctuation mark somewhere. Sorry, we tried our best. And once the book is printed, I can’t go back and fix it. Please don’t e-mail me to let me know that you found “there” instead of “their” on page 233. It’s out of my hands.

And once my book is published, I can’t make readers buy it. Ah, that it were so. If I could, I’d probably hypnotize every reader in the U.S. and beyond to buy multiple copies of my book when it comes out. But I can’t, nor can I put something into the water supply or wave a magic wand to start a buying frenzy. The former would be illegal and the latter would be impossible in a non-magical world such as Earth.

I also can’t force people who have read my book to like my book. I can’t insist a reviewer give me a sterling review. There are huge bestsellers that many people loved that I thought were drek. Everyone has different tastes in what they enjoy.

Sometimes I despair that the “cans” are too hard and the “can’ts” are too frustrating. But if I wanted easy, I’d have never become an author.

Posted by Karen Sandler

Filed as: The Writing Life