5 Days of 5 Years of Story of a Girl: Wednesday

posted on
January 11th, 2012
written by

Heartfelt, heartfelt thanks to all of you who participated in the twitter fun yesterday. As well as being a good time, it’s meant so much to me right now. Best luck in the giveaway drawing! So shall we continue our story? Alright!

2005, continued: Business all settled, I met Jennifer Hunt via phone, and we hit it off. We talked about the book and what revisions would entail. They weren’t much, since I’d already worked on the book so long. I mean, they felt like much at the time, but compared to later books – ha! I revised the book and turned it in and I think there were a few little things after that, then Jen said something like, “Get ready to let go.” Because it was done. As much as I’d anticipated that moment I also felt like, Done? How could a book ever be done? Did that mean it was perfect? Or just that it was time to stop writing it? I learned then and kept learning, that it’s a great gift to have an editor you trust to know when it’s time to let go.

2006: After the creative work on the book was done, the publishing machinery kicked in. I felt like Dorothy in Oz, overwhelmed and nervous. What was I supposed to do? It seemed like the system was full of potential missteps. I picked up tips as well as mixed messages from other writers. If you don’t do this or that particular thing for yourself it won’t happen. If you do this or that thing for yourself, you’ll piss off your editor/publicist/agent. I’d heard horror stories of books “falling through the cracks.” Just sort of disappearing–poof–once published.

My publisher had a little pamphlet to guide me through the copyediting process, but I longed for something similar about what to expect, what to do, what to not do, as far as the whole process. One surprise, as an example: ARCs are generally made from the first-pass pages. (A term I’d never heard until I got an email saying, “First pass pages are on the way get them back by x day!) I didn’t realize this until I got the ARC and was like, “But I just mailed back the final edits yesterday…hmm.” Which means the ARCs might/will have mistakes in them! YOUR mistakes! The thought of people reading my book at all was enough to deal with. Them knowing I’m not perfect? Aaaaaagh.

I wrote about the cover and how all that felt, here. I worried over that, and about basically everything else. Each concern boiled down to, my book was going to fail, I knew it.  During this time Michael helped me remain calm while not dismissing my concerns.I tried to balance taking as much responsibility as I could for the care of my book, while also letting and trusting the pros at Little, Brown do their job.

Speaking of jobs, I quit mine in February. Then there was a lot of limbo as far as Story of a Girl went. Call it limbo, or call it, as Cynthia Leitich Smith does, “The season of nausea” – when the book is no longer in your control but isn’t out for public consumption yet. ARCs were printed in March of that year, very early. All I could do was patiently wait to see what would happen, try not to barf every time I thought of someone reading it, and work on my next book, Sweethearts.

Another surprise: writing second books, for many of us, is a trial that you often think you will not survive. If you already tend toward anxiety and depression, second book can make that feel more like psychosis. Weeping, certainty of destruction of all you hold dear, visions of self as a bag lady, etc. Or maybe that’s just me. Actually I know it isn’t, because that spring I went to a conference where Chris Crutcher spoke and I’d never met the man but basically, in a private moment, asked him, okay, how do I survive writing my second book? He laughed. He understood. Just get it done. Stay close to home, meaning, don’t get too radically different in book 2, for your own sake. He was just one of the many writers who showed me great kindness during that time, and you know who you are.

In the midst of all that, good things were also happening. (Life lesson: it’s usually a pretty mixed bag, great and hard all intertwined and sometimes the same thing.) One the best: I went back to NY in February 06. Again, ostensibly for something else, but hey, as long as I was “in town,” why not meet go over to Little, Brown and meet the gang? I remember, very clearly, standing in front of the Time-Warner building (this was before LB was under Hachette), and looking up and knowing…I am an author. I’m going in there an author. I made a little voice recording on my phone to save the moment, and took some time to be thankful. It was amazing to walk in there, and have Jennifer introduce me to people, and see their faces wake with recognition and hear them say they were so excited about my book.

Just one year before I’d been in that city with nothin’ but a wish and a prayer! (And, okay, a book I’d worked really hard on, and ten years of experience.)

Blurbs started to come in from the people who’d generously given me permission to have my publisher ask. I’m eternally grateful to Andrew Auseon, E. Lockhart, Chris Crutcher, Cynthia Leitich Smith, John Green, Keith Dixon, Mary Pearson, and Lael Littke for putting their time into my words, and their words on my book.

Reviews started to trickle in. The vibe felt good. School Library Journal wanted to interview me. Even if I was convinced Story of a Girl would be my last book, at least some people liked and noticed it.

In November I went with my husband to NCTE/ALAN, partly for his work and partly because I wanted to be there in the thick of things. Recounting that 5 days would take pages and pages, and if you were at the Gaylord Opryland biodome that year, you know, but the main thing of it was: I ended up signing final, finished hardcopies of Story of a Girl in the Little, Brown booth. And, God only knows why, there was a line. (I suspect “free hardbacks” might have had something to do with it.) This was actually happening.

Christmas week of 2006, I heard that the book was in stores. I called my friend Sarah and we went to all of the book stores in town. Everywhere I saw my book, I held it up and declared to uneasy passers-by, “I wrote this!” I signed some stock. One lady bought a copy. A couple of weeks later–a year ago yesterday–was the official release date.

Again, I can’t remember the good feelings so much as the anxieties. It was surreal, and I wasn’t sure what it all really meant, but, I was a published author.


A younger, plumper me with ARC in March 06. I look happy, but also this thing made me very nervous.

B&N Gateway staff excited to have me sign stock at Christmas


Make a note of it:


  • Mike Martin - January 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm -

    SO cool to read these! Thanks for sharing.

    - Mike

  • Bryan - January 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm -

    These posts make me happy. Thanks for sharing all this.

  • Anna - January 11, 2012 at 2:27 pm -

    You are so awesome, Sara Zarr. These posts are unforgettable, like your books.

  • Laura Lascarso - January 12, 2012 at 10:58 am -

    I am currently in the ARC stage (I had the exact same reaction to the errors) and feeling quite sea sick. This post came at just the right time.

    Pardon the gush, but I’ve read all your books and admire you and your style immensely. Your writing has so much compassion. You are very inspiring to readers and writers alike.

  • MrsSchil - January 15, 2012 at 4:59 pm -

    Celebrating your book in stores that night was so much fun! Don’t forget that I’ll always make a fool of myself in celebration of you.


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