Today’s post is the last installment of my series on the writing process of taking Cassandra’s Daughter from idea to print, a process that took years in the making!
If you haven’t read the series from the beginning, you can start HERE. In the previous post, I got my draft pretty darn close to being finalized. The main step that was left at this point was preparing the manuscript.
This was the stage where my experience with Clara’s Journal proved the most valuable. I should probably also point out that what a lot of people may not realize is just how much the traditional publishing world has changed. I had pretty much decided that I would go the self-publishing route. The cons for going with a traditional publisher simply had too many cons on the ledger.
One of the biggest cons is that if you go with a traditional publisher, you lose all rights to your book and you lose creative control. And you receive a very small royalty from the sale of each book. But more importantly, it is nearly impossible to even get a deal with a publisher unless you already have a huge platform, which is usually reserved for celebrities, politicians, CEOs, and professional athletes. The reason for that is that publishers for the most part no longer have the huge budgets to market a book and therefore rely on an author’s platform and name recognition to do the selling. Any marketing beyond that is usually organized and paid for by the author him or herself. Really, the one area where publishers are helpful is with distribution in physical bookstores. You might be surprised to know that many famous authors have shifted to self publishing themselves.
Believe it or not, I did manage to obtain a traditional publisher for Clara’s Journal. I didn’t try very hard, but I did find two publishers who could possibly be interested. And one of them made me an offer.
But here was the problem. It wouldn’t be on the shelves for three years. Instead, I was able to get the book out two months later on my own. For anyone who hasn’t read the book, the subtitle is And the Story of Two Pandemics, as the journal was kept by Clara in 1918-1919, at the height of the Spanish Flu pandemic in the United States. It seemed to me that in three, which would be 2024, we would have missed an important window of interest in the book.
The other problem was that they had creative changes they wanted to make. Most importantly, they wanted all references to covid-19 and the government response to the pandemic removed from the manuscript. Which to me was crazy. The whole reason I wanted to write it was because the country was going through covid, and I thought people might be interested in a pandemic from 100 years ago. If nothing else, their understanding of it would have new meaning as we all experienced the covid pandemic.
So I turned the publisher down.
Doing so turned out to be very advantageous because it gave me an opportunity to practice the whole process and make some progress down the learning curve before Cassandra’s Daughter was released.
First, I needed to format the book so that I could provide the cover designer the exact number of pages. She would need that in order to properly size the cover. Luckily, since I had also formatted Clara’s Journal, I was able to anticipate most of the problems I would run into, and I did my best to head those off. I was mostly met with success but still faced a lot of frustration too. And I mean a LOT of frustration. I will spare you the gory details and the nonstop, loud cursing. Most of it involved headers and footers! Infuriating.
Once the formatting was solidified and the cover designer informed of the final page count, I realized that I needed to declare a publish date – if for no other reason than to ensure I would quit fiddling around with the manuscript, which I didn’t seem capable of doing at this point. I did give myself a little wiggle room on the date when I posted on social media and in my newsletter that the book would be coming out mid-October.
Next, I saved the manuscript as a PDF so that I could proofread it while reading it on my ipad as if I were reading an ebook. I figured since I could not make real time changes to the PDF that I would also be less likely to make minor, cosmetic and often unnecessary changes. But boy, was I wrong about that! Instead, I have notebooks filled with handwritten notes and page numbers that I had to go back into the Word document to change because frustratingly, although not surprisingly, I couldn’t limit myself to typos.
I simply had to fine tune sentences, change syntax, reduce word repetition (for some reason, I used “Of course” in the dialogue way too many times!), and provide further detail. I also found connections that I hadn’t created consciously and took the opportunity to make them more explicit. For example, Cora kneels down looking through the bushes with her mother at the All Star Motor Court, and later she kneels down looking through the bushes with Jimmy K. at the railroad tracks. That was a nice parallel I hadn’t realized.
Another change I made at this point was prompted by the cover design. Someone asked me if I was concerned about the fact that even though it was clearly Cassandra and her daughter standing at the water’s edge on the cover, they are not actually the ones who have the connection to water. Instead, the primary character who does have a connection to water is Florence.
No, I told her. I wasn’t worried. At least at that point I wasn’t because I did have other scenes with water that drew some parallels between Cora and Leah as well as with Florence. Cora and Leah both take baths, hoping to emerge reborn but both are disappointed to find that transformation doesn’t come that easily. But then I had an idea. First, I made those connections clearer by echoing language, and then I added the pond in the cemetery at the end, the one where Cassandra’s daughter jumps in (not a spoiler!).
Ugh. At this rate, I would never be finished! And of course, each time I made any change, the whole thing would have to be proofread yet again.
At that point, I decided that I needed to take the next step, pull the trigger, and find a group of Advanced Readers. I sent out a request for anyone who was interested in reading an early copy to message me. And I happily got more requests than I expected. I gave myself a week to read through the book two more times before I sent it out to those who volunteered. (And made way too many changes at this late date.) And I placed the order for my own first physical proof copy at the same time I sent the book to the group. It was a moment of vulnerability that made me nauseous.
I ultimatelyordered four different proof copies in the next two weeks.
When the proof copy showed up at my door, I was so excited – I absolutely loved the cover! But the formatting was terrible. It is really difficult to tell how the book will look without holding it in your hand. The margins were too big, the lines were too close to each other, and the headings were inconsistent.
The worst part about that discovery is that I had already sent out the copies to my readers. I did warn them that there would be issues, but still… Ugh.
Then I began to make my way through the text, and somehow, there were a lot more typos than there were the last time I read it! And I had sent it out like that! I was mortified. So embarrassing. I emailed everyone to please ignore the typos; I was aware of them.
While the feedback was coming in from my Advanced Readers, I was busy “proofreading.” In fact, in the two weeks during which the Advanced Readers were going through the book, I read the novel eight times (it should be noted that at this point, the ebook and paperback were separated into two different files because they had to be formatted differently. That meant any change I made to the ebook had to then be made to the paperback version. And then both proofread again.
It was about this time that I started to lose my mind – haha. For that two weeks, I was getting only three to four hours of sleep each night. A couple of nights I was up until 5 AM reading. Sometimes I would read a section and could swear that I had already fixed that section. It was also during this time that I came to understand that I would never be finished. Each time I read through it, I would promise myself that I would ONLY fix typos. That’s it! I could never get myself to follow that rule. I simply couldn’t help myself.
The lack of sleep and the constant reading had me exhausted, feeling terrible, and barely able to see. My eyes were more fatigued than I have ever experienced. My stomach was in knots thanks to constant nerves.
As the clock wound down, I came to accept that I was going to have to let it go, to send my book out into the world, to lose control. And that thought made me physically ill.
But I had by this time announced a specific release date. And I only did that to force me to stick to it and end this torture!
So on October 19 at 2 AM, I gave the approval for Cassandra’s Daughter to go live on Amazon.
I recently heard a podcast where the host said that the greatest happiness comes in the anticipation of a goal. In fact, he said, the peak of happiness comes right before the goal is accomplished and NOT after it has been reached.
I can definitely attest to this experience. I was excited, nervous, proud, and in awe as I got closer to launch day. Once the book went live on Amazon, there was definitely, I wouldn’t say a letdown, but I would say a relaxation of my physical response to the publishing. My stomach knots unwound, my mind calmed, and I slept – a LOT.
Then I took a deep breath to consider…what now? It was a very interesting 24 hours.
And for those wondering what next, I have been keeping busy marketing Cassandra’s Daughter. And I already have my next book in the queue, so I have already turned my attention to that.
What a ride. I was able to see vision come to fruition. The sense of satisfaction and pride I feel as a result is incalculable. And it also comes with a sense of peace.
I am glad I had this chance to recap what the last few years looked like. It was a great exercise for me to see how far I’ve come. But there is no time to rest on my laurels. Captain and the Greyhounds comes next! Stay tuned…
Cassandra’s Daughter by Vickie Oddino
Available on Amazon