Fear and Ego on the Road to Publishing Stella Adler’s Biography

Stella Adler in "Love on Toast" (1937) Kinda how I feel right now.

Stella Adler in “Love on Toast” (1937) Kinda how I feel right now.

“The worst time in any writer’s life is the two months before publication,” Anne Lamott posted on Facebook yesterday. You like to think you know how you’ll react during a new life-experience (losing your virginity, having your first child, publishing your first book), but I decided to heed Lamott’s words with not a little trepidation, even though I am theoretically eight months away from publication.

Only a few hours later I stumbled upon a link to my as yet unpublished book on a site called East Coast Music. WTF? As my stomach dropped and my palms grew clammy, my first thought was “If this is how I’m going to react to some company listing my book for sale, how am I going to manage when the book is actually printed?” The fear thumped me; maybe I felt a bit of dread, of which I’ve never been aware (except the few times I’ve been on the stage, ironically).

After I identified the fear, my next emotion was proprietorial. (I just had to check the spelling of that word because MS Word redlined it as if it were incorrect. No, as if I didn’t have the right to even write it!) I began searching the web like a stalker for more listings of my book. Who else thought they could just put up a page about my book with its title (which hasn’t been confirmed) and page count? I felt violated.

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 12.40.39 PMThen I found my publisher’s listing, and indignantly thought: “Who are they to write about my book and choose these blurbs about my book and give this cover price for my book! I wasn’t this territorial about my newborn. Never about a lover, but here I am having a canine reaction to a book?

So here’s the long and short of it. I worked on Stella! on and off over the last 13 years because one day I knew it would be published. But maybe it wouldn’t. I never thought that consciously, but of course I was afraid it might never be published. I suppose that way it could be my book, literally. That thought goes against the reason for writing it. The biography is supposed to be for Stella, to ensure her legacy. But, the moment the fear and paranoia hit, it was all about me. Why else would I be so appalled at some company, some stranger, listing my book for sale as if it were, my god, as if it were a commodity?

Reality check: As of today I have 25 days before my deadline to turn in the manuscript. The publisher could say it’s not fit for publication. Or I could start working with an editor and move forward. That’s about as far ahead as I can imagine right now. I wonder how my hero Kafka would have reacted if the Internet were around in his time? It’s a double-edged sword. I doubt he would have written another word.

What do you think? Am I overreacting?


5 responses to “Fear and Ego on the Road to Publishing Stella Adler’s Biography

  1. Not overreacting at all, Sheana. You should have seen the meltdown I had when my publisher showed me the initial cover mockup of “my” book. I thought I was going to die. I’ve never felt such a strong emotion about anything before. I realized that I needed to start detaching myself from this book (before it’s even done) because it no longer belongs to me.

  2. Tai, hmm, how does one go about “detaching”?

  3. Honestly, I don’t know. But there’s got to be a way…

  4. Since I’m reading Steven King I will tell you what he does. I’m not sure if this applies to your timeline. First Draft… only he reads, HE PUTS IT AWAY FOR A MINIMUM OF 6 WEEKS… I know! He does something completely different, like get your house in order, write something in a different genre, and don’t read it again until you’ve almost forgotten about it. Then he let’s 6 people read it. His wife is #1. If they agree that the same things work or don’t… he changes it and takes their advice. If it’s a tie, like baseball, tie goes to the writer. Then Draft two, Maybe three, he gives it to his editor and then it doesn’t belong to him anymore. It belongs to the people. OK Steven King has written over 120 books. This has been his process since the beginning!

    This much I know, you should be enjoying this ride, you’ve waited a long time. Micromanaging all the internet sites will take your joy away. You wrote your book. If it is finished to your standards, let it go. Do you trust your agent/ publisher? If you do, let them work for you.

    I almost called you yesterday. I was listening to a podcast interview called “Writers on Writing”. The Author being interviewed was Erika Robuck discussing her book “Call Me Zelda”.


    It is a based on the life of Hemingway’s wife. Historical Fiction. They were discussing all the research she did on Zelda, reading books by others, her personal letters, etc. research. Than she bravely wrote the book from the pov of Zelda. I thought, wow, that could be fun for Shaena to write a novel from Stella’s point of view. You know me, I’m a gardener always planting seeds but it could be fun and you get to use all that knowledge again…
    It would be a distraction!

    The book sounds fascinating. It opens with her going into a mental institution.

    Get out of your own way Sheana, you did your job, someone Higher up has your agenda planned out.

    I bet it would be fun be embody Stella and let her write through you, What a pip!

    Enjoy this process!


  5. Thanks, M, getting out my own way sounds easy, but it’s tough. Perhaps there’s a part of me that wants more time with the book, wants to make it a masterpiece with a first rate editor and I don’t feel I have the time or resources for that. I actually did think of writing a historical novel about Stella instead of a biography. The book you recommended sound fascinating. I’ll put it on my TBR list.

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