A couple of years ago, when my initial, pretty aggressive deadline for turning in a manuscript came due, I talked to my editor and had a conversation that more or less went like this:
Me: Sooooo… how’s the weather up there in the northeast? Good? What’s going on? How are you?
Editor: Where’s my book?
Me: Ah. Good question. Really good question. Here’s the thing: I’ve got about 25% of a really great book done.
Editor: Uh huh.
Me: And I could turn a manuscript with meeting the contractually obligated word count right now.
Me: Or we could take more time and do a book that’s 100% great.
Editor: Yeah, let’s go ahead and take that option.
Doing the research for the book I discovered that almost every source I tracked down provided a hint of something else: Gaylord Perry led to Tommy John’s scuffing, tracing hecklers led to O’Toole and Adelis led to booster clubs. Every week I kept working at any chapter, all the other chapters improved.
But my list of research to-dos only grew.
Eventually, I had another conversation with my editor, which went:
Editor: Give me the book.
Me: I’m looking into this fascinating sideline about stadiums that burned down…
Editor: Give me the book.
Me: … and there’s this amazing thing that happened in the 1920s with bat manufacturing…
Editor: In a second, hired goons are going to come to your door. You need to provide them with the current version of the manuscript.
That defined the book’s scope. It had to happen eventually, but I still felt disappointed.
An abbreviated summary of my feelings towards the book since then:
Turned it in: excited, uncertain
Everyone loves the first draft but they want huge changes: relieved, happy, terrified
Drafts 2-4: increasingly weary
After copyediting, when I’d read the book for the 79th time: I despise this book. It’s boring, it’s flat, I should replace all the anecdotes and examples.
After a break: I don’t know. I’m too close to make judgments
After hearing from advanced readers: They seem really happy, but maybe my editor sent the goons around.
Library Journal review: Woo-hoo! It really is good! This is great!
Then yesterday, I got the Entertainment Weekly review, which liked it but gave it a ‘B’ (stand-up double) and I was, initially, really mad: how dare they only give it a B! I worked on it for years!
And then I thought “hey, they liked it enough to review it and say nice things, even if they didn’t think it was a masterpiece… that’s pretty cool.”
It’s like getting a bad review in the New York Times Book Review: as the editors will tell you, the fact that they’re reviewing you at all says something about the quality and noteworthiness of the book.
It’s strange, though — the book’s out. The quality of the book is set. It’s not going to get better, or worse. All that remains is for people to read it, and yet here I am, pulling for the next review to be positive, the same way I try and body-english a line drive down the line fair when I’m at a game.