Today’s guest post is from Specialist Nicki Moulton who recently published her book, Knit This Doll! Some of you may know Nicki as Michelle Timian’s twin sister and others as someone who serves our country. Check out this piece the U.S. Army wrote about her book and remember to Support Our Troops and say Thank You to those who serve our country.
The moment when you hold your first published book in your hands is a moment that is hard to forget. It is finally in front of you, all polished and crisp and actually in book form. Believe me, it’s quite surreal to see your book when it actually becomes a book. Before that moment, it was an idea. For years, it was a just ‘the manuscript,’ something that existed as little more than a Word file. You spent years working on it, polishing it, opening it and closing it. You searched for an agent, dealt with rejection after rejection, until you hooked someone who loved your idea as much as you did. Then the two of you searched for a publisher, and tried to woo them to believe your book could be their book, too. You spent months of going back and forth with edits, edits, and more edits – analyzing every last word, to see if it sounded right, if the words flowed correctly, if it all made sense. And finally, you sent it off – the last moment it would be just ‘the manuscript.’ The next time you would see it, it would be that moment when you hold your book in your hands. It’s not just the dream, the manuscript, or the Word file anymore. It’s your book.
Many authors celebrate the publication in their own ways. Book signings, maybe a tour if you are lucky, but at the least, a night out with friends and family. Not too many people hold their book in their hands, freshly torn out of a mailing envelope, and have to rush back into a 206 person strong formation, standing at the position of attention, trying not to grin at the thought that your first published book is in your hands and you were promised an hour of personal time that night.
My journey to publishing my first book started just like anyone else. It started with an idea. My idea happened to be a knitting book based on patterns for dolls that I had been making for years. I sent a query letter to a literary agent specializing in nonfiction, and more specifically craft, books – addressing what would make my book unique from any other in the market.
After I signed a contract with Epstein Literary, me and my agent, Kate, began to look for a publisher. It was quite exciting, especially when both Wiley (the largest nonfiction publisher in the world, though their name never seems to ring a bell with people) and RandomHouse made bids for the contract. Wiley won in the end, mostly because they were eager to give me a lot of artistic control over what I made for my book. Then began the very long, and strangely very unfulfilling and frustrating, job of making my manuscript perfect.
Making a knitting book is different from say, a novel. To get a novel published, you have to write the entire book and hope that you didn’t waste years of your life writing it. For nonfiction, you basically sell an idea. You need a few examples of what you want to do (I made three dolls for the proposal, but for something like a memoir, you would need a sample chapter and a projected table of contents), and then you just hope someone likes it enough to publish it. It is a lot less ‘risky’ than when I used to write novels. If someone doesn’t want to publish your nonfiction book (my second book ended up getting turned down by every publisher we tried to sell it to), all you really lost was the idea and the time it took to write a proposal.
Writing the manuscript was fun, but as I hinted at, editing a manuscript was like pulling teeth. It’s a seemingly never ending process of correcting and fine tuning every last letter and word. I looked at the manuscript so much that I overlooked the most obvious errors (like not even mentioning my Mom in my acknowledgements, or that I never mentioned the actual size of my dolls anywhere – thankfully the cover designer added it on the back cover). Writing and editing the manuscript nearly took me a whole year to finish, and by the time I was done, I never wanted to open a Word document again.
To say I was excited to get my first book published was an understatement. I talked to local yarn shops in my hometown of Chicago about book signings, and convinced one of my friends who owns an art studio to hold a book release party. It was all going very normally, as far as publishing a book goes, but none of those plans would ever come to fruition.
My route on the normal-first-time-book-publication-road took a serious detour. Anyone that knows me know that I love to live life to the fullest. I hate thinking that I might one day be laying on my death bed and say “If only I could have done that!” So, I decided to do something I had wanted to do all my life. It meant that I had to sell almost all my possessions, quite my lease on an apartment I loved, say goodbye to my husband who I wouldn’t end up seeing for nine months, and basically give up all notions of living my normal life. I made one last look over my manuscript and got on a plane headed for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I was about to start Basic Training to become a soldier in the US Army.
My book ended up in my hands about a month before I graduated. For five months, I had been living in barracks with 200 other people from all over the world, waking up every morning at 4a.m. and struggling through some of the toughest, and most fun, challenges of my life. For the first month, we didn’t even have ‘personal time.’ Every last minute of our day was in the company of a Drill Sergeant who told us what to do and never hesitated to let us know how badly we were doing it.
After that first month, we had an hour of free time just about every night during which we were free to take longer showers (our showers were about a minute long before that, and I do not even exaggerate on that point), clean weapons, talk with our new ‘battle buddies’ and write letters. I had my sister mail me yarn and needles. Although the Drill Sergeants teased me, I knitted even while in Basic Training. After a few weeks they transformed from the bullies you picture from Full Metal Jacket to mentors we were able to talk to and joke around with. I’m even facebook friends with some of them.
When I got to that moment where I held my first published book in my hands, I had no idea how short lived the moment would be. For the next week, a sort of game started where the Drill Sergeants would ‘secure’ my book from me, hold it captive in their office, and then call me down to get it. They would sometimes call me down to the CQ just to answer questions they had about the whole process of publishing a book. One of my Drill Sergeants was so freaked out by the dolls’ eyes that he refused to look at the book, keeping it under things and generally avoiding it like it was the plague. Sometimes I had to buy it back with push ups, but mostly the Drill Sergeants would just hand it back with bemused looks on their faces. I have a feeling that I might be the first person to ever get a book published while in Basic Training.
Sure, deciding to attend Basic Training was a set back in a lot of ways. Since I was in Basic Training when it was released – an environment where we got to call home for an hour once a week – I had no ability to promote it. There were no interviews, no reviews in big knitting magazines, no book signings. There was hardly a peep about it anywhere. I had asked a friend to make a website for the book while I was in Basic, which never happened. When I did graduate Basic, I had a week to gather my things before I got on another plane to my first duty station – in Italy. Although there were plenty of yarn shops around my new house outside Venice, no one was willing to carry a book in a language they couldn’t read, much less hold a book signing. Trying to get the book published in Italian never went anywhere, either, probably because the book was selling an average number of copies and it wouldn’t be profitable to make another printing in a different language.
The real danger to my writing career is the effect my decision to join the Army would have on my future projects. A failure to promote my first book doesn’t look good on my ability to promote future books. If my first book isn’t profitable for the publisher, then future books might not either. It’s the consequences, whether I like it or not, of my decisions.
Yet, even if it would be the only book I would ever publish, I wouldn’t trade anything for that moment when I held it in my hands at last – surrounded by soldiers excitedly asking me if it was my book, and being happy I would have a whole hour to look at it before going to bed.