Secret identity

I’ve always wanted a secret identity. There’s no escaping the grind of responsible adulthood, but I used to imagine that I’d feel better about the whole thing if I were secretly up to something on the sly. Fighting crime, casting spells, spying for Japan—anything that doesn’t involve scrolling through spreadsheets and composing perky e-mails to ornery coworkers.

Now that I’m launching a side hustle under a pseudonym, I finally have one: a genuine double life. And it is stressful as fuck.

I have nightmares that everyone finds out, now in regular rotation along with the usual torments (I never finished high school and bugs are on me). I’m constantly paranoid at work:

Boss: “Quinn, I’d like you to draft the report because you’re a good writer.”
Quinn: “What? No I’m not. Who told you that?”
Boss: “Uh…”

Innocuous questions like “what did you do this weekend?” are suddenly a minefield. I’ll start with a simple lie. “I cooked some food… with ingredients…” But then I’m stuck fielding follow-up questions, blurting nonsense until I’m strangled in my own deception and flailing for the fire alarm.

Home is no better. My parents visit frequently, and they have a habit of rifling through our things, so I had to purge all evidence of the book from the apartment. I signed my publishing contract, then threw it away. When I write by hand, I rip up the pages. I keep my one reference book in a drawer, under a slew of panties and a prominent vibrator.

Lord knows where I’m going to hide the boxes of promotional swag that will be arriving circa spring 2020. I have considered purchasing a combination safe, one large enough to hold ten copies of the book plus the scrunchies—but I worry its presence will invite uncomfortable questions like “Why is there a safe the size of a furnace in your living room?”

Fortunately, I have a few months to think of something better.

So it’s hard to have a secret. Harder than it looks on television, where some undercover heroine huffs that life is stressful despite apparently having time for cool friends, love interests, and a daily blowout. I’m always busy and exhausted yet so freaking happy and excited—and I can’t explain why.

Still, it’s well worth the trouble. A year ago, when I was trapped in some bleak, interminable meeting, I would stare despondently out the window and think, “This is my only life on earth and I’m spending it here.. in this room… doing this.”

Now, I get to remind myself that I’m more than an overeducated analyst with an anxiety disorder. I’m Quinn but I’m also Quinn, a romance writer with a book under contract and another in progress. This is just my day job.

Content editing

My publisher warned me that the editing process would be intense. There would be cuts, major revisions, and a lot of hard work.

On any other day, I might have been nervous. But coincidentally I had just listened to a podcast in which Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of the greatest writers alive, describes how his editor made him rewrite Between the World and Me over and over for ten years.

So when Astrid said there would be multiple rounds of revision, I immediately recognized that this was the hardcore editing process for Serious Writers. And I was excited. I could already imagine it.

Editor: “This” (gestures disdainfully at manuscript) “is a pile of garbage. Utter fucking garbage. Remember, I’m saying this for your own good.”

Quinn: (mature and accepting) “Thank you for your excellent feedback. Please, tell me what else is wrong with it.”

Editor: (nods approvingly) “You are a good student.”

This would continue until the entire manuscript was riddled with red slashes and barfing emojis, and I was left holding the torn-up pages of a work I had once naively described as okay. Then she would say to Astrid, “Quinn is ready for the next phase of her training.”

Reality

My editor turned out to be really sweet and nice. She gives positive feedback as well as criticism. She ends each email with a happy face. It was not quite what I expected. We had some initial exchanges along these lines:

Quinn: “I just want you to know that I am extremely open to criticism. Seriously, don’t hold back at all. I can take it.”

Editor: “That’s great! So the way this works—”

Quinn: “I’m not one of those authors who is like, oh, my book is so wonderful. I want to know everything that is wrong with it, so you can be super harsh. I won’t be upset.”

Editor: “Yep, I got it. So after I read the draft—”

Quinn: “Seriously, I am going to be so cool about this. Unlike the casuals, I embrace editing. Probably as much as Ta-Nehisi Coates if not more so…” (etc etc for two pages)

Editor: “Okay I’ll be in touch in a few weeks bye”

The initial feedback arrived at the end of June. Since then, I have spent every free moment feverishly re-working the story. She did not hold back — we hacked that shit apart — but at the same time it has been such a positive and affirming process.

And OMG. I am learning so much. I realize now that I had no idea what I was doing when I wrote the first draft. Given the depths of my ignorance, it is a miracle that I stumbled into anything resembling a romance novel on the first try.

So I have been getting all emotional about the fact that Ylva took a chance on my book despite its many problems. It makes me want to send numerous long, gushy emails about how thankful I am. But I am so thankful, I decided to give them the gift of not doing that.

Capitalism wins again

My book is set in 1997, so I thought it would be fun to include quotations from my favorite 90s songs and television shows. Sadly, that turned out to be illegal.

In my previous life, I could quote whatever I wanted, probably because I made zero dollars on my academic publications. But for a novel, you apparently need permission. My only choices were to cut all of the direct quotes, or to negotiate licensing agreements with the copyright holders. 

What the hell, I thought — I love projects. So I decided to try. This is what happened.

I. Song lyrics

First, I learned that each song has at least one lyric publisher that handles reprint requests. Some songs are owned by multiple publishers who each hold a “share” of the rights (one of the songs I quoted had three different shareholders). 

Getting in touch with the right people was surprisingly easy, but they all wanted substantial fees, despite my explaining very sweetly that I’m just a little lesbian author with a tiny budget. One publisher wanted $250 per 5,000 copies. Another wanted $250 per 3,750 copies.

This raised the uncomfortable question of how many copies I could expect to sell. I didn’t have the first clue. I never researched average lesfic sales or asked my publisher because the answer didn’t matter to me — this book has already brought me so much happiness. I truly don’t care about the money.

At the same time, I feel intensely motivated to sell copies, due to some psychological tendencies I’ve discussed here previously. I plan to go balls to the wall and market the living crap out of this thing. Swag will be ubiquitous and plentiful. I will never shut up. So, given that, I had to figure out a likely ceiling.

A very kind Ylva author talked numbers with me and helped me to come up with an optimistic / pessimistic estimate (depending on how you look at it). I realized there was a very real risk of spending a thousand dollars, or more, on these lyrics.

I was almost crazy enough to do it. But coincidentally, I was short on cash, having just spent $4,500 to get the cat to shit again. (She turned out to have megacolon. Poor thing.) So, I very reluctantly passed.

II. Television studio

The television studio was completely different. There was no process, except to e-mail a guy in Legal Affairs named Dick Douchecanoe. 

Dick was initially skeptical that a mere romance author could form legal conclusions about what constituted “copyrighted material.” He very patronizingly told me to consult with a lawyer and then get back to him. So, I waited a day and then informed him that my lawyer agreed with me.

Then, he wrote back and said, “we can’t give you permission.” I followed up with a couple of very reasonable questions, and he ghosted me like a bad Tinder date. I e-mailed him every two weeks for a month, even called his voicemail, and nothing.

So, I re-named a minor character after him, described the character as a pissy little troll, and moved on with my life.

In conclusion, there is no copyrighted material in my book.

My publisher went on vacation

Date: May 23, 2019
Subject: Epic swag idea

Hi! I know you’re on vacation, but I have a marketing idea that I wanted to run by you when you get back. Specifically, I was wondering if we can include a promotional scrunchie with each copy of the book.

The scrunchies will have the logo that I commissioned for the book (did you receive it in my previous e-mail?) and the title of the book printed in a circle on both sides. Readers will wear the scrunchie, and their friends will ask where they got it — only to be informed that it’s a limited edition item that only comes with my book. Then, $$$$$.

Please let me know if this would be possible. I already ordered a test batch, but obviously I will hold off on future orders until I hear from you.

Date: May 27, 2019
Subject: Re: Epic swag idea

Hi again! After my previous email, I realized one small flaw in the scrunchie idea, namely that many lesbians have short hair.

Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely making the scrunchies, and they are going to be fabulous — but I’m thinking we should also distribute a 90s-themed item that short-haired women can enjoy, specifically snap bracelets with the title and logo.

Let me know what you think. Hope you are having a good vacation.

Makeup sample

Date: June 4, 2019
Subject: New marketing idea

I know you’re not back yet, but I had to tell you about this right away. I just received a makeup sample that includes the results of a survey about the product on the packaging (see attached image). I was thinking we could commission a survey about my book and print the results on the back cover.

As you know, I have expertise in this area. I’d be happy to design a sampling frame and survey instrument. I’d have to send the book to about 300 people to get a defendable margin of error, but I think I can sell it to my wife as an investment.

Date: June 7, 2019
Subject: Editor address

Hello again! I just have a quick question for you. I want to send my editor an Edible Arrangement, and I was wondering if you could give me her mailing address.

If you don’t think she’d be comfortable with me knowing where she lives (which to be honest I’d understand) maybe you could order the arrangement, and I could Venmo you? When you get back of course.

Date: June 7, 2019
Subject: Re: Editor address

I just did some research, and apparently they don’t have Venmo in Europe. Or Edible Arrangements. Please disregard my previous email.

Date: June 15, 2019
Subject: Sorry about all the emails

I’ve been feeling guilty about all the emails I sent during your vacation. Sometimes (all the time) when I’m excited, I get carried away. I’m really sorry.

None of the messages are technically urgent considering the book won’t be out until 2020, so if you want, you can just delete them all without reading. Sorry again.

Date: June 17, 2019
Subject: Welcome back!!

Welcome back from vacation!! I hope you had a great time.

I just wanted to know if you deleted all of the e-mails I sent you, as I suggested in my most recent e-mail. Because if so, I will re-send them on a staggered schedule over the next week. But if not, I don’t want to be a nuisance by sending the same messages twice.

Just let me know at your earliest convenience. Thanks!

Date: June 17, 2019
Subject: Re: Welcome back!!

I just got your auto-reply and realized that you’re getting back today, but you won’t be back on e-mail until June 18th.

My bad! I’ll check in with you tomorrow.

Any day now

my amazing editor will return my manuscript to me for the first round of revisions. I have been preparing my mind, body, and living space so that when it arrives, I can immerse myself in the book completely. Except when I’m working my full-time job, parenting, sleeping, or being an adequate wife. If I’m lucky I get about 40 minutes a day to myself. Anyway.

This weekend, I conducted my semi-annual cleaning of the bathroom and bedroom. I also took a break from my WIP after 20,000 words, which was tough but necessary for two reasons: 1) Rest brain to prevent burnout, and 2) Heal repetitive stress injury.

I do most of my writing on my phone, and unfortunately a recent streak of inspiration resulted in tendinitis in my wrist and thumb. You might wonder why I don’t use a computer — it’s because I don’t have the sort of life that allows me to loll about typing on keys like some pampered princess with endless free time (see paragraph one).

I am very excited to have an outlet for my book anxiety besides blathering about it on Twitter and sending lengthy e-mails to my poor editor who has been so patient and lovely. Everyone seems to think it will be hard for me to read the criticism, but honestly I cannot wait to rip this thing apart and fix it. My thumbs will be ready.

My author signature

Recently, it dawned on me that if this book thing works out, I will one day get to sign copies for adoring readers (and/or inflict free copies on my friends). This means I get to decide on a cool author signature! These are the options I’ve come up with so far.

“Sexy” – As a romance writer, it’s important to cultivate an image as an alluring, sensual person. This signature accomplishes that without giving too much away.

“Famous author” – This one signals that my autograph is in demand to the point where it has devolved to a slapdash scrawl. Fake it until you make it?

“2uinn Lvins” – This is how I was taught to write cursive as a child. Not really feeling it.

“Cat lady” – Probably the most authentic of the current options, this one is cute but a lot of work.

“Third grade” – I was going to add shading, but by the time I finished the block letters I realized this one was a non-starter.

“Whimsical” – Not sure if I should add a little hat or if that would be overkill.

“Political” – This one allows me to demand action from my comfortable couch. FYI those are supposed to be earths.

I’ll be testing these in a focus group (technically my wife) and revising the top three contenders for a scientific survey (Twitter poll). Stay tuned!