TWC Instructor Katie Barasch talks about the ups and downs of launching her debut novel
As I write this, it’s been a whirlwind month since my debut novel, A Novel Obsession, was published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House. The novel follows an aspiring writer, Naomi, as she stalks and then befriends her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, Rosemary, under false pretenses—in order to write about it. Naturally, chaos ensues! It’s a darkly comic and propulsive interrogation of toxic female friendship, art, and ambition, as well as an exploration of what it’s like to narrativize (and compare) our lives on social media. I can find the book on shelves at my local bookstores here in Brooklyn and at my local library. I frequently encounter photos of its pink cover on Instagram as readers discover my story and my characters for the first time. I even watched the book appear on TV as Good Morning America’s “Buzz Pick,” announced by George Stephanopoulos!
I’ve dreamt of this moment for nearly three decades, as long as I’ve been alive. So how can one moment, one milestone, compare with a thirty-year-old dream? Well, it can’t. It doesn’t.
To briefly summarize my journey to publication (it’s been a ride!): I wrote the first several chapters of A Novel Obsession in the summer of 2016, but didn’t seriously return to it until I began NYU’S MFA program during the fall of 2017. Over the course of the two year program, I slowly made progress on a complete first draft while also writing, revising, and eventually publishing several short stories. In the fall of 2019, I queried a small batch of agents and received constructive feedback (as well as invitations to revise and resubmit) from nearly all of them. After six months of intensive editing, in which I completely rewrote the book’s second half, I received an unexpected email from a literary agent who had serendipitously discovered a short story of mine in an online literary journal. She had enjoyed the story, and was interested in reading my novel. Two weeks later, I accepted her offer of representation, and the book sold in a pre-empt three weeks after going on submission. The moral of this story, if there is one? Put your writing out into the world because anything is possible, anything can be manifested, by being brave and honest and persistent in writing and in life.
My journey to publication had a happy ending, but since so many writers I admire have experienced more arduous paths to publication—some even without a happy ending, as of yet—it has become obvious how a book deal also requires a magical alchemy of talent, luck, and timing. This is not to downplay my own achievements, but to remind anyone reading this blog post that choosing to pursue a writing career requires patience and perseverance and blind faith.
Recently, I recorded a podcast episode in which we discussed whether or not I read reviews, and unfortunately—against the advice of nearly every author I know—I confessed to peeking at Goodreads more often than I’d like to admit. I told my interviewer that the critical reviews were hard to stomach, but the kind ones, full of praise, were immensely validating; I basked in them. But that’s when my interviewer said something wise as well as destabilizing: positive reviews are just as damaging, if not more so, than negative ones. When encountering a negative review, I’m able to scoff: well, they just didn’t get it. But the positive ones infect me in a different way, suggesting an unstable sense of self-worth: is it possible that I don’t truly believe I’ve written something good until someone else tells me so? It’s a dangerous perspective, and I’m actively trying to dispel it.
What I’ve learned over the past several years, and most acutely over the past several weeks, is how the goal-posts insist on moving. This might not be particularly revelatory for those of you with more balanced approaches to your various ambitions, but for me, this realization has proven immeasurably powerful. Of course I’ve also recently weathered my fair share of disappointments, too, and been forced to acknowledge the anticlimactic nature of it all. (My dream of a New York Times review or a selection by Book of the Month or a profile in Vogue etc. etc. hasn’t panned out—yet!) Ultimately, though, my experience has reminded me to be grateful for what I’ve achieved while pledging to continue raising my own standards—by writing more books, by committing myself to the page—again and again. It has also urged me to lean into each small instance of joy because everything is fleeting, especially joy. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but I’ve never been more certain that an imagined future will never fully satisfy any of us. Do everything now, feel everything now, all at once. Have no fear. Nothing ever turns out the way we expect it to, so why not just buckle up and enjoy the ride?
Let me shout this from the rooftops, then: I’m proud of my book, and excited it’s out in the world to find its ideal readers now. That’s all I can do, all I can control, and now it’s time to move on and write something new.