I wrote my book Big In China really quickly. I know this is true because everyone says it is so, but the process has felt anything but fast to me. Now, after a lot of hurry up and wait, the real countdown has begun. The book launches on March 1.
I signed my deal with Harper Collins in mid-November, 2009 and turned in my first draft on April 1. Four and a half months may sound like a short time to produce 70,000 words summarizing three and a half action-packed years, but I had been thinking about the book for a long time; had already written several chapters; and had spent months reading through my source material -- almost 100 Expat Life columns and over 1,000 blog posts. And for a guy used to spending a couple of days or a week on a story or column, logging onto the same file for months on end was a different experience, at first disorienting and ultimately deeply satisfying.
The book went through four drafts, each sent back and forth with my editor at Harper Collins. My wife Rebecca, an ace editor and the only other person who really knew the story, was also weighing in, as were several valued friends who read chapters and provided precious feedback.
After all this, and after the book was formally accepted, I got word last fall that bound galleys were in and ready to be sent to reviewers. It was just under a year after I signed my contract. I went in to the Harper offices to write personal notes to some of the people who had agreed to consider writing endorsement blurbs.
I didn't quite realize that a bound galley was actually, you know, a book; I was imagining a spiral-bound computer printout. A friendly publicist walked me into the conference room, where I stared slack-jawed at the pile of books waiting for me. I played it cool until she left me alone in the big room, sitting at the head of a long, empty table. Then I sat there motionless, ignoring the Sharpies and note cards in front of me, just staring at the books. Tears formed in my eyes, my heart began to thump and I felt the blood whoosh in my ears.
I had been thinking about this book for four years and actively writing it for a year and now here it was. All those words I had typed, read, edited, rewrote in pixels and on printouts were now... a book.
Writing can be pretty lonely and plenty unnerving and to see my book as a book was an overwhelmingly wonderful sensation. The mere fact of its existence validated a lot of decisions I had made; it told me that I wasn't crazy all the times I blindly followed my instincts trusting that good things would happen.
I started reading the galley of Big In China on the train home that afternoon and experienced some very different emotions. "Oh my God, this is real," I thought. "I am really putting this out for the public to read."
I had some doubts and insecurities -- not about the writing but about putting my private self and family life out there in such an open way. I was also a bit horrified that a handful of lines that I always thought I'd get back to tweaking were going to be in the book. But all of that was okay. I just kept looking at the thing and thinking, "It's a book."
Now, months later, Big In China is sitting in warehouses and making its way to stores. Preorders are being packed. It's almost time for the world to meet my baby.
To read an excerpt of Big in China, please visit www.alanpaulinchina.blogspot.com
This story is adapted from Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in China (Harper Collins). Available March 1 in all formats. Copyright 2011 by Alan Paul. For more information, please visit www.alanpaul.net.