I’ve said it before: Writing and publishing a book is like raising kids.
When raising kids, you get insanely excited about each new stage in your precious offspring’s development. First time he claps his hands? What an amazing feat! First time he rolls over? Holy cow, he’s going to be an olympic gymnast! First time he says “Mommie?” OMG let’s get this child prodigy an agent because surely he’s on his way to movie-stardom! Your baby book is practically overflowing with pictures, quotes, and clippings.
Fast-forward to 15 years later, and you’re not so easily enamored. So they’ve gotten all As last year and made the honor roll, big deal. Where is that full-ride college scholarship? Why aren’t they applying themselves to solve world hunger – or at least find a way to pad their resume AS IF they were solving world hunger? Why is that room still not picked up? And if they call “Mom!” at the top of their lungs ONE MORE TIME so that you run up to their room and help them find the green t-shirt, you are going to strangle them with your bare hands. The only thing preserving your sanity is that baby book which you peek into every once in a while, your child all innocent looking and frozen in time at their Kindergarten graduation because that was the last time you could muster the energy for a milestone entry.
It’s no different with your book. You just about pee in your pants when the first sale comes through, obsessively hitting “refresh” every 5 minutes to see if there is another (sadly, there won’t be another one until the next week). You hyperventilate the first time someone leaves a review for your book and doesn’t totally tear it to shreds. In fact, they actually seem to like it! Then there is your first fan mail, the first time you do a book signing, the first time you’re asked to give an interview. You just about bubble over with excitement each time something even grander happens, and you post it all on Facebook with a stupid grin on your face waiting for the accolades to come in.
Except, then you turn into an ungrateful little bitch. Another glowing review on Amazon? Big deal, I’ve got 30 of them. There are books out there with over 100. Some have 2,000. Let’s not get excited about one measly review. What, they want to interview me again? Big deal, been there, done that. Especially not worth the trouble if they insist on calling your husband George, and he calls you in a frenzy while you are just about to have your left breast squeezed into a pancake during your annual mammogram, pleading with you to somehow fix this mess RIGHT THIS MINUTE because being called George in the local press might very well spell the end of his career.
All of a sudden, those accomplishments you SO longed for when just setting out as a writer are now totally yesterday. You’ve moved on. You want bigger, better, and more of it. If I could just sell 10 books a day, that would be awesome, you think. But six months from now, when that actually happens because by then you’ve published book #2 and gained in profile and accumulated a nice mailing list of loyal readers, you will have forgotten how much you craved it. 10 books a day? That’s nothing, you will say dismissively. How about 50?
I suppose it’s human nature to think this way. To always set your sights higher on the next obstacle, to strive for more, to push yourself harder.
But there is a real danger of becoming indifferent to the very people you owe your good fortune to. Without readers, you are nothing as a writer. Every single one of them is a person to be cherished very dearly. Which is why those little episodes of reader interaction are so precious.
I had two of those incidents this week, one from either end of the divide, so to speak.
The first one occurred when I attended a book signing at Parnassus Books (yes, THAT Parnassus which hosted my own signing) by Bradley Somer, author of Fishbowl. It’s a very intriguing concept of a novel, what with a big city goldfish falling off a highrise and by this act somehow tying together the lives and fates of numerous people who live in that very building. I loved listening to Bradley talk about his coming-of-age as an author, his daily rituals, his day job as a – gulp! – realtor. And then it was my turn to push my newly-purchased copy in front of him to be signed. We ended up having a lovely chat, the people behind me waiting patiently, about how to go about getting an agent and the virtues of a writing app called Scrivener. I went away feeling extremely lucky to have picked the brain of an accomplished yet totally nice and normal author. And he seemed genuinely happy to talk to me.
The second one occurred a few days later when I showed up for my round-robin tennis league, breathless and at the last minute as I’m wont to do. I was still tying my shoes and rummaging in my bag for a hat while the other three women were chatting away, about books it turns out.
“I’m reading a great one about Africa,” says one. “Really?, I say.” Africa books are my specialty. I probably know it, I tell her. She reaches into her bag and pulls out the book in question with a flourish. It’s my own book. She then reaches back into her bag and brings out a red pen, then hands me both book and pen so I can sign it for her. We had an excellent tennis match after that.
It was another lovely milestone. Signing a book you’ve just sold to somebody is one thing, but somebody bringing you the book they’ve already found and bought elsewhere – onto the tennis court no less – just so you can grace it with your autograph, is quite another.
It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve sold, these moments between readers and writers are something to be treasured a good long time.
It’s like you need a baby-book for your book in which to capture all those lovely milestones. What would you call that, a book-book?
Speaking of milestones, I’ve got another one coming up this Sunday, a Local Author event at the Brentwood Library where I get to speak (and right off the bat, I should get the award for longest title, don’t you think?):