A few months ago Janet Geddis, owner of Avid Bookshop in Athens, wrote an eloquent post on facebook about the challenges of running an independent bookstore. Her post was full of insights, but the one that struck me the most was how so often the perception of success can make it even harder to succeed. If a bookstore is not dying, we don’t need to feel guilty when we order on Amazon; it’s okay to browse for hours and purchase nought. That indie bookstore doesn’t need us, we think. See! They’re doing fine!
Now, as a newly published author of the novel Give, I suspect that the same might be true with books.
It is hard to write a book. Harder still, perhaps, to publish one. There seems to be almost unanimous agreement that this is true, and so when a book is written, and a publisher found . . . Wow! You did it! That’s amazing! The book may not even be on the shelves (it is quite possible that it may never be), and yet success, it seems, is already yours.
I do not diminish this. It is an amazing thing to launch a book into the world. I appreciate all the congratulations and the words of praise. I am grateful beyond measure that a manuscript I once thought would go no further than my google drive is now in the hands of readers I have never met and probably never will.
But the story does not end with that success, no matter how genuine it is. Because publishers and bookstores do not exist simply to make aspiring authors’ dreams come true. They are businesses like any other. To publish a book is to enter that world: a world of investment and marketing, royalty reports and sales.
I do not want to do it. I’d much rather sit in the basement with my laptop, writing something new. But I owe it to my publisher, to the handful of bookstores who are trying to sell my book, and to myself, to try. It does not come easily. When I open my computer, I want to write, not navigate to social media to promote . . . Because, oh, I know how it must look! Erica has written a book, and now we will hear of it again and again, ad nauseum. She is doing this event, or that; here’s a link to an interview, a mention, a review . . . It all smells like success, but, oh, it does not feel that way.
I have invested thousands of dollars in my book, and that’s not even counting all the hours I’ve spent. There’s this conference to go to, that event to attend, not to mention the hundreds of advance review copies to purchase and give away, in the hope that a bookseller might choose my book from their toppling stack and deem it worthy enough to try to sell.
I do not regret my investment— not at all. If writing a book is like birthing a child— a metaphor we’ve all heard a hundred times— then launching a book is like sending it off to college. It is an expense, surely, and an effort, but what parent would begrudge their child those? Not me.
And yet, unlike an eighteen-year-old left alone on campus, my freshman book cannot fend for itself. It needs a constant mother: networking, scheduling, building a brand . . . And so, there I am again on facebook, begging for a few warm bodies for an event, an amazon review, a mention to a book-loving friend.
“Shameless self-promotion,” I’ve heard it called, but that could not be farther from the truth, since each time it feels so much like shame. Please, my friends, forgive me all my book-related posts. They are not, in fact, the self-congratulations they might appear. Nor, like the owner of any indie bookstore, am I in this business for the money. I love to write. I want to write. And I’d really love for Give to pay for itself one day, so that this whole book-publishing journey might feel a little less like an expensive hobby and a little more like a legitimate endeavor that I can justify to myself when I have to choose between paid work and time to write.
So, when you see another post about Give that makes you want to puke, forgive me, please. I’m doing the best I can to give my book a chance.