After years of blog posts and other claims that I am working on a novel, it’s finally published. On the one hand, that’s quite an accomplishment, and something I have been working towards for a long time. On the other hand, I’m not feeling like there’s much to celebrate.
Forty-seven years ago, a teacher gave me a copy of Ask Henry (1962), written by the then twelve-year-old Henry Makow, about his parental advice column in the Ottawa Journal newspaper. (Yes, that Henry Makow, whose latest blog post equates wearing face masks and getting COVID vaccines with Satanism. I’m not linking to it – look him up at your own risk. I was never comfortable with the sample letter he wrote to pitch his column, supporting a parent choosing corporal punishment. In hindsight, observations in his book like “I think they [girls] get more rights than boys” are disturbing.) At the time of the gift, he was simply a child prodigy I failed to emulate.
The teacher’s intent was to encourage me to write a book, and it’s from around that time than I began putting “writer” as an ambition in my annual school journal. Although the novel is a milestone, I’ve been publishing smaller things, fiction and non-fiction, since the late 1980s. I even have a couple of non-fiction books out, thanks to a historical monograph in 1999, and a contributed research article in 2017 (my first one-star review on Goodreads). Milestone is an appropriate metaphor – one step on a long journey.
Part of the writing and publishing journey is connecting with other writers. This is a good thing, as it helps move the concept of “author” from an amazing mythical being to an ordinary person, just like me (sigh). Other writers are also great sources of practical advice. The drawback is when you’ve finally published something, and you realize your circle of acquaintances include people who have published dozens of books. It’s almost embarrassing when they congratulate you.
The mechanics and logistics of publishing dull the thrill of it, especially when you don’t market properly. For my first novel, months of promotion, teasers, and cover reveals didn’t seem appropriate. It’s a chicken and egg situation – which comes first, the novel or the audience for the novel? So, I didn’t set a release date far in the future. The result was a staggered and unexciting launch: eBooks available one day, paperback orders possible two weeks later (more or less – still working on one retailer), and print copies available from me weeks after that. There will also be print copies at Dartmouth Book Exchange – once the latest round of pandemic restrictions are eased.
Yes, publishing in the time of pandemic. After a year of stress and restrictions, it’s hard to find pleasure in anything. Thanks to COVID, I’m not doing any readings or launch parties. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it. That I once attended a book launch with two dozen people present and turned out to be the only non-family member there? That I was once the only person to show up at a reading? The single digit responses to my blog, newsletter, and tweets? Not factors at all.
I suppose I could do an online reading. The audience is largely invisible, regardless of how small it is. And I have done readings, in person and online, of other people’s books, and my poetry. But it seems arrogant for me to read strangers an excerpt of my novel, and then ask them for money so they can read the rest.
I suppose my goal was not just to write stories, but to write stories without the work of publishing or marketing, however unrealistic that may be. As for money, it seems downright vulgar for me, an artiste, to be fussing over the price points in different markets, retailer percentages, and how many books I need to sell to break even. My time should be spent more purely, on shaping sentences and plots that give hope to the human condition. On second thought, maybe I do have the necessary arrogance to promote my book.
I’m grateful to the teacher who planted the idea of writing books, and all who’ve supported me along the journey. And it’s a good journey. I’ve written some short things I’m proud of, and, despite being unexcited about the finally published book, I’m proud of the story in it. As that milestone falls behind me, I’m looking forward to the next one and enjoying the road and the views. And next time, I’ll set a launch date far enough in the future for a proper release.
Meanwhile, buy my book?
eBook or paperback available from:
eBook available from:
Paperback available from: