I admit, I had dreamt of the moment: the arrival of the contractually- free books from the publisher, the symbol that you have been Published, capital p.
I bet there’s a Norman Rockwell painting of this, maybe famous, with the All-American White, Middle-Class Dad grinning proudly holding his first edition while all his kids cherish him, grasping for a copy. A box of first editions sits near his feet. His sensible wife beams quietly at his side, impressed with his new role in creating the American Voice.
It’s epic, I’m sure.
Yeah, I know that picture is a lie. I know that the doting wife had herself written a better novel but her American Voice would not be heard for decades. One of those Norman Rockwell kids grew up to be a cross dresser, I’m sure. Good for him for letting his American Voice get heard.
Still, I couldn’t help but want my life’s version of that moment, to feel proud, happy and somehow cherished.
I found an ordinary UPS box on the front porch and carried it inside, realizing these were my first editions. While I wanted to feel pure joy, I actually had mixed feelings. The negotiation over the number of free books went like this: they said, “Well give you five free books,” and I said, “Okay.” I had already heard from new author friends I might have negotiated that point better.
Damn. My mistake.
Though the book was barely published, I’d already made mistakes as an author. I hadn’t prepared enough. I didn’t have guest blogs lined up. I didn’t plan my “virtual book tour” because I didn’t know what those words meant. I forgot to read and network in my genre for the past ten years. Oops.
When I discovered the UPS box, I was already late for somewhere. I dropped the box on the coffee table, saving my Norman Rockwell moment for later. I decided to get Ann on the phone and say, “They came.” We could open the box together.
Ann reminds me to be excited about these milestones. She celebrates every joyful review and listens carefully to my shy reveals about lessons I have learned. When I chide myself for a marketing screw-up or authory stuff I am Not Yet On Top Of, she softens these moments, turns them into small victories. She reminds me I am following my bliss and that particular road means stones in your shoes. She helps me reach O wow.
I couldn’t imagine opening the box without her.
The UPS box sat unopened for a few days. I wasn’t quite ready. I wanted to feel more Norman Rockwell-esque. When I built up enough appropriate excitement, I told her about its arrival. But instead of Norman Rockwell: I got ash in my mouth.
The books were fucked up.
The one back cover detail I didn’t personally oversee was the series title. Instead of The Lost and Founds, the copy in my hand read “Book 1 of the The Lost and Found series.’ A month earlier, I had haggled over the cover art. I had insisted on rewriting the blurb they provided. But that one important detail slipped through my fingers.
You should not mess with a control freak over a single tiny mistake like that.
Who was at fault: was it me? Was I not controlling enough to demand to see their finished back cover? Or did I screw up an email with the series title? Did they screw it up? Wasn’t clear. Mistakes happen and I had already made plenty. But it was hard to let go; that exact wording meant a great deal to me. If you finished King Perry, you now know the secret implied by the series title, why Lost is singular and Founds is plural.
My Norman Rockwell moment: not so epic.
I try to forgive myself for not knowing how to do this and making mistakes. I try to shrug and say, “Whatever. It’s all good. I’m learning.” Nevertheless, it’s hard for me to shrug some of this off and say, ‘whatever.’
A few days after the big letdown, I went to San Francisco for work and packed the five books, channeling New Author Determination to get those onto a booksellers’ shelves. I had a vague feeling I should hold onto one of them for sentimental reasons, but I was trying to think of things practically. The publisher had already agreed to fix the back cover for future printings. These five were flawed. I really needed books to give away while visiting the city possibly most receptive to stocking King Perry.
I took the first copy to a wonderful, independent bookstore where an author-friend experienced success walking in and getting her book on a shelf. For the first time in my life as a Minnesotan, I felt like Mary Tyler Moore.
The clerk scowled at me when I explained my intention and he went to check with someone in back. He returned and with greater distain explained that I could leave a copy. No guarantees. I wrote a friendly note thanking them for consideration, added contact information, and left. I probably approached that situation all wrong, too.
That short conversation — blatantly marketing myself like that — that was hard for me.
I’m not used to being quite this extroverted, marketing my ass off, talking about why everyone should read my book. Also, I now email chat with wonderful writers and readers who are now in my circle of friends. I love my new writer circle, but I get overwhelmed. Even though I want to chat with these people daily, I shy away. I’m a damn introvert, people.
Being a writer is more work than I imagined. I’m marketing this book, writing the next, planning to attend conferences, and trying to generate interest in my writing through various online methods. Before and after publishing, I have felt my limitations, my compromises, my own inexperience and ignorance far too keenly to truly celebrate holding my first edition. A real author would know what to do better than me.
Maybe there would never be a Norman Rockwell moment, not for me. Maybe nobody gets a Norman Rockwell moment.
On that same trip, I failed at two other book stores who engaged a rigorous process to keep people like me at bay. They wouldn’t even accept a copy to ignore. I felt my MTM enthusiasm flagging.
In the Castro, I visited my favorite comic book shop and the guy who owns it is my long-distance, semi-friend while remaining a semi-stranger. I like him. He’s cute and friendly. We have fun conversations about comics and we both agree the X-men’s arch villian, Mr. Sinister, looks damn sexy in a red, flowing cape. We’d do him. I got to know him when I lived in San Francisco briefly in 2007. That day, I indicated the four books under my arm and asked if he knew any gay-friendly books stores.
Very casually, he said, “You can leave them on a shelf in my store.”
I was surprised and delighted.
We discussed how much to sell them for. I suggested a modest number well under the sales price, planning to give him half the proceeds anyway. But he flipped the book over casually and said, “Oh, there’s the price right there. Why don’t we sell them for that.”
We happened to be making full eye contact when he repeated himself, saying, “Let’s just sell them for full price.”
I secretly thrilled at the words, full price.
It’s not the money, it’s the recognition mine is a real book, one you could sell for full price in a store. On a shelf.
Through his act of kindness, I accomplished my goal: books of mine sat on a real shelf in a real store. True, they weren’t showcased in the big glass panels welcoming you to Barnes & Noble, or sitting with the other indie book store employees’ Highly Recommends, but I found myself feeling cherished. I left my first editions nestled among comic books, zines, and artwork that this cool, San Francisco man promotes. He likes to celebrate queer artists and he chose to celebrate me.
Another reason to love it: comics are another lifelong love, like Ann, writing, and San Francisco.
Months passed with no word as to whether they sold.
Last week, I returned to San Francisco for work.
When I arrived last Wednesday, I gathered my courage and returned to the independent bookstore to inquire about my book’s fate. They lost it. Or maybe not. Who knows, exactly. The old book buyer quit, there’s a new book buyer, try emailing him, maybe he’s seen it. That’s what they told me. I nodded and left, dejected.
I decided to visit the remaining first editions in the comic book store. Or perhaps, I’d merely visit the wire rack where they once stacked. I was eager and nervous as I walked toward the shop. But once inside, surrounded by the potent dual smells of comics and nerds, overstimulated by the the fantastically colorful visuals everywhere, I dove right into the new comics section. I eavesdropped on two men arguing the Avengers versus X-men crossover. I love being in comic book stores. I satisfied my lust for the week’s new titles, and sated, strolled over to the register to chat up my long-distance friend, the owner.
Full of hope, I said, “Did all four books sell?”
“No,” he said. “They’re over there.”
He had rearranged the meager bookshelves from when I had last been in his store, back in April. I had walked right by them, didn’t even notice my own book cover on a shelf. That was a little disheartening. Yet my heart lifted a little when I saw three books shelved, suggesting one of these four was out in the world.
But I instantly felt sadness.
I never really honored these first five books. I blamed them for being flawed. I wanted them perfect, Norman-Rockwell-perfect, and damn it, they aren’t. Not the back cover, and come to think of it, not the words inside.
In that moment, I realized those first editions were just like me: golden with love and hopefulness, yet still flawed. I’m struggling to do this author thing. I’m doing my best and learning every day. I wrote a book I’m proud of, but it turns out that’s not enough. You also have to work your ass off and you have to make humbling mistakes along the way.
Golden and flawed, one meager copy sallied into the world. Golden and flawed, it sat on someone’s book shelves, perhaps already forgotten. Perhaps beloved. I lost the chance to hold that first edition in my hands and fully appreciate it for being it’s beautiful, fucked-up self. I suddenly wanted that copy more than anything. But it was gone.
I said, “Looks like one copy sold.”
“No,” he said. “That one’s cover got a little beat up from handling, so I put it away.”
I chuckled because I can’t even fucking romanticize one book being sold. Not one.
Truth is, many people have purchased, read, and loved King Perry. Some showered me with love. I mean, effusively showered. I get goose bumps when I read what the book means to some folks, what it unlocks inside. Yeah, I’m struggling with how to be an author in the world, but I fucking love it. I love writing. I love the people I’m meeting. I love interacting with people who read it.
I love this life I am learning how to live.
Despite my struggles and mistakes, this part of my life is golden and new. Professionally, I’m wandering around like a toddler, meeting authors and then careening away, emailing them four times a week, then falling four weeks behind in correspondence. I am figuring this out.
He retrieved the bruised book and handed it to me casually.
And back in my hands was my very first edition.
It was golden. Beautiful.
A little beat up around the cover, which is nice because I’m a little raw and beat up myself.
And the guy who handed it to me had no clue how he secretly he once thrilled me by casually suggesting full price. He suggested I honor my true value and it was hard for me, but I agreed.
I held the book in my hands.
King Perry brings magic into my life.
Ann hauled my 370 page draft to read during an Australian plane trip two and a half years ago. She could literally see the Golden Gate Bridge out her small window as she happened to be reading the scene that takes place on the Golden Gate Bridge. In my hotel this week, I met two people on their way to Alcatraz. I shared how to find the secret second floor.
Tell me that these moments aren’t magic.
I dare you.
A few days ago, I had my Norman Rockwell moment.
I stood in a Castro comic book store, a store literally named Whatever, surrounded by homos gossiping about X-men, and other imaginary worlds. I stood in a store I love, right in the heart of San Francisco, a magic city that holds a special place in my heart. In my hands, I held my golden, bruised, flawed, first edition. I felt loved and sad and forgiving and hopeful and then swung ’round to overwhelming gratitude that I am so god damned loved.
It was epic.