The Constant Terror of Being an Author
On my lunch break today, I ran an errand of such gut-twisting formidability that I’m lucky the lunch I scarfed down on the way back to my cubicle stayed where it belonged. What was that errand, you ask?
Dropping off my first load of books at the local, independent bookstore to be shelved and sold on consignment.
Maybe this doesn’t sound so terrifying to you. It probably isn’t to most people. But for artistic types like myself who are consistently underwhelmed by our own talent for making the thing we can’t help but produce any more than we can help breathing, it was enough to induce heart palpitations.
You see, I handed those books to a real person in the store. (A kind woman by the name of Kit who actually reads the stuff local authors bring to her in search of shelf space.) This woman had no prior connection to me. She didn’t seek my books out, I brought them to her and asked for a spot on her shelves. She was a perfect specimen of someone both objective and knowledgeable, and that, my friend, is the most terrifying person in the world to hand your paper babies to.
Now, the really excellent part of this story is that when she saw my sample books on Saturday, she ooohed and aaaahhhed quite a bit, especially over the spectacular cover to TheWindrider Saga, painted by Christina Hess. She said to me that the books looked very cool and that she was looking forward to reading them if I would leave her he samples. From there, she proceeded to say she would shelve copies in the sci-fi/fantasy section as well as the inspirational section, and she would face them out! For a little-known author like me, that’s a big deal. And then, the crescendo to that whole visit—the books may get a spot on the special fantasy display where the store is currently marketing the Hobbit. I must have looked like a big eyed, Rankin-Bass hobbit just beaming when I heard that. I left the store on Saturday feeling pretty darn awesome. All I had to do was get back there on a weekday between 9 and 1 to hand off the inventory.
In-between the weekend and my Monday lunch break, however, my old frienemy “Doubt” came over and informed me she was here for an extended stay. In fact, if I let her, she’d just move right in like a some kind of twisted artistic squatter. (I’m really bad and sending this freeloader, who feeds on my energy, on her way.)
Despite Doubt’s niggling taunts, I packed up my box of books to take to the store, and all the while, Doubt whispered in my ear, “Do you think she read anything of the books you left Saturday? What if she hated them, and when you get there with the inventory copies, she casts you a pained smile? What if she’s actually a serious literary type, even though she said she loves fantasy? She could have just been saying that to be nice. You’re not exactly Hemingway, you know.”
And so, by the time I reached the book store parking lot, my pulse was probably running at about 120 bpm. I took a woozy breath, then grabbed my box out of the trunk out of my zombie van. (It has 278,000+ miles on it, and we’ve refused to let it remain dead the many times it has tried to keel over—a real glamormobile, let me tell you—and Doubt made sure to point all that out to me when I parked in front of the store.) But still, I managed to bluster inside the bookstore and work my way to the counter.
The store owner greeted me at the counter, looking around his two cashiers who were helping customers, because, in his words, I looked like I was “carrying something heavy.” I explained to him I had already made arrangements with Kit to consign the books. He, too, gave the covers an appreciative once over, then asked me who the publisher was.
Doubt cackled in my ear. Despite the apologies that sprang to mind that the books didn’t come from Del Rey or Tor or Baen, I think I managed to sound reasonably confident in naming my two publishers without any belittling qualifiers. He sort of cut me off in a businesslike fashion when he clearly didn’t recognize the publishing house names. I scanned the area for anyplace tidy to barf if the inclination got any firmer hold on my innards. We reviewed the pricing terms on the books, which miraculously, will still leave me earning a little cash per sale (hard to do with Print on Demand) and that was basically that between me and the owner. Then he called Kit down from some unseen office to let me know I was there to see her.
Doubt repeated all the “What ifs” from before about whether or not Kit had read and scoffed at my writing. But when Kit appeared through the aisles, she didn’t have even a hint of a placating look on her face. She let me know the books were in place, waiting for their turn behind other items she had to finish, and she give the inventory box another pleased look. Doubt shut her mouth, for at least a moment.
And so, the first hurdle is behind me—actually getting the books into a brick-and-mortar establishment. In about six weeks comes the next opportunity for the sharp-tongued Doubt to take up the mocking catcalls, since that’s when I’m supposed to check in and see how many (if any) copies have sold.
I’ll probably need some extra Mylanta in the meantime.
* And for those of you who would contest the "friend" part of Doubt being my frienemy, I do count somewhat on doubt to keep me from becoming an insufferable egomaniac, so it does have a purpose.