A writer’s life is marked by milestones. The first time you complete a short story. The first time you give up on a novel, 20,000 words in. The first time you complete something approximating a novel, coming in at about 65,000 words. The first review a friend gives you. The first agent that shoots you down when you ask for representation. The first agent that asks for a partial, and then a full copy of your manuscript. The first time you decide to self-publish. The first book you sell. The tenth, the hundredth.
When I was a kid I dreamed of being a writer. I knew that I was going to be one, there was nothing else I wished to be, so my dreams were not about whether I would succeed but how that success would look like. I would hold my favorite books and wonder if one day my own novels would thrill kids my age. I would squint into the future and try to picture the accolades, my attentive editor, the covers of my novels. There was something magical about such daydreams, as if I were a lowly page dreaming of one day being a knight.
The biggest milestone has always been to hold a printed copy of my own novel. To rifle through the pages, pausing here and there to read a familiar passage. To heft it, to bend it, to hold my dreams made concrete in my own hands.
Which is why receiving my proof copy of THE GRIND SHOW is a bittersweet experience. Yes, it’s the milestone I’ve always dreamed about. Yes, the novel is selling well, and December promises to be my best month by far in terms of sales. Yes, it is a book, filled with my words, with my name on the cover. But somewhere along the way the gloss came off the dream, and I find the reality to be more complex than I had anticipated.
I was incredibly fortunate to have my good friend Amy Rosenthal edit THE GRIND SHOW. She did a truly professional job, drenching the pages in red ink and ferreting out inconsistencies, redundancies and sloppy writing. My friend Paul Guyet has been the best sounding board that an author could wish for, investing himself in the world of THE GRIND SHOW, helping me iron out the setting, the plot, and infusing such enthusiasm and excitement into the act of creation that when my enthusiasm slumped, he renewed my vigor.
I worked at Penguin in NYC for a year. I saw how the traditional publishing process goes. The phases. The revisions. The editor’s letter. The cover design process, the marketing sessions, everything that takes a novel from a raw manuscript to a professionally produced product on a shelf. Yes I know that system is rapidly becoming antiquated, and I purposefully eschewed it when I chose to go indie. I purposefully said no to waiting 18 months to getting published, to 17.5% royalties on the eBook version, to an advance that would not have been higher than $7,000 and paid out to me over the course of two years, with chunks going to taxes and my agent. I said no to then having to wait a year to publish my next book, and potentially getting dropped if the sales of my first novel disappointed. To getting no marketing support since fledgling authors are supposed to do their own promo work. I said no to that entire system, and instead rolled up my sleeves and got to work, designing my own cover, writing my own back copy, learning how the indie publishing world worked, doing my own marketing and publishing a new novel every three months.
I did all that, and it’s been great, but it’s not what I envisioned as a kid. It lacks the magical touch of getting that acceptance letter from your agent, the dream of setting off a bidding war between rival publishing houses. Instead, the printed proof that I hold in my hand tonight is a testament to the grit and resolve I’m manifesting each day as I promote and work at becoming a success on my own terms, through my own talents. It’s not a perfect proof. I wrote ‘COver Art’ on the back, the title needs to be enlarged, and something about it still looks vaguely amateurish. But it’s my novel. It’s my writing in there, each and every word, and it’s a testament to how far I’ve come since I was a kid, dreaming about the big leagues.
Is it the milestone I always envisioned and hoped for? No. And for that I’m sad, strangely nostalgic and a touch melancholy.
But it is my novel. And it is published.
And folks. I’m just getting started.