I went into Chapters today, which for those of you who don’t live in Canada is like this mega-big bookstore – think Barnes & Noble in the US or Waterstones in the UK – and my book was right there on a display table entitled “Teens’ Most Wanted.” I’m not being modest when I say I seriously doubt that, though I did appreciate the vote of confidence. But I don’t think there are any teens actually wandering the streets thinking, “If only I had a book, by an unknown author, about an angsty 16-year-old living in Pakistan, my life would be complete.”
In Canada, the only thing I’m reasonably confident teens want is a snow day; that and a mocha latte. Who doesn’t want a mocha latte? Still, just because they don’t want it, doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy it. One can always hope, right?
So after years of dreaming, hard work, writing, revising, revising again, and again, what was it like to actually see my book on sale? More than anything, I had an overwhelming desire to scoop up every copy and take them home. I didn’t want to pay for them mind you, just take them home. I may be struggling with the concept of “selling” my work. But it felt like my book belonged to me and I belatedly considered that I’m not sure I want strangers reading it.
I do realize I should have thought of this months ago. Actually, I should have thought of it years ago. For anyone new to publishing, it’s a long, slow process. I sold AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE three years ago. Three years is a long time. That’s 21 in dog years. While it’s hard to remember what exactly was going through my mind three years ago when my book sold, I’m pretty sure it was something along the lines of “Thank God, now I can justify all the money I spend on books.”
I’m not saying I wasn’t thinking about my future readers at all. Sure, I thought it would be cool to sit in a room someday with a bunch of people and share my passion for writing, or travel, or my love of Pakistan, or my thoughts on nomadic third culture kids, but that was all in the abstract. You, my dear reader, were an abstraction. Today, when I went into Chapters, I discovered, sitting right next to the table with my book on it, two teenagers – reading. Admittedly, they weren’t reading my book. But still they were reading next to my book. Abstraction comes to life.
Now, arguably, since they weren’t reading my book I could imagine they never will but that doesn’t really help. It’s like tarantulas. As a little girl growing up in Toronto, tarantulas were a hypothesis. I knew theoretically they existed but I’d never seen one, nor expected to see one. For any of you kids reading this, I grew up in the olden days before arachnids were considered pet-potential. So, I lived in cheerful confidence that while tarantulas were a hideous manifestation of Darwinism gone awry, they would never, in any meaningful way, factor into my life.
And then I moved to Africa and one turned up in my bedroom.
Abstraction comes to life!
So, seeing those girls reading near my book, I knew as surely as a tarantula in the bedroom that sooner or later I was going to have to deal with someone actually reading my book. It’s bound to happen, right? I mean, maybe all the other books in the store will get sold and then there’ll be no choice but to buy mine. Or there’s a nuclear holocaust and my book is the only one not blown to smithereens. Or parents discover it has a reasonably intelligent storyline and no sex or swearing – that’s right folks, NO SEX – and decide to buy it for their kids.
ABSTRACTION COMES TO LIFE!
Unless… I buy every copy. If I buy every copy, I don’t have to worry about bad reviews, or my publisher being disappointed, or strangers asking challenging questions about the story. If I buy every copy, the theoretical reader stays safely in my imagination, an abstraction.
But if I buy every book, I’ll be broke, and my publisher is bound to catch on, and so far I’ve enjoyed talking to strangers about the story. In fact, when I actually start talking to people, I remember another reason I wrote the book.
I love sharing my passion, for writing, for travel, for Pakistan, and nomadic third culture kids. I LOVE connecting with people around books!
So, maybe those kids reading near to my book weren’t exactly like tarantulas. Maybe they were more like hedgehogs, which for me were also an abstraction, until I moved to Sweden and had one living in my backyard.
ABSTRACTION COMES TO LIFE!
But I love hedgehogs, so that’s cool.