One of the pleasures of publishing a book is getting to hold a reading at your local bookshop. Family and friends show up, along with a few fans, former students, and, if it’s been promoted well, a handful of curious strangers.
You sell books, which is nice. And no matter how modest your advance, or how small your pin on the publishing map, a good bookstore reading can make you feel, for one night, like your writing habit has resulted in something other than narrowing career options, crushing debt, and a dwindling social life.
But, to be frank, it’s only a blip.
The thing you’ve labored over for years, and are now trying to sell to as many people as possible, has become a ten or fifteen minute excerpt, a brief Q & A, a cover, and a title page held open for signing.
The real experience, the real purpose behind all of it only starts when someone gets home and opens the book and starts reading, alone.
Just like you wrote it, alone.
It could happen that night, or in two years, or a hundred, or never.
The book party, the reading, the signing–it’s the flashy liftoff moment. Everyone gathers to watch the thing take off. Then what? It’s in space, doing its thing.
Sometimes you hear back; usually you don’t.
I was recently invited to participate in a book group hosted by Diane Leslie, at Diesel, a Bookstore in Brentwood, for my novel The Interloper.
It had been a while since I’d done an Interloper event, so I brushed up on the book, tried to remember what I’d had to say about this book four years before.
I even went so far as listening to an old recording of the Q & A from my Prairie Lights Bookstore reading. It didn’t really end up helping, preparation-wise. Rather, it only highlighted how the book group wasn’t like a reading at all.
There were no vague questions about premise and background, no need for the usual meta-narrative about how the novel came to be, or the elevator pitch, or awkward introductions of fragments to be read. No fragments to be read.
Everyone had already done the reading, and everyone had something to say about it–about the content of the book, the characters, the language, the plotting. The real stuff. They had tough questions, too, only some of which I could answer. Half of them even disagreed with me on a fundamental “what-if” scenario. (What if CJ’s brother had never been killed? Would Owen have been able to lead a semblance of a normal life?)
This wasn’t selling, this was engaging with readers.
And it was awesome.