My wife almost always comes through in big ways when I need her. Then there are times when she really blows my mind.
Saturday I went to several bookstores to drop off free copies of the book, a press release, a business card, and some freebie bookmarks. She came along, and I felt a little funny having her there. I thought it made me seem less professional. And maybe it did, but that’s OK. I decided that since I was going in flip flops, shorts, and a T-shirt professionalism was already kinda out the window. Maybe not the best way to go about it, but hey, it was a weekend, and it was 80 degrees outside.
I’m so glad she came.
The woman behind the counter was very receptive and nice. She asked if I was the author and I told her yes. “Congratulations,” she said. That’s a normal thing to say, I know, and people say it to me all the time when they find out I have a book out. But they don’t know, do they? They don’t know I released it myself. They don’t know there is no publisher backing it. They don’t know the only marketing budget for the book is whatever I can scrape together. They don’t know it has not been professionally edited or formatted. They don’t know any of this, but if they did, they would not say “Congratulations.”
I know, because I’ve seen that light go off in people’s eyes before. At first, they are excited to meet an author. How cool is that? Then they find out the book is self-published and just like that, it’s not cool anymore. Then it becomes an annoyance. Because the book can’t be very good, right? I mean, if no publisher wanted it?
Of course, a publisher did want it, but without rehashing the same old bullshit, we all know how that went. At least everyone who has read more than one or two blog posts here at McAfee Land know.
But back to my story. The lady said “Congratulations,” and as usual when someone says this to me, I mentally flinch. Congratulations for what? For failing to get the book published via traditional means? For failing to write something a publisher would want? For being too stubborn to just let the book die and forcing it out into the world like shoving the round peg through the square hole? “You’re going out there, whether you like it or not!” Congratulations for nothing, is what I think. Every single time. Despite what anyone says who’s read the book, no matter how many readers tell me they loved it, I still feel like a total fraud some days. Because without that validation from the publishing community, it just doesn’t feel like an accomplishment. More like vanity.
As we were leaving the store, my wife asked me what was wrong. I guess I wasn’t doing as good a job hiding my feelings as I thought I was. Not one to lie to her, I told her the truth about how I felt, and how every time someone says “Congratulations,” I feel like I’ve been slapped.
She gave me a weird look, the one that says I’m being thick. I know the look well; I get it all the time. I can’t tell you verbatim what she said, but she told me I shouldn’t feel that way because I deserve every congratulatory comment I get, and then some. She pointed out some other things that most people don’t know.
They don’t know how hard I worked to make the book just right. They don’t know how I agonized over every word choice. 94,000 words, each one chosen carefully for the proper impact. They don’t know about the nights I stayed up late working on the formatting, trying to make it look like a “real” book. They don’t know about the nights I stayed up late working on the cover copy, or the editing, or the emails I sent out to other writers. They don’t know about the hard work and the huge investment of time it took for me to get this book to the stage it is now. They don’t know any of that.
But she does. She was there for all of it. She doesn’t necessarily “get” the writing aspect, but she knows how much of my time this book took (and continues to take) away from her. She knows about sitting in front of the TV all alone while I chase the same damn dream I’ve been chasing for years. She knows, and she’s OK with it, because she says it’s worth it.
If anything, she said, I should feel better about having the book out because of all the stuff I’ve had to do myself; the editing, the proofing, the formatting, the cover copy, hiring out the cover, sending out review copies, making the press release, the bookmarks, marketing, promoting, making connections in the authorial community, etc. Publishers normally take on a lot of that. But in my case, I had to do it all. Every bit of it. And the final package is just as good, if not better, than a lot of the competition. And the only reason this is so is because of the amount of time I spent making it that way. The line that really sticks in my head is “Your dedication to making the book as good as it could possibly be, in every single aspect, shows on every page. And you deserve every bit of praise you get for it.”
That is what she said to me. Not those exact words, but that exact meaning. Even now, writing this for the blog two days later, I still get goosebumps thinking about that moment in the car when she basically slapped the feeling sorry for myself right out of me.
There is a reason I married that woman, and now you guys know it, too.