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Pickle Me This

March 8, 2017

My Book in the World: The Keeping It Real Edition

I’ve long dreamed of the moment I would first spy my novel on sale in a bookstore, and I’ve looked forward to it. On my way to an event a bookstore tonight, I had a fleeting thought that this could be it, that I might see my book on display, for it’s been spied out-and-about and turning up in people’s mailboxes before the release day on Tuesday. It might bring me to tears, I thought. This was kind of exciting and I was feeling pretty uplifted anyway after a vigorous walk on this chilly night, walking west as the sun set. Inside the store, I only felt better. How extraordinary to be a part of this, to have a book. I eyed the stacks on the display table, books selected with care, books whose stacks I’ve selected purchases from many times. Soon, I was thinking, my book will be among these. I imagined how cool that stack would look. I took a moment to see if it in fact wasn’t already there. I checked out the spot on the shelf where my novel would live, right there between Ted Chang and Chris Cleave. Already it was such a magic space and I envisioned the look of my book’s spine. Little Book, I was telling it, which wasn’t entirely sensible since it’s a book and wasn’t even there, but there you go. There is so much waiting for you. 

In my experience, being published is a roller coaster of highs and lows. There were the gorgeous reviews from actual people, and the readers who connected with me, and the thrill of connecting with booksellers, and then there were the events that literally nobody comes to. Like that story about Margaret Atwood signing books in the sock department in Eatons. There is a Margaret Atwood story about every kind of humiliation that solely exists just to make us all feel better. I remember headlining a sparsely attending event not so long ago and sending my husband a text message a few minutes before showtime: Oh my god, this is terrible, why do I keep doing this to myself, oh my god oh my god, the humiliation, I want to die. 

It was a bit like that, that moment when I first spied my book on sale in the bookstore. Moments before I’d been feeling pretty good about everything, still a bit stunned at the book’s appearance in Hello Magazine last week, anticipating stacks and stacks on tables, mobs of school girls chasing me down streets like Beatlemania. It was all kind of inevitable. And then there it was, my book. I’d know that spine anywhere and I spied it across the room, which is a good sign, I guess. We wanted it to “pop.” But there was a problem. I was standing in the children’s section. What was my book doing on the shelf in the children’s section? And why was there only one sad little mis-shelved copy and was this a systemic problem and my book was going to be shelved in children’s sections into perpetuity?? Oh my god, had everything gone wrong?

I picked my poor little book off the shelf and cradled it in my arms, and slunk up to the bookseller in total shame. “Um, this is kind of weird,” I said. “But, um, I wrote a book, and it’s on the shelf, but it’s not on the right shelf.” “Where was it?” “YA,” I said. “But it’s not YA?” I shook my head. “Well, what is it?” “Fiction, I guess.” This was unbelievable. Didn’t this person read Hello Magazine? I thought you were all eagerly anticipating my book as much as I was. I thought I would walk into the bookstore and alarms would start blaring, and not even because I was shoplifting.

She checked the system. There was no reason the book should have been mis-shelved in YA. I was so mortified. “I mean, I wasn’t, like, looking for it, or anything. But I just saw it there, and I don’t know how impressed you might be with it if you were looking for YA. Not that I’ve got anything against YA. I mean, some of my best friends write YA.” This was totally totally terrible.

“Well, you can put it on the shelf, I guess,” she told me. It wasn’t really the climax I’ve been waiting for my whole life. It was more like I wished the ground would open up and swallow me up, and my book. (I should have known. I have known well for quite sometime that being a writer is nothing less than a series of abject humiliations.) But I was holding the book, that lonely little book, and it wasn’t like I was going to buy it. And so I shelved it, between Ted Chang and Chris Cleave. It looked good, but that didn’t help much. I took a photo, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was only taking the photo anyway to accompany the inevitable blog post about this terrible, painful experience that I am only writing in order to make something worthwhile of it. And to make me feel better.

“Oh, do you want to sign it?” the bookseller asked me as an afterthought.

My answer was a definitive no. Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate, and I didn’t have a pen.

19 thoughts on “My Book in the World: The Keeping It Real Edition”

  1. Where are the damn emojis when you really, really need them???!!!

    HEART, HEART, HEART, HEART, HEART (in perpetuity). Tonight you may have a good cry, but tomorrow you’ll wake up and keep writing, because that’s what you’re meant to do.

    As a faithful reader, I can attest that the quality of your writing has grown by leaps and bounds over these years. Your gathering strength shines through with everything you write. It’s been so much fun to watch you grow into your beautiful voice. Keep your chin up, my girl, and let me know if there’s anything I can do. xoxo

  2. theresa says:

    You will have to train your daughters to side up to the shelves and arrange your book FACING OUT. My children learned this from the children of other writers. It’s a good strategy…

    Those alarms and welcoming trumpets will sound soon.

    You are so funny and so smart and I can hardly wait to read your novel.

  3. Zsuzsi says:

    what Theresa says — friends and family must surreptitiously turn all copies face out! Yes, this is a thing!

    and congrats! xox, ZZ

  4. Emily Wight says:

    THIS IS INCREDIBLE CONSOLATION, OMG. When WFFB came out I was lurking around the UBC bookstore to see where they’d shelved me and if it was beside someone I liked, and it wasn’t there yet but as I was walking out, two ladies were flipping through the pages of a book on a trolley – clearly stocking shelves – and I looked over and they were looking at a page with my big stupid face on it! And I paused because IT WAS MY FACE and they looked up and were like “Oh wow! You wrote this!” but it looked as though I was just hanging around waiting to be noticed and they asked me to sign a few copies and instead I stammered something about needing to go right away and then ran out of the store in shame and it still haunts me, usually in the moments before I’m falling asleep. We have all been through a lot.

    1. Kerry says:

      Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone in my agony.

  5. Steph says:

    Oh my goodness. I feel like I want to slap that bookseller! After I tell her that only people who understand what it means to put forth a book, all the work and passion and agony and ecstasy that goes into creating something from nothing, and the number of pairs of eyes and hands, the number of hearts, that touch each book, that are behind each book–only those people who jnderstand and appreciate this should get to be a bookseller.

    I always reshelve books if I see them in the wrong place, or I tell them to fix it. Or I tell them not to sell arcs. Books have voices but they depend on us to put them on ghetto right stand before they can truly shine so they were meant to. I’m glad that you were strong and endured that humiliation as the author to set your book where if belongs. I’m sad, though, that you were made to feel humiliated–not by the misspelling, which was careless and uncaring, but by a bookseller who clearly doesn’t understand books beyond a paycheque and the flipping of pages.

    Going forward, be proud and stalwart and keep treating your book like a woman. ?

  6. Steph says:

    Damn you, autocorrect.
    *put them on the right stage
    *as they were meant to
    *where it belongs
    *not by the misshelving

    1. Kerry says:

      I got it! Thank you, Steph, xo

  7. Beth Kaplan says:

    Okay, dear Kerry, my story to add to the misery files. I had a fantasy, like yours, that my first book, Finding the Jewish Shakespeare, would fly off the shelves – the combination of Jewish and Shakespeare in the title, can fame and fortune be far behind? You can guess how that turned out. But one day a year after the launch I was in a beautiful bookstore on Queen St. West (which of course does not exist any more), because I’d heard they’d stocked my book. I looked for it and could not find it, and finally asked the clerk. He went to look for it and found it in the back, with the books ready to be sent back to the publisher. I begged him to keep my adorable sad sweet rejected third child a few more weeks, went right home and wrote a blog post, asking my friends and students to go down and buy that one lonely copy. I think someone did. Good thing I’m only in this business to accrue wealth and status, because doing so has been such fun.

    1. Kerry says:

      Thank you for sharing your tale of woe, Beth. That’s quite funny. Does it seem like it yet to you??? xoxo

  8. Beth Kaplan says:

    P.S. Can’t wait to read your wonderful book.

  9. Alice says:

    I’m so sorry you had this letdown, Kerry. I’m glad you could at least take the book off the wrong shelf and shelve it correctly. Though… what are you supposed to do now? Check every bookstore in the country? I’ll happily stop by the Indigo and Paragraphe in downtown Montreal to make sure Mitzi Bytes is where it’s supposed to be. I empathize entirely. My Five Roses is still categorized as a kidnapping thriller on Amazon, even though I’ve repeatedly and loudly pointed out that any reader expecting a thriller will be disappointed and any reader likely to appreciate my book isn’t likely to choose a book listed as a kidnapping thriller. Seems there’s the book and then there’s (mis)marketing. Mitzi Bytes is not categorized as YA on Amazon. Some little comfort?
    And yes, I’ll do what book-reshelving I can in Montreal.

    1. Kerry says:

      No reader will ever be disappointed in Five Roses. xoxoxo

  10. Oh, man. I totally had a moment like this when I found BUSKER in the travel literature section in Chapters. It’s not travel! It’s memoir! Please, someone fix this! And why isn’t it on those big display tables at the front!? People might actually like my book if they knew it existed!

    I arranged it so the cover was showing, snapped a pic, and got the hell out of there.

    Can’t wait to read Mitzi Bytes!

    1. Kerry says:

      I loved your book, Nisha. Thank you for writing it. It’s sitting on my bookshelf right where it belongs.

    2. theresa says:

      You can quietly move it to the big display table! It’s worth it — Busker is gorgeous…

      1. Kerry says:

        Yes yes yes!

  11. Rohan says:

    Look at your book, there on the shelf! I mean, I understand (what writer doesn’t, in their own angst-ridden, shame-faced way) the crushing disappointment of not getting the trumpet fanfares and general rejoicing that we yearn for on publication, but THERE’S YOUR BOOK, looking completely at home, and very stylish too, on a real live shelf in the bookstore. That’s awesome: congratulations.

    1. Kerry says:

      Thank you, Rohan! xo

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