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November 6, 2018

Publishing a Book is Not a Catapult

Publishing a book is not a catapult, unless you’re someone very lucky, and even if you are, I would imagine that even successful authors still have to contend with ordinary things like laundry, dry skin, and busses that don’t come. I’ve heard it on record that even the bestsellers show up at events and end up reading to empty rooms. Probably not as often as the rest of us, but still. But even though publishing is not a catapult, sometimes it is indeed just like a trampoline. Tomorrow night I get to show up at an awards ceremony and present a $10,000 cheque to the winner of the Journey Prize. And it’s funny to fit this into the context of ordinary experience, as in my husband will be taking our children to piano lessons tomorrow so I can be at the ceremony in time for the mic check, and afterwards we’ll both have to make the kids’ lunches. Or this: after spending days fretting about the fiction market and my future as a novelist, I get to fly away on an airplane to a literary festival where people bought tickets to hear me (and others) speak, and bought my books and requested I sign them. On Monday morning I took my children to school, but on Saturday people were asking for my autograph. By which, I mean, they wanted me to sign my novel, but it’s still the same thing. I feel very fortunate to have had a busy literary fall, especially since my book came out eighteen months ago. The life of a book is long, it’s true, and I’m so grateful to everyone who has worked to keep it going.

I had the most wonderful time in Sudbury on the weekend at their Wordstock Literary Festival. As Kim Thuy said to me as we were waiting at the airport, you know you’re a big deal when you get invited to a festival in a smaller city or town, because it’s amazing that they’ve even heard of you. And I know I’m not even a big deal, but it was sure nice to get to be in the company of Kim Thuy, and to meet so many readers and writers and bring books to life through great conversation. (I also got the chance to hang out with the amazing Danielle Daniel and see her gorgeous mural in person, and it was one of the best parts of an excellent weekend.) As always, I bow down to literary festival organizers, those tireless people who are usually volunteers and who pull off miracles every time. I feel so lucky for the chance to do authorial things, and take none of it for granted.

Publishing a book is not a catapult. I knew this, of course. The week before my novel came out I did a talk at a writers’ group and talked about how important failure had been to my process, about the novel I’d written ten years before that never was published, about the things I’d written that had turned out to be stepping stones to my success. “And there will always be some way to feel like you’ve not yet arrived,” I remember saying. “Maybe the book is not a bestseller, or it is a bestseller, but only for five weeks, or it’s a bestseller for months, but wins none of the prizes,” and on and on, the litany of ways for an author to feel unsuccessful. Maybe you’ll be giving a talk and nobody comes, and then the next time you give a talk and lots of people come, you’ll still be thinking about the last time. Since my book came out, many kind people have remarked upon how well everything seems to be going, how successful the book is: “I see it everywhere.” Like, all over my Instagram feed. But still. I’ve stopped correcting those people though, offering to clarify things, to underline all the ways in which I don’t measure up. I have decided that appearing successful might be the closest I ever come to being successful, and maybe there’s not even a distinction. Failure continues to be integral to my process, even though I was secretly hoping I was done with it when I gave that talk eighteen months ago. I have a feeling I’ll only ever be done with failure when I’m dead, but at least it’s never not been useful.

3 thoughts on “Publishing a Book is Not a Catapult”

  1. Kate says:

    I’ll only be done with failure when i’m dead. LOVE it. much.

  2. Dora Dueck says:

    Great piece, and true — not a catapault. But trampolining is fun too!

  3. Sharon says:

    Trampoline. The metaphor is so apt because just as quickly as you’re up, there you go careening (hopefully not off the trampoline though if that happens, just get back up I guess and quickly before anyone notices!). The absurdity of a writer’s life…one morning you’re on stage and then signing books and taking selfies with strangers like WHO DO THEY THINK I AM? DON’T THEY KNOW I’M JUST A LOSER NOBODY? and then ten minutes later wandering the freezing cold streets because you had to check out of the hotel and the flight home isn’t for hours and also the flight is delayed and you get home at 3am and nothing about this is glamorous at all especially the part where you learn the next day that the suspension in the car has gone tits up and good luck getting a mechanic before the end of next week and also there are no groceries. But somehow too it’s the very, very best.

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