March 21, 2013

when books disappear

I've been thinking about the strange luck and wonderful luck Bone and Bread seems to be having in terms of coverage leading up to its release, and I want to try and get done some of the thoughts that have been swirling around over the past couple of weeks.  Since I'm about to leave for the airport to head to Toronto for the launch, now seems as good a time to post this as any!

Part of what enables the kind of fearlessness and lack of self-consciousness necessary to writing is the ability to forget that anybody is ever going to read it.  It also helps with keeping expectations low, which I think is important for the writing life.  But some of the coverage and general interest from people I know is forcing me to swerve out of this admittedly somewhat delusional course of thinking.  And it brings me to some unnerving destinations...  

Already spotted in the wild... (Indigo in Montreal)

Will anyone actually like it?  Will people's expectations be so high that they're bound to be disappointed?  This is a completely immobilizing type of thinking to have while writing, and one that I would say is not generally recommended.  But now that the novel is making its way out into the world, and there is absolutely no way to change anything at all, I'm occasionally seized with stomach-churning bouts of uncertainty.  Why didn't I think about what people like reading?  What if it's too /sad/complicated/political/emotional? Why didn't I write something else...something funny, or about a man??  Or a dog or a war or or or or......

Then I breathe and remember there's nothing I can do.  Some people -- people whose opinions I value deeply -- have read it and liked it.  Not everyone will like it, and that's okay.  Even if almost nobody likes it, it isn't even the end of the world as long as I can keep writing.  (I suppose whether I can keep publishing is a somewhat different matter, but one that it is probably equally unproductive to consider.)

So many books are released every season, and all of those books represent years of work and sacrifice on the part of the writer, and additional careful work and effort on behalf of the editor and the publisher. Most of them have already achieved certain standards of excellence.  I don't know what the acceptance rate is at literary publishers, but I would be surprised if it were very different from that of literary magazines, which often hover around 1-2% of work submitted.  So most of what makes it out into the world in the form of a book has already been vetted again and again, by people whose lives revolve around literature.  People who know what they're doing.  And there are so many excellent books/movies/tv shows/articles/responsibilities competing for our attention.  It kind of feels like a special kind of magic any time a book makes it through the maelstrom of the daily media barrage and the craziness of everyday life and finds its way into the hands of a reader.  Any time I meet somebody I don't already know who has read my short-story collection, it feels like nothing short of a miracle.  And I'm grateful.

People compare books to children all the time, and although I know there are lots of obvious reasons why it isn't a perfect analogy, there's still something to it.  All the books on the marketplace are special to somebody, there are good reasons for buying and reading all of them.  They're all different and unique and contain a world of their own...but chances are that most of them won't stick around forever, or even for very long.  Most books go out of print sooner or later.  Some get released, receive excellent reviews, then disappear.  Some get released, receive almost no reviews, then disappear even faster.

All of this is to say that I'm grateful for this chance that Bone and Bread seems to have.  I hope it finds its readers.

See some of you tonight!


m said...

Oh yes. So much of this post is what I've been feeling these last few weeks.

May Blood & Bone find a large and enthusiastic readership! I know I'm going to get my hands on a copy soon. Have a great time tonight!

(Any chance you'll make it out to Victoria for a reading?)

Pat Webster said...

Saleema, this is a very generous post. (Not surprising, coming from you. ) Yes, every book out there is somebody's baby. Someone cares deeply about it. But not all are good. I'm really looking forward to reading Bone and Bread. I know it will be a baby I love.

saleema said...

@m thanks! and I'm glad this strikes a chord with you. (re: Victoria, I wish!! but no plans so far)

@Pat :) I hope it will be!