Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wait...I Know It's Around Here Somewhere...

One assumption I think most aspiring authors make is that when their book is published, bookstores will carry it. That’s the whole point, right? Writing the manuscript, landing an agent, signing a contract with a publisher…all milestones on the road that lead to an actual book in an actual bookstore which a real, live, actual reader (or ten thousand) will pick up, fall in love with, and buy.

Fadeout to unicorn puppy heart rainbows.


Reality hits when you, Newly Published Author, walk into your local bookstore (trying to look casual—will the booksellers recognize you from your jacket photo?) and saunter to the shelf where your book will be. You know where your book will be, of course, because you’ve pictured it a thousand times in the months leading up to this day. You scan the titles, and…hm. Scan again, this time looking for your name.

Wait a minute. Where is it? You ask the clerk, who looks it up on her computer. “We’re not carrying it,” she tells you, “but we’ll be happy to order it for you.”

“Um, no, thanks,” you say, and you flee.* And then you email your agent in a panic. “What happened?” you electronically wail.

What happened, O Best Beloved,** is that bookstores can’t carry every book that’s published. They simply don’t have room. Shelf space is limited, and the number of books vying for that space is huge.

Huge? you say. C’mon, now. You’re a novelist. You exaggerate for a living.

OK, smartypants, get this. On the day Ten Cents a Dance was released, thirty-four other young adult titles were also published. Thirty-four. Not in the same month, or even the same week. The same day. And we’re talking only young adult titles. That’s not counting adult mainstream, mystery, romance, sci-fi, or any variation of non-fiction.

You see the problem.

If you’re an aspiring author, know that your publisher’s sales reps and your editor will go to bat for you. But if a big national chain declines to carry your book, what then? Weep copious tears, rend your garments? Gnash teeth? Curse the universe?

Please. Get over it. And get busy. That goes for you, too, Miss My-Book-Is-Being-Carried-In-Every-Bookstore-In-The-Country. You don’t get a pass; in fact, your work may be even harder.

Next post: Authors and Booksellers, or, What Have You Done For Me Lately? (Hint: I’m not talking about the booksellers.)

*Not that this ever happened to me. Well, OK, yes. It did. Pretty much just like that, except I was too embarrassed to ask the clerk, so my sweetie had to do it.

**Apologies to Rudyard Kipling. If you haven’t read the Just So Stories, then do. Kipling plays with the English language like a puppy with a ball, and the result is whimsical, magical fun. But gee, where's the best place to get a copy? If you're an aspiring author, and you can't guess the answer to that one, you most definitely MUST read the next post. There may just be a pop quiz.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

This Is How I Know I'm Not From Here

Yesterday’s weather forecast from Oregon Public Broadcasting:
“Very pleasant at the coast today: Overcast, with highs 65 to 75 degrees.”

Leave it to the state that invented the term “sun break” (as in, “showers most of the day, occasional sun breaks in the afternoon”) to consider "very pleasant" a cloudy, cool day at the AUGUST.

Off the beaten path. That's Oregon.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Worducopia Review & Interview!

Last month I spoke to Willamette Writers , Oregon's largest writers' organization, about writing young adult fiction. Afterward I had the pleasure of meeting several of the members, including Ali, who is currently working on her own novel. After Ali read (and reviewed!) both Tallulah Falls and Ten Cents a Dance for her blog, Worducopia, she asked if I'd be willing to do an interview. Ali had a singular knack for zeroing in on the issues I struggled most with while writing this book. Kudos to her for asking in-depth, thought-provoking questions...this was one of the best interviews I've had.

Thanks, rock!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"God Bless You and All Your Loved Ones"

Until last week, I never knew Roger’s last name. He’s always just been Roger, the guy who sells Portland’s Street Roots newspaper in front of Trader Joe’s. My sweetie and I have seen him every week, in every weather, for the five years we’ve been shopping there.
"Good morning, you two,” he says, as we walk up to the store.
“Morning, Roger,” we answer. “How’s it going?” or “Nice weather, huh?” (in an appropriately ironic tone—this is Portland, after all). On the way out of the store, we stop and buy a paper. Street Roots is a local, grassroots newspaper covering issues relating to the homeless and working poor. Its vendors are homeless; selling Street Roots gives them an income. Vendors have established spots around town, and if you’re in Portland any length of time, you’ll meet them. “Sorry, I bought this one from Roger at Trader Joe’s,” I always tell the guy at Powell’s Books. He nods and smiles. Roger has some loyal customers.
“I’ve got a poem in this issue,” Roger might tell us. “Page five.” We shoot the breeze for a couple of minutes. He tells us about his family sometimes, how his parents are still going strong in their eighties. We tell him what we’re up to the rest of the day. As we turn to go, he says, without fail, “God bless you, and all your loved ones.” It never sounds rote; it sounds, every time, as though he means it from his heart.
“You, too,” we say, and wave. “See you next week.”
If only one of us shows up, Roger invariably sends his regards to whichever of us is missing. The only exception came at a time when, between my writing deadlines and my boyfriend's work, our schedules were so nutty that only one of us could get away do the shopping. Roger still said hi just as warmly, but after a couple of weeks, he stopped asking after whichever of us wasn’t there. After almost two months, things finally calmed down, and we again appeared at Trader Joe’s together. Roger was visibly relieved. “There you both are!” he said.
“Thought we broke up?” my boyfriend asked.
“I was a little worried,” Roger said, and grinned.
Last week, a different vendor was in front of Trader Joe’s. On the way out of the store, we stopped and bought a paper. “Where’s Roger this week?” I asked. The vendor was handing me the paper; he turned it over, and pointed to a headline.
Roger had passed away in his sleep, in the downtown hotel room he’d occupied for years. When he didn’t show up at Trader Joe’s, his customers left messages at the Street Roots office, asking if he was OK. It’s only now, reading articles about him, that I’ve learned he was a star pitcher in high school with the talent to go pro, and alcoholism that kept him from getting there. I’ve learned he was only 60 years old. I’ve learned his last name was Gates. I still don’t know the rest of his story, beyond the bits and pieces he'd shared with us over the years. I know that he’d endured hard miles; that you could tell by looking at him. I know he had a patient and gentle kindness that he extended freely; I know he believed all people were worthy of love; I know he looked on each day as a gift.
We miss his warmth, his smile, his humor and his unshakeable optimism. We’re grateful that our lives intersected, if only briefly, once a week in front of Trader Joe’s.
God bless you and all your loved ones, Roger. May you rest in peace.