Book Store Fantasies: On the Anticipation and Anxiety of Publishing My First Book—A Guest Post by Derek Berry
I press fingertips to book spines, dragging my palms against each title as I amble down the fiction aisle. The air inside the bookstore breathes Arctic chill, but among these paper lives, I don’t notice the cold. My fingers spark with ecstatic anticipation, and my chest burns like a furnace with pride. In less than a year, PRA will publish my first young adult novel. The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County, a story about teenagers grappling with the aftermath of a hate crime while struggling to navigate the end of their high school careers, will appear in print alongside these other books.
Each time I return to the bookstore—a place a block away from where I live that sells new and used books, hosts readings, and employs friendly book-sellers—I stalk the shelves to search for that holy place along the spines between “Bea” and “Bet” where my book will appear. I navigate the aisles and stand in front of this soon-to-be-filled void with an air of inspiration and euphoria. Is it not the dream of every young writer to publish their first book? Growing up, I spent many hours and days in bookstores browsing. Aside from reading voraciously, I also entertained hopes that my work might join the shelves. Now that the dream is fast becoming reality, the visits have become different, a mix of hope and fear.
The vision blooms in the ether of optimistic yearning: some young teen, girl or boy, wanders by himself or herself in a bookstore, dejected by the saturation of vampire tales and romantic dramas. This teenager picks up my book from the shelves, drawn perhaps by the strange and beautiful cover, the long and suggestive title—that word Heathens tugging at a part of their heart recoiling from adulthood but drifting further from childhood. This teen flips casually through the first few pages, and a fishhook of intrigue snags the mind; in the next few weeks, he or she will find sanctuary in this story, reading about teenagers just like themselves—real characters rather than an amalgam of pop-culture tropes. The vision dissipates then, replaced by another dream: myself a rock star among high school and college students, the voice of a generation. At first book signings, awards plastering my walls, then maybe a crowd hoisting me on their shoulders, maybe next a private jet funded by book sales. My imagination spirals out of control, my elation unbounded.
As these fictitious scenes play out, I notice another emotion stir too, a deep unsettled dread become brittle as frost. My confidence dances atop a frozen lake, the ice cracking.
What if no one likes the book? What if no one buys the book? What is that fictitious teenagers shakes his or head in disgust, bored with my story? If I’m almost twenty-one, can I even claim to think like a teenager any longer, the mind and experience of the teenager? What if people hate my book and protest my readings? Or worse, what is nobody cares at all, if the book becomes a physical object only to sit on shelves collecting dust? Only to garner a few reviews and be forgotten in this maelstrom of publishing?
These fears seize me. Sometimes in the midst of joyous hope, I imagine everything that might go wrong. Insecurities about my writing, the world of publishing, and America’s declining readership assail me every day, and yet I remain excited for this book’s release. Despite doubts, I want the world to read me, to step inside my mind for a while and perhaps learn something new.
I balance idealism and anxiety on the fulcrum of my heart. I know that even if all else remains uncertain, the future holds its publication. The dreams and visions have not been completely fulfilled—I’m not lecturing or riding around in a private jet (yet)—but my first book will be available to the public. I can now proudly tell myself I’m an author. An author—to say this word is so sweet on my tongue. In a few months, I will again visit this bookstore and find my novel among the shelves. Not only will this be a reality, but I will also read at this bookstore and others across the country. I keep repeating this mantra: people will hear my story, people will hear my story. Naturally this idea of opening one’s self up to the world’s criticism or praise might be frightening, but there also exists exhilaration in this public vulnerability. Soon, you too, dear reader, will be able to consume The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County. To find out more about the book, visit my blog Word Salad HERE. If you’re interested in the story, keep an eye on those lovely book shelves November 2015.