When I was unpublished–I mean, I still am unpublished, since my novel won’t be out for about 18 months–but before I knew I had a prayer of being published, I used to dream of Loretta Lynn.
I remember one day driving home from my parents’ house, in one of the bleakest moments, when I was banging my head against a brick wall that had no intention of breaking, and thinking, why? why? when plenty of wonderful writers are publishing independently and going great guns. Anyway, Coal Miner’s Daughter came on the radio–and I don’t listen to country, not when I’m in the crowded northeast anyway; it’s indie college radio for me there–and so of course, I took it as a sign.
Well, here we are driving across the country, and that sign has come to fruition, but better than any way I ever expected it. But doing what Loretta did so stupendously–trying to get yourself known–is incredibly hard, whether Ballantine is backing you, or whether you’ve launched the coolest new press in town. We’re inundated with content in this country, overwhelmed by it on a daily basis. It’s hard if not impossible to know what’s worth valuing.
So when I go into bookstores, Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day bookmarks in hand, and try to describe what we’re up to–how it started last year, over eighty bookstores involved, I was a mom of young children, taking them to story hours on an inordinate basis, and all of a sudden thought, Some kids don’t do this–I always wonder if I will be seen as just another purveyor of unwelcome content.
It’s not really my personality to do this. I love meeting new people, but it’s hard for me to try to sell, even if what I’m selling is something like getting kids into bookstores. And of course during this trip in addition to Take Your Child Day, I’m mentioning that I have a novel coming out one of these days. I even have these clever little candy tins–designed by my tech guru husband (without whom this blog would probably not be)–to hand out. Is that selling or giving? Is there any difference these days when content is given away for free?
Only one thing has saved me from struggling with how Loretta did it–asking to be on radio stations when no one had ever heard of her and didn’t know if she’d ever make them one penny in return–and that’s the warmth and welcome of the booksellers I’ve met. How enthusiastic they are about getting kids into bookstores, not because it’s good business, but because it’s good life. When I push myself to move onto mentioning my book, and get to see the light in the eyes that’s unique to all book lovers, my doubts melt away.
I’m here, I think. It’s okay. I’m home.
This post is in tribute to the great Loretta Lynn, and to the booksellers I met yesterday, Amanda at Borders in Champaign, IL, whose enthusiastic reception and obvious love for the game gave me visions of fun nights to come, and Jeff at Barnes & Noble.