The Awkwardness of Having a Book Out There

I’ve only written one book. That makes me pretty much a novice at the whole book writing thing. So I imagine there’s a lot I still don’t know about writing and publishing.

But I know this.

It’s awesome to have published a book.

It’s also kind of awkward.

It’s great because getting a book out there is the culmination of a lot of time and effort. It’s the realization of a dream. People are happy for you. Some even like the book, and that makes you feel good. You think, I wrote one, I can write another. So you’re hopeful, positive, optimistic.

But it’s also awkward.

It’s awkward because you’re expected to sell the book. Selling things is awkward when you’re not a salesman, when you don’t own a store, when you don’t have a lot of experience at selling, when you’re not even really interested in selling, you’re just interested in writing, and not-so-secretly wish the damn thing would sell itself.

It’s awkward when you rent a table at some event and sit there for one, two, three days in a row with copies of your only book artfully arranged in front of you, trying to make it look appealing (which would be a lot easier if it were made of chocolate), trying to make eye contact with people walking by who are just as fervently trying NOT to make eye contact with you so that they don’t get roped into buying a book they don’t want. And you’re trying to strike a balance between being too nonchalant and too eager, trying not to appear too desperate, never quite getting the balance right, because let’s face it, you ARE desperate. You want to sell enough copies to at least pay for your table, to make the days you’re sitting there feel at least a tiny bit worth it.

And it’s awkward because once you do sell a few copies, you inevitably sell some to people you know. And that’s terrific because it means your colleagues are supporting you, and sometimes it’s really great because they come to you after they’ve finished the book to tell you how much they liked it. Sometimes they come to you afterward to tell you that they liked the book and ask if you wouldn’t mind a bit of constructive criticism, to which I always reply, “No,” because there isn’t actually much I can do about it now, but we laugh, because of course I’m joking (sort of) and then they give me the constructive criticism, and I really don’t mind because I’d like to make the next book even better, and I have a pretty thick skin by this point in the game.

What’s particularly awkward is the people who’ve bought the book who you see around but who kind of avoid eye contact or head in the other direction when they see you, and you’re not entirely sure why or whether you’re just imagining it. Sometimes I assume it’s because they simply haven’t got around to reading it yet, which is absolutely fine. I always tell friends when they buy the book, “You have ten years to read it, and I’m very good about extensions,” because I know what it’s like to have piles of books at your bedside, many of them written by friends. We all have enough stress in our lives that the last thing we need is people bugging us to read their books. We’ll read them when we have the time and the interest, thank you very much, a philosophy that certainly extends to any books written by me.

And then there’s that rather more exquisite awkwardness. The one you experience with those who have started your book (you know this because they told you they did), but who have never mentioned it since. And this (you suspect) is because they simply couldn’t get through it. Or worse, they did suffer their way through it, but didn’t like it, maybe even hated it. You don’t know because you’ve never actually discussed it with them. It’s never come up in conversation because they’ve always successfully avoided you, or skillfully danced around it in conversation the one time they failed to avoid you.

But that’s okay too. There’s no law that says everyone has to like your book.

Maybe they’ll like the next one.

And I would tell them that if I could ever figure out a way to bring it up that isn’t painfully awkward.

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