I’m not sure there’s enough wine in the world to launch a new novel without the jitters. Luckily, writers have lots of people cheering us on. I’m not only talking about our mothers and spouses, but about our booksellers, librarians and readers. They’re the ones who make us feel as famous as Kim Kardashian, even when we’re not putting our naked booties on display. (Yes, Kim, a writer’s booty spends a lot of time in the desk chair, so you can bet we’d give you some curvy competition.)
My new novel, Haven Lake, launches on April 7, and you’d think I’d be an old hand at this stuff. I’ve done this many times, with a memoir and other novels. Yet, every writer has a crisis of confidence at book launch time. It’s similar to what parents feel when we drop off our kids at college that first day: Is our baby ready to be independent? How will she get along with others? Will she be laughed at or scorned? Will she be a success or drop out because the competition is too tough?
Launching your first novel is exciting because you don’t know what to expect. It’s a big deal that you’ve published a book at all.
Launching subsequent books is still a big deal—we’re living the dream, right?–but in some ways it’s even more intimidating. All of us know what it feels like to get a bad review. We’ve tasted failure, perhaps. Or maybe we’ve been successful and now we worry that readers will compare our books and find this one lacking. (This is the equivalent of hearing someone say at your class reunion that you’ve really let yourself go).
Or we worry that reviewers, having already found us, will skip reading this book altogether and spend their time on more exciting debut authors. (The equivalent of a husband deciding he wants a trophy wife.)
Writers worry about sales when we launch our books, too, of course. We know that our publisher will drop us like hot granite blocks with poisonous snakes curled around them if our numbers don’t measure up to our advances.
Fortunately, there are book lovers aplenty, and they’re not thinking about any of those things. They’re simply thinking: “Oh, good! Something new to read!” Maybe they pick up our books for the covers, or for the descriptions on the back. Or because a friend knows our mother. Who knows? We just feel lucky when readers are willing to share their time with us, when there are so many demands on everyone’s time: work, kids, NetFlix, and those seven ways to make your husband happy in bed you keep seeing in magazines at the hair salon.
Our best friends are the booksellers. They put themselves out there every day to put readers and writers together, matching interests better than eHarmony. I have always depended on independent bookstores for inspiration, whether I want to start reading something new or want to find a book that inspires my writing. Some of my longtime favorites:
The Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge, MA, where I found my first writing group through a notice pinned on a bulletin board
The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, MA, where I first discovered one of my favorite mystery authors, C.J. Box
City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, CA, where I once heard a guy read poetry he’d created on a typewriter as people in the audience shouted out their favorite phrases to him
R.J. Julia Bookstore in Madison, CT, where a woman told me about her Army father raising parrots in their basement after I read from my memoir about my dad being a gerbil czar
Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport, MA, where I love doing my book launches because the owner, Sue Little, is not only my good friend, but the mother of my son’s best friend, too.
In addition to the booksellers, we writers owe librarians big time. They steer readers toward our books, too, and host us for talks even when it’s snowing so hard you can barely see to walk to the library. (Yes, I mean YOU, Massachusetts.)
Librarians also organize and host book clubs where readers can engage in discussions so lively that they often extend past library hours and, yes, into our local bars. (See? There’s not enough wine in the world…)
I would be even more nervous about launching Haven Lake next week, for instance, if I hadn’t had the good luck to know Elizabeth MacGregor, Book Club Leader Extraordinaire at the gorgeous Flint Public Library in Middleton, MA. Elizabeth and her “Bookettes” have been meeting for over a dozen years, and these enthusiastic readers received early copies of Haven Lake courtesy of my publisher. They were gracious enough to meet with me and talk about the book. I can’t thank them enough for such thoughtful comments, and especially for how they discussed my characters as if they were people they actually knew. (Pictured above: me with the Bookettes–I’m in the blue jacket–so fun!)
Writers write because we want our stories to come alive. We hope to transport readers to completely different worlds, to places where they’ll experience strong emotions, fresh thoughts and new perspectives. We couldn’t do that without fellow book lovers helping us spread the word about our writing.
So, to you, booksellers, librarians and readers: thank you for inspiring our stories and giving us the confidence to commit them to the page. We couldn’t do it without you.