Is That All There Is? Reflections of a Debut Novelist

I don’t know what you expected when you published your first novel. In truth, you tried hard to keep expectations low so that they would be met and perhaps exceeded. But the build-up to a book launch is so huge it’s inevitable that there would be some letdown afterwards.

For months after your book is accepted for publication, you toil–editing and proof-reading, obtaining endorsements from other authors, building your platform through your website, doing interviews, writing blog posts, engaging on social media, setting up and preparing for events. You excitedly check your email for mentions of your book in the trade magazines and swoon every time your baby is selected for some list of ten best novels for fall in x (fill in the blanks) or some blogger shows your book cleverly staged on Instagram and says how they are looking forward to reading it. Each occasion that you see your name in print in conjunction with your book is a cause for celebration. Your book!!!

When you receive copies of the final printed version in all its gorgeousness, you practically have an out-of-body experience. You buy the perfect outfit for your launch, order a cake with an image of the cover, and practice your presentation over and over. Your name appears in the book event column in the Sunday paper. Wow! It’s happening—this moment you’ve been working towards for years. For years!

Finally, it’s launch day. Advance readers post the first glowing reviews on Amazon. You take one large swig of whiskey before showing up at the bookstore. Ten minutes later the chairs are set out, the room is filling, and before you know it, it’s packed, you’re introduced by a staff member, and you’re on. You look out at the sea of faces, all there for you, all expectant. Your nerves disappear although your mouth is a bit dry and somehow you sail through, the crowd applauds, you sign books until your hand cramps, and you arrive at your after-party tired, but still basking in your moment of glory. You are so on top of the world, you don’t sleep a wink that night.

But a few days later, you wonder whether that evening might have been the peak of the experience, and it was one of the best moments of your life and totally worth everything, but now what? You sold a bunch of books both prior to that night and on that night, but you still need to sell books, right? You have a calendar of scheduled events, and none of them, though each special in its own way, could live up to the launch, you surmise.

You start humming that old Peggy Lee hit from your childhood, “Is That All There Is?” which is all about dealing with loss and disappointment, and isn’t all that apropos, but it captures your mood. Nevertheless, you plug away, writing your blog posts, doing your social media, perplexed as to what the heck works, feeling a bit envious of the next round of authors who seem to be getting all the hype, leaving you in a cloud of dust, it seems. And after a while, you aren’t sure you’ll ever write another novel or finish the one that’s already been through a dozen revisions because what’s the point?

You take stock of these past few months and what you got from this publishing thing, for want of a better word, and you realize it’s not about the book sales (although you won’t object if they’re good) or the number of people who show up to your events (when the numbers are small, it’s easier to engage, after all).  It’s not about the number of hearts your Instagram posts receive or that stupid one-star rating on Goodreads (look at all the great reviews you got from other people.)

So, you make a list of what IT is about because you like lists, and the list is long. IT is—

  • The young reporter whose enthusiastic interview with you graces the cover of your local paper
  • One long-time friend who offers to pay for your launch day outfit and another whose marketing ideas for your novel keep flowing
  • Your publication buddy, who has gently pushed you, partly by example, to do more than you ever thought you wanted to do to promote your book
  • The classmate you’ve known since you were 11 who drives six hours to surprise you at your launch; the college mate who came the length of the state; and your niece, who flew across the ocean to be there for you on your big day
  • The friend who fixes your dangling microphone and who at your after-party makes sure you have your favorite drink in hand, a plate of food, and a piece of the chocolate half of your cake because he knows you like chocolate
  • The trade reviewer who gets what your book is about, who is happy to cast off the not quite right genres it has been assigned, and who calls you “a writer to watch.”
  • Friends from all walks of your life, some coming out of the woodwork, telling you how proud of you they are and that they bought your book and enjoyed it and then bought copies for three other people and asked their library to order it
  • The high school classmate you barely knew who tells you he saw a certain something in you maybe others didn’t recognize (and whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter)
  • The people who give you objects they found or bought that reminded them of your book—clothing patches, good luck charms, postcards
  • The headmaster from your Quaker secondary school, who requests a copy of your novel for the library, and when you tell him it’s a bit racy, he doesn’t bat an eye, and says he still wants you to inscribe it to the school
  • The acquaintance who runs up to you and hugs you and tells you how much she LOVED your book, just LOVED it
  • The couple who hosts a book-reading party for you at their house, the friends who invite you to their book clubs, and the former roommate who makes a connection for you at her local bookstore across the country so you’ll come visit
  • Your husband, who has supported you every step of the way, who helped to edit your novel, who attends and photographs every event for you
  • All the people you named in your acknowledgements who helped make your books what it is
  • The amazing community of authors of which you are now a member who willingly answer questions and share their experiences
  • The validation of this personal side of you that you dared to share with the world

In the end (on this Valentine’s Day), it’s about the LOVE—the love you receive from others and the love you give yourself for this amazing accomplishment.

If that’s all there is, you’re down with that. You go on dancing, just like Peggy Lee said, but your new anthem is the Beatles, “All You Need Is Love.” Then, you get back to writing because wasn’t that the point in the first place?


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