You walk into a bookstore, and there, faced out, is a book with your name on it. You take it off the shelf, run your hands over the beautiful jacket with embossing and the expensive paper and a perfect blurb. Then you pull the jacket off, mooning over the hardcover's surprising color. And they splurged on the imprinted title!
You open your book, the spine cracking oh-so-splendidly. The pages are perfect, with a beautiful font for each chapter heading and even a little graphic that matches your book's tone perfectly.
Finally, your book is a "real" book.
I've been thinking a lot lately about this idea of a "real" book. For better or worse, it seems that we writers have this ideal in our heads. I can admit to it; I've fantasized about publishing for a long while. But the longer I've spent on the fringes of publishing—as in knowing a lot about the business and knowing a lot of people in it—the more I've come to see how dangerous this ideal can be. Especially in a time when the traditional idea of a book is changing rapidly.
I have 13 completed books on my hard drive, most of which haven't seen much past my little crit partner circle. Are these books not real because they aren't printed between two hardcovers?
I feel a bit like Pinocchio. I just want to be a real boy! I want my stories to have skin and bones and all that real boy stuff.
But did Pinocchio being wood invalidate his humanity? His feelings? One could argue he was just as human as a puppet as he was as a "real" boy, no? Different package, sure, but human, mistakes and all. Hell, you could even argue that being a puppet has its advantages.
Is a book "real" if it debuts in paperback? With no pretty jacket or stiff spine to crack? Is a book "real" if it's only a digital copy for sale online, just words on a screen as it always has been? Is a book "real" if it's never been published in any form at all?
I think we all know the "good writer" answer: Yes! Of COURSE these books are all real. Even the roughest first draft is a real book.
Why doesn't it feel that way then?
Why do I feel like my stories are "less" because they aren't encased in an expensive hardcover? Why does it feel like paperback debuts are "lesser" than a hardback debut? Why are digital books seen as "less" than both hardback and paperback? I don't know the answer, really, except that it probably has to do with that fantasy above, and reality often falling short of it.
A friend of mine compared it to envisioning your wedding day. Most girls have plans, ideals, for what that day will bring. I remember wanting to have my reception in a fancy ballroom with a big chandelier and a live band and amazing food.
I had my reception in a church cultural hall. AKA: A gym. No chandelier. Because it was free and we weren't made of money, still aren't. I made my own playlist, and my sister put it on her iPod. We played it from some small speakers. BUT. The food was amazing, thankyouverymuch. Peppermint cheesecake FTW. My priorities were made very clear, heh.
If I wanted to, I could focus on all the things my wedding day wasn't. Honestly? It did not even come close to what I pictured as a little girl.
But it was still the best day of my life.
Because the important things were there—the most essential being a man I would marry over and over again. I was so in love with him that all the details didn't matter. I didn't let them matter.
I hope that, when publication comes, I can handle it like I did my wedding. I hope I can focus not on what form my book takes, but on what's between the title page and the acknowledgments. I hope I can rejoice in the fact that a stranger out there might buy it and read it and love it. I hope I can remember that my books are as real now as they'll ever be.