Note: I wrote this column about publishing my first novel in 2000. Times have changed and after re-reading this piece and remembering, I’m happy they have. Viva la revolution!
All I ever wanted to do was write, but I kept that knowledge to myself as I went to college and then became a teacher. Each summer I would pretend to be a writer. I might write a chapter on a novel, or I’d write an essay, but I never continued once I went back to the classroom with teenagers who I attempted to turn into Hemingways.
For a decade that unfinished novel lurked in a file cabinet staring at me reproachfully whenever I reached into the drawer. Like the romantic images of the writer, my novel sat enticing me until a wise man said to me, “It’s time to quit making excuses for not writing, and just do it if that’s what you want to do.”
I pulled out the abandoned novel, stopped making excuses, and I began to write.
Once I started, I couldn’t stop. The words came sometimes painfully, or sometimes faster than my fingers could type. Within two months I had a complete novel, and within the year, a small publisher accepted my book, A Victorian Justice (published under my former name, Patricia C. Behnke).
I never considered the next steps. My publisher told me I needed to get out there and sell my books. No one was knocking on my door to buy them.
I went to Ann Arbor, the largest city near the setting of my novel. I began pounding the city pavement in my high-heeled sandals carrying a large brief case loaded with books and press releases.
“You should have stayed home,” the first bookstore owner said. “If you aren’t famous nationally, you need to be at least well-known in this town. We’re used to famous people here in Ann Arbor. Getting started with your first book is nearly impossible.”
I shifted my briefcase to the other shoulder and entered bookstore number two.
“Who did you say you were again?” the manager asked. “What did you say you wrote?”
“We only book famous authors here. We get quite a few in Ann Arbor. But maybe we’ll order your book for a little local color.” She at least delivered her words with a smile.
My head began to hang just a little lower, my feet ached, and my briefcase became a burden, but I continued on my quest.
“I wouldn’t possibly be able to generate enough publicity before July to have you here for a signing. Now if you were famous. . .”
Why did everyone insist on telling me I wasn’t famous? Would a famous person be walking around a hot city lugging a twenty-pound briefcase and wearing sandals made for a wedding reception? I was painfully aware of my status as a non-famous person.
“Look, there’s someone who’s not famous,” I imagined customers whispering as I dragged my briefcase out the door. The will to put it on my shoulder abandoned me.
Somehow, I managed to gather the strength to continue my quest and arranged for ten book signings in Michigan. I ended up selling 500 copies of my first novel A Victorian Justice. I sold those copies one by one, handshake by handshake, and a little bit of my writing soul went with each autograph and each copy.
Twelve years later, I’m happy to sit at my desk or outside on the deck while my books sell themselves (with a little push from me) through the miraculous reach of the Internet. I’ll leave the book signings to the more famous among us.