Flashback 2012: A Book Launch With No Books

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Over the next couple of months, I'd ring in for the conference call every week or two, and sit there listening to Jill teaching us about how the publishing industry worked. We even had an in-person writing class once, with others Skyping in. With the Captain away at sea half the time, I was learning for both of us, and the 9 others on the course had a huge variety of projects. Most of us got on very well, although, as in any group - especially creatives - there were the more abrasive, oblivious personalities who'd occasionally hijack the conversation. But in general, it was going well.

Around Octoberish, Jill took the Captain and I out to a 'professional dinner'. We talked books, and the course, and how things were going. I talked about the draft cover for my book I'd been sent, and how it wasn't quite what I wanted yet. I talked about how I'd imagined having a figure on there as well, perhaps a shadowy figure looking over their shoulder with the wing in view. After saying she'd talk to the designer, Jill lamented the state of a solo mother in business, and discussed how the national creative funding body had turned her application down again. She'd come to NZ in the early 2000s, then lost everything, including her house in the 2008 recession. Now, she was being kicked out of her rental, and she had decided to move back to the UK. Of course, being a distance course, she'd be able to continue the Pear Jam thing, no problem. In fact, she'd probably have better contacts over there for selling our books overseas.

But don't tell the others just yet. Wouldn't want to worry them.

The launch date of early December was fast approaching. The Captain's book - and most of the others on the course - had much more work to do, and weren't close to being published yet. But mine was supposed to come out in time for Christmas.

Things were getting tense because I still hadn't seen much of the other stuff I needed, and had paid for. The website, the marketing materials, the final book cover, let alone the books themselves - I'd seen none of it yet. Jill blamed everyone else and the insane retail rush of the Christmas season delaying everything. But my 250 books were on their way. They'd arrive in time - she'd made them promise.

In mid-November, Jill hand-delivered a proof of the book, First Flight, to my house. I wanted so much to be excited - at last, my own book in my hand! But she appeared out of nowhere with the book, thrust it into my hands, hugged me, and rushed off. I didn't have the Captain to celebrate with - he was at sea - and when I looked at the book, I saw the cover had been changed slightly without my consultation. There was a silhouette of a person behind the feather, but it was all the wrong way and, to me, looked silly.

What I thought it was going to look like vs. what it actually looked like:

Digital proof on the left; actual copy on the right

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Digital proof on the left; actual copy on the right. If you look carefully you can see the faint dark outline of a person on the left edge, and how the arm of the inside-out wing is stuck to the back of his neck. It's not any easier to see in person either, and looks greyer, rather than bluish.

When I flicked through, there was a typo on the first page. And another three pages in. Then it became obvious that the designer had fixed another typo I'd earlier pointed out by doing 'replace all' and not checking  - there was now a period in the middle of a word near the end of the book. Because I'd discovered there is a British/American difference with writing "Dr" or "Dr.", or "Mrs" "Mrs.", etc., and I was trying to make is as American as possible, I'd asked her to put the periods in.

, and I was trying to make is as American as possible, I'd asked her to put the periods in

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I was crushed.

Still fighting depression and other hormonal issues, I did my best to put on a brave face. I prepared for the launch party. I invited everyone I could - Jill had explained NZ is so small, you only have to sell a few hundred copies to get into the list of best sellers for the week. I'd had a t-shirt printed with GENERATION ICARUS on the front and wings on the back. I believed it would all work out - even big publishers sometimes get typos in their books. It'll be fine.

The week before my book launch at an independent bookstore in Auckland, there was supposed to be the broader Pear Jam launch with all the books together. However, because only a handful of copies had arrived, Jill decided not to have any of them there at all, rather than have some authors miss out. A book launch with no books? No, it's a "Christmas Party" now. Where are the books? They're held up in Customs, I've emailed and called and it's been a nightmare. But they'll be here in time for your party. I promise.

The large "Christmas party" was a little awkward, but most people made the best of it. I met some people on the course for the first time in person. We all talked about how much we were learning, and commiserated over the state of the modern book industry. We patted ourselves on the back for being brave enough to forge a new, cooperative way of publishing. One day, we'd look back on these teething issues, and chortle. Hopefully over expensive champagne.

The day dawned and I arrived at the bookstore with my family. Friends began to arrive. Children began to arrive. There were 4 books being launched together - mine, another children's book, a chick lit, and a picture book with a collection of NZ stories. The chick lit book's author wasn't even there because she lived at the other end of the country, and couldn't afford to fly up. Jill had published the book for her because it was 'too good not to'.

Eagerly, I moved to the back of the store to open the boxes of my books. To see my hard work before they flew (I hoped) out the door.

There was one box.

One.

I had close to fifty guaranteed sales just by the people who were already there, but in there box, there were only twenty books.

"Jill, where are the rest of the books?" I asked, hoping like hell they were in her car - it was a very small shop.

She seemed distracted. "There are a few more at my place down the road."

"We're going to need them!"

You should have seen her face. It was like I'd just asked her to sacrifice her dog to the Book Goddess.

"I'll go get them if we need them."

What could I do? Make a scene as the party was about to get started? As children and strangers and family and friends waited eagerly on the other side of the bookshelves?

I swallowed my tears and gave the best damn performance I could. Not to brag, but the gaggle of kids I talked to about my book during the 'ceremonies' didn't move or say a word. When they were released from the formal bit, a group of them ran for my book and snatched about ⅔ of the copies off the shelf in the first minute. Anxiously, I had to rush to make sure my closest friends and family all got a copy. In fact, my parents gave their copies up because they wanted as many other people as possible to read it and tell their friends.

Jill did eventually go and get those extra copies from her house. She was gone nearly an hour. She returned with three copies.

Three.

Some of my friends left my book launch with nothing. Children I'd never met were asking for a copy, only to be told they'd all sold out already. I was so embarrassed, and emotionally disemboweled.

It was a total, utter disaster.

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