And what a post publication week it has been!
On pub day, Culturalist included Under the Birch Tree in its “Top 10 Inspiring Stories of Self-Discovery to Read When You’re Feeling Lost.” And Buzzfeed listed my memoir as “Five Captivating Memoirs You Need to Read This Summer.” My book made a list? I certainly didn’t expect my book to make a list of any kind.
Last week’s release of Under the Birch Tree was like an opening of the flood gates, the anticipation mounting as the months ticked, moving closer to publication day. And then, bam, the book was freed, to be blasted into the stratosphere of chance, hoping luck would blow my way and favorable winds would move it along into the hands of interested readers. In my book, self-discovery is mapped out over decades of experiences. But in just ten months of a publication process, I had a crash course in publishing while learning more about myself.
In April of 2017, I signed with She Writes Press, a hybrid publisher. I think it took me at least six months to understand not only what is a hybrid publisher but also what it meant for me, a first-time author. In the following August, tip sheets were due and later, comp titles, with a copyedit to endure and a proofread to follow. Subsequent months marked these deadlines. And so did my anxiety when it was time to secure blurbs. Reaching out to people I didn’t know was difficult because I not only had to ask for something from someone, a “stranger,” but also I had to ask that someone to read my book. I struggled to find the best fit “stranger” who would be among the firsts to read my story. Oh, my internal dialogue matched my introverted self who wanted to recoil. But I found sometimes when you ask for something, you can get what you’re looking for. And what you receive may be even better than you expected. Such was the case for me. The three blurbs I received from successful published authors were just the right fit. These wee endorsements would have their final resting places on my back cover.
There were always “firsts” of everything—first time author, first to learn hybrid, independent publishing, tip sheets and comp titles, editorial reviews and book reviewers, metadata and author pages. And because firsts connote the unknown, fear erupted because of my perceived inability to control an outcome. Rapid-fire questions bombarded my inner dialogue. Do I understand this? What does this mean? What do I do now? As “firsts” lined up like dominos, I worked through them, knocking them down as I met deadlines, readying myself for the next “first.” I realized my fear was something I had made up, an unnecessary distraction from seeing this “first” experience as one of being on the road to really being a published author.
Things got real when I read first pages. It looked, and read, so different! When I once thought my narrative had a good flow and rhythm in a Word document, I saw bumps, stutters and repetition in first pages. I had no idea why this would be. Perhaps first pages made the whole project a real work, in context and no longer a work in progress, in pieces. And when I moved to second pages, and then to advanced reader copies, I saw, with every step of progression, a tightened narrative where there was a purpose for each scene and place for every dialogue piece. To final pages, covers, and then to print. The making of my book was completed in early spring. I had my memoir, in full color with front and back covers to hold my story in place. Seeing my story in chapters and numbered pages made it look legit, that I wasn’t a working author but an author who had worked a memoir.
Years ago when I would tell people that I’ve been writing a book, a memoir, they’d respond, “Oh, a published author!” or “When will you publish?” I’d dismiss the suggestive comments with a shake of my head, averting their gaze. The opportunity to publish was a door that had opened. No longer thinking that publishing my book was a long way away, I stepped through to accept the invitation. Self-doubt and fear can feed a comfort zone; one I had that was disguised as a belief that I had all the time in the world to keep working on my story. But when I stepped out of my comfortable familiar to see Under the Birch Tree in paperback, I realized the accomplishment. And with an affirmative shake of my head, yes, I can answer I am a published author.
The publication process was a humbling experience. I didn’t expect the unexpected where it wasn’t just learning about tip sheets, metadata and comp titles but about how I discovered the inevitable, final publication, the end of a timeline where once upon a time I had a draft of a manuscript with a birch tree in my thoughts and an idea of connecting to home.