When my first mainstream-published book, The Indie Author Guide: Self-Publishing Strategies Anyone Can Use, shipped to booksellers at the end of November, I started checking the Borders and Barnes & Noble sites almost daily to find out when the book would become "available in-store". I planned on making the pilgrimmage to all my local stores to see my book on the shelves, but with some ambivalence.
After all, why should I, an outspoken indie author who says brick-and-mortar sales aren't all they're cracked up to be, care if my book is shelved in physical stores or not? I imagined I shouldn't care at all...yet it seemed as if I did. At least, enough to visit the stores in person. I had to admit to myself that I did care, and I was kind of ashamed of that.
I imagined stepping into that first store, striding purposefully to the reference section, and being thrilled to find my book right there on the shelf next to all the others I'd so often perused in days gone by. I'd bring a camera with me, so I could enjoy that rite of passage so many authors I know have allowed themselves: having my picture taken, standing there in the bookstore with my book in hand, against a backdrop of shelves where several more copies of my book could be seen.
I further imagined coming back home to write a sheepish blog post about the whole thing, in which I'd have to come clean about still harboring some of those same mainstream publication fantasies as my peers who've remained steadfastly anti-selfpub, and who still view mainstream publication as the only publication that counts. Was it possible that in some way, however small and hidden from the world, I still believed it too? And if so, what would that mean?
I decided that having spent the majority of my years in a world where indie wasn't a viable option for the great majority of writers, and where self-pub was heavily stigmatized, it was only natural that my brain would become imprinted with such notions and as a writer, I'd internalize them without even necessarily being aware of it. But if this were the case, as Ricky Ricardo might say, I'd have some 'splainin to do.
Well, by now you've probably noticed there is no picture of me proudly brandishing my book posted here. The outcome of my little expedition to that first store surprised me.
As planned, I drove to my nearest store and walked in, camera in hand. I found five copies of my book on the shelf, and my reaction was one of, "Huh. So there it is. Yep. Right there." I felt no more excitement at seeing my book shelved in a Barnes & Noble than I might've felt eyeing my car coming out of the far end of a car wash. It wasn't a thrill for me at all; it was merely a confirmation, like double-checking to ensure a deposit I've made was properly credited to my checking account. I didn't bother having the picture taken, and as I was feeling more awkward than happy standing there, I left. And I didn't bother visiting any of the other bookstores on my list.
I felt WAY more excitement than this when I saw my first self-pubbed title listed on Amazon. THAT'S the moment when I felt like a "real" author. This was just...business.
Part of me feels sort of robbed of this nugget of joy I thought I had coming to me, but the larger part feels relieved to learn I can now say in all honesty and from personal experience, mainstream publication is not the be-all, end-all it's been built up to be for people of my generation and older. If it's been your lifelong dream to see your name on a book on a brick-and-mortar store shelf, I sincerely hope that dream comes true for you one day, and I have no intention of diminishing the importance or meaning of your dream for you. But if you've been of an indie mindset for any significant period of time you may be surprised to find---as I was---when that much-anticipated day of fulfillment finally arrives, your dream apparently changed at some point when you weren't paying attention to it.
Probably when you were busy self-publishing.