It’s Friday, December 7. I have the opening shift at the coffee shop this morning, so I am up at 4:45, but my book isn’t the first thing I think of. It’s not until 6:00, when I find a novel with underwhelming cover art under the cash register, that I remember: this is the day the proof copy of Leave It All comes in the mail.
What ideally–and theoretically will–happen is this. There will be a brown cardboard parcel on my doorstep when I get home from work. I’ll stand on the front porch to rip it open. It will look perfect. Against all odds, the print will not be crooked and the cover art will be bright and crisp with no empty space. The book, though self-published, will not look it. The only sign that I made this without a big company’s backing is the absence of an imprint on the bottom of the spine. The matte cover finish will not be too matte. The cream pages will not be too cream. After thousands of dollars and nearly three years, it will be a properly moving and joyful moment.
I’ll slam that first perfect hard copy on the bar when my boyfriend and I meet for drinks tonight. I’ll slam it loud enough for the bartender to whip her head around and I’ll show her too. I’ll keep it in the passenger seat of my car so passers by can see it. I’ll bring it to church on Sunday to show my grandpa. I’ll hold it to the glass of my siblings’ apartment doors over my face. I’ll order hundreds of copies and before I know it, I’ll be selling my book to people, like the real author I will finally be.
But I’m not there yet. Now I am at work, and it’s 10:00, and I have an hour to go until I can go home. The book could be delayed in coming even though the text notifications assure me it will arrive by tonight. Worse, there could be a problem with it. I could open the box and smile until I flip it over and see the back cover has ugly streaks from the printer. Or the cover that I approved over email might look hackneyed in my hands. Or there could be pages missing. So many things could go wrong—it’s more likely that that happens than everything is right—and then that familiar, hot fury that’s accompanied me through the last year of working on this will alight on the back of my neck and I’ll lose my appetite and go on a run but that won’t help and then I’ll fire off emails to the printer, to my editor, to anyone, wailing, “MAKE THIS RIGHT.”
I keep being cheerful at work until I remember that it’s a decisive day. Then my stomach turns and I get lightheaded. I have no patience for anyone. A monk in red robes comes in from the Buddhist meditation center across the street and I get irritated when he asks if we sell chocolate bars. A regular asks me how I am and I say I’m well and I get annoyed at him for not reading my mind and knowing that I’m nervous. I keep needing to pee.
It’s gross, but I’m on the toilet at 10:30 and checking my email and that’s when I see that the book has come.
I am scared to go home. I decide to get my hair trimmed, but the salon doesn’t have an opening right now. So I decide I need to buy some nail polish. It’s a marketing thing, I rationalize: if I have bright nails then I can take a photo of me holding my book and it’ll pop and I’ll sell more copies. Four bucks for green nail polish. One last investment.
I can’t find the neon color I envisioned for myself at Walgreens, so I have to go home. I drive by an empty lot and there is an excavator in the dirt. Its bucket has been removed. I wonder how heavy the bucket is. I wonder if I could pick it up. I wonder if I could stop real quick and try.
I keep driving. I have to pee again.
I get home. I see the package. I pee. I go to my room.
And now I have to open it. I rip apart the cardboard.
There it is, okay, there it is. Holding it feels familiar and foreign at the same time.
Does it look grainy? I feel like the cover looks a little grainy and blurry. I don’t know if I can fix that. Are the colors bright enough? It might be my room’s lighting. But the design is right: it looks like a book I would write, with all the colors and the paint splattered map. Is my name spelled right? I read it slowly: yes, it’s correct. The spine: it’s right, it’s fine. It looks self published. I wish the spine’s font could be bigger. My name is too small. The small pink font will be hard for some people to read. That sucks. I do wish the cover image looked sharper. I open it: where are the typos? Where are the hundred layout mistakes that are sure to appear now that it’s too late? I find one on the map page: the point over Atlanta is off by a couple millimeters. Maybe not enough to throw a fit over but if this were a real book—
I thumb through it like a flip book. It’s the perfect size: not thin enough to seem trivial, not thick enough to be daunting. The blank pages I insisted on between chapters look good. I’m glad I pushed against the designer on that. I look at the last page, where the editor has indented my entries differently than I did. I decide she was right and the way she indented that last page lends the writing more immediacy. I like how the pages feel under my right thumb.
I’ve seen my writing in notebooks, diaries, photos, sticky notes, PDFs, research papers, PowerPoints, emails, and texts, but never in a book with my name on the cover. I don’t know much about pricing books in foreign markets or using social media or metadata or Amazon or ebooks or any of that… but I’ve got a book with my name on the cover.
So that’s it. It’s done. It’s flawed. It’s a Christmas miracle. Its three months late. It’s a book.
Forget the dot over Atlanta and the spine’s font size. I suddenly am ravenous. I want to paint my nails. I suddenly am not annoyed at everyone who asks me about my book. When I meet Matt this evening, I will slam it on the counter loud enough for the bartender to hear.