I remember the anticipation the most; I had spent weeks working on the project and I was 99.9% sure that the fruit of my labors was waiting for me in my PO Box. I leaned down to open my box; it’s only three rows up from the bottom. I took a deep breath and turned the key.
It was waiting for me. A non-descript brown cardboard package, deceptively lightweight. My mom was waiting for me in the truck; we were just about to head to town for a grocery shopping trip.
Do I open it here, in the Post Office, alone, or wait until I was in the truck, with an audience? I was sure I was going to cry. That decided it for me; if I was going to cry I wanted it to be with only my mom watching and not the whole of a small town Post Office. I didn’t bother to pick up the mail in the four other PO boxes I checked daily but walked quickly out into the late summer sunshine and back to the truck.
My hands were trembling as I pulled back the cardboard zipper. That surprised me. It wasn’t the first time, exactly. I had been here before, almost.
The package opened in my lap. I was glad I was sitting down.
When I was in college, I decided that I should treat my writing like a business. I had a very small portfolio of work – mostly poems since my major was Creative Writing but my emphasis was poetry. Still, I knew that I had enough work to start sending out submissions and begin collecting rejection letters.
One of the first rules of submission is to carefully study the magazine or journal you’re submitting to. Then, you submit a piece (or write a piece) that meets the tone, style, and subject matter of where you want to be published. You could buy a copy of most literary journals for $20. And then submit three poems, no longer than a page, for another $20.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, I had a three hour break between classes. I designated this time “Submission Time”. Tuesdays I found places to submit, Thursdays I stuffed envelopes with poems. And checks.
I realized quickly that it added up. Fast. So I skipped the step that said study the publication and just started submitting to every contest, call for submission, and open reading period I could find.
One afternoon I was in the hallway of the English building and I saw a flier for a literary journal that was specifically for undergrads. More specifically, you had to be 1. an honors student; 2. attending a college with an honors program; and 3. the college’s honors program had to be in a certain nation-wide network. Amazingly, I met all the qualifications. I’d never heard of the journal but decided I’d give it a go. I popped a poem in an envelope and sent it off.
Weeks later, I got an answer: my very first publication for a poem called “Ode to a Tuna Fish Sandwich.” My dad sent flowers; my whole family got copies of the journal for Christmas. I was a published author – one little poem among thirty other undergrads who had also been published in that year’s edition.
How could this moment in my truck be so different than back in college with my first ever publication? Why was I shaking? Wasn’t this old hat? After all, I’d been published in journals, anthologies, trade publications, and travel magazines.
But it was different. Very different.
In my hands I held my book. MY book. With my name on the cover in yellow print in my favorite font that I called the Butter-Bear font even though the real name is butterbrotpapier.
I handed it to my mom. She opened it and saw the simple, two word dedication: For mom. We both cried, sitting in the truck, flipping through the pages, admiring the word PROOF across the last page. I knew I still had work to do: the title on the cover wasn’t centered, there was a typo in the first sentence of chapter three. I needed to carefully go over every word and scan for typos, mistakes, bad grammar, and clunky sentences.
I was surprised to realize that my self-published book didn’t feel at all like a cop-out or like a lesser-quality book than any other book I’d been published in before. I was stunned to realize how REAL it felt. To be a published author with a solo book. To know I had done it, finally. There was the dream of being a published author that I never realized hadn’t been completely fulfilled as a one-among-many author.
And yes, I gave out copies of my book for Christmas to my parents and grandparents and aunts. But the real gift was the one I gave myself when I realized my dream in publishing the book in the first place. Every time I publish a new book and hold it in my hands for the first time I get the same feeling – the whoosh in my stomach, my hands tremble, and I cry to hold the book in my hands with my name on the cover.
If I could, I’d bottle this feeling and serve it in little glasses to anyone who has ever wanted to publish a book. Just a little taste, a sample in a tiny crystal sherry glass. Just enough to feel the magic of having the book published; the gift to yourself. Then I’d help you realize the publishing dream. And take a photo of your face when you pull back the cardboard zipper and see your book sitting there with your name on the cover.
It’s a great feeling.
First published in Happier Healthier Women magazine.