(while doing a book reading)
Yes, it’s True Confession time once again. This time, I am motivated by a recent post from Kathy Pooler on Seven Lessons I’ve Learned About Doing Book Readings.
As I mentioned in my comment there, I enjoy the book readings that come with having a book for sale.
In addition to doing readings at book stores and libraries, I’ve spoken in schools, Rotary Clubs, and other social or educational groups. While my talks to school groups focus on how culture impacts food, table manners, and clothing, and how to spell and pronounce the word Kazakhstan, when I speak to adults, I talk about:
- joining the Peace Corps as an older, married volunteer;
- how important it is, as our world gets smaller and smaller, to appreciate cultural differences among our fellow human beings, (with a few ideas on how to do that); or
- the revolution that’s happening in the publishing world and how the explosion of self-publishing options has changed the face of publishing.
It was that last topic that drew me to the Rocky River Public Library in Ohio last October. Dubbed, Presenting Self-Published Authors, the panel of three was moderated by Michael Heaton, the self-proclaimed “Minister of Culture” who writes in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (and, even more exciting for me, the brother of Patricia Heaton … yes, the Everybody Loves Patricia Heaton.).
Meanwhile, along a parallel path
I’d recently gone from my book’s second edition (typos fixed and a bit more fleshing out of the marital subplot) to my third edition.
This third edition had become necessary only after the second edition reached Kazakhstan, when I learned I’d used the wrong patronymic for my counterpart Gulzhahan on the Dedication page! Without thinking, I’d used the patronymic of my colleague Gulzhan. I had to fix my faux pas.
Thinking what better time to bring in a professional proof-reader, I had the entire manuscript, digital version as well as print, reread with a professional fine-toothed comb.
I might as well make it perfect, I told myself.
Perfect. Is there really such a thing? Maybe the Taj Mahal, or the Mona Lisa. Certainly not a book. At least not my book.
But I didn’t know that yet.
The as-close-to-perfect-as-I-was-going-to-get Third Edition was finally released in early October and with my departure for Ohio for my upcoming talk looming, I had the twenty books I ordered for the event delivered to my son Jon in Ohio, where I’d pick them up the day before my Rocky River evening.
Oh, so clever of me.
Yes. That was a red flag.
Back to my Rocky River gig
It wasn’t billed as a book reading, so I didn’t bother to read over any passages I might be reading that evening, as had been my pattern with all of the previous book readings I’d done. I didn’t even bother to open the new books. They’d been proofed after all. This time, professionally.
We would be given the opportunity to sign and sell our books following the panel discussion, so I brought the box of books straight from Jon’s house, stopping only long enough to cut open the mailing carton and move them into a rolling duffle bag on wheels that I use to cart my books around.
I placed a few of my newly-perfect books on the table with me during our panel discussion. I might need them for a visual aid, after all. The rest were stacked on a back table where we would sit for the signing.
The event was well-planned and, since I’d gotten my new “now perfect” book in time, I decided my experience working with the proof reader would nicely inform my presentation.
My message to the audience was clear: Pay the money and do it right.
I bemoaned the prevalence of poorly proofed books.
Self-published authors, I told my listeners, have enough of an uphill path to climb as we strive to counter the stigma of self-published as “less than.”
And just as we will all benefit as the industry gets more professional, we also suffer when any self-published book comes out that is unprofessional.
Whether it’s how the headers and pagination are formatted, the quality of the cover, or the readability of the text, all parts of every book are important as our industry combats the public perception of self-publishing as a path of last resort.
We need to take our job as publisher as seriously as we take our job as writer.
If we are going to self-publish, then for heaven’s sake pay the money to have your work professionally proofed. After all, I had just done that and I was proud that I had. And I believe I lifted one of my books and fanned it for the audience to see.
Trust me, I was pretty obnoxious about this.
We were three very different writers.
Karl Bort, to my left, was a nurse and former Cleveland police detective who now wrote crime fiction. He spoke about his writing process, which included hiring a ghost writer.
Kate Elizabeth Nagel, on my right, was a life coach who used her very personal memoir in gaining new clients.
And there was me, with a memoir of my two years as an older, married Peace Corps volunteer, preaching about the need to put out a quality product.
The discussion flowed smoothly, Michael asked good questions of each of us and moved us along quickly. Then he suggested we each read the first page of our book.
“Just the first page,” he emphasized.
Karl read his first four pages, stopping at the first logical place to end. His opening scene was gripping.
Then it was my turn. I was stoked. I love my first page. After all, it’s the page that without a doubt had been edited, tightened, tweaked, and proofed more than any other page. I had no concerns as I opened my book to Chapter One, Arrival, and began to read the first four paragraphs on the page. I thought I’d probably go on through the end of that first section, just two and a half pages, as Karl had just done.
I was 55 when I stepped off that train into blinding sunshine and a new life in Kazakhstan, half a world away from the life I’d had in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. …
To do this, I’d left behind a life I loved, given away a dog I adored, and abandoned the financial security that my work in Philadelphia had promised. …
The day my husband Woody and I got off that train, we’d already been in Kazakhstan for nearly three months, …
I was a few words into the fourth paragraph when I stopped cold. These were odd words I was now reading.
I recognized them as ones that had once lived in my About the Author page at the back of the book. “Delete them,” I’d told her.
But you know how sometimes the text you CUT gets placed on your CLIP BOARD? I can only guess that this is what happened and that somehow, at some unexpected moment, the words got pasted over the original sentence, replacing it. So, rather than reading my expected fourth topic sentence:
Our assigned destination was Zhezkazgan, a town once controlled by the now defunct Soviet Union and built with the labor from the gulags to house the workers for the nearby copper mines.
I was reading:
I’m working on several more books, including two for children: a chapter book, Grandma Goes to Kazakhstan, and a picture book, Two Bunnies.
Some public speakers would have been very good at covering up such a mistake. Perhaps some authors might even have remembered the missing sentence and recited it.
“This isn’t supposed to be here,” I proclaimed, rather loudly. And I scanned the page, expecting the missing words to pop out at me. Then I tried reading the next sentence,
It wasn’t much like my City of Brotherly Love, which had been laid out in a systematic grid pattern by the Quaker William Penn in the 17th century, …
But that wasn’t going to work. There was no referent to the “It.” There is a reason we were taught to write topic sentences in grade school!
“Excuse me a minute,” I added and hurriedly flipped to the About the Author page at the back, hoping to discover that the two sentences had somehow been simply switched.
“This is a sentence that was to be deleted. It’s not supposed to be here.” I explained. “I’m looking for the right one.”
Alas. It was not to be found. And I could not conjure it up, try as I might.
“Well, that’s a mystery,” I declared to the room and I closed my book. “I’m so sorry. I will need to get this fixed.” I hadn’t even read the full first page, never mind the nearly three pages of the first section.
Michael moved on to Kate, who gave a flawless presentation. But then, she’s a life coach.
My fourth edition came out soon after, with my shiny new Moritz Thomsen prize medallion on the cover. And my Fifth Edition arrived here at the house just last week. I wanted to tighten up my backstory in Chapter Two.
My book is still not perfect. And I realize now that it never will be. And that, I keep reminding myself, is OK.
How about you? With what tales of your own embarrassment can you comfort me?
Next Wednesday: The social function of embarrassment