Skydiving in Literary Form

So, as you probably know, I wrote a book, and I’m in the process of setting up a publishing imprint to self-publish it, and eventually, other books, maybe even by other people. When I tell people this, they often react with a note of awe in their voices. “Wow! That’s amazing, I could never do that.” I find myself confused by this, to be honest. Because writing the book, particularly this book, wasn’t really very hard. About half of the content is new, stories that I intentionally sat down to write for this publication, but about half of it is stuff that I’ve written over the past ten years. Compared to running TasteTO and writing 2 or 3 pieces a day at 500 – 1000 words each, writing a book of essays about my life and food was, well, easy and fun.

Writing a novel, which I did in 2005 (it’s sitting in a drawer, waiting to be published); that was a lot harder. But still not as hard as running a daily-updated website.

What is hard, and scary, and intimidating, is the actual work involved in publishing a book.

Normally, writers who deal with established publishers don’t ever have to deal with the technical aspects of putting together a book. They submit a manuscript, get galleys in return to do edits, and while they may have some say in the cover, or paper quality or overall design, they don’t literally have to set up templates or calculate signatures (those little bundles of sheets of paper that make up the pages of a book) to determine spine width.

I don’t think I have uttered the phrase “This scares the crap out of me!” so many times in my life as I have in the past few weeks.

But when you self-publish, or run an indie publishing house, even if you use something as user-friendly as the set-up at Lulu, you encounter a whole lot of stuff to do with book-making that has nothing to do with writing.

Thankfully, I have had lots of guidance. I’ll be repeating these names a lot over the next few months, but Jodi Lewchuk (who broke the news to me that I likely couldn’t have a cover with French flaps – see, scary technical term) and Katherine Verhoeven (who told me that I could have cover art that wraps around from front to back – yay!) have been indispensable, both as individuals involved in the book (editing and illustration, respectively) and because they both work in various aspects of the industry and had scads of knowledge and experience that has been astoundingly helpful and that I wouldn’t have access to if I were going it alone.

This project has also been, for me, an exercise in facing fears. How many people do you know who talk about writing a book or making a movie or doing something that puts their creativity out there for all too see (and critique)? Even if they get the work done, the part where they have to do the technical stuff, or sell their work, or promote it, that’s the part that is terrifying with the potential to be heartbreaking. And it’s definitely the part where the average person is most likely to give up, to convince themselves that their work isn’t worth sharing, or that they just can’t do it, or that no one will read/watch/buy it, anyway.

But it’s also the part that is an awful lot like skydiving in that you just have to trust in what you know, trust in what you’ve been taught and in the integrity of the people there to guide you, and then jump.

I’ve often been a person afraid of jumping. And afraid of trusting. I am still, and probably will always be, a person with a cynical, doubting voice in my head that tells me not to bother, that I can’t do it, and who the hell do I think I am for even trying, anyway? That voice can shut the fuck up. Seriously. I’ve done what I can to silence it and its Eyore-like pronouncements of doubt and failure by just putting on a brave face, sucking up my fear, and sitting down to the task at hand.

And some of these tasks are scary, and confusing, and frustrating. Sometimes I need to put in a call to my experts for advice. But all through the process, there is this charge of excitement. Because I am learning something new, I am experiencing something so wonderful and unique, and when it’s all done, when I have that finished book in my hands finally, I think it will be an even sweeter, prouder moment than if it had been handed to me by a publisher who did all the work on my behalf.

So the next time someone praises me for the act of writing a book, I am going to try to be less humble. No more, aw, gosh, it was nothing. It IS an amazing, fantastic thing, and I have every right to be proud, not just of the writing itself, but of that DIY spirit that compelled me to do this on my own. I am publishing a book – how fucking cool is that??