Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

So, how's the book?

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Yesterday, I wrote about dealing with the question authors often get, which goes along the lines of, “what are you working on next?”

That’s not the question that’s the problem for me. The hard one, the question I never, ever know how I should answer is, “how’s your book?”

It’s such a short, simple question – how could it cause a problem?

Maybe that’s just it – there isn’t enough to it. Nothing specific, as vague and blasé as “how are you?”

It’s made into even more of a problem because I appreciate that people ask, that they’re interested in what I do. And maybe that’s why I always feel like I’m disappointing them in my answers.

Let me explain why this trips me up:

1. A lot of the time, people ask “how’s your book?” rather than “how are you?” This usually comes from people who I haven’t seen in a while.

Sometimes, I’ll hear people say to parents, “How is your kid?” And then the parents will light up and smile and say, “Oh, the baby just started crawling,” or “she just finished Grade 1,” or whatever.

Because my book is not a person, I find it harder to answer this question. It won’t get sick or learn how to walk or graduate from high school. And because the book is not a person, and I am, I sometimes wonder why people think that what the book’s been up to will make better conversation than what I’ve been up to. But maybe they know something I don’t.

So then I give a boring answer, like, “It’s fine, things are good.” And then they wait for me to say something else and I don’t know what else to say, so…

2. …I ask, “What would you like to know about it?”

This is usually the point when people shrug. I can see them scrambling for something. Often they come up with, “How are sales? Are you selling a lot of copies? Or is everything just dying down?”

Um, I don’t know, but speaking of dying down…

3. While I doubt there’s a writer out there who would like to think that attention around their book is ever fizzling, the activity around a book does.

When it’s published, the initial promotion and launch are the last parts of the process. The reviews eventually come to an end as the launch date moves further behind us. Once it’s out into the world and you’ve done all you can to get the word out there, then you move on.

You start other projects and do other things, just happy to know that the book is out there. Because really, that’s the best you can hope for with a book: that it will be out on store shelves, waiting to be discovered.

Whenever I answer the “how’s your book” question with, “it’s good, it’s out there,” I feel like I’m disappointing people, because, after it’s been out for a while, any reviews and interviews and signings are pretty well over, or very sporadic. There’s no whirlwind news to gab about. I don’t have a bestseller and I don’t have a big book tour and I don’t have any money to show for anything.

I’m okay with it, so why do I feel like other people aren’t?

I recognize that this is more my problem than it is for the people who are just trying to make conversation with me. I should probably just be less awkward about the whole thing and say, “everything’s going great. How are things with you?”

When I asked a few other writers how they deal with this same question, I found they all had their own approaches.

Karen Dales, award-winning author of The Chosen Chronicles series

“I'm lucky enough that at this point I can refer them to the numerous
professional reviews I have received for The Chosen Chronicles. I'll usually state something along the lines that Angel of Death: Book One of the Chosen Chronicles is the Siren Books Award Winner for 2010 and Shadow of Death: Book Two of the Chosen Chronicles receives top reviews.”

Brett Alexander Savory, author of In and Down and The Distance Traveled

“My immediate reaction to that question is: ‘My book is fine, thank you. How's yours?’”

Sam Sutherland, author of the forthcoming punk rock history Perfect Youth

“The funniest thing I've found, in terms of my own response to ‘how's the book’ is that, because writing is so solitary, I will end up rambling endlessly about some bizarre, tiny, insignificant aspect of what I've been writing about.

"Like, ‘did you know there was a punk band in St. John's in 1977? No? Let me tell you everything about it, ever.’ The biggest problem I have now is that the first draft is in, and the book isn't scheduled for publication until fall 2012. That's a long time. So people who have asked in the past now get, ‘it's done,’ followed by, ‘out in fall 2012 – yeah, in a year a half.’ Hard to feign excitement about something that far in the future (for them, for me, I'm perpetually stoked).”

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Liz Worth 2011

Liz Worth is the Toronto-based author of Amphetamine Heart (Guernica Editions, 2011), Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977-1981 (Bongo Beat/ECW, 2011) and Eleven: Eleven (Trainwreck Press, 2008), a shot of surreal punk fiction.

Go to Liz Worth 2011’s Author Page