A few days before Christmas, I finally received 50 copies of my new book. When the box arrived, I was thrilled. I took one out and savored the beautiful cover and the sense of completion, holding at bay both the terror that a typo may remain and also the nagging truth that the birth of a book is only its beginning. Like a human baby, it needs to be tended, nurtured and supported to find its own way out into the world.
Arriving Here: Reflections from the Heart and Trail is an invitation to readers to claim their own lives in new and important ways.
After the New Year, I began to write inscriptions to family members and the friends who had helped in early stages of the book. I was eager to get the books in the mail, beginning the process of announcing its arrival in the world. Then, as I was emptying the remaining 25 or so from the box, I noticed that one was smaller than the others. I began to look at the stack of books more closely – inside and out. They were different sizes. Many of the covers were tattered. Some of the margins were too small. In some books, the bottom margins were so small that the page numbers were literally at the bottom of the page. I leafed through like a flip book – none of the page numbers lined up. They were all at different heights.
How disappointing – after months of formatting, honing text and refining the cover, the first distribution of the book suffers from sloppy printing and cutting. I had enlisted support from a professional designer and two editors to ensure a polished presentation. Printing and distribution are the final stage of the process – and one that I don’t have any control over. Perhaps that is a saving grace. If (when?) I find an editorial or design error that slipped through, I will blame only myself and I am sure I will be disappointed and discouraged in some outsized way… But this sloppy finish work, I find easy to forgive. Oh well, someone neglected to notice that they needed to sharpen the blade on the trimming machine. Oh well, their alignment was messed up. Oh well, these books don’t look as sharp as they could but the message is still strong and resonant.
I could return the books to the printer, pointing out their mistakes and requesting replacements. But that would take weeks and, worse, they would simply “destroy” the copies I return. Instead of contributing to that waste, I have kept the books and continued to give them away. I am beginning to embrace the imperfections as an important nod toward reality. The facades of our lives appear clean and straight and tidy; in truth the real lives underneath are a little messier. We are all a little frayed around the edges sometimes. We don’t always line up straight and sometimes we run right off the page. I can live with imperfection. I can appreciate the ways in which it teaches me to soften my expectations of myself and others. This feels like a good lesson in letting go for me.
That said, I hope I am not the only one buying my book! And I know that book sellers and customers will (and should) expect margins to be clean and crisp. The cover should jump out at you for its beauty, not its fraying edges.
If you have ordered books and found the printing or binding so irregular that it is distracting or if, like a friend of mine, you received a copy that was missing the last chapter and end pages, please let me know. That’s unacceptable and can be corrected. If you bought the book at a bookstore, return it there and point out the problems. They will return it to the printer for a replacement. Once the distributor has received a few returns from retailers, I imagine they will pay better attention to future orders. Learning from and correcting mistakes is as useful and important as forgiving imperfections and holding expectations lightly. The birth of this book is not the end, it is just a beginning.
I am looking forward to hearing what the book has meant to readers. To bring the words off the page and into conversation, I will be convening an online book group later this spring. Let me know if you’d like to join us and I’ll send you an invitation.
If you have read Arriving Here: Reflections from the Hearth and Trail, please let me know what you thought. And please help me spread the word. Leave a review at Amazon or Goodreads to help other readers discover the book. Share stories or poems with friends and family. Recommend Arriving Here to your book group and invite me to join you for discussion.