The Thrill of the Shelf

Green is my third book release with Tor, following Mainspring in June of 2007 and Escapement in June of 2008. So far, the experience hasn’t become old hat to me. Not even remotely. Quite the opposite.

I didn’t know what to expect with Mainspring. The entire process was a mystery to me. I was shocked (in a good way) at the depth and detail of the copy edit, for example. Other aspects were odd, or more than odd. For example, by the time the mass market paperback of Mainspring came out in April of 2008, I’d re-read the book nine times. I don’t care how much you love your own work — and I do love mine — that kind of takes the sparkle out of it.

Except when the book hits the shelves. Then it’s all shiny again. And it still is. I routinely find Mainspring‘s mass market paperback on airport store shelves today. I routinely find the hardbacks in science fiction bookstores, and sometimes even general bookstores with science fiction sections.

And every time I see it, I feel the shiny all over again. The simple thrill of being one of them. One of those writers I’ve been following, looking up to, reading all my life. My name on the bookstore shelf truly is a mark of success for me.

A milestone I haven’t reached yet, but hope to some day, is seeing some random person — not a fan at a Con, for example — in some random place — a bus bench outside of Safeway, perhaps — reading one of my books.

Because there’s a special kind of madness to being a writer. A hubris which reaches beyond all the warnings your mother gave you not to put yourself forward and the “why would you want to stand out like that” scorn of your sixth-grade classmates and all the false Puritan modesty to which American culture requires us to subscribe in public lest we be considered weird. The hubris rests in the peculiar belief that people want to hear what you have to say.

Some of us are lucky enough to have our books out there on the shelf, carrying those words we have to say to people whose eyes are caught by the cover long enough, or whose reading habits stumbled over a review, or who heard about us on the bus or from a librarian or at work. That is the true thrill of the shelf, for which random bookstore sightings are just proxies. It’s me, being able to talk to you, both right now and over a very long time to come.

Jay Lake is the author of the author of Mainspring and Escapement, and winner of the 2004 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. His latest novel Green is available now from Tor Books.


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