I tore open the cardboard packaging much too eagerly and my palms smarted from the vigorous peeling off of unyielding adhesive tapes. But it’s worth the rawness of a few minutes. I looked at the book in my hand, dressed in dark brown, with the illustration of the heroine jumping out at me. My illustration. Not bad, I thought. The contrasts in color and tone give it some depth. The thing’s cover is otherwise unadorned except for a title and an author’s name. I like it. Its simplicity is arresting. But, of course, that is me and this is mine. It may be too somber and too plain for someone else.
This book has been out in digital guise for at least six months. It has sold more than I expected. Surprisingly. Several times more than the 200 copies I told myself I would be happy with. Enough that I felt compelled to open a business account to deposit royalties into. Publishing this book was, in a way, just a lark. The satisfaction the book gave me was mostly in its writing. I published it because I could, with the intent to share and not to make money.
So, this book’s digital version is just out there: not neglected but, certainly, not invested with much meaning. It has never had writing or publishing people to help nurture it nor friends and fiction fans to cheer it on. In fact, I kept its writing a secret. My identity has already been forged and tested in another arena. I did not think I needed nor even wanted affirmation as a novel writer. Was I also ashamed to admit I was writing a romance?
It was when that cardboard package finally released this book in my hand that its meaning hit me. It is heavy for its size and the glossy cover—smooth, cool, yet flexible—has an organic substance absent from the image you see on a screen. I read the title and my name at least twice, leafed through the pages slowly, and skimmed through thousands of words. My words, in print. Not bad, either, although the style—consciously imitating that of 19th-century writers—may not be to many people’s tastes. The physicality of a printed book somehow makes those words more real, more weighty. The words don’t look different from those on an electronic page and, yet, they thrill me more, fill me with pride that, yes, this dense rectangular mass of words flowed from me.
It does not matter that this mass is just a proof. Nor that the prose may still have flaws despite the print copy being tighter and leaner than the original e-version (revised as of now) by more than 10,000 words. I understood, then, why some readers would never exchange ” real books” for digital ones; why someone would collect them, with or without the intent to read them later; and why writers sometimes call their books their babies. The sensation of that first book in my hand is not that different from cradling a baby you just brought into the world. You love it—warts and all.
It was then I understood that, yes, I am a novel writer. Maybe not a successful one, by usual pecuniary standards. But a novelist, nevertheless, by virtue of those thousands of words that could take you to another time and space inhabited by characters and events that live only within that palpable, solid, and beautiful codex. All contained in the book in my hand.