This blog was featured on 10/03/2018
Reflections on a Book Birthday
Written by
Pam McGaffin
October 2018
Written by
Pam McGaffin
October 2018

I didn’t know what to expect when my debut novel, The Leaving Year, came out Aug. 14. Would my intended audience of teenagers enjoy it? Would they pick it up in the first place? Would anyone?

I’d read my book so many times I was numbed to its impact. While I thought it was pretty good, I didn’t know if it could compete with the action-packed fantasies and gritty contemporary novels that seem to dominate the young-adult genre. I’d had a tough time finding comparable titles, a marketing exercise all authors have to go through. My historic novel about the daughter of missing fisherman didn’t seem to fit anywhere. Would it die a quiet death?

Like a nervous parent, I worried, but I eventually had to trust that I’d done the best I could and that my book would find its way in the world.

Sometimes kids surprise you. My novel is doing just fine, maybe even more than fine, thanks in large part to the pre-publication work of my publisher, SparkPress, the marketing efforts of my publicist Liane Worthington of BookSparks, and, yes, my own dogged labors and perfectionism. The early reviews were better than I could have hoped. A couple of readers said my book brought them to tears—tears! I didn’t know I had such power.

I’m still on the post-publication amusement ride (and will be until Christmas), but I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on what this once-in-a-lifetime experience has given me.

A thrill 

On the day that my ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) arrived in the mail, my husband, Mark Funk, knew not to wait. He came into the store where I was cashiering to present one to me. I think I actually yelped. There it was, the end result of all my years of toil and self-doubt, in one tidy (almost perfect) book. I stroked the cover, felt its thickness. Then I showed it to my co-workers. See? It wasn’t just talk. I really did write a book. It’s real.

A new perspective

I still have trouble summing up what my book is about. To me, it’s about so many things: loss, family, friendship, first love, self-image, prejudice, growing up in the Sixties . . . I had a hard time boiling it all down to one overriding theme. But my first reviewers didn’t. My book was about self-discovery. I suppose I knew that, but as the author, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Early on, I told people I was writing a book about “identity.” But it took readers to confirm that, to bring their own lens to my story. Published books really do take on a life of their own.

A (speaking) voice 

I’ve given two public talks so far and I didn’t throw up! I credit Toastmasters, specifically the Notable Northgaters club near my home. Its members are so welcoming and supportive because they’ve all been there. One woman said it took her months to work up the courage to go inside to her first meeting. She’d come and sit in the parking lot. Now she’s such a natural and engaging speaker you’d never guess she had an issue.

My own fear had me pacing the floors of my home on the day of my book launch. I practiced my remarks over and over again to Mark and my snoring dog. When the time came to give my speech, something happened. A calm came over me. I opened my mouth and a different, more confident person spoke through it.

I have two more public appearances scheduled. I’ve no doubt that I will still get nervous before each one, but I can see my phobia receding. Maybe someday I'll start to enjoy this.

The LOVE! 

My book launch at Third Place Books in Ravenna was packed. People came from every sector of my life. Not only were there friends from childhood, high school and college, but friends from my husband’s past came, too. (Believe me, Mark deserves his own congratulations.) I saw my former newspaper bosses, several of my neighbors and women from my singing and triathlon-training groups, one bearing a bottle of wine. My family and extended family came, including my husband’s cousins and my sister- and brother-in-law (Mara providing food and Carl recording the entire event. Later, Carl would go on to create a promotional video for my book!)

Since the launch, friends I haven’t spoken to in years have come forward say they read my book and loved it. I did several signings at my 40th Roosevelt High School reunion.

I’m not one who feels comfortable receiving praise -- I seem to need to deflect it – but I have to admit that all this love, so unexpected, feels pretty good. Now I want to spread the wealth. I want to encourage all my creative friends to fulfill their dreams so I can support them.

A thicker skin 

Okay, this one’s a work in progress. I’m still obsessively checking Amazon and Goodreads for new reviews, cringing at the less than positive ones. Was I warned? Yes, I was.

“Don’t read reviews!” said best-selling YA author Justina Chen when I met her at her book launch for Lovely, Dark and Deep (a great read, BTW). Did I listen? Of course not. But now I know why Justina warned me.

Bad reviews and/or trolls are almost inevitable. If you let them, they can ruin your whole day, or worse, distract you from writing. The two-star ratings I received stung a bit. So did the criticism from a blogger who’d read only excerpts, and the fellow author who claimed (over and over again on Twitter) that I’d stolen her title. (I didn’t.) As aggravating and disheartening as those experiences were, I resisted the urge to respond. A thick skin is a virtue in this business. If I spend the rest of my life writing and publishing, I’ll become an armadillo.

A presence in libraries

It started with the starred review in School Library Journal, a trade publication that, according to publicist Liane, doesn’t hand out stars lightly. Now I’m thrilled to report that my book is in nearly 40 libraries across the country!

I took pictures with my cell phone as Mark checked my book out from the Northeast Branch of the Seattle Public Library. This is the same library I used to go to with my grandmother when I was a child, the library I loved for its little flat steps outside and the big globe inside . . . and its books, of course. I checked out all the Beatrix Potter books and pawed through tomes of fairy tales, looking at the glossy illustrations.

Libraries and librarians helped me through many a homework assignment. I love libraries and continue to use them regularly. To me, there’s no greater honor than to see my book on their shelves.

The kindness of strangers 

I'd gone to the UPS store to mail some copies of my book to a couple of contests I'd entered. The friendly employee at the counter asked if I was an author.

“Yes,” I said. “This is my book.”

“Wow, how long did it take you to write it?”

“About seven years.”

His jaw dropped and he stared at me for what seemed like minutes.

“What took you so long?” he asked.

I explained that much of that time was spent waiting for agents and small publishers to get back to me. Then, after each round of rejections, I’d edit my book again.

“You persevered,” he said. “My parents always talked about the need for perseverance to get what you want.”

“There was no way I wasn’t going to finish this book.” I asked him his name.

“Jung, as in forever young.”

“Pam.” I reached out to shake his hand.

He shook his head and opened his arms. “You deserve a hug.”

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