Ten years ago, when my first book came out, it felt like there was a little momentum to my writing career. Perhaps it was smoke and mirrors——a side-effect of the efforts of the publicity department at University of Chicago Press——but for a short interval, I bought into the idea making books could be a legitimate chunk of how I’d pay my bills.
I knew nothing about the publishing industry then. My adventures mucking about the outskirts of that sphere have disabused me of any pipe-dream delusions about my prospects. My book career has gone bass-ackwords; I started as close to the top as I’d ever hope to be and have been hobbling and stumbling down down down ever since. The reasons for this are manifold. Lousy timing, my inability to play well with others, rapid technological advances, shortening attention spans, creeping illiteracy, bad actors, you name it. It’s been a bumpy ride.
Back in the hopeful early times, I was part of a new authors event at the Union League Club. It served as the launch of that year’s Printers Row Lit Fest. Gillian Flynn was one of the other new writers in that fancy hall. I hear she’s done alright for herself. I don’t know what I dreamed I’d be doing ten years later, but doubt it was paying for half a table in the Small Press tent at that same fair to sell books I wrote, designed, illustrated, and published on my own. I didn’t have a crystal ball then, just as I don’t have one now, but there’s no way I’d have predicted the utter collapse of all infrastructure to support what I do.
I know there’s still a publishing industry and it pumps out more titles than any other time in human history, but it feels totally divorced and untethered from many of the writers I know. We’re wandering an apocalyptic wilderness. Gleaning usable scraps amidst the ruins of a once-mighty edifice. It’s slim pickings for all concerned.
In the ten years that have passed, the only thing I’ve done as part of Printers Row was to stand and sign books a couple hours one time. No panels, no talks, no invites to participate in any way. Maybe I didn’t go to the right parties or make nice with people that mattered. I’ve never had good political instincts. It’s hurt me a million times over.
And yet, this year I felt an alien urge to be part of it again. Maybe it’s the plague or perhaps I’m just old and beaten down, but I wanted to swim with the current a couple minutes. I’d missed the registration for vendors. Hell, I didn’t even know when it was open. So I asked a couple acquaintances I knew would be part of it, if they could spare a few square feet of table. Jason wrote back someone had just canceled, so half a table was available.
I emailed every Chicagoan in my address book to invite them to come by, then set about making bookmarks. I write this the day before the fair. I don’t know how it’ll go. But I’m excited about it for some reason. Come Monday, I’ll likely be bitter about the whole thing, but I’ll try to remember this baffling hopefulness to keep the bitterness in check.