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Reading Matters

Doug Wilhelm is a full-time writer and an independent publisher in Weybridge, Vemont. His newest book is the novel STREET OF STORYTELLERS (Rootstock, 2019). His 15 previous novels for young adults include THE REVEALERS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), which has been the focus of reading-and-discussion projects in well over 1,000 middle schools.

How it feels when your book (okay, this book) is published

If you have a book that’s about to be published, as the date approaches you have a swirling mix of emotions. Anticipation, excitement, fear, anxiety ... I’m sure it’s different for each writer, even for each book. This time, because I was publishing True Shoes independently — meaning that I was responsible for every single aspect of it — I had a new major emotion in the mix. Obsession.


Every detail had to be right. I went over the layout again and again and again, driving the page designer (I’m not exaggerating here) slightly nuts. Today’s digital printing technology creates a newly immediate process: the gap between making final changes and going to print isn’t much greater than it is between your laptop and your printer at home. In this case, that meant I was still making changes five hours — five hours! — before True Shoes was released for sale.

Once that process is over and the book is out, the mix of emotions shifts. You’re done fiddling and improving. You have to let go; it’s mostly up to other people, now. Will they read it? Will they like it? If they do, will they say something? Will word begin to get around?

It’s a real worry. So many good books have sunk and been forgotten in an ocean of silence. The Revealers was actually my tenth book for young readers, and with it I had the experience for the first time of watching a book of mine slowly, gradually, surprisingly find a life. It was amazing, mostly in a very quiet way. People I didn’t know would pop up to tell me they’d found about the book here or discovered it there, that they'd recommended it at a conference or adopted it for a reading project at their school. The book first began to catch on here in Vermont, where I live — then gradually, in a mysterious sort of underground way, it spread.

Will that happen with True Shoes? I don’t know! I can’t know. I can try to spread the word, and of course I will ... but from this point on, it’s mostly not up to me. Once a book is published, in a very real way it’s not the author’s any more. It belongs to the people who try it, who read it, who take it into their lives. And that is a mysterious, almost magical process. Often, sadly, it doesn’t happen. But sometimes, it does.

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