I've been working on my first book, a collection of essays I wrote while living in South Korea from 2007-2008, which means I've been spending a lot of time with twenty-five-year-old Travis. If a picture contains a thousand words, some of my old blog entries only need around four-hundred before I want to crawl in a cave and hide. Did I really make that Britney Spears joke? Oh my god, I was the problem.
This is why editing is important.
Writing a book has always been the dream; I'd like to say it was a goal, but that would imply I was working towards it in any organized, deliberate manner. Looking back, I thought a book deal would just appear; that by putting words on the internet consistently over time I was doing the work and eventually David Sedaris' agent would find me, fly me out to wherever literary agents exist (New York? Oslo?) and we'd all laugh over cocktails after a brief but intense bidding war for the first of what would become several best-selling memoirs. Obviously, David himself would write the book's blurb, announcing to the world he'd found his chosen heir; like Simba on Pride Rock, except instead of lions we're middle-aged gay men who enjoy traveling and dissecting human behavior.
Somehow learning the business side of things felt like I was corrupting the artistic process; my job was to craft words, not marketing plans. That's what my team was for, except nearly fifteen years later my team hasn't arrived and I'm still putting words on the internet, only with fewer Britney Spears jokes.
Last week I counted up all the essays I've written; fifty-three on Medium, thirty-one on Substack, and another sixty-four from my years living in Korea and China. Do you know how many essays David Sedaris had in his first book? I do because I just Googled it: twelve. Of course, he had spent years before its publication writing into the void and toiling away at ridiculous jobs, but when the time came to collect everything into a book, he went with twelve.
Over a year ago, a friend sent me an invite for a Facebook group filled with independent authors who are active in the self-publishing world. I promptly ignored the notification because I was too busy working four different gigs in Los Angeles; besides, I didn't need to learn about selecting keywords for Amazon ads because obviously my big break was going to happen while I was picking up an actor's laundry or dressing as Darth Vader at children's birthday parties or performing stand-up at a bagel shop.
When I finally got around to exploring the group, I discovered an entire community of writers galvanized by the changes the internet, and particularly Amazon, has created in publishing. While I was waiting for someone to hand me a six-figure deal after reading a tightly worded paragraph about that time I spotted a gray hair in my beard, these people have been busy making a living writing books readers were devouring in genres I had no idea even existed.
Sure, everyone knows there's a market for mysteries, but did you know if you apply the subcategories "fun," "amateur sleuth," "Christian" and "small town" on Amazon, there are twenty-three installments of Garden Girls Christian Cozy Mystery books waiting for you? Thousands of fans who just want "a good clean mystery" have torn through the adventures of Gloria Rutherford, a lovable widow who begins each book finding a body and then, with the help of her gal pals, ends up tracking down the culprit in their small town, which despite being regularly terrorized by murderous criminals is somehow still described as "cozy."
This is just one of six mystery series penned by the author, a body of work following eight female sleuths and their sidekicks sleuthing their way through seventy-six books that have garnered over one hundred and sixty million page reads. She does not have an agent, a deal or a publisher; she is a mom of three who lives in Florida and enjoys "cooking, traveling and reading," and who clearly believed in herself enough to figure out how to successfully sell her stories.
This last part is the real trick, and is the reason I’m finally moving beyond dreaming about a book and working towards a clearly defined goal to make it happen. Was I ready to publish anything besides a blog fifteen years ago? Probably not, but after my own version of writing into the void and more than my fair share of ridiculous jobs, I’m confident I have at least twelve essays you’ll enjoy in this book.
I realize if you’re reading this it means I already have your email address, but if you’ve liked what you’ve read here and want to be updated when the book launches later this year and even participate in fun things like getting advanced copies to give me your feedback, you can sign up here. Also, if you want to help me spread the word to anyone you think might enjoy reading about twenty-five-year-old Travis in Korea, please feel free to share the website or have them join my author Facebook page.
And if there’s something you’re sitting on, a dream you’re hoping one day will just happen or an idea you’ve been kicking around but you’ve been telling yourself it’s not the right time, hopefully this past year has reminded us once again we’re not guaranteed anything but the present, which is a pretty good time to go for it.
And also, #freebritney.