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What happened after launch day ✨
Thoughts on book publishing and what success really looks like 📚
About a year ago, on September 9, I got a package.
It was a box — a heavy one. And when I saw it sitting on my porch I knew precisely what was in it.
Other authors reading this will know the thrill of seeing — even better, holding — one’s book for the very first time. Opening that box, I felt excitement in my body. I remember I closed my eyes and took a breath before I reached for a copy. I wanted to slow down the moment and savour the process to this point. Inevitably, holding that book would transform all the intangible aspects of book-writing into something real. Concrete. Uneditable.
I spent about seven years thinking about, researching, writing and editing Lights to Guide Me Home: A Journey Off the Beaten Track in Life, Love, Adventure and Parenting. It’s hard to communicate what that really means for a writer. For a memoirist, it means reliving your own story and deconstructing episodes from the past you perhaps didn’t understand at the time. It means not only telling a story but also providing a broader context for your readers so that they understand the stakes you’re facing, the nuance and depth of the experience. It means weighing the consequences of truth.
Seven years of book writing feels like living with another person. They talk to you in the grocery checkout line, while you’re out hiking, taking a shower, trying to fall asleep.
You know, I miss her — my companion while I wrote this book. I think that means I miss the process of writing, which makes sense because I had a strange reaction when I finally opened that cardboard box of books.
I was, surprisingly, underwhelmed by the experience.
My reaction had little to do with the book itself. On the opposite: it was beautiful, so brilliantly designed. It had just the right amount of heft for a paperback; not too thin, not overbearing for the reader. I loved the golden spine, and seeing the names of authors I admire on the back cover. I felt tremendously proud.
Still, there was something missing.
Perhaps I thought it would be a bigger moment for me. Perhaps I should have shared it with someone else. Or perhaps it was the sheer amount of inevitable waiting involved in the publishing process that took some wind out of my sails. Nearly a year had gone by since I first submitted the manuscript. Fourteen months since I had printed it out in full in order to do a line edit. Three-and-a-half years since I had signed a book contract. Seven years since I typed the book’s first words (a few sentences of which did make the final manuscript).
Pub Day, as we call it in the industry, can feel like a beacon on the horizon. What I experienced on “Unboxing Day” was the impression that I’d walked, hiked, and clambered to within ten paces from the finish line and waited there for a year before finally crossing it.
As I approach my official Pub Day or Book Birthday (September 27th), I’m reflecting on what this publishing experience has meant to me, and what I think other authors and creators might take away from it. I’m not a first-time author, but this was my first memoir. The process felt more tender than it did with my other books because it was my story. Unlike my other books, I built a comprehensive marketing plan to get Lights to Guide Me Home out into the world: podcasts, essays, blogs, collabs, speaking gigs, and Instagram giveaways. My primary goal was that, at the end of the book’s first year, I could tell myself that I did my absolute best as the author to get the book out into the hands of readers. I have no regrets about how much time I’ve put in so far.
By many measures, the book was a success, especially if you look at statistics (there is also a huge difference between a success and a bestseller — something I wish more people understood about the industry). The odd royalty cheque is nice, but I adore getting messages or emails from readers for whom the book has made a difference. Likewise, I have enjoyed presenting the book to audiences, particularly at the Banff Mountain Book Festival and the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival (both a dream for an outdoor writer!) and on podcasts. Some truly miraculous things have happened in the process of putting this book out into the world.
Yet, every author understands that there are highs and lows in launching a book. 🎢 I’d have a blitz of press and then radio silence. Solid reviews and then some nasty ones (a word of hard-earned wisdom: actively seek out reviews, don’t read them!). As much as I felt that I was keeping my expectations low, I think I was blinded by possibility. I fuelled my ambition with hope, which isn’t a bad thing per se. But looking back I know now that the real value of the experience lies in the process, not the book’s performance, which is about as sturdy as quicksand (unless you’re Colleen Hoover). It’s a challenge for writers: how to discern when it’s worth pushing and promoting, and when it’s time to just accept that a lot of factors are totally out of your control.
This all goes to say, it’s entirely normal for a book or creative project launch to feel like you’re running a marathon, climbing a mountain and jumping hurdles all at the same time — oh, with your pants down (because it can feel that vulnerable) while someone holds onto your ankles. But, as creatives, we owe it to ourselves to protect our hearts through the experience. If you’ve ever put any creative work out into the world, you are a bold and brave human being. Full stop. Remember that success is relative. A best-seller is a unicorn you’ll probably never ride.
I described earlier how I’ve been missing my companion — that voice in my head while I was writing the book. Come publishing time, she left me and has since gone with the book into the minds of readers, into conversations I’m not part of. I think there is so much magic in that. ✨ Therein lies value for me as the author that, ironically, I can’t easily access. This is the missing piece that is easy to forget. “Success” might be determined by sales, lists and reviews. But so much of it is intangible and inaccessible to us as the creator. In that way, the process goes full circle: intangible concepts made tangible through publishing, yet rendered intangible again in the reader’s experience.
As someone once told me, “The reader completes the story.”
May we authors find contentment knowing we’ll never truly know the impact that our books have in this world.
Write on, anyway.
Lights to Guide Me Home celebrates one year this month. A heartfelt thanks to all of you who have spent time with the book and supported me as an author as a paid subscriber here on Field Notes or by buying copies of the book. 🙏
Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and the author of Lights to Guide Me Home. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications.
What’s caught my attention lately… ✨
For this installment, I wanted to do a shoutout to the creative women who joined me on the Maligne River Valley expedition for Wildflowers Film:
Check these out too… 🙌
Lights to Guide Me Home: A Journey Off the Beaten Track in Life, Love, Adventure and Parenting - my memoir (reviews welcome on Amazon and Goodreads)
The Wonders That I Find - my children’s book
My Email Newsletter - updates about my books, projects, and 1:1 coaching