My final column as guest editor to The National Post’s Afterword, and thanks very much, Mark, for allowing me the privilege!
I’ve recently had quite a few discussions with Sue Pike, another Ottawa mystery writer. What Sue and I have ended up talking about is how a book like The Beggar’s Opera, or at least its journey to publication, has engaged a real sense of community.
My struggle to get The Beggar’s Opera published was a long and difficult one as you’ll know from my article here on Monday. After 150-plus rejections, my friends and family were starting to worry about me. I’m sure they felt like they were watching those scenes in Rocky when you see a boxer getting battered to the point where you want to intervene and say “Enough, already. You tried your best; it’s time to give up.”
But when all my efforts finally paid off, and I was shortlisted for the 2010 CWA Debut Dagger, it was my friends who not only encouraged me to go to the ceremonies in Harrogate, UK, but fund-raised to get me there.
Sue was one but there were dozens of others, including my family doctor and my accountant. And as Sue pointed out in a recent blog post on Mystery Mavens Canada, “Once we stepped up to the Harrogate challenge, we were all stakeholders.”
When it came time to plan my book launch, I decided I didn’t want to have the usual appetizers and wine and author’s reading; I wanted a party. The Beggar’s Opera is set in Cuba—that called for live Cuban music, Cuban art, and Cuban food. All that costs money, and while Penguin Canada has been extremely generous, there was no way they could afford the kind of event I was determined to have.
But as Sue writes: “When it came time to nail down the details, Peggy’s friends came forward again. We had an investment in The Beggar’s Opera and we needed this launch to be a success. It wasn’t just Peggy’s party anymore: it was ours, too.”
Over forty people have volunteered to help out in one way or another. These are friends, co-workers, other authors, people I know through real estate and law, even clients. Many of them are poring through Cuban recipes as I write this, experimenting with new dishes for next week’s launch. Others have offered to buy wine, rum, and non-alcoholic beverages, bartend, locate coat racks, and run shuttle service for out-of-town guests. Some donated money.
Every vendor I contacted either discounted their usual prices to help out or threw in something extra. The art gallery where we’re holding the launch offered to haul two giant neon palm trees out of storage to add to the mood. A local photographer is going to display his photographs of Cuba.
As word spread, our mayor, my city councillor (another mystery writer), and my MPP confirmed they wanted to be there too. Members of the local media are coming, including one who is flying back from the UK that same morning. (She’s picking up rum at a duty-free shop to donate to the cause.) The media has been amazing, timing articles and broadcasts to coincide with the launch. And two professional photographers have volunteered to take pictures.
An author pal of mine is hopping a train in Belleville to make sure she doesn’t miss it. As she says, “I know a great party when I hear of one.” As for Sue Pike, she won’t even be in Ottawa – she’s on vacation—but she still baked cookies and left them with a friend to bring with her.
Now these are tough times in publishing, as everyone knows. It’s not easy to sell a book these days, what with all the competition from e-books and a declining market. It seems like every day we get hit with more bad news about bookstores closing, about poor sales, about how hard it is to be an author.
I’m sure that many writers feel overwhelmed. Publishers expect them to do a lot of the marketing themselves; even when publishers step in, budgets aren’t what they used to be. Authors tweet and post on Facebook and blogs and websites, and sometimes all that work doesn’t pay off much either.
But what I’ve realized is that while it may take a village to raise a child, it takes a community to support a book.
The tremendous investment of time and energy by others in the success of The Beggar’s Opera—in my success—is exactly what Sue described. They are stakeholders now, as committed to the success of my book as I am. I realized that this week when a realtor in my office said, “Peggy, I am really excited for us.” Not “excited for you.” Excited for us.
And so next week’s launch will be as much a celebration of the community that has developed around this book as a celebration by it. There won’t be an author’s reading, I’m afraid. I’m not a great reader and I’d hate to bore everyone. But there will be a moment when the musicians take a break, and that’s when I plan to thank everyone for all their help.
I remember my Canadian agent, Anne McDermid, warning me last year not to tell the media how many times I’d been rejected. “That’s a story you can tell once you’re successful,” she said. “You’re not there yet.”
I have no idea how many copies of The Beggar’s Opera will sell; at this point, no one does. But thanks to the support of the terrific community that has rallied around it, I think I’m there now.