This month, author April L. Ford shares one of the lessons she learned transitioning from a writer to a published author.
“As Far as I Know, the Galleys Are Still in Canada”
by April L. Ford
In summer 2014, when my U.S. publisher asked if any of my Canadian contacts would be interested in helping me promote my forthcoming story collection north of the border, I thought right away of Theo. I had known Theo for years, and volunteered briefly at a facility for troubled youth where he worked. I knew he was a literature enthusiast and involved with the Montreal literary community, which I had lost touch with after moving to New York in 2009, so I hoped he would be interested in The Poor Children.
I messaged Theo to ask if he knew whom I could contact about book reviews and author events. He replied with praise for my accomplishment of becoming a published author, and offered to be my Canadian publicity representative. I was too flattered to find his offer fishy (he had no experience promoting authors, as far as I knew), and after I stilled my beating heart, I admitted that I did not have a PR budget. “It would be my honor to assist you,” he replied. How far was I willing to travel? What events had I scheduled already? Could I send him copies of the galley? Twenty-five would do. I contacted my publisher and emphasized how serendipitous this was—oh my fucking god the stars have aligned!—and my publisher shipped twenty-five galleys northward.
A month passed. Two months. In mid-October, I emailed Theo to say I had scheduled events in my hometown and nearby venues March 17 through April 28, 2015 (The Poor Children worldwide release date was April 1), but after that, especially since my teaching semester would be winding down, I would be available to travel any place, any time. I cc’d my publisher on the email, hoping this would prompt Theo to reply with something more than, I’ll have news for you by Tuesday,” which had been his reply the previous two times I messaged him.
Along came November, and another query: “Any news?” Theo’s reply: “By Tuesday.” I was beginning to panic. According to my calendar of Canadian submission deadlines, The Poor Children galleys needed to be out there, like, yesterday. But because Theo had offered his services free of charge—and I had accepted—I didn’t want to seem pushy or petulant. What if he was busy exerting all kinds of behind-the-scenes efforts on my behalf? Maybe he had a number of pots on the fire and was planning to present all confirmations to me at once rather than give me false hope every other day with maybes. So I waited another month. When I messaged him next in early-December, I was grumpy and convinced he had used me to get on the “Acknowledgments” page of my book. I imagined him tra-la-la’ing around Montreal proclaiming himself my publicist, blemishing the pristine glossy covers of my galleys with his self-serving fingerprints—a ludicrous fantasy, of course, because I was a brand-new author, and nobody knew who I was.
In an attempt at holiday cheer, I offered to treat Theo to dinner while I was in Montreal visiting family and friends. For an hour, we sat at a table best suited for one, wedged into a dim and drafty corner of a Chinese restaurant of Theo’s choosing. Theo talked about his work, I talked about my mine, and we did not talk about The Poor Children. I was uncharacteristically and exceptionally nervous, and Theo’s eyes were so glassy I decided he was either stoned or on the verge of weeping. At one point, I gesticulated with too much faux enthusiasm, and a spicy shrimp escaped my chopsticks and whizzed past another diner’s head. After our meal, as we wrestled into our puffy winter jackets, Theo said, “I’ve been meaning to get involved again with the local literary organizations.” Wait…what? Once upon a time, he had told me he was involved with the local literary organizations. Actively involved. All I could do was gawp, until Theo concluded the night with, “I’ll have news for you by Tuesday.”
I spent the next week fuming, including Christmas day. I emailed former teachers and classmates from my alma mater who were active in the Montreal literary scene to ask if they knew Theo; just as I feared, they had no clue who he was. My publisher wasn’t pleased when I reported that Theo was a bust, but he wasn’t surprised. Apparently this sort of thing happens to authors all the time: Someone offers to help, and then doesn’t help. Sometimes the person sucks money out of you, and other times just your dignity. Should be simple enough to avoid the problem, right? Don’t accept help you haven’t yourself vetted or solicited. Ah, but when you’re all jazzed up about your forthcoming book, and every day you’re saying, “I hope it does well. I really want it to do well. I’ll do whatever it takes for my book to do well,” you’re susceptible to blind trust and oversights. You’re high on adrenaline and optimism, and thus prone to weird and crazy notions, like, “I’ve got this. I know what I’m doing.”
I felt foolish for having relied on someone to do critical work I could have done myself, and I felt vain for having believed I was important enough for a Canadian publicist in addition to my U.S. publisher’s efforts. My publisher advised me to wait until the New Year to insist Theo return the galleys, but I was too reactive to wait. One of my Montreal friends, an ex-carnie with a fierce belief in justice, offered to show up at Theo’s doorstep to collect the galleys. He suggested two of my other male Montreal friends, a painter and a Goth, accompany him to punctuate the statement. I gathered my wits instead and messaged Theo one more time. “Look, I’m not sure what’s going on, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but it’s been five months and all the submission deadlines have passed, so I’d like you to return the galleys to my publisher, please. They put him out a few hundred bucks, and it doesn’t exactly reflect well on me.” Theo replied with news he had been recently (“The day after our dinner!”) diagnosed with late-stage terminal illness, which was why he hadn’t done anything with The Poor Children. In his remaining time, he wanted to travel around the world and spread positive messages to youth. I wanted to ask how he expected to do that, and why he had offered to help me in the first place, but I didn’t. I expressed sadness and offered to bring him chicken soup while I was still in Montreal. And he replied, “I’ll ship the galleys to your publisher by Tuesday.”
April L. Ford grew up in Quebec. Her short story “Project Fumarase” won a 2016 Pushcart Prize, and her debut story collection, The Poor Children, won the 2013 Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Program for Fiction. April has spent time at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts as a Robert Johnson Fellow, and at Ucross Foundation as a Writer in Residence. She teaches writing at State University of New York at Oneonta. www.april-l-ford.com