What My First Time Was Like

Tomorrow the first episode of The Human Division is officially released into the world, which counts as the book release to me. It will also be either my seventeenth or twentieth published book, depending on whether one counts The Sagan Diary, The God Engines and Metatropolis to go along with the nine novels and eight non-fiction books (I do personally, as TSD and TGE were individual hardcovers and I edited Metatropolis as well as being a contributor). But no matter how you slice it, holy cow, that’s a lot of books, and I get excited every time a new one goes out into the world. It never gets old, or at least it never gets old to me.

For fun, I thought I would dig through the archive and fish out the Whatever entry I wrote when my very first book, The Rough Guide to Money Online, came out (yes, folks, my very first book was a book on online finance. Now you know why I’m always yelling at writers about taking care of their money; it’s not just an affectation). Here’s how I felt about it at the time, more than a dozen years ago now.

November 6, 2000

The book is out in stores today. Actually, the book was out in stores yesterday, too; I called up the local Barnes & Noble to check, and sure enough, they had it on the shelves. “Heck, we got a bunch of ’em,” the ever-helpful sales clerk said. We took a little family trip over there, just to see what it looked like to have one’s book on a book rack.

The answer: Well, just look at the picture. There it is, wedged between all the Dummies and Idiots books. In a nice touch, the book is “face out,” which means it’ll draw the eye of the reader more than other books on the shelf. No, I didn’t reach in and do it that way myself — it was like that when I got there (however, should you go to a book store and and see it “spine out,” feel free to shove other books out of the way and face it forward. You’ll feel my love from afar). As I was readying the picture, Athena grabbed a couple of copies and grinned up at her mom. Look, mama, she seems to be saying. If he sells enough of these, maybe I’ll get to go to college! Well, and maybe you will, Athena. Maybe you will.

I realize it’s just a little bit dorky to go to a book store just to stare at your book sitting there on the shelf, but quite obviously, I don’t really care. This only happens once: The only time I’ll ever see my book sitting in a book store for the very first time. It’s not at all unlike being present at the birth of your first child. Other children and other books will be special, too, but first is first.

Which is not to say I reacted to seeing my book on the shelf the same way I reacted to Athena being born — I didn’t sit there in a bawling daze, amazed at the small package I held in my hand. After all, I’ve had my copies of the book for about a month now. I’m used to it. I just looked at it, took a couple of pictures to memorialize the occasion, and then headed over to the kids books section, where Krissy was picking out new bedtime story material for Athena. Hopefully all those copies of the book will find nice new homes soon.

Won’t you adopt one? Heck, get two. They’re small.

I’ll note that Money Online (pictured here with Ghlaghghee, who looks understandably weary at yet another pig-related object pressed up against her) did rather poorly; Rough Guides had high hopes for it, based on the million-plus sales of their Internet book, but it ended up selling less than ten thousand copies overall. Being  released as the first Internet bubble was collapsing and everyone with money was running away from the Web probably didn’t help. Fortunately the Rough Guides people didn’t hold it against me and signed me for two other books. Flop or not, it got my foot in the door and for that reason — and because it was my first book, after all — I still have very fond memories of it.

Now we’re sixteen (or nineteen) books on, and a book release is still a big thing for me. I like that it is. I like my job.

27 Comments on “What My First Time Was Like”

  1. When I was in college, I did some contract work for the authors of one of those “How to use Internet Explorer 4” or-some-such books. I did extensive testing of the whole book, rewrote a bunch of the step-by-step instructions (e.g. stuff worked on Netscape, but not IE), and took every single screenshot in the book (and there were several hundred of these.) I remember being pretty satisfied at the paycheck ($300, if I remember correctly), and excited when I finally got a copy of the book in my hands, then dismayed when, after examining it cover-to-cover, found that of course my name was nowhere to found within. (And why would it be?) Ah well, I live vicariously through my spouse — she publishes in academia where a print run of 300 copies is exciting — who was pretty enthusiastic when a colleague sent her a photo of her first book, shelved fortuitously right next his study carrel in one of the libraries at Oxford.

  2. Annie: I thought that was a twelve-year-old picture of Ghlaghghee at first too, but I think it’s current, not part of the 2000 post.

    And such a cute picture of Athena!

  3. So – is there anything about the book that – in light of the collapse – you found out was actually wrong, or was it just lousy timing?

    > Ha, I notice the subtle reference in there to the original Legend of Zelda game. Nice one!

    What? I am super-familiar with that game, and I see nothing. Athena is holding the books in front of her, not over her head, for instance.

  4. Grats, dude. When my mother published her first book, it was a pretty great feeling, too.

  5. My cats, Artemis, Persephone, and AgaThor send their greetings to your kitties and their Greek relative, Athena ;). How do you pronounce your cats name? When I took Persephone to the veterinarians the first time, the vet tech pronounced her name: Purse-a-Phone. It took a lot of self discipline not to laugh. That was before the days of Honey Boo Boo. These days, I wouldn’t put it past someone naming their cat Purse-a-Phone.

    I hope the library is getting your newest. Will be on the lookout.

    For anyone who reads the comments AND loves cats, checkout my blog for AgaThor the Super Kitten. He’s almost an adult now, but the name has stuck. Did I mention he wears a diaper?! (And no, not because we’re torturing him. He’s a special needs kitty). -> agathorsplayground.wordpress.com. May I suggest you start with the first post? It will make more sense.

  6. drachefly @ 1:02 pm
    I was wrong about the Zelda reference.

    John in his original post says the following at the very end: “Heck, get two. They’re small” and I just assumed it was a early reference to a meme I have seen (before the actual meme came out), since his post was published AFTER the original game. But Google seems to indicate that the phrase “Take two, they’re small” has nothing to do with Zelda, but is far earlier than that. I’m not sure if it was on purpose, but there was a Laverne and Shirley episode titled the same.

  7. Duskfire: My grandmother, born in the 1890s, used to say “Take two, they’re small”. I don’t know where the phrase originally came from, but I’m guessing it’s pretty old.

  8. Yesterday, I was stuck in Union Station in DC, waiting for some friends to arrive, feeling pretty down at where my life is at – I’m applying to graduate schools in acting at the old age of 31 (it’s old for an actor) and not feeling great about my chances.

    I wandered into the Barnes and Noble, and headed to back where the science fiction and fantasy live, turned a corner, and was suddenly staring at my friend Beth’s name EVERYWHERE. The third book in her series just went into paperback, and it was face out in YA and looking awesome. It occurred to me that while I owned the whole series (signed and in hardback) I’d never actually seen the thing in a bookstore.

    It reminded me that at least some of us from our tiny town had done good, and made me feel like I might yet. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for her to see her book there the first (or even the second and the third time).

    Well done, John, and congrats on the Human Division. I loved “The B Team” and I’m salivating for more.

  9. I know you’re trying to tell a story here but all I can think is OH GAWD LOOK AT THE BABY ATHENA!!

    In fairness, I do the same thing every time I see older pics of my kids.

  10. Gh as in ghoti? Gh as it is never pronounced in English, in other words (the second gh is allowable). I really hate that word; GBS should have known better… (Because I can’t think of any way to comment on the book publishing feeling or the awesome cuteness of Athena.

  11. Admit it, Scalzi…part of the reason to posting the old picture of your daughter was to embarrass the hell out of her….

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