The web was buzzing with big news after San Deigo Comic-Con, many of them anime and manga related: Hayao Miyazaki’s appearance, new projects, collaborations and alliances. I was more interested in one of the stories lower down the page. The mockup of my next book, The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga, made its debut on the Abrams stand. It was just the US edition cover and a few sample pages, but it was standing in for several years of my work and effort, plus design and editorial input from a very talented team, so it was carrying a weight of hope and expectation.
Abrams told me that they’d had strong and positive reactions to the dummy. Then I got an email from my good friend Tim Eldred. Tim was one of the beta readers on the text, so he knows the style and content inside out. But he’s a designer and artist, so the feedback I really wanted from him was on how the whole thing looks. And this is what he said:
“Wow! I thought it was going to be another B&W paperback, so you could have knocked me over with a breath when I saw that gorgeous hardcover and full color!”
That’s the reaction every author hopes for, the knowledge that your cover can grab attention. That’s what makes a reader pick up your book in a packed store or on a website. Once you’ve got their attention, you’re halfway to getting their money. But hearing that reaction starts me itching to see for myself.
It’s a strange period, the time between signing off on the proof pages of a book and actually getting the finished article in your hands. The material you’ve sweated blood over for months or years, the pictures you’ve chosen and sourced with such care, the indexing and proof-reading and compiling of the bibliography – much or all of this is done on the computer, over the internet. To someone like me, loving the book as an object as well as a repository of content, the modern publishing process has an air of otherworldliness, almost unreality. It doesn’t get real until I actually hold a copy of the finished book in my hands for the first time. Then, confronted with the physical fact of the book, its solid, objective existence, I get as giddy as a kid sniffing Cow Gum, back in the days when text for word balloons had to be printed out, cut out and pasted up. The alchemy of production makes my work, not a stranger, but a beloved familiar newly dressed for seduction. I don’t just see it through new eyes: I experience it across a new spectrum of sensation.
The sheer sensual thrill of a new book is an intoxicant in itself. I get it from all new books, but it intensifies a thousandfold with one of my own. The silky sheen of the untouched cover laminate, the crisp-cut edges of the pages, the indefinable, unmistakeable odour of brand new paper are among the most powerful drugs on the planet. American author Daniel Pinkwater wrote a wonderful passage about actually tasting a mummy case (don’t ask me for the background, go and read some Pinkwater.) His description of the electric jolt of sensation when his tongue touched wood and paint three millenia old and his taste buds took in the accumulated sensations of worlds and eras in a fraction of a second is pretty much the best description I’ve ever read of how it feels to touch, for the first time, a new copy of your own new book.
I still haven’t seen the mock-up, and now I’ve heard that the first advance copies are in Abrams’ offices in New York. And unless you’re hooked too, you won’t understand how badly I want that moment when I hold a new copy in my hands for the first time. I know every word of the text. I chose every picture and wrote every caption in the book. I have the PDFs in a folder on my desktop. I keep telling myself I’m a mature and rational professional: but the inner four-year-old who always wants to open her Christmas presents early and the inner junkie who believes delayed gratification is for wimps are sitting on my shoulders, whispering in my ears, urging me in stereo to get on a plane and into a cab and break into that office and get my fix now.
Ah, but then, say the voices of reason and desire, it won’t be enough: thrilling as it will be to see the book, that copy isn’t new. There are other fingerprints on the cover, the pages have been turned by other hands, the new-book smell has gone. It’s still a high, but it’s a different, less pure, less powerful rush than that once-only hit of the entirely familiar and the absolutely new. I know the immaterial self of this book, its inner being as it were, like the inside of my own skin. I know how it will look from the PDFs and the page layouts. My first contact with its material self will only happen once. If I dilute the shock of that newness, the thrillpower is muted too.
So I’ll wait for the man to call. Soon, if never soon enough, the package of author copies will be in the mail. When I finally rip open that package, the book that’s mine and not mine, familiar and yet completely new, will hit me for the first time.
It’s a high worth waiting for.