Monday, August 31, 2009

When Does It Feel Real?

by Sean Chercover

Trigger City just came out in paperback, and today I got a box of 'em in the mail from HarperCollins. Always exciting to open the inaugural "box o' books" from your publisher. You cut the tape and pull back the flaps and - at least for me - the first thing that hits is the smell. There's nothing like that "new book" smell.

I plucked one from the box, riffled the pages, reflexively checking to make sure that the changes from the hardcover edition had been made...

...and thought: Now it's real.

Don't get me wrong - I love the fact that my work first comes out in hardcover and, as a reader, I love reading (and collecting) hardcovers. I love the larger type and the substantial feel of a hardcover. But on some level, a book isn't real to me until it is available as a paperback.

I think this goes back to my teenage years (and earlier). Back then, books were mostly paperbacks, in my universe. All the classics we read for school assignments - and the equally influential stuff we read between assignments - we read in paperback. Poe and Faulkner and Twain and Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Orwell and Camus and Shakespeare, and ... well, everything. To Kill A Mockingbird, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Slaughterhouse Five, Native Son, The Little Sister, Brighton Rock, Notes From Underground, The Postman Always Rings Twice ...

Paperbacks (often used paperbacks) were what kids can afford. And this continued into college. As a college student, I splurged on a hardcover now and then, but most of my reading - most of the books that made me who I am - came to me by way of that most convenient (and economical) format.

Praise be, the mighty paperback!

As I said, I love that my stuff comes out in hardcover, but when it makes the leap to paperback, it becomes accessible to a huge number of people who simply do not drop 25 bones for a book.

It becomes ... democratized. And in that instant, it becomes real to me.

And it also becomes final.

I don't know who said it, but some big-shot writer once said that a piece is never finished, it is simply due. I'm an unrepentant tweaker, and given the opportunity, I could tweak forever. As you might imagine, I came up with a few changes between the hardcover and paperback editions of Trigger City. A few very small corrections and tweaks.

And one thing that was a little more significant: I added a new scene, in the final chapter.

Now, it's just a little scene (less than a page in length) and not at the very end, so the book finishes the same - but I felt that the added scene deepened the resonance of the final chapter. And, to my great joy, my editor agreed.

So I now hold the paperback version..., because there are no more opportunities to tweak...

and real, because it is available for the price of a couple of beers.

And it makes me happy.


V.I. said...

i also love paperbacks - they are handy and cheap(oh, maybe it's not much of a treat for a author:);
and for me, they are as well reminder of childhood. i love a story, essence of book, its form however(aside that it is made of paper) is not important

♥Jen♥ said...

Congrats Sean. While I can't grasp your feeling of opening that box as an author, I know that opening a box from the mail as a reader is an exciting delight. While I usually know exactly what the contents are, it's still magical to open it and smell the new book smell and hold the books in my hands. Sometimes I can't get to reading them for awhile because of others that came before this box, but there's just something comforting about welcoming more friends into my home!

Bethany K. Warner said...

Must find paperback copy now to see the new scene change at the end...

Rob said...

Nice. Now I gotsta get me a copy of the p-back for the Author's Cut. :)

Mark Combes said...


You sly devil you! Now I need a copy of the paperback to read that new scene. You got me buying the book twice!

Sean Chercover said...

Ah, you're on to me!

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