I recently had the opportunity to introduce international bestselling author Steve Berry at a bookstore event. While my popularity level is light years away from his, I had been asked to make the introductory remarks since I’m a member of the International Thriller Writers, a fantastic organization that Mr. Berry helped get off the ground.
I arrived at the store several minutes early and was escorted to an office in the back. While I rehearsed my remarks, I spied a stack of boxes that had been filled with Steve’s new book, The Patriot Threat. On the side of the box (pictured below) in red letters were the author’s name, the release date, and the publisher’s contact information.
Now, I found this both impressive and amusing. As an author with a much smaller following than Mr. Berry’s, my books tend to show up at the intended destination in beat-up, nondescript, UPS boxes that have likely been used five or six times to transport cans of green beans or Chia Pets. Additionally, my very first novel had been delivered to my doorstep in boxes that had disintegrated to the point the copies of Resolve had spilled out everywhere. So as I sat in the back of Mystery Lovers Bookshop looking at the boxes sent by Steve Berry’s publisher, I couldn’t help snapping a photo and sending it to my wife with the accompanying message, “You get your name on the box when you are a big time author!”
As I sent the message, I heard some commotion outside the door and realized Steve was coming into the office. Being kind of embarrassed that I photographing a rather inanimate set of cardboard boxes, I quickly tucked away my iPhone and rose to meet the great author. Steve walked into the room, introduced himself and then spotted the boxes laying on the floor.
“That’s pretty cool,” he said. “My name has never been on the boxes before!”
I laughed and told him that I had assumed he was used to such things. I also admitted to taking the photo because I was accustomed to my books being delivered via UPS dropkick.
This chain of events got me wondering when an author… or any of us, fell like we are “big time”. When have we “made it”? After my first novel had gained some recognition, Tim Green who is a novelist and former NFL player had warned me that – no matter what – I would “want more”. And of course I do. This is probably a characteristic many of us share, especially if we are ambitious and competitive. So, what would be enough for me?
I’ve had this vision of walking hand-in-hand with my young daughter into a Starbucks or an airport terminal and having her tug on my arm to get my attention before she says, “Daddy, those people over there are reading your books.” And I would just smile and we would continue on our way. In my vision, I find that moment fulfilling and I’m at ease with where writing has taken me.
But, would that really be enough? Or would I need to see my name on the New York Times bestseller list? Would I need to win an Edgar Award? Would I need to have a movie made out of one of my books? Do I need to speak in front of sold-out auditoriums? Do I need to get a guest spot as a zombie on The Walking Dead???
Or would I simply need to see something as trivial as my name printed by the publisher on the side of a cardboard box?
Honestly, I don’t know. The fact of the matter is the book business is incredibly subjective and most factors are completely out of my control. The limited impact of my actions gives me a mental “out” as I realize I can do everything the right way and the outcome may not be what I had hoped for.
Maybe we all need to look at our goals in that way as to avoid being ungrateful for what we achieve and ultimately bitter if we fail to reach an objective. Balancing ambition and contentment is a difficult task and I don’t know many people who have mastered the skill.
Perhaps my ultimate goal should be that if that moment does occur when my daughter pulls on my arm and points out some people in a corner of a coffee shop are reading my books, I don’t respond by saying, “Great. But why aren’t they ALL reading my books.”
If I ever find myself feeling that way, I hope I think back to how happy I was to see that very first set of battered cardboard boxes show up on my doorstep.
When will you have “made it”? Comment below!
J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.
In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered. When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.
And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology