Dispatches | October 22, 2012

This past weekend, I was in Ohio for the Books By the Banks Festival, takes place every fall in downtown Cincinnati. They invite over a hundred local, regional, and national authors to sit behind tables with their books, meet readers, panels on a range of different topics and, from what I could gather, a heavy emphasis on getting children to read with crafts, costumed characters from books, storytelling, and musical performances.

I shared a table with the writer Julie Innis, whose short story collection, Three Squares a Day with Occasional Torture, was released by Foxhead Books in May. Across the aisle was Cincinnati Review and Luke Geddes, whose collection I Am a Magical Teenage Princess, also came out earlier this year. Gillian Flynn was also there. She, of course, had her own table.

As for book that one might call “literary” that was about it. The three of us called ourselves the Bermuda Triangle of Short Fiction. When we said “short stories,” eyes glazed over and people moved on. We were not the most popular table at the Festival.

The most popular table, by far, though, was right next to us. Julie and I were at the very end of our aisle, and right next to us was an endcap table for a young couple we had never heard of who had some sort of DIY story about their house. Who were these two?

Young House Love is, apparently, one of the most popular blogs in the history of mankind, and their book is coming out the first week of November. I’ll let them explain in their own words:

I’m Sherry Petersik. He’s my husband John. We live in Richmond, Virginia and this blog is basically our DIY diary. Five years ago it started as a hobby and over 2,000 posts later, it slowly grew into our full time job (no one is more surprised about that than we are). We’re definitely not experts, just DIY dorks who like to learn as we go and share our adventures and misadventures with the world. So we spend our days doing projects, photographing them, writing posts, answering reader questions, coordinating giveaways, and managing sponsors – and raising our two year old daughter. It’s sort of like running a little two-person newspaper (with a toddler bouncing around the office). There’s always something to do/paint/write about!

Sherry and John had a line that was easily 150 people deep, constantly, for three hours. The line wrapped around the entire room. They posed for pictures with almost every single person in line. They sold and signed a ton of books. They were remarkable sweet and kind to everyone there, and even stayed several hours longer than they were supposed to, only to roll out their suitcases from under the table and—I assumed—head straight to the airport.

Julie and I were stunned. We didn’t expect that our books would sell like hotcakes, but when there is one table that is getting all the attention, it’s hard not to notice. We didn’t know who Sherry and John were. We obviously hadn’t read their book, read their blog, or watched them on HGTV. We just saw that massive line and all those readers who were over the moon about meeting Sherry and John.

It would be easier, and perhaps even a little understandable, to be envious of their success. Especially when we first noticed the line, we stood and watched, mouths agape, wondering who on earth all these people are. During the day, Julie and I certainly had gaps of ten or fifteen minutes when no one stopped at our table, just glanced at the titles (which, to be fair, did have the words “Torture” and “Extinction” in them …) and passed on by.

In rare moments of candor and vulnerability, I would guess that most writers will admit that they would like to be bestsellers and mildly famous. Not recognizable on the street famous, but good table at the restaurant famous. We say the right things—I’m about the writing, grateful for any readers, I’m happy people are buying books no matter what, etc.—and those statements are mostly true. We do feel that way. We are happy for others. But I’m sure there is a part of us, however small and quiet and hidden, that wishes we were famous.

So it is a bit surprising to say that I didn’t feel envious at all. Good for them, I thought. My expectations of massive book sales are nonexistent. There’s some maturity in there too, an awareness that what makes a bestseller often is luck and other uncontrollable events, and that fame is fleeting. Julie, Luke, and I named our small section of the Festival “the Bermuda Triangle of Short Fiction” and exchanged books and that was the highlight of the weekend for me. I was, and still am, happy to have been chosen for the Books By the Banks at all, for the new friends and the new readers.

Besides. I photobombed a few of those pictures of Sherry and John…

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye