Second Acts

F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked that there are no second acts in American lives. But then he didn‚Äôt know about e-publishing. 

In 1991, W.W. Norton published my first novel, The Wives’ Tale. It was well reviewed; it made back its modest advance; it got translated into German and Dutch; it was republished as a trade paperback; it got optioned a few times by various directors who thought they might like to make a movie out of it (though none of them did). And then, like most books, it gradually faded from view.

By 1997, when I went to work as a literary editor for a little online bookstore called Amazon, The Wives’ Tale was out of print. Oh, it led a kind of ghost life in Amazon’s catalog where it was listed as “unavailable.” Now and then I’d run across a copy or two on the shelves of used book stores—an event that thrilled me since it meant that someone who was probably not my mother had at least owned my book at one point, and maybe even read it.

I bought up these used copies whenever I found them (paying in cash, for fear the cashier might notice the name on the book and the one on the credit card were the same—as if they cared!) because even though the original 25 free copies from my publisher had seemed like a lot at the time—why would anyone need 25 copies of any book, even her own, I had wondered—unaccountably, over the years, that stock dwindled, and now I was buying myself back at $5.99 a pop.

Years went by. I wrote three more novels and the starts to one or two more, none of which made it any further than the metaphorical bottom drawer on my hard drive. I moved on from Amazon to a literary arts center here in Seattle, and focused my attention on furthering the careers of other writers for eight more years. The Wives’ Tale was pretty well forgotten, I thought, by everyone—almost myself, included.

And then electronic publishing happened. And suddenly even long-forgotten little books like mine have second acts.