The two printings of that first hand-bound edition of EYEHEART EVERYTHING add up to about seven hundred copies. And seven hundred sales, over a ten year period, means about as much to a major publisher as seven hundred squirrels farting in outer space. But to me, those sales are like seven hundred flaming pink candles on a bright orange birthday cake. This book opened doors for me everywhere. One copy was read by the CEO of a local entertainment firm and got me employment writing for film and television. Another copy was read by Carlton Mellick III; it begat a long a fruitful friendship and the eventual release of my first novel by Eraserhead Press. A short film was made from one of these stories, and several others were reprinted in various journals, online and off. I’m often asked to read from this book at literary events, or campfires, or weddings, and I always say yes. Best of all, some huge percentage of readers have bothered to track me down and tell me how much they loved this book. Had they not, I’m sure I would have succeeded in my furious effort to fail at writing.
Probably every headstrong young writer believes that they only need to find the audience who loves them for who they are, and that editors just get in the way. Probably every editor believes that writers are like uncut diamonds, in need of vigorous polishing and sharp blows with a chisel in order to realize their full potential. Probably the truth is somewhere in the middle. Looking back at this collection, I sure wish I’d had an editor. I see things I should have thrown away and things I should have sent to Granta or The New Yorker — some of my best work, and some total crap, and nobody but myself in charge of knowing the difference. It was a snapshot taken at a poignant pivot point in my life. Ten years later, it’s a historic document. Someday it might be valuable.
Many things happened to me in the intervening decade. We had that child. We bought that house. We got married a second time, in the backyard so everybody could watch. I did some journalism, some screen writing — I was once paid more than thirty thousand dollars to write fewer than ten lines of dialogue for a major motion picture — and I played a lot of music and wrote a lot of software and rode a lot of bicycles. Powell’s continued to sell one or two or three copies of EYEHEART EVERYTHING every month, and I continued to manufacture more copies for them, ten or twenty at a time. I hot-glued the covers, and my daughter applied the little stickers with the ISBN barcodes — an absolutely crucial element of any professional book cover, by the way, and one that Brady and I forgot to include in the design, amateurs that we were.
Meanwhile, another thing happened entirely without me: Print On Demand. The publishing world has struggled for years now with how to love this bastard child of printing and the Internet, but I think it is the raddest thing ever. Basically, you can upload your book document digitally to a great big photocopier in the cloud, where robots hot-glue the covers so you don’t have to. I positively would not have bothered printing my own book in the middle of the night at Kinko’s, surrounded by muttering conspiracy theorists, sleepwalking office assistants and festive but foul-smelling methadrine addicts, if POD technology had existed in 1999.
(If I seem to harp on the hot glue, it’s because I have suffered enough hot glue burns in the last ten years to cover most of my body. The seven hundredth book is finished and I’m not doing that any more. A hundred of something is a limited edition; seven hundred is a minimum wage.)
Today, POD technology is enabling droves of young, headstrong geniuses, who lack editors or even proofreaders, to publish their brilliant, flawless first novels without even lifting a stapler. This is both good and bad; some of these people really ought to wait. But who am I to tell them so? In the area of Not-Self-Publishing, I have zero credibility. It seems the printed word has simply broken free of parental supervision for the time being. That will be awesome and that will suck. My one piece of advice for the brave new wave of POD self-publishers is: don’t forget the barcode.
This glossy new edition of EYEHEART EVERYTHING feels slightly bourgeois, but it’s now distributed via major catalogs, it can be shipped overnight (if you’re really that desperate), it’s more correctly spelled than ever, has much finer registration and no longer triggers airport metal detectors. Also, the story “UHF” now includes most of Dave Eggers’ suggested improvements. I love to make beautiful things, and I truly believe that the POD edition of EYEHEART EVERYTHING is the loveliest thing POD can produce. Plus, it remains an excellent tool for stabilizing a wobbly table.
But you may have to take my word for that; you may in fact be reading these words on a digital e-book reader, or a super-intelligent telephone, or a beam of pink light that implants short stories and medical advice directly in your brain. The future will be full of crazy stuff like that! I would never discriminate against your preferred book-input port. Please just know that there was once a time when people made books with their hands, out of paper and ink, and handed them directly to one another, and read them with their eyes, and held them to their hearts. It was sweet.