June 2015 | Volume XXXIII, Issue 3 »

The Next Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Is…

June 1, 2015
Michael Alan Peck

The second annual Soon to Be Famous Illinois author was named at an event held on April 16. Michael Alan Peck’s The Commons Book 1: The Journeyman was chosen from among a field of three finalists, including Wicked Waves by Sharon Kay and The House of Closed Doors by Jane Steen. The following remarks were made by Peck as he accepted the award.

Soon after I found out that I was a semi-finalist, I posted to Facebook, saying that of any contest I’d entered, this was the most important to me because I love libraries, and I love librarians. I also said that the little-kid version of me, who was wandering up to the check-out desk with copies of Robert the Rose Horse and Richard Scarry’s The Great Pie Robbery, would have been so happy to know that this was going to happen to him. 

And that got me thinking: how did I know that those were the books I wanted to read when I was seven years old? It’s not like I walked into the library and said, “Do you have something about a working-class horse who’s allergic to his own product? Or maybe a nice mystery with a cat and a pig who solve a crime involving baked goods?”

I just wanted something good to read. So I asked a librarian, and a librarian put those books in my hand and launched me on a journey of reading that continued with the guidance of libraries. 

Where that brings us today is that we have more books than ever with the self-publishing revolution. It’s easier to publish than ever. We can read them on paper. We can read them on our Kindle, on our iPad, on our phone—and the platforms just continue to multiply. And there are people who say that this creates a crisis in literature, where there’s just a tsunami of story, and we’re not going to know what to read, and how are we going to find the good stuff?

I don’t believe that’s a crisis. I don’t think that you can have toomuch choice as long as you have the things that we know about: you’ve got algorithms, and you have social media. You have the old dependables of friends to ask and word-of-mouth. But we also have libraries and librarians who are the professionals at doing this. 

Using the word “professional” is like calling me a professional writer. Librarians do recommending for a living, and writers— if we’re lucky—write for a living. But we would all do it for free. We would do it anyway. If you go on Goodreads and look at some of the most prolific reviewers and the people who have some of the most influence, and just do a little digging, you’ll see that a lot of these people are also—surprise—librarians in real life and not just on Goodreads. 

It’s an enthusiasm that’s baked in. They share because that’s something they would do anyway. 

That’s dedication. It’s the kind of dedication that creates the Soon to Be Famous project. 

Speaking of dedication, I want to call out that when I found out about the contest—me being me—I couldn’t leave myself plenty of time before the deadline to get everything done.It was seven days before the deadline, and I realized, “Wow.I didn’t read the rules closely enough and I actually have to have a librarian sponsor me. So it’s time to start making panicky phone calls, which I’m good at.”

I called the Edgewater branch, which is my local branch of the Chicago Public Library. A librarian named Stuart Griner was either lucky enough or unlucky enough to pick up the phone. Here, it’s seven days to deadline, and I know what it’s like: the guy’s at work, and he has a plan of what he wants to do that day, and I blew up his plan. Here I am saying, “Because I wasn’t responsible, and I only have seven days, would you read a 91,000-word book on top of everything else you have to do?”

He did. He didn’t complain. This is something that he took on, and it’s what got me standing here today. I couldn’t have done it without him. Again, that’s dedication. To have the validation of somebody like that means everything to me.

And the validation of readers. We have readers out there who, if they go on Amazon and download a sample, may like your book enough to then pay the money for the whole thing. That’s because if you’ve done your job, they’re dying to find out what happens next.

We are writers, but we are readers, too. And librarians are readers. You’re just dying to find the book that you can’t put down— where, when you’re doing something else, you’re thinking about that character and what happens to them next. So it’s the validation of the reader that counts for everything as well. 

It’s the librarians who are going to tell the readers about my book, and about Sharon’s book, and about Jane’s book.

When I made the semi-finals, a friend of mine said to me, “You’ve already won. Because librarians have recognized what you’re doing, and readers are recognizing what you’re doing.”

Whichever one of us has their name called as the winner, we’ve all won. And again, that’s the kind of validation that is the whole game to us.

So I’ll wrap up the way I started. Thank you.

For more on the Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author project, see www.soontobefamous.info

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