…let’s be honest: I’m not the cool-as-a-cucumber, detached professional I probably should be. And really, if I were, would you want to read my memoir? Thought not.
Navel Gazing was released a couple of months ago, and after a very good initial reception, it received its first bad review – in fact, the review was more nasty than bad, and very personal. It felt less like a review of my book than an assessment of my assumed character (I say assumed because I disagree strongly with the assessments and consider the quote at the end of the article to be way out of context, to the point where I’m not convinced the writer actually read my book). Well, I crumbled. I was prepared for critical reviews of the book, and I also fully expected to read nasty personal attacks online (although I had promised myself I wouldn’t go looking for them), but I didn’t expect to read a professional review that mostly ignored the book and went instead for the personal jugular.
The point of this post, though, isn’t to air my grievances about a bad review – as much as I’d love to defend myself against every single perceived slight, that’s not an author’s place and anyway I don’t have time to respond to everything said about the book – but rather to explain something about publishing a book, something I wasn’t prepared for at all: the publicity part is emotionally exhausting, almost more so than the writing part. I find myself constantly repeating the same parts of the story (ironically, repetition is one of the more common complaints about the book itself, and yet when it comes to journalism everybody seems to want the same things); I’m often assumed to be available during normal working hours, which I’m not, unless I beg my boss for a long lunch hour or a day off; and, most difficult for me, I’m always balanced on the tightrope between losing my sense of myself and my message and making sure I do what’s required to give the book its best chance in the world.
It was pretty hairy for a while; I spent the majority of my free time (and too much of my work time!) doing publicity duties, and with every new request I lost a little bit more of my mind. BUT – and this is important – I also met some very interesting new people, and the book got more attention as a result of their efforts, so I felt I couldn’t complain. In fact, I still shouldn’t be.
And really (really), I’m not trying to complain. I just wanted to talk about it, because it seems like nobody ever does. Even my good friend Kristina, who has worked in publishing for years, was surprised by some of the stories I told her and by how much the book promotion stressed me out. It’s really strange to me that writers, who are so often painfully shy creatures by nature, are expected to launch their books – and, more difficult still, themselves – out into the world with the utmost enthusiasm and confidence and strength. And we do, usually, because we’re made to understand that this seemingly impossible effort will help our babies survive. And I can only assume it does help.
At least, I hope it does. Otherwise, all those hours of being squeezed into tight skirts and high-slitted dresses and told to ‘smile, Beautiful!’ (mildly ironic, given that my book is pretty much all about my discomfort with my body) were for naught, right? Or maybe not – maybe this process has toughened me up a bit, and maybe that’s worth something on its own. After all, I did just come across a blog review that was ‘disappointed’ in the book (always so much worse than angry, just like a mother’s face), and even as I cringed I also understood that the reader wanted something from my book that I could never have given her: a different ending.
So many people have wanted something different, something I couldn’t give: an ’emotional overeating’ explanation for why I got fat (I’m not convinced I really ‘overate’ at all, much less emotionally, but I think that’s hard for naturally thin people to believe); a deeper exploration of my issues with food through therapy (after a wasted year of therapy when I was a teenager, too sullen to talk, I could never afford it again and have never been back); a ‘happy ending’, where I have an epiphany and decide to love myself (sorry, but the process is what it is, and honesty was more important to me than a Disneylike storyline).
I think the hardest and yet most rewarding thing about this whole experience – the reviews, the photo shoots, the interviews – has been figuring out my boundaries. I went in thinking (and promising my publicist) that besides bikini pics, I was game for anything, and boy did she take me at face value! To her credit, she always insisted that I could decline any offer, but I was stubborn and determined to stick to my word, so I went ahead with every single opportunity that came my way. And some of those opportunities tested me: they made me cry, or break out in stress hives, or rant against a literary world that requires so much from authors. But I came through it, and I really do believe I’m stronger as a result, and have more conviction.
And thank goodness for that, because now I have a wedding to plan in eight months, from 5000 miles away, and so far the hives and crying have shown up much earlier! Maybe by the end of this year I’ll be impenetrable scar tissue from top to toe…