…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…
I have been listening to your book on audible this week and have nearly finished it. I’ve got to the bit about where you are blogging about that doctor saying you are overweight, firstly that exact same thing happened to me. I went to get birth control and this really hideous mean lady said if my BMI increased I would have to swap medication, because i was overweight! I was kind of shocked I’m 5foot 2 and weigh about 12stone. I was so pissed and had a nearly identical rant as you did with your boyfriend!
I read that bad review and its hideous! It is just full of bile and misrepresentation. I think you have been incredibly brave writing that book and it was so nice to be invited into another woman’s head to hear all the things we all think but never discuss with each other. Thank you for writing such an intimate, brave and honest book. I really hope you don’t take bad comments to heart because they are not loud enough to be heard above the strength and honesty that can be found in those pages.
Thank you so much for your comment – you have no idea how amazing it is to hear such kind things about my book!! I’m so pleased you’re enjoying it, although it’s always a bit bittersweet when people relate closely to one of the stories… I wish you hadn’t had such a hideous experience with the lady at your doctor’s office! But I’m glad you got angry instead of being hurt; I think that was the silver lining of my experience.
Anyway, thank you again for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment. It truly made my day!
PS I love your blog! It’s got such a cheerful color scheme and lovely photos (plus I might have to try that kiwi exfoliant – this never-ending winter is killing my skin)!
Hi Anne, I read your book – finished it last night, and firstly I’d like to congratulate you on putting your story into the public domain. There are so many -too many? – stories about people who lose huge amounts of weight/have plastic surgery/win lotto etc whose lives are then the fantasy they always imagined would result from the losing weight/plastic surgery/obscene wealth. And this – of course – fuels the fantasy itself – lose the weight or the other things is ALL you need to live a wonderful fulfilled life – the factt that you may be a bit emotionally frgaile/pyschologically damaged or just plain nasty will be wiped out by the change.
It’s just crap – and reinforces the idea that WHAT we are is more important than WHO we are, to our own detriment.
So, BRAVO for telling the truth – that some of your difficluties were NOT immediately solved by losing weight, or the surgery – that there was damage to your pysche that you still struggle to overcome.
Thank you – for reading the book and for appreciating the truth (not everyone does), and especially for taking the time to comment and tell me so. I appreciate it more than you know. I totally agree that the pervasiveness of these ‘I lost weight and everything is perfect’ stories reinforces our culture’s unhealthy attitude toward hard changes, and I’m really pleased that you don’t think my book adds to that!
Hi Anne, allow me to join the list of people congratulating you on writing the book on your story and putting it out there. I already sent you a very quick message on Twitter, but here I am blog-commenting and basically I’m such! a! fan! There is so much in your writing that rings incredibly true with me – I don’t think I’m comfortable disclosing numbers on the internet but BMI-wise I think my biggest was a 36 at age 21.
Your teenage life was on the other side of the world and still so much of it felt like mine, and the doubts never ever go away. For some of us it’s GB, for others weight loss comes in other forms, but the mind really doesn’t adjust anywhere near as quickly. Just today I went on a 2 hour cycling trip and scaled a big hill at the end. I got off my bike halfway up to push, and was huffing up the hill when two teenage girls passed me on the way down. 100% of my body was expecting them to stop, stare and make mean remarks about how I’m fat and unfit. It just never f•••ing stops.
I’m assuming those girls didn’t reinforce your fears (if they did I hope you clocked them!), but I totally understand why you felt that way – I frequently imagine reactions of passersby to my body and they’re usually extremely uncharitable (to both of us).
I really do believe that knowing those kinds of imaginings are bonkers is a crucial first step, but of course it’s easier said than done. If it helps, I’ve spent this whole weekend in Miami driving my best friend insane as I absolutely refuse to budge from my opinion that she’s wrong to think I’m attractive and I’m utterly correct in my conviction that the rest of the world would be on my side in a bet.
Thank you so much for commenting, and for enjoying the book, and for keeping in touch on Twitter. Honestly, communication with readers like you is what makes all the stressful parts of publishing worth it a hundred times over. Please keep fighting your body demons (we can be in that together)! Hopefully we’ll get somewhere eventually…