To all my writer and non-writer friends out there, this is a little piece on navigating the dragons that arise once your name is in black and white and your “baby” is out there in the world. I know I was surprised, delighted, disappointed and even caught off guard by what happened to me so I share this and hope it helps make your book birthing process easier.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
Writing is an offering. Those of us who write usually can’t not write. It is our way of understanding, processing, seeing and believing. Writing is a challenging, beautiful and wondrous process that is lonely at times and exhilarating at others. I have felt enraptured, lost in time writing but have also wanted to throw my Mac out the window, have cursed God and told Hemingway to go f#ck himself. A million words have been written about the process of writing but what about the outcome of writing? What about the process of what unfolds after black and white has been created on pages or screen?
Type “book publishing” into Google and you will get over a million hits. There is a lot of information on the writing process, how to get your grammar correct (still working on that one), how to publish a book and then all the circus acts of promotion to perform once it is published. But there are few, if any, actual offerings around the real-life reactions and emotional stuff that you face as a writer once you are published.
Less than a month ago, my book Happy, Sexy, Shameless – What Our Mother’s Didn’t Know About the Birds and the Bees became an international bestseller. I am thrilled, grateful and honored, but it was an interesting and surprising unfolding. Here are four things I wish I’d known before I published:
1. Don’t Brace for the Worst
I braced myself for the worst.
I realize now that I spent way too much mental energy on what I thought would be criticism, rejection and judgment—and not from the book critics but from my own friends and family.
My book has sexual content including my own wonderful and traumatic sexual experiences. How would you feel about your 60-year-old Catholic aunt reading about your sexual misadventures?
I was sick to my stomach for a week waiting for the judgment to come. I was pretty sure Easter Dinner was canceled but instead my aunt called me and said it made her think about her own experience. She responded exactly the opposite way I expected. Gosh, what a waste of energy planning for the worst.
No one in my family flipped out. In fact, they were extremely supportive. My mother-in-law bought books from every Amazon channel so I would have at least one sale in every country, and my sister bought eight books so that she could start a book club with her friends. My first lesson in publishing was do not prepare for the worst; reign in your own judgments and projections about people and your own work.
2. People Will Delight You
I was overwhelmed with how much support so many people offered. Many, many people shared, encouraged, and gave shout outs about my book on the day it was published and I have no doubt that this is why it was so successful on launch day. A good friend sent newsletters dedicated solely to the book to his very large mailing list encouraging people to check it out and others bought multiple copies to help drive sales.
It was amazing to see people really get behind this work and I was surprised and grateful. Some amazing things unfolded because I allowed myself to receive. I was delightfully surprised at the overwhelming positivity and support. Grateful!
3. And Others Won’t—Not Everyone Understands This
Alternately, one of the biggest surprises was the sort of lax approach from others in my life who I thought would be the biggest cheerleaders.
Some of my closest friends did not appear overly supportive. Many have not responded to requests for reviews, testimonials and just plain feedback that are often key to the continuing success of a book (and your job as a friend, by the way). Some friends did not share it on social media or even congratulate me on the day of launch. It is hard not to take this personally. I was sad and it made me question whom I want closest to me.
I did talk to one friend about it and she said, “You are getting such great feedback that I did not think my feedback would matter that much.”
I get that. I think many people do not understand just how vulnerable, scary and darn right lonely publishing can be at times. They may also have their own story of worthiness and busy-ness going on. I don’t want to sound like a whiner or a validation whore but we all want to feel supported, loved and seen—especially from our “people”—and it can bring up some tough stuff when it appears that is not happening. I took a good look at what was arising for me and did some of my own shedding about unworthiness and feeling unloved. I did not expect to feel as triggered as I did, so I took this as a great opportunity to reflect and heal as well as examine what it means to be a friend.
4. It’s Not About You
And my final deep realization was what I knew from the start: none of this is about me. I did not write a book to get kudos. I did not write a book to be critiqued for my punctuation. I did not write a book to sell a book.
I wrote a book because I could not not write and, thankfully, the words flowed through me. Thankfully, it resonated with some people. Thankfully, it made a small difference somewhere in someone’s life. Thankfully, it helped me heal parts of myself.
Thankfully none of it is really about me and, thankfully, when I feel the waves of doubt, fear and conversely success and adoration, I remember that writing is an offering, and one that I am grateful to give. Thankfully, stories are meant to be shared—even the story of writing.
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman
Author: Shasta Townsend
Editor: Caroline Beaton