[SWP:Behind the Book] A Newbie All Over Again

I got an email from Brooke Warner, the publisher at She Writes Press, a few days ago, saying that the first copies of my memoir are ready to ship. A month early. This means that some people will have already read the book weeks before my anticipated pub date. It means that my story, this memoir I’ve been holding in my heart, exposing a bit at a time, will be out in the world in a matter of days.

            Straight up, sister writers, I’m a little freaked out, and I didn’t think I was going to be. I feel as though I was preparing myself to take my clothes off in public on May 9, but that I’ll have a few peepers in my dressing room before I am fully ready.

            This is not my first published book; technically, it’s my third. The first book doesn’t count in the same way, it being a non-fiction, ghost written book. My name isn’t on the cover. I was the “writer”, not the “author”. I was excited, sort of. But frankly, the ghostwriting experience had been such a ragged one that I was relieved that I’d not have to continue it with “the author” any more.  Relief isn’t the same thing as excitement.

My first novel, Fire & Water, was published by She Writes Press in 2013. The press was in its first days. The press was new and I felt new to it all.  I did my best to write the most emotionally true story in Fire & Water. Though the characters and events that took place in my novel were entirely fiction, I still felt as though my emotional self was exposed. Isn’t that what the best fiction does? It explores the emotional landscape, unencumbered by real events. I recall feeling vulnerable, a little nervous, still very excited when the novel shipped.

            Technically, having two published books makes me a veteran of sorts, though I still feel like a newbie with so much to learn. I’m a better writer now and I know a bit more about launching a book, the marketing and publicity pieces being a little more familiar, though there is still so much to learn. So what is it that makes this book different? Why is my stomach doing flip-flops?

            I’ve been asking myself these questions in recent days. The truth, sister writers, falls into two categories for me: the business and the personal.

            On the business side, I’ve learned a lot in the four years I’ve been a published author. I’ve learned that helping a book toward its best success involves an investment of time, energy, ingenuity, and money. I’m treating publication this time more like a business. I’ve hired a publicist. I’m viewing my expenses as “investments” in my business as a writer, as separate from my growth as an artist; it’s two different worlds. Financially, I’m risking more this time. I have a supportive husband who does his best to hide his flinches as I write big checks for printing, for my publicist, for shipping. When I tell him how much I appreciate his support he always says, “It takes money to make money, baby.” But still, thousands of dollars out of our budget is a big hit, with no guarantees of return. So yes, I want this book to do well, and to help me toward my writerly goals of having a new book published every twelve to eighteen months for the next ten years. I’m also having a secret little hope that this second book might give my first one a second chance for commercial sales. As a reader, I often discover an author, like her book, and look to see what else she’s published. My new book is a sparkly, and given that books age faster than presidents, my first one might have a bit less sparkle, but I’m still proud of it. My ignorance about publicity and marketing when Fire & Water first came out might have kept me from giving it its best chance for commercial success. In the words of Maya Angelou, I know better now, so I’m doing better now.

            Truth is, while some of my fears are about the book business, my biggest anxiety has little to do with book sales, commercial success, or marketing. It has to do with having exposed my life in a new way, to strangers and to friends. It is not the content of the stories that I feel so tender about exposing. There’s nothing in my new memoir that I’ve kept secret from those close to me. This is not a “tell all” book where I had to warn people about the content, or that opened me up to lawsuits. The few people that might have been wounded by small bits of t

he story have long since passed away, Those closest to the story have read it, and have reassured me that they love the book, and that there’s nothing that they feel hurt or angry in reading.

What I realize now is that my feeling of nakedness has little to do with the reactions of others, and far more to do with my own feeling of emotional exposure. I wrote more “raw”. This book has pieces of my heart on every page. In it, I expose my fears, my grief, my deepest and most vulnerable love. I tell of the moments of my greatest joys, right alongside my deepest heartbreaks. In short, this book is me. Naked me. Vulnerable me. And that, dear writing sisters, is scary. It just is.

I’ll get over it. Intellectually I know that my truest truths are no different from most people’s. My fears and heartbreaks are universal, even if the events of my story are mine alone. Love and loss belong to all of us. I only hope that this book is a way to build connections, between the hearts of every reader to my own, that our shared humanity is in its pages and in the experience of writer to reader, and reader back to writer. These are lofty goals, but in truth, it’s why I wrote the book.

Filling Her Shoes: A Memoir of an Inherited Family
is my simple story of the complications of life, love, and family. It’s the story of love and loss living side-by-side. My deepest wish is that every reader finds a bit of his or her own story in mine.  Now I just have to get over myself, let the freaking out fade, and let the joy in.  

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  • Michelle Cox

    Love this, Betsy.  I admire you so much for putting so much of yourself out there and writing such an honest piece.  It is scary to release a book into the world, even if it's fiction (what if no one likes it?).  I can't imagine putting out a memoir, so I admire all those that do.  Maybe someday I'll be brave enough to put a little bit more of myself into my characters.  For now, I just watch.  Wishing you the very best of luck with "Filling Her Shoes."  I can't wait to read it!  

  • Hollye Dexter

    It is such a wonderful and truthful book about family. I can't rave about it enough. Once the reviews start rolling in, your worries will be far behind you. The world will love this book. Congratulations!

  • Judith Newton

    Just reading this book made me, however momentarily, a better person. So much love and generosity.

  • I agree completely, Bella.  

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    This sounds wonderful, Betsy! Brava! Trust me, naked it good!