Saturday, July 5, 2014

Writing, Publishing, Whoring, Middle School and Dr. Suess

from my 1973 edition of Dr. Suess' My Book About Me


This being published thing is an odd bag. Is that the right expression? My mini-memoir, Hope for a Sea Change has been "out" for a few weeks, now, and thanks to all of ya'll, it's sold pretty briskly on both Shebooks and Amazon. I have hopes to get a "real" book -- the whole shebang from which the ebook was only an excerpt -- published one day as well. That's the pipe dream, the life dream. My pondering today is the marketing aspect of publishing, the whoring, really, one must do to "sell" your book. I have a lot of writer friends and several writing mentors. I naturally appealed to them, first, when I knew my ebook was coming out because I trusted that they would reach out to their own networks and help me to spread the word. Many of them have gone through this process, and I worked pretty tirelessly to promote their own writing when they themselves had essays and books published. I did this not only because it seems to me to be a sort of writer etiquette but also because I genuinely believed in their writing and wanted to promote it. While I didn't do this because, I assumed that this would be reciprocated,  -- or should I say presumed? What's happened is that a few of these writing friends and mentors have, for whatever reason, done nothing to help me promote the book. I find this weird and a little upsetting, but not really upsetting -- I mean, really, in the scheme of things given my life? Maybe they don't have the time. Maybe they hated the ebook and can't bring themselves to promote it. Maybe they're against Amazon and ebooks in general. The professional world of writing is intimidating to me -- the whole MFA thing, the workshops, the expensive colonies and prizes, the Facebook pages, the pandering and the cliques. Oh, the cliques. I see people I know, who I think of as real friends, not just social media friends, glamming and glomming onto the lionized, the powers that be in the literary world. I feel a little envious, I guess, a little aspirational, a little hurt. If I type it, will the defensiveness be purged? I feel much as I did in the eighth grade when I'd walk out of a bathroom stall at school and see The Susans or The Dianes tittering at a sink mirror, swiping blue eye-shadow over their eyelids, sticky flavored gloss over their lips. Their eyes might have shifted over to me and then away. I didn't have it in me to wear blue eye-shadow under the rose-tinted goggles I wore that year, and look at me, now, nearly forty years later, slipping out the door before they can see me.

The Buddhists talk about craving, about desire, about the source of suffering being aspiration and clinging. I get that and must remind myself of it,over and over. Good Lord, ya'll -- here's what I most wanted when I was ten years old:


I probably felt presumptuous when I crossed out "typewriter" and filled in "bookmarker holder" (what the hell?) Once again, I was slipping out the door before anyone saw.

That being said, I'm more amused and curious at this point than simpatico when other writers kvetch and complain about how little money they make as writers. There's a lot of this going on -- particularly in the Huffpost hipster set. Evidently, exposure is the thing, and you have to sacrifice money in order to get it. Since when did writers presume that they'd make a living doing what they do? Has this ever been the case except for the minority? I love to think of William Blake, naked in the garden with his wife on the weekend, after a week of working his printing press. I swoon over Nathaniel Hawthorne, penning Rapaccini's Daughter  in the few hours left to him before or after his miserable job at the Salem Custom House. When he was fired from there, he penned The Scarlet Letter. I imagine Wallace Stevens might have grumbled a bit as an insurance salesman in Hartford, Connecticut, but that didn't prevent him from scratching out some of his most sublime poetry on scraps of paper throughout the day.

The other set of writers that make me raise my eyebrows are those that insist it's impossible to write when you have children - or that having children and raising them somehow lowers your intellectual capacity. Some journalist recently claimed that the best female writers only have one child. The wonderful Zadie Smith wrote a wickedly good riposte to that, here. And I'll never forget hearing the wonderful Carol Shields, who wrote many terrific novels, delighting in her five children and denying that they'd ever sucked any creativity from her.

The thing is, I'm not going to be a writer, when certain circumstances unfold, or certain people accept me or when I am paid. I am one. I'm doing what I most wanted to do since I was a very young girl, and I can be nothing but grateful for that and keep doing it.

23 comments:

Ms. Moon said...

Yes! Me too! Exactly.
You are a writer. Writers write. Hell. We do.

rainshadowfarm said...

Wow and wow. Being a published writer is very much like thinking one can move out of years as contingent faculty into the cool kids clique, full time faculty (never mind tenure). I've given up. I've decided at my age and with my proclivities and peculiarities I'm better suited to the anonymity of adjunct teaching and to writing it all down. I've always written it all down. Why stop now. Poverty be damned. You write like a goddess, Elizabeth, btw.

bluesmtn said...

From not even the first 3 words, you inspire me.

Anonymous said...

You Rock as a writer AND a mom. There are countless anonymous people loving your work and learning how to be relentless through your eyes but mostly your heart. Pouring it out when I imagine it wants to jump right out of your throat and run under the covers. The keys must dance under your tapping fingers. Your words are insanely wonderful when strung together.

37paddington said...

You are having experience number 341 in the book called Being a Published Author. Just as you manifested a writing life, so your larger book, in traditional 3-dimensional form, will be a reality too. I do believe that. It is the rare writer though who doesn't have these feelings you describe. And yet we keep writing. It is nothing less than an imperative. Promotion activities ensue from a different brain entirely. Some people do it well and some (like me) have no gift for it. Your book is brilliant. It will find its audience. Onward.

Radish King said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I think you have a story to tell. I really do. I think you are a good writer with an affinity for clear direct writing who maybe wishes to be more of the lyrical writer you admire. I think that tension constrained your writing in the e- book. I think you are also constrained by the fact that you know your post hoc ergo propter hoc beliefs about what happened to Sophie will marginalize you and that this puts a certain pall on your writing by trying to ignore . I do think there's a way around this but you need to find it. Perhaps in the telling of your other stories. But the e book is too unfinished at this point. Too lacking in focus. And my guess is some fellow writers are too uncomfortable with what is lacking to really feel they can endorse it.

Steve Reed said...

You summed it up in that last paragraph. We write because we love it, because we must. I have never mastered the degree of self-promotion required to get my writing (or more so, my photography) any kind of audience. And sometimes I think, maybe it's just as well. Maybe I should be happy with my little corner of the Internet where I don't get savaged by critics or wrestle with low sales counts and the risk that all my hard work will be pulped!

Elizabeth said...

Radish King -- thank you for your honesty. I assure you I'm under no illusions. It's a $2.99 ebook.

Anonymous said...

Ok Elizabeth. Here is what I mean. I feel like the e book lacked a theme and focus. You tried hard for some sort of revolution but I don't think it was possible to have it in the portion of the story you were trying to tell. It just didn't work. Maybe couldn't work. And your writer friends may not want to say that to you. As for the Latin it means " after therefore because of" and it is considered to be the most difficult logical fallacy to shake for those who have experienced trauma. Which means, I know that you believe that Sophie was harmed by vaccination and have no desire to debate that with you. But from a writing standpoint, I think you also know that setting forth that view point would place you into a Jenny McCarthy like category in the minds of many readers. I don't think you want to go there because as you know that's only going to distract from the story that should be told. I do believe though Sophie's experience with medical marijuana can help tie together all of your feelings and beliefs about the medical community in a way that can powerfully tell your story without asking the reader to take a position as to whether your beliefs are right or wrong. And again I will say that I think your talents lie in the beauty of the brute force of your very direct and clear writing ( your writing on your day at the museum with Sophie was masterful) rather than in attempts to write in the more poetic style that yup personally love but may not be your forte.

Finally I understand that it's a 2.99 e- book. As a fan of your writing ( really I am) though I wouldn't put myself out there to endorse your writing quite yet. Which is what I think the position some of your fellow writers are in.

Anonymous said...

I meant resolution. Not revolution.

Elizabeth said...

Anonymous: Thanks again for your input and clarification. I admit to hating your anonymity -- it certainly makes your arguments less convincing. Because you've chosen to bring up the vaccination issue and I have some ability to figure it out, I have an idea of who you might be, and bringing up Jenny McCarthy is absurd. While I appreciate your comment that my book lacks form and resolution, you're making your argument based on what you've read elsewhere (and you've apparently read my entire blog). Secondly, the fact that Sophie had a negative reaction to her first vaccinations, enough to compel her physicians to order that she not receive them afterward, is discussed later in the book in addition to my own conflicted feelings about all of it. Again, the ebook is a short form, a snippet of memoir that I hope to publish as part of a larger work that covers a lot more time. Additionally, I am not writing to manipulate -- either myself or my readers. While I appreciate you trying to guess why certain of my writer community "people" haven't helped me to market the book, your own communication leads me to believe that perhaps you're a part of the medical community -- or just a very poor writer yourself. And "putting yourself out there" to support a 36-page $2.99 e-book is probably not that great of a sacrifice for most writers.

Sabine said...

Yours was and still is my first e-book and I read it in one go. Thank you for being the wonderful writer you are and for expressing so much in such a small book.

There are no fixed rules or styles or how things should be focussing on whatever and certainly no such thing as what constitutes a "real" book.
Jeez, who decides how a "story" should be told?

While it has been a while since I was a bookseller (and not in the US), it always boils down to money and the most nauseating memories are of pushy PR events/readings and making up weekly sales figures for the bestseller lists of the Sunday papers. Don't go there. Please.

Elizabeth said...

Anonymous: Thank you for your honesty. I'm curious, though, about this: "I think you are also constrained by the fact that you know your post hoc ergo propter hoc beliefs about what happened to Sophie will marginalize you and that this puts a certain pall on your writing by trying to ignore..." -- namely the string of Latin. I'd love a mini lesson -- you appear to be a literary critic. I'm flattered that you'd take the time to do such an in-depth analysis of a $2.99 ebook that is specifically published on a platform for short memoir, fiction and journalism.

Elizabeth said...

Oy. I'm not sure what's going on in this comment section with things appearing and disappearing, but I appreciate everyone's viewpoint. I think it bears saying that telling one's story -- in whatever form -- is an impulse that most writers have, no matter their ability to do so. I have received countless emails and letters and comments from people who relate to Sophie's story and who are grateful that I tell it. That being said, I've received many critical comments and emails as well, and while some make me irritable, I do carefully consider their content. I found that prohibiting Anonymous comments restrained discussion, so I added it back on, but now I'm wondering if that's such a good idea. I've nothing to hide in telling my story or Sophie's story and only hope that if you choose to consider it, you might put a name to your face and your words.

LB said...

Ah, yes, Carol Shields -- one of my favorite authors who wrote one of my favorite books, Unless.

The Diamond in the Window said...

I am happy to have bought and read your e-book—very happy to have done so.

blogzilly said...

Some things I want to say.

1. I haven't read the e-Book yet. I intend to, just haven't had the time yet. It is on my To Do, I hope it doesn't insult you I have not yet. If anything, I hope you respect my honesty.

2. Time is a commodity I don't have a lot of, as you can relate to. I parcel it out when I can. I just got my hands on that Comprehensive Guide, and have to work that in as well. This post of your, though, for some reason, makes me want to jump your book higher on my list...I feel I should be a better supporter.

3. You'd be surprised to know how some people, less experienced than you, feel the same way about you and your position in this community and your successes as you do about others who have reached levels that you perceive as being higher than your own. I feel that way. I've often been intimidated by you, often felt inferior. I have the one benefit of being comfortable enough with myself to write you directly and say that. Not sure why. I think because I always believe that no matter who you are, there is always someone out there who will be someone you are chasing, and someone will always be chasing you.

You are a unique individual, you inspire a lot of people...and as I was reading your blog today I kept wondering...'Why the fuck is she questioning whether or not she is a writer because she had never been published?' And then you got to your last paragraph and OF COURSE you get it already.

Publishing is just icing on a cake. And you make damn fine cakes. I would love, LOVE to write a book, publish a book...but I am way too squeamish to try to get it published by any traditional means. When it comes time to do it? I am going to do it through Kickstarter or something. I just don't know literary type people, nor do I want to have to jump through hoops...I want to do things my way, walk my own path, and in this day and age, I think the mere act of putting the tome together is the act I want to achieve.

As always, You intim-, um, inspired me to think a lot today. Why I love reading your blog and always have.

Anonymous said...

Oh Dear, I just checked back in tonight and I am the first Anonymous on July 5th at 6:34pm who thinks You Rock because it's the truth. I'm definitely not the second one. I'm an ordinary mom and elementary school teacher on the east coast who supports you fully and rarely comments (I think this is my 4th one ever) but tends to ramble.
You have led me to all sorts of wonderful people and their blogs an have the nicest of friends. I promote your site to teachers and parents whenever I find an opportunity because you always leave me inspired.
I don't have a blog or a google account. I'll be sure to sign next time so you don't confuse me with someone else - suemarch, smarch5 or some variation.

Vesuvius At Home said...

Your post is exactly right. You already are a writer. We don't have to wait on the world to stamp us: WRITER. We already are writers. This post, and your memoir, are brave. Really, really brave. It takes gonads of steel to write and to publish. Especially memoir. So as for these comments, somebody who isn't fighting in this fucking ring with you has no right to tell you any single damn thing. You are a writer. You are IN THE RING. Not sitting on the side with the peanut gallery tossing comments like shells. You are intimidatingly talented. Enough to make people jealous, I bet. I'm in your corner.

Kristin said...

I hope you got a typewriter for that birthday and not a bookmark holder. And I can't wait to buy the WHOLE memoir when you get it done. I hope that will be soon.

Denise Emanuel Clemen said...

You are most definitely a writer. Right now. I consider myself a colleague and have loved every writerly minute I've spent in your company. I wish your book every success. I'd love to cook up some kind of event we could do together....but how does one do that with e-books?

Carrie Link said...

I know just what you're talking about, some of the writers I thought I "knew" and thought would really deliver for me, did zero. Some bent over backwards (like you, thank you!). Would it surprise you to know I had the exact same Dr. Seuss All About Me book, and still have it in my basement?

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