Some truths about writing a book
My truths at least
Momfluenced has been out in the world for exactly one month and “how I feel” about it all changes almost hourly, but here are some things I know to be true.
I spent roughly a year querying agents (without whom you can almost never sell a book to a mainstream publisher), and nearly 50 said no before one said yes. I have vivid memories of desperately trying to project an air of “not desperate” over the phone as my postpartum doula tried to get my fussy 2-week-old to nap downstairs. During the agent call, I asked thoughtful questions, provided thoughtful answers as I leaked breastmilk and prayed the baby wouldn’t cry which would distract me from keeping my inner excited squeals at bay. I galloped down the stairs after the call and attempted to explain to my saint of a doula why “getting a literary agent” after years of fantasizing and one year of actively trying felt akin to winning the Pulitzer. I let out the squeals!
The first book my agent and I tried to sell went out on 3 rounds of submissions which means roughly 36 editors said no thank you.
The second book my agent and I tried to sell went out on one round of submissions before I pulled the plug to revise.
I spent 6 months writing a new proposal based on the rejections from failed book #2. If you’re counting (I sure as hell was!), this is proposal #3!
Writing a proposal is harder (FOR ME) than writing a book. Requirements include: selling yourself and your ability to sell book; crafting chapter summaries for chapters that don’t exist; researching and writing a compelling sample chapter that will give editors a good sense of the rest of the not-yet-existent book; and most impossible of all, (using captivating prose!), communicating the heart of a thing you have yet to write in something which is called “the overview” but which should be called “the impossible.”
After a month or so of the Momfluenced proposal hitting editors’ inboxes, my agent left me a voicemail sharing the news that one publisher was interested in scheduling a call and I still have that voicemail saved on my phone.
When it became clear an offer was imminent, and my agent told me to have realistic expectations about my advance, I didn’t care because I was so drunk on YES after so many years of NO. A book a book a book a book a book a book my book my MY BOOK MY BOOK MY BOOK what is money?!?!?!?!
I will never do this because it’s against my religion to do math voluntarily, but if I ever did do the math to figure out my hourly rate for writing this book in one year (prior to several months of edits the following year), the math would make me deeply sad.
Posting the Publisher’s Marketplace announcement of the deal on Twitter was one of the biggest career highs of my life. Freshly showered and donning a hoodie still warm from the dryer, I sat dazed in bed with my laptop and took this beautiful selfie of myself crying about it it all as my writing community showered me with Twitter congratulations love.
I love book research! I read so many books to prepare for writing Momfluenced, and as I underlined my way through each one, felt so privileged to be in conversation with thinkers and writers I so intensely admire. One of my favorite parts of writing is reading.
Writing is hard! Every single first draft of each of Momfluenced’s chapters started as a document full of copy-and-pasted quotes, interview transcripts, and brain vomit. Every single one of those shitty first chapter drafts convinced me that I had no business whatsoever writing anything, much less a BOOK.
Molding and polishing a too-long, disconnected, thesis-less first draft is one of the great pleasures of my life. Connecting dots and uncovering nuggets of insight previously buried in expository filler before switching gears unexpectedly to follow a new train of thought - it is the best kind of intellectual exercise. Transitioning from a “I’m not equipped to write a grocery list with any sort of clarity so why am I attempting a book that people will have to spend actual money on” mindset to a “I made something from literal nothingness!” mindset is a wild ride.
As an author of a book, you created something from nothing, but it is not really something you own. You have some say (if you’re lucky) in what the finished product will look like, how it will be marketed, and who it will be marketed towards, but ultimately, you are not a book designer, a marketing executive, a publicist, or a publishing company, and your book is a product that isn’t owned or sold by you which is fundamentally weird!
The book cover design process will MAKE YOU FEEL FEELINGS.
I don’t know a single author alive that enjoys selling herself in order to sell books.
As an author in 2023, unless you’re Donna Tartt (and even if you are Donna Tartt honestly, because even Donna Tart has a Public Persona), it impossible to sell books without selling yourself. I spent approximately 12,302 hours writing pithy Twitter posts, drafting earnest Instagram posts, creating fucking Canva graphics, and sharing Insta stories in order to trick myself into thinking I have any control in how or whether my book sells. I spent double that time creating a single Instagram reel.
Your Book is the Holy Grail, The Peak of Mount Everest, The Moon Landing and for everyone else in the world, it’s Just A Book. **
8 months before pub day, I started spending the hours between 2AM and 4AM writing bad reviews of my own book in my head.
Random acquaintances will smile kindly when you tell them you have a book coming out, in the same way that you smile kindly when your 4YO tells you that real dinosaurs live in the woods. You will want to launch into a rant about how it’s a fucking miracle ANYONE ever gets a book published (much less writes a book!) but you won’t because that would be like your 4YO having a tantrum when you dare to say something inane like, “It’s fun to imagine triceratops in the woods isn’t it?”
In the months leading up to pub day, I sent approximately 8,613 emails out to friends, professional contacts, people I talked to once in a buffet line at a writing workshop 3 years ago, people who follow me on Twitter, and people who have never heard of me or my little book, offering them galleys and (in some cases!) directly begging them to cover my book in any professional capacity.
In the months leading up to pub day, I spent approximately 1,805 hours answering the same 5 interview questions over and over again, and in doing so, became convinced that not only was I boring as hell, but surely my book was also boring as hell?!
I am very lucky to have several author friends who have tried to prepare me for being a debut author. They all told me a version of the same message: that debut books rarely sell well and if you focus on the sales (or the Goodreads reviews!) you will feel terrible about yourself and your life choices, so instead, focus on the wins and stop looking up your Amazon rating.
This all sounds like very good advice and I did my best to listen to this advice in the run-up to pub day, BUT ALSO I did approximately 2,319 interviews in the months leading up to pub day, and how could 2,319 interviews not translate to widespread interest in the book (and how could that not translate to sales)?!
My bitch of a subconscious totally thought the good press would lead to good sales!
I asked for sales numbers a couple weeks ago and I will not ask for them again anytime soon!
At an event close to home, I looked out into the sea of people who showed up to support me (most of whom I knew and loved), and felt the cozy rush of true community.
My big kids came to the local event and didn’t even groan when I made them take a picture with me.
At home that night, one of them told me she was proud of me and the other told me I had done a “good job.”
At a writing conference 5ish years ago, I remember a distinguished author (of multiple books) telling a table full of aspiring authors (of which I was one) that he used to think he’d feel like he’d “made it” after he published his first book, but that he simply started chasing different points of affirmation and validation, and I remember composing my face to look as though I understood his point, but privately thinking to myself, “Lol if I ever get to publish a book I’ll KNOW I’ve made it!”
A week after the book came out, I felt curiously empty and remembered this conversation against my will.
I spent pub day surrounded by friends and family in one of my favorite bookstores and felt simultaneously high, terrified, and loved.
Two weeks after the book came out, when it was clear that Momfluenced was just a debut like any other debut (that is: a blip on the publishing industry’s radar), I reflected on the years of lofty dreams and unpaid labor, and shit started becoming upsettingly existential!
I have received the warmest, kindest, most generous messages from readers explaining how this book has made them more culturally critical or how this book has made them feel seen, and I hate myself for (in my low moments) caring more about whether or not I got a Fresh Air interview than the the fact that I created something that is impacting people’s lives. Why do I write? What am I doing this for? What does this work mean? What am I prioritizing? Shit continues to feel existential and I’d really rather it didn’t.
I did a group book event and had the smallest signing line which is FINE but I didn’t have my phone on me and it was very difficult to know what to do with my face!
I went to breakfast with some of my author heroes (who I can’t believe are also my peers), and am still full to bursting with the wisdom, vulnerability, and joy shared during that breakfast. Themes covered: surrender, money, fighting, and fun. When is surrender a gift? How does one surrender? What is labor worth? What is the role of money in a writing career? When is fighting worth it? When is fighting a state of being?
Shortly after this incendiary breakfast, I decided to give myself a week off from hustling. Instead of emailing someone at my publisher to “check in on” Amazon covering Momfluenced in some sort of mom-book round-up, I went outside. I transplanted milkweed. I hacked down briars. I planted glowing marigolds in a cobalt blue pot. I walked my dog. I weeded the raised beds and prepped them for tomato plants. My neighbors showed me a secret path behind our homes. I looked at beaver dams. I startled a deer. I listened to a wren trill. I shoveled black mulch. I smoothed the mulch around newly planted cosmo seedlings and savored in the full feeling as I watered them for the first time in their new home. I taught my 4YO how to identify lilacs and lilies of the valley and we smelled them together.
I am acutely aware that if the me from 5 years ago read this, I’d feel mostly annoyed that an ungrateful bitch who’d managed to do the impossible and get multiple people to give her permission to put an entire book full of her words into the world has achieved the impossible and has the audacity to not feel anything other than pure gratitude and joy about it all.
The pressure to feel joy is a real thing for women, isn’t it?
A smarter person than me once said that you wouldn’t really know how you felt about your book until you were 3 years post pub date and that sounds about right to me.
Seeing my book on sale at a bookstore is frankly unbelievable. Like, “Look, there’s my book next to real books which I think means my book must also be a real book?!”
I think the labor of self-promotion that goes into publishing a book makes it easy for authors to forget to feel proud about writing a book.
I’ve been reading upon waking (instead of immediately throwing myself into my email or social media) and I regret to report that it’s made my life and overall outlook immeasurably better.
I will be reading nothing but fun and frothy and funny and joyful books for the foreseeable future. See this post for a bevy of delightful recs, and also see Samantha Irby’s chapter on how she’d rewrite Sex and the City in her new (utterly perfect) book, Quietly Hostile. Books are literally magic!
Like many things in life, becoming an author is frustratingly a both/and situation when I really wanted it to be simply a “Now I’m A Successful Grown Up Person” type of situation.
I spent the day volunteering at my kids’ school yesterday and wow, who the fuck cares how authors feel about their books being published when we should be writing daily front page profiles about how it feels to be a teacher for one single day?! Also, what shoes are teachers wearing? I wore sensible sneakers and my feet were throbbing?! AFTER ONE DAY.
** It turns out that Your Book actually being Just A Book is freeing. It turns out that living in a world where marigolds matter more than Amazon stars is kinda wonderful.