I was in the hot seat last week, in the best possible way, as the smartest readers I know – my own book club – discussed my novel Come Back. Lordy, what a night!
Several years back – before Come Back had a title, when the manuscript still crawled with red-flag errors and an extra 20,000 words I eventually forced myself to cut – Jenny suggested we discuss my book, someday. I remember declaring with vehemence, “You can do that. But I won’t be there!’
I was deadly serious. It’s not that I was fearful of criticism – exactly. I never relish being told what I should do – or worse what I should have done. But I get that part of an author’s journey is to grow a thick skin. I have strong opinions about books and fully respect others’ opinions too. Besides, I knew my friends would be kind.
My vehemence was based on an itchy self-consciousness I feel when I’m too much the center of attention. Or when I think I might be. It’s one reason I resisted a formal wedding. The idea of all those people looking at me walking down an aisle? Creepy!
But here’s the deal. Along with growing a thick skin, an author has to learn how to promote her books. If she doesn’t, how many people will ever read what she wrote? If you plan to hide out, don’t expect anyone to search Amazon for what you’ve got to say.
So even though I felt creeped out when my book club wanted to discuss Come Back, I sucked it up, smiled and said a well-rehearsed ‘Thank you.’ And hedged my bets – publicly confessing my terror. When the hostess sent her reminder, my RSVP came with a warning. If I arrived late, it would be because I had to stop and throw up by the side of the road a few times. Not the flu, I assured my friends – because this year’s potent strain has made itself well-known in our area. Nerves.
Again, I knew they’d be kind – and still I expected that (shudder) long-white-dress-walking-down-an-aisle feeling. My fears were not unfounded. I didn’t throw up, thankfully. But did I feel awkward as a seventh-grader? Yup! Not all night. But for a few minutes here and there, I surely did look for a hole that might swallow me up.
Wine helped. As did the normal camaraderie that’s part of our amazing book club. Familiar talk of travel, volunteer activities, pets, and politics allowed me to calm so I was able to squint past the anticipated spotlight. Until we regathered from the various spots we landed to eat delicious soup and abundant snacks our hostess offered – to TALK ABOUT THE BOOK!
And then…the spotlight warmed. My seat was hot, no doubt about it. All eyes turned to me with repetition even as my friends passed our talking stick d’jour. Heat rose to my face – and stayed there for an hour after I got home. Tears – of gratitude and deep regard – rose too, more than once. So much attention. So many kind comments.
‘I couldn’t put it down…my heart started to race…I felt like I was there…I didn’t guess…I stayed up all night…I loved getting inside their heads…that Ben…leave Tammy in the ditch…I was panting…I read it – all 83 chapters – in a day and a half…so timely…the unintended consequences when trauma is not reported…when’s the sequel coming out?…the epilogue?’
Talk turned to marketing – a subject on which I remain clueless. ‘What about the libraries? Is it worth introducing a potential spoiler so more people will read it in this ‘me too’ environment? It’s not easy to find…Do you have to know how to spell your name? Look, it’s on this textbook site…it is?…no wait…all you have to do is enter Come Back Sally…so just put #ComeBackSally on everything?…I don’t know what # means…it’s a search engine thing…’
There was a lot more I didn’t understand. But I trust my friends. So #ComeBackSally it is.
Was I overwhelmed by the evening? Oh yeah. By the generosity my friends shared – about the book and about how to help more people find the book. Am I still overwhelmed? Yes I am! Facebook is buzzing today with their posts about last night’s meeting. Friends of friends are looking for the book. And my white-dress-walking down an aisle feeling keeps on keeping on.
‘Why stressful when they had such good things to say?’ asked my guy. ‘Did you feel embarrassed?’
I nodded. ‘That’s not quite the right word.’ I searched the Thesaurus of my mind. ‘But it’s akin to the right word.’ I paused again. ‘Maybe it’s the feeling of getting so much praise…and not feeling you deserve it?’
But that’s not quite it either, because I love my book too. God knows I worked hard on it, agonizing over every word. And I damn well wouldn’t let it out to see the light of day till I could be proud of it.
So do I love that my friends said they loved it too? Absolutely! And does it still make my face feel hot and my stomach just a little queasy. Yup. That too. All of the above.
I’m scheduled to appear at two other book clubs in coming months, and my guy wonders, ‘Will it be stressful then too?’ I nod. ‘Every time,’ I say. ‘But this one mattered most. Because these are the smartest women, the most discerning readers I know. These are the women I know and love the best – and therefore care the most about what they think. Next time, with mostly strangers? Piece of cake.’
Unless I have to pull over to throw up on my way there.