In case you haven’t noticed, I have a book coming out next week. But how could you not notice? I’ve been hyping it on social media, in a monthly newsletter, and every other way I can think of.
And let me tell you, it feels strange to be doing that. Of course I’m thrilled that my memoir, Mango Rash: Coming of Age in the Land of Frangipani and Fanta, (see what I just did there?) is being published, and of course I want to tell the world about it. But the transition from writer to author to book promoter is not a natural one.
We writers tend to be introverts—recluses, even—content to hole up in our writing studios for hours on end, encountering no one except the characters we put on the page. When we venture out into the world, it’s often as observers, absorbing details and mentally recording conversations. If someone asks what we’re working on, we answer in the haziest terms: “Oh, ummmm, a (mumble-mumble) coming-of-age memoir set on a (stutter-stutter) tropical island.”
But that all changes once we become authors, or even aspiring authors. Then we have to hone a new set of skills, promoting our books with spiels of various lengths: the logline, the elevator pitch, the face-to-face pitch, the book talk, and so on, not to mention creating web sites, blogs, newsletters, and press kits.
I got a preview of this process when I shifted from being a journalist to working for a university news service some twenty years ago. A big part of my new job was writing about interesting research, just as I’d done as a science journalist. But another big part was promoting that research, in hopes of getting news coverage. In short, I became what we journalists disparagingly called a flack.
And that, at first, felt icky. Just now I looked up synonyms for “flack” and among the results was “pain in the neck.” That’s exactly what I felt like when I had to cold-call journalists—former colleagues among them—and try to convince them to write about the researchers whose work I sought to publicize.
Over time, I grew more comfortable in that role, mainly because the research I promoted was so worthwhile, and the scientists whose work it was were so grateful for my efforts, and because even the most jaded journalists appreciated receiving lucid explanations of arcane scientific points.
But now I’m not championing life-changing technological advances or life-saving medical findings or paradigm-shifting discoveries. I’m promoting my own book, a book that’s all about me.
So everything I’m doing—and will be doing for the next several months or longer—feels like nothing short of shameless self-promotion. Never mind that every book and article I’ve read about book publishing and marketing says this is exactly what authors need to do. And never mind that, given my university PR experience, I don’t totally suck at it. In fact I kind of enjoy doing the work—until I remember that it’s ME I’m boosting. Then it feels . . . icky.
To counteract the ick, I’ve come up with a few practices that at least make me feel a little less self-absorbed:
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.