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:
Summer came, and summer went, and just after Labor Day, Ray and I looked at each other and said, "Hey, we forgot to take a vacation."
Well, we didn't exactly forget. We just, you know, had stuff to do. So much stuff we thought, Get away? Oh, we couldn't possibly!
But have you noticed? Whenever you find yourself thinking, I couldn't possibly, that's exactly when you really, really need to.
So in spite of to-do lists, appointments, and other obligations, we found a stretch of blank spaces on our calendars, booked a campsite at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, packed up the RV, and headed north.
For six days, we hiked on wooded trails, cooked on the grill, took photos, read books, and drank Alaskan Amber by the campfire. Wait, you're saying, aren't those all things you can do at home in Newaygo?
Right you are. We can do all those things at home, and often do. The difference was, for those six days in the U.P., there was nothing else to do. No phone, no internet, no domestic duties, no book launch details to attend to. Plus, views of rushing rapids and cascading waterfalls.
As a result, we truly relaxed for the first time in months, so deeply we couldn't even remember what we'd be obsessing about if we weren't too relaxed to obsess.
Of course, once we were back home, it took about a millisecond for realities and responsibilities to assert themselves. But somehow, even two weeks later, some of that getaway serenity has stayed with me. I'm back in to-do mode, but with a mellower mindset. And when I start to drift back into frenzy, all I have to do is look at photos from the trip to reset my calm-down button.
Care to join me?
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.