Friday, October 07, 2011

Fear and Self-Loathing in Writersville

Multiple choice:
         A. Writing is the perfect occupation for someone who’s shy or introverted or insecure because she can hide behind her words.
        B. Writing is the worst-possible occupation for someone who’s shy or introverted or insecure because, if she hopes to be successful, she has to open herself up to strangers, maybe even in public.
        C. All of the above.

Yeah, we all know C is correct, the ying and yang of authordom.

For a long time, the release of my first book coming in April 2012 was a remote, nebulous thing. People even stopped asking when it would come out because a 24-month lag time between contract and release is too long a time to comprehend in this digital day and age.

A year passed between final revisions and copyedits. Cover blurbs from other authors who were kind enough to read the manuscript trickled in. Publisher catalog copy went through. Then, a couple of months ago, things started to pick up. Final page proofs. A cover. Library of Congress info to approve. An honest-to-God hold-it-in-my-hands ARC. Even early revisions and catalog copy on book two.

Still, it felt nebulous. The ARCs of Royal Street still haven’t gone out. No one has reviewed it except a couple of beta readers—plus a woman in Australia who couldn’t possibly have seen it yet rated it one star on Goodreads (she has since been removed, along with her offensive star).

Then one day, oh-em-gee. I had a freakin’ publicist. A few bookstores as far as Portland and Los Angeles had requested author events based on the catalog (are they insane?). I said, “Cool!” then stuck my head in the sand up to my shoulders, hoping to sniff up enough sand to suffocate me and end my growing panic.

See, I hide behind my words. Need a blog? I’m your girl. Want to chat by IM or email? I’m there. Teach an online course? No problemo.

Need me to stand in front of a group of people larger than two and actually string words together? Perform like a literate, entertaining author? God forbid, read something I've written? Not so much.

I’m not really shy, but I have that rather-die-than-do-public-speaking disease, and I’m extremely insecure. I don’t know—maybe that is shyness.

What can I say? Why would anyone care? All the old ghosts rise up to tell me I’m too old—closer to rage against the dying of the light than rage against the machine. I’m too round. My voice is too shaky. I have a hillbilly-goes-to-New-Orleans accent. I hate flying (can I drive to the west coast?), and have arthritic feet that don't like to walk much less run through airports. What if people realize I’m really just faking it—that I’m a journalist, not a novelist, and therefore have misrepresented myself? This whole novel thing is a fluke.

Suddenly, it all seems more scary than exciting. It seems not-so-nebulous anymore. It seems real.

Okay, I’ve worked myself into a lather. Going to peace out now. I figure I have five or six more months to develop a backbone and thicken my skin. Or hire someone to pretend to be me. Or snort a lungful of sand.


Carla Swafford said...

You know, one of the best things about being nearly blind is that when I talk to a crowd, I have to pull off my glasses to glance at my speech (making sure I haven't forgotten anything). Then I can only see the first row.

I know in some ways it had to drag by for you. All the questions, and most people just don't understand the process.

But it's around the corner and you have an awesome cover. Congratulations.

Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks, Carla! It's been a long two years. Good tactic with the glasses. I also like PowerPoints because then I figure people have something to look at besides me, and I can turn the lights down. Such a chicken.

Lexi said...

Public speaking and writing papers are two things most people dread and hate the most. Lucky writers, we get to do both! Here's an ice breaker I tried during my first "speech" as a writer and it worked well, I thought. Before you speak, pass out questions on index cards to the crowd. That way, if you run out of things to say or you get stuck, you can open the floor to questions and voila! people ask the questions you've given them and it encourages others to chime in as well. You'll be surprised how quickly the time goes!

Cari Hislop said...

Having lived in Portland Oregon, I assure you the people who come to hear you talk will be utterly charmed by whatever you say because they love romance novels and the people who write them! Most of them will also probably be as nervous as you. If you take steps to put them at ease you'll probably put yourself as ease as well.

I've never had to do a book reading/thingy, but knowing how hard I find self-promotion when that day comes I'll probably have to dress up (wear something stupid on my head) or pretend I'm someone else just to read my books.

I'm sure you'll be great!

Suzanne Johnson said...

@Lexi--great idea about the index cards with questions!

@Cari--the event in Portland is going to be at Powell's and I figure people might not be interested in what I have to say but my "hillbilly goes to New Orleans" accent might be entertaining to them :-)

Lisa Dunick said...

I don't have a problem with the public speaking thing (teaching will drum that right out of you), but the meeting new people and making small talk thing? Yeah, not so much.

Just think of it this way-- it's not really about you-- it's about the book, and you know the story up, down, and sideways, right? It's about the characters that you've created and fallen in love with, and you probably know them even better than you know yourself at this point.

Just tell yourself that you're doing it for them :O) I mean, at the end of the day, Stephanie Meyer is still just a fairly average Mormon housewife, but people clamor to see her because she "knows" Edward, right? So.... tell me more about this John Lafitte....

Suzanne Johnson said...

Ha--Lisa, you knew just the question to ask. My sexy French pirate. Yes, I probably could talk about him for hours :-)

Cari Hislop said...

To Suzanne: Powell's is lovely. It's a giant bookstore that caters to all kinds of readers for miles around. People travel just to go there. I loved it more before they made it bigger and more organized, but such is life. The romance section is quite big (at least it was the last time I was there) so you should have lots of curious readers show up. If I was in the area I'd come! Alas I'm on the other side of the planet and my friend who lives down the road from Powell's is in the middle of school so no time for moi. Maybe your next novel! :)

Roni Loren said...

Suzanne, I so feel you on the public speaking thing. This year I was asked to give a workshop (in person) and then just a few weeks ago was invited to a library writer's workshop to do my first reading.

Both times I was sick with anxiety over it. The workshop went pretty smoothly because once I have a power point and am talking about something I feel comfortable with, I can go into teacher mode and calm down.

But the reading? OMG. Reading erotic romance publicly in a library. Oh, did I mention they had KIDS show up too? Ack. I was a mess. Before I got up there, I hurriedly scratched out all curse words and reworded a section that was too racy. Then when I got up to read, I read about 1000mph and didn't look up once.

I know most of the crowd probably didn't even hear what I was saying, lol. But everyone was super nice at the end and came and talked to me one on one. They even invited me to possibly do a workshop for them next spring. So, I survived. And you will too. :) And each time we get out there it will get a wee bit easier. *hugs*

Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks, Roni--that makes me feel better! I love powerpoints--gives people something else to stare at--but they're probably not happening in a bookstore :-)