As some of you may know, 2014 has been a big year for me. I finally had my first book in English, and in Australia, published. Most of the year had been dominated by preparing for this moment – editing the book, negotiating front and back covers, developing the so-called author’s platform, writing articles and blog posts related to my memoir. The aftermath has been similarly intense. I’d love to share with you some lessons I learned from these experiences.
1. When working with editors, know when to stand your ground and when to back off. Most traditionally published books are edited first by a structural editor who looks at the book’s big picture, then a copy-editor who works line by line. This means authors go twice through the delicate process of negotiations between their and the editors’ visions for their books. Luckily, in my case my editors shared my vision, and generally were wonderful, making my book much better with their sharp intelligence. And yet… There were some tender moments between us, for example when I was asked to cut out about 15000 words from the existing manuscript. That hurt. So much… But I realize now the book is better, cleaner, for it.
I did insist though on retaining the memoir’s sub-title – Memoir of Love, Gods and Geography – that my editors were uncertain about. I felt this sub-title was essential to indicate that beyond its explicit theme, non-monogamy, my book was also concerned with other themes, particularly with my migration and abandonment of Judaism. Fortunately here, as in several other instances where I disagreed with their suggestions, the editors respected my view. The secret of successful collaboration with editors, I think now, is to pick your fights, deciding what we most care about and stand our ground there while letting go of the rest, because often ‘the rest’ will eventually prove to be a good editorial advice the wisdom of which we struggled to grasp at the time, still being so close to the book.
2. Building a virtual author’s platform is not a waste of time but is time consuming. I know the expression ‘author’s platform’ can induce nausea in some of us. Yet I have come to think that nowadays, when books disappear from bookshop shelves so quickly, such a platform is essential, particularly in virtual form. The fact that social media rules the world now is not all bad news. Being visible there can keep our books alive for much longer than was possible in the past.
I suggest working on establishing your online presence as early as possible before your book’s publication. I began about ten months before my memoir came out and by the time this happened I had a fully developed website, a blog with subscribers, solid links on Linkedin and a fairly good following on Twitter – all of which were helpful in getting the word out about my book. Recently I joined Goodreads but I am yet to work out whether this is a useful medium for authors. Many writers I know also use Facebook, but I find it too amorphous and time-consuming, since it tries to be so many things at once. Plus, I think managing too many social media outlets can be overwhelming. My advice is to focus on the few you feel most comfortable with.
I find Twitter particularly useful because of its brevity and the genuine friendliness of the bookish community I have found there: fabulous writers, book bloggers, booksellers, and generally intelligent and generous people who keep introducing me to reading materials relevant to my thinking, writing and teaching. I find Twitter to be a terrific networking tool; many of my connections have invited me to write articles and blog posts, did interviews with me or reviewed my book. Twitter is also a great place to test sentences as I write. I sometimes post snippets from works-in-progress to see which ones get positive responses.
So far all these activities, not just Twitter, have proved useful for exposing my memoir to new audiences, advertising my events and making connections with people from the literary industry. However, if you are out there just to sell your book, this will defeat your purpose. People don’t want to interact with salespersons or be mere fans. Authorial presence on the web works best when we engage in genuine dialogue with others about literature and other things that matter. Ideally, developing an author’s platform should be more about exchanging ideas than ruthless self-promotion. And last word of caution: we all know how seductive the virtual world can be. For those of us who want to keep writing, I recommend daily, yet strictly time-limited, expeditions into the web.
3. It’s better to be yourself rather than someone ‘smarter’ when talking about your book. Public speaking never came easily to me. In my first radio interview after The Dangerous Bride came out I was so nervous that I became defensive and assumed an annoying ‘expert’ persona, discussing non-monogamy with false certainty and fake confidence. I later listened to the interview and was horrified at my generalisations, lack of humor and uptightness. Luckily, that interview was for a small, local radio station and ended up being good practice at what NOT to do. Afterwards I decided to treat subsequent public speaking more as work than torture. I now rehearse my answers beforehand, partly in order to remind myself that there are many things I don’t know about love and relationships and that it is okay, that my position as a curious seeker can be interesting too. Thinking through what to say means during public speaking I can be more focused on HOW to say this, on bringing my personality into what I am saying, which seems to me a better way to interact with people. I still get anxious every time I speak in public about the book, but it does get a little easier each time.
4. People are more tolerant than we think. I felt very vulnerable once The Dangerous Bride was released. This memoir not only addresses one of the last sexual taboos in our permissive times – non-monogamy – but also reveals all sorts of other embarrassing information about me, from my complicated relationship with my ultra-orthodox parents to my (questionable) habits of purchasing underwear.
In the first weeks of the book’s appearance I kept nursing grim visions of being stoned, like those unfortunate biblical adulteresses. These are still early days, but so far my sense is that people are more tolerant than I had initially assumed. I’ve been getting many positive and kind responses to my memoir from people I considered to be conservative. In a recent talk I gave, my audience was surprisingly (at least for me) comprised of many older people who nevertheless seemed engaged, asking questions and sharing experiences. Later, a woman wearing a hijab approached me to sign her copy of my book, commending me kindly on being brave. This and other similar experiences have made me think that I should be less fearful when writing about difficult subjects and, even more importantly, less judgmental of others.
5. It’s perfectly reasonable to take a break from writing after your book is finally published. Sounds self-evident? Well, not for me, unfortunately, nor for many other writers I know… Literati are well known for their ‘workaholism’. Once I finalized the edits of The Dangerous Bride I immediately pledged to begin another book. Little did I know that soon my days would fill with interactions with readers and book promotion activities. After spending a solitary, and difficult, five years of writing and constant self-doubting, I am loving this happy busyness, yet I also feel guilty. I have managed to write several essays. However, my initial grand plan to create a manuscript draft this year has failed spectacularly. Gradually I am realizing that resolving to begin a new project in the year you get a book out is a recipe for entry into therapy. I keep reminding myself that writing short pieces after finishing a long work is good for the soul (like dating on the rebound can be). Eventually I may even progress to taking one week off with no writing at all. I’ll let you know if I manage it.
This post was republished in ArtsHub http://publishing.artshub.com.au/news-article/features/writing-and-publishing/five-things-i-learned-about-publishing-a-book-246825