This week, as I’ve laughed at and sympathized with Louise’s and Jennifer’s posts about their publishing fears (or, in the case of Jennifer’s bovinaphobia, non-publishing fears), I’ve wrestled with how to explain mine. I’ve wrestled with it because it seems so counterintuitive, and more than a little self-indulgent. Every writer who’s about to publish a book has the same overarching fear that trumps all the night sweats over readings and reviews: what if no one buys it? I’ve got that fear too, of course. But I’ve also got this one, and it’s just as powerful: what if they do?
I’m not talking about the professional reviewers and the folks over at Goodreads. I’m prepared for some negative reviews (though if they’re all negative, I’ll be over here in the closet with the bourbon). I’m talking about the people I know. The people who’ve been kind enough to ask me over a period of many years how the book was coming, and when it might be done. My family, my friends. I dread seeing the lie in their eyes when they tell me they loved it. I worry that their expectations are too high, simply because of the amount of time it took me to write it. “Heather spent years on that book; it must be amazing.” Just because Donna Tartt and Marilynne Robinson spent years on their fantastic books doesn’t meant it works that way for everybody. Hear me now, people: there is not a direct relationship between the amount of time it takes to write a book and its quality. Believe me, I’m perfectly capable of taking six years to write a bad book. Lower your expectations. It’s just me.
Mostly, though, I’m going to feel very exposed, in a way I’ve never really been. I have a good friend who’s a painter, and she tells me there’s a nakedness to her art that often makes her uncomfortable when her work is shown. Every painting she creates offers a glimpse into parts of her that are secret, primal even, and and that’s a vulnerable feeling. Still, she knows that if she didn’t put that glimmer of self-truth into her work, it wouldn’t speak honestly. It wouldn’t have a voice at all. It wouldn’t be art. The same is true of writing. My book is entirely fictional; nothing in it happened to me or anyone I love. But that doesn’t mean there’s no truth in it. There is. There’s that thing I’ve heard described as a writer’s “sensibility” — the prism through which she sees the world and the things she most values and fears. To read a book imbued with the author’s sensibility (for not all of them are) is to know the author in ways even she might not realize she’s revealing, ways that go far beneath the face she presents even to those she loves. I know my book reflects my sensibility, and I believe it’s better for it, but thinking about it venturing out into the world, being read, also makes me want to cover myself with a big, thick blanket and hide.
So yes, my fear is kind of bratty. “Poor Heather, with her PUBLISHING DEAL, worried about what people will think when they read her PUBLISHED BOOK.” But my artist friend understands. I want my book to be part of the human conversation, even if it’s just a few words whispered in the corner. It’s why I wrote it; it’s why I’m thrilled it’s going to be published. It’s just that sometimes, I wish I could be in a different room when it opens its mouth.
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