Wait — What If People Actually Read It?

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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After a decade practicing law and another decade raising kids, Heather decided to finally write the novel she'd always talked about writing. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop and the Tin House Writers Workshop, all of which helped her stop writing like a lawyer. She lives in Mill Valley, California, with her husband and two teenaged children. When she's not writing she's biking, hiking, neglecting potted plants, and reading books by other people that she wishes she'd written.

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This article has 8 Comments

  1. I relate to this so much. One of the fears that is always creeping around in the back of my mind is that my book reveals something about myself that I am not even aware of, and therefore haven’t made the conscious decision to share.

    wonderful post!

  2. It must be in the air. Today I blogged about the inspiration to write a better book. Your post is veery much in tune with mine–the desire to write a book that is good enough to connect with readers and to feel proud of. I’ll bet you succeeded!

    1. Hi Terry — I just read your post on your blog, and I agree — we were in sync this week. That desire to connect is what makes us put our inner selves out there through our writing, and while it’s scary, it makes our books and our connections better and deeper. (By the way, I think I commented on your post, but I’m not sure I managed it.)

  3. Hi, Heather! Love this post. Honest, beautifully-expressed. I agree that a book’s quality can’t be measured against the time it took to write it. After telling people for years about my novel-in-progress–which was my way of lighting a fire under myself, of making it “real” while working and child-rearing–I wish now I’d been less forthcoming. Now as I query, I feel like I’m living out a bad dream where I’m stuck naked in the middle of the school football field in the rain and the crowd’s shouting for me to either get the hell off the field or kick the damned field goal.

    All best to you as you await pub day for THE LOST GIRLS!

  4. I want this on a t-shirt! “Hear me now, people: there is not a direct relationship between the amount of time it takes to write a book and its quality.” As someone with a two-book deal, I HOPE this is true & the 2nd book won’t be crap…

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