A couple of months before I Thought It Was Just Me hit the bookstores; I flew to New York to meet with my editor and the publicist who had been assigned to the book. Just saying the words, “My editor and New York” in the same sentence made me giggle. I'm sure it was nervous laughter. Even though I had spent six years researching, writing, self-publishing, and nurturing the book, I couldn’t shake that terrible imposter feeling when I imagined myself in the Penguin offices.
I took my mom and Ellen with me for unconditional love and support and we turned the trip into a long weekend. It was Christmas time so we spent a lot of time window-shopping and strolling around. We even saw Mary Poppins on Broadway. It was the trip of a lifetime for the three of us.
My publishing meetings were both exhilarating and terrifying. The two most exhilarating moments were finding out how many copies they were planning to print for the first run and hearing the publicist say, “Clear you calendar for February and March – we’re planning big media events!”
The terrifying part was, “The book only has 90 days to make it.”
The book business is tough. Because there are thousands of titles competing for shelf space, you get 3 months to create a big seller. After 90 days – if sales aren’t what they should be – it’s only a matter of time before you find your book in the remainder bin.
My publication date was February 7, 2007. It was a very quiet day. Followed by more deafening silence. No one called. In fact, on 2/15, my editor unexpectedly moved to London. My publicist quit about two weeks later. Then, my agent retired from the agenting business.
No one ever called. There were no media events. Nothing. In fact, I had used my contacts to set up three book-signings for the week after the book released and the publisher forgot to ship my books to the signings.
My 90 days came and went (I’ll save the details of the total devastation for the book, but is the 2007 breakdown making more sense now?). Steve, who was totally dumbfounded and disappointed by everything that wasn’t happening, decided to take matters into his own hands. He forced me to create a folder on my computer to collect emails from people who had read the book and found it helpful enough to write me a note.
I’ll never forget what he said: “Paying off our school loans would be great, but that’s not why you do this work. You should measure your success by the number of lives you touch, not the sales reports or the publishing standards. You love what you do and you believe in it – you can’t forget that.” In case you're wondering - he's really that great.
For the past two years, I’ve been quietly slipping emails into my folder and, with the help of a new agent, moving the book right along. To date, I’ve never heard from a single publicist from my publishing house. Not a peep. Everything has been grassroots and word of mouth.
On Monday I was moving an email from my inbox to my “book letters” file and I glanced at the folder header. I couldn’t believe it: 1001 emails from readers. Honestly, it was like winning the lottery. I just started crying.
The very next day I got an email from my agent. A new publisher wants me to develop a workbook that goes along with the book. I thought, “How can this be? It was supposed to die after 90 days?” My agent said, “Looks like it’s an evergreen – a book that builds slow and stays alive.”
I feel so, so, lucky. I haven't made a dent in my student loans, but I'm doing what I love. And I've learned one of the most important lessons of my life: the publishers didn't almost kill my book, I almost killed my book. Without Steve, my friends, my family, my readers, and my new agent, I would have convinced myself that the publisher's lack of interest was about me not being good enough. I would have stopped fighting. I would have stopped believing.
I know shame can be a scary topic, but here's the thing: If we want to understand our struggles with perfectionism, judgment, blame, and disconnection, we have to step into it. If we want to know compassion, courage, authenticity, and belonging - we have to walk through it. We can hold hands, but we gotta go.
I’ve been thinking about the workbook idea and that’s where you come in: What do you think about a read-along? We could read I Thought It Was Just Me together and I could use the blog to ask and answer questions along the way. We could talk about authenticity, perfectionism, parenting, blame, work, etc.
I’m constantly inspired and challenged by your comments and contributions. It would be amazing to use what we learn in the process to create the workbook. Yes? No? Maybe?
I have to really think about taking on a new project because I’m committed to finishing the new book by August 2009 (more to come on that on 3/2).
Thanks for letting me share this incredibly important milestone with you. I can’t wait to hear what you think about the read-along idea!