Friday, June 1, 2012

When Your Book-Baby Isn’t The New Kid On the Block Anymore

by Sophie Perinot

When you have a brand new baby everyone wants to see it.  Relatives travel  to admire the latest addition to the family.  Neighbors cross the street to peek in your stroller and declare how cute junior is—even if he looks like a little bald, red-faced monkey.  More than this, everyone wants in on the parenting action.  Your sister-in-law has naptime tips.  Strangers at grocery stores ask incredibly personal questions and offer unsolicited advice.

Bleary-eyes, sleep-deprived and feeling far from glamorous, you are not in any sort of shape to enjoy all this attention.  You swear—usually under your breath on the way to your car lugging that ridiculously heavy infant car seat—that you wish everyone would just fade away and stop calling at the precise moment the baby is napping and you are trying to squeeze in a shower.  Yes, you are delighted that everyone admires the baby but ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

It’s pretty much the same thing for a debut author during the immediate post-launch period.  Minus the poopy diapers of course.

Your family and friends call or email in a continuous stream congratulating you and asking “how are sales?”  Book bloggers want guest posts—now, now, now!  You can’t walk into a bookstore without seeing your book on the tables and God that’s a rush.

For the first few weeks you are okay—after all you didn’t need an epidural or stitches to deliver this baby.  But somewhere around the 30th stop on your world-domination blog tour, you begin to run out of steam.  You aren’t sleeping like you used to because, um, you have this other book you are supposed to be writing.  You’ve run out of ideas for guest posts that might go viral.  And, like new parents the world over, no matter how confident you seem you are not entirely sure you are doing this right.  You want things to JUST CALM DOWN ALREADY!

And then they do.  Right around the three month mark.

Your book is no longer “what’s new” or “what’s next.”  It’s just like hundreds of other cute little toddlers out there, standing next to their new baby brother while everyone “ooos” and “ahs” over him.  And far from being happy about this shift in attention, your book is thinking (well, it is inanimate so you are thinking) “what the hell’s so special about him?”  OUCH. I know.  I’ve been there (actually I AM there right now).

This can be a demoralizing time.  You may find yourself unable to focus on your latest manuscript even as deadlines grow closer.  You may find yourself thinking, “Why did I think I wanted to be published?”  I mean all that work—the writing; the looking for an agent; the checking your email every hour while your agent pitched to publishers; the edits, copy edits, page proofs, etc—yet in less than 1/4 of the 12-18 months it took from signing your publishing contract until your launch some stores aren’t even carrying your novel anymore.  Is it any wonder you have an author’s version of post-partum depression?

So what can you do?

First, remember none of this sudden dearth of attention is a reflection on your book-baby.  Your novel is still compelling.  Your cover is still eye-catching.  It’s just not brand new anymore.  Honeymoons end.  You don’t look at your husband of 10 years the same way you did when he was your husband of ten days (and if you do, I’ll have what you’re drinking).  The great cultural eye has shifted on to new targets.  Somebody else’s book baby is the hot young thing.  That doesn’t mean that thousands of people aren’t out there reading your book right now and enjoying the heck out of it.

Second, understand that you are not alone.  It’s easy to feel that way because authors—like others whose jobs include putting on a public face—are conditioned to project an aura of confidence and success.  Next time you see a tweet by a fellow author exclaiming over her wonderful book signing, remember that behind the “rainbows and unicorns” prose there may have been fifty chairs with ten bodies in them.  Most authors don’t become overnight sensations and New York Times best-sellers with their debuts, yet they go on to have productive and fulfilling authorial careers.  You are in the majority here kiddo.  Focus on what brought you into this business in the first place—the writing.  You love that right?  So do it.  Go back to a work day that is more about the next book and less about the one that has already launched.

Third, reach out to other writers for support.  Book parenting is just like regular parenting, when you are most worried and in need of advice you are least likely to ask for it.  Why?  Because asking for advice means admitting you need it—that you have doubts and that maybe, gulp, you or your book aren’t doing as well as you expected to be.  You might be wondering, “what if I admit I am feeling down, or disappointed, or worried and everyone else just looks at me with pity because their lives are perfect?”  Yeah, you may get some of that.  And you will find a certain portion of people—usually those behind you in the launch timeline—who are very willing to believe it’s you.  Time will cure that.  But I can guarantee you will also find veteran writers (or debut writers who are just a little further along the trail than you are) willing to say, “yeah, I’ve been there,” and who are willing to offer you tried and true tips for dealing with “middle child” syndrome and all the attendant insecurities.

Finally, own your feelings and don’t be embarrassed of them.  It’s okay to miss being the center of attention.  It’s okay to find that the reality of parenting (either a baby or a book) doesn’t always meet the glowing hype that precedes it.  Problems not owned don’t get solved.  You’ll be glad you broke the code of silence.  I am.


  1. Oh my, nice to know it isn't all roses.

    1. Of course not, lol. It's a helluva tough, competitive business. That doesn't mean we'd give it up (we are writers -- it's a compulsion) but recognizing it isn't all rainbows and unicorns is positive and healthy :)

  2. Fantastic post as usual!! Thanks for putting this out there. I think this will help a lot of people (me included) handle things a little bit easier because they'll know what to expect. You rock!

  3. Great, great post. Nothing helps keep everything in perspective like talking to other authors.

  4. There's always a next step to embrace. You put this one into perspective. Thanks, Sophie!

  5. Fabulous post. It's so hard to explain the reality to un-published friends, and so heartening to realize you're not alone on this roller-coaster of self-doubt.

    1. It is PARTICULARY hard to explain to friends for whom a publishing contract is the holy grail. Even if they are normally hard-nosed grown-ups there is a fairytale aura around publication--it's the handsome prince and happily ever after comes next. In reality of course--like marriage (to a prince or not)--things are more complicated.

      We wouldn't trade being published nor are we sorry we are, but being an author isn't a pure-bliss experience anymore than any other job is.

  6. Great post and oh, so true! I feel like my book baby has fallen into the abyss and me right along with it! You nailed it! This is Anne B.

  7. Fabulous post, Sophie. As the initial hype and excitement die down, it can be a very anxious time!

  8. Great post, Sophie. I'm bookmarking this one to remind myself I'm not alone when I'm in the same boat this time next year!