A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with a book publicist who told me that one of the most common challenges she encounters in her job is authors with unrealistic expectations. A client with no media experience, for example, will be hard to book onto a national television show. In today’s celebrity publishing climate unknown debut authors must be prepared to work every step of the way to cultivate a readership. It’s one thing to write a book, another to get it published, and another to promote it. This is true for authors across the board no matter their path to publication, and can be a rude awakening for some.
The expectations of laypeople can be even more distorted than those of aspiring authors. I’m often surprised by people’s comments when I tell them that my memoir, Raw: A Midlife Quest for Health and Happiness, will be published next spring. Yesterday two people expressed pie-in-the-sky fantasies. After class, when my Nia dance teacher heard I’d written a book she said, “You’re going to be famous!” I shook my head. “It’s nothing like that,” I said. I wasn’t being modest, just realistic. I presume she has no idea how many books are published, and how few of them earn out their costs. “Well, maybe not famous with a capital f,” she demurred, “but still . . . ” I appreciated her enthusiasm, but her vision was pure fancy.
Later that day I emailed my sister my book cover, and while FaceTiming she oohed and aahed, nodded her head, and said, “This is going to be big!” I adored her conviction and felt her love, but I told her that publishing my book isn’t about making it “big.” It’s about listening to my calling. It’s about showing up and doing my best work. It’s about completion. It’s about sharing. It’s about communication, healing, and growth. It’s also about community.
Mainly, though, I wrote my memoir because I needed to write it. For me. Completing it, putting it out into the world, and letting people know about it is enough. I have expectations, yes, but I also have been reminding myself this week that the success of my book isn’t wholly up to me, even if I do everything in my power to promote it well. “Outcomes are not your job,” my life coach, Tracey, used to tell me.
Long ago I fantasized about fame and fortune. But neither seems important anymore. I have everything I need. I’ve surrendered my illusions of grandeur in favor of appreciating what is. St. Francis de Sales once wrote, “Bloom where you are planted.” These words inspire me to be content exactly where I am. To do my best. To accept my satisfactions and disappointments. There is beautify in blooming fully right where we are. I am. After all, beneath the dream I had long ago for fame lurked a greater yearning: to matter. To be loved. It’s a relief to finally realize I don’t have to be rich or famous to have these things. I don’t have to earn them; they are my—and every other person’s—birthright. It’s a relief to finally understand that my accomplishments—or lack thereof—don’t define me. This knowledge frees me to do what I love: to live and create moment-by-moment, and to let life surprise me.
I’m grateful I get to publish my book with a press I love. With people I love. Working with She Writes Press has been delightful and instructive. I’m learning every day and having fun along the way. Who would have imagined that after more than half a century I could still feel like a flower in full bloom!
I’d love to hear about your publishing expectations and how you’ve navigated that terrain. Please share!