Hi writer friends!
Ever wonder what it’s like to launch your book into the world? Wonder what it’s like for other authors? Today, my long-time friend and best-selling author, Barbara Claypole White, shares her honest account of what she’s thinking and feeling during a book launch. And that’s her thing! Barbara’s novels tackle mental health topics with honestly and compassion. Nothing is sugar-coated, but the facts are wrapped in stories that whisk you away, teach you, and leave you better than when you started.
What more can you ask for?
Six Book Launch Fears
By Barbara Claypole White
What’s the real moment of completion with a novel: When you return the page proofs, or when launch day propels your story into the public domain? Beats me, because I find both terrifying.
I love to excavate fear, digging until I unearth the seed that gave roots to a character’s darkest fear. Sadly, I learned this from dealing with my son’s obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD terrorizes you with intrusive thoughts, relentless what-ifs, and debilitating anxiety. A wily bastard, it generates fears that morph and grow in a heartbeat. With the right questions, however, an OCD coach can trace those fears back to one comment, one news story, one pinprick of an incident. In writing terms, it’s your aha moment. You have exposed the fear as a pesky unwanted thought; you have taken away its power.
When snowmaggedon derailed plans for my fifth book launch, it sparked self-reflective questions: Did cancelling events matter? Did I have any part to play in my book’s future? Hell, was my launch angst one big, fat irrational fear?
- Separation anxiety
I struggle to let go of my characters. I’ve almost succeeded when book launch rolls around and threatens to push aside the new characters who’ve taken up prime real estate in my brain. I was dreading this launch because THE PROMISE BETWEEN US returns to OCD, which makes the book intensely personal. But when nature had me shoveling snow rather than preparing for my inaugural event, I realized I have as much control over my characters’ fate as I do over the weather. I’d done the work; I was proud of the result; I was ready to hand my story over to strangers.
- Bad sales figures
I’m passionate about creating characters who challenge misconceptions of mental illness, but publishing’s a business, not group therapy. It’s all about the money—something else I can’t control. Shoveling snow stopped me from compulsively checking the book’s stats in an endless loop of worry. By the time I’d peeled off my thermal undies, I didn’t want to check. I’d accidentally quit cold turkey, and it was liberating.
- Stage fright
I love chatting with readers, book clubs, and booksellers, but I’m an introvert. As a child, I spent hours playing in my bedroom, lost in my own world. (My mother routinely forgot I was in the house.) Fifty years later, when I hear my husband say, “I never see Barbara. She’s always upstairs in her office,” I realize little has changed. I still want to be alone with my imaginary friends, and any event that puts me on a stage is a private hell. At sixteen I had to be drugged with half a valium to perform a solo with the school jazz band. Now that I’m older and my thoughts implode midsentence, I have even less fondness for public presentations. However, one truth empowers me: I’m the expert on my books. How badly can I screw up in front of an audience if I’m the leading authority in the world?
- I’m a has-been
With each launch, doubt whispers, “Do you have the energy or talent to repeat this process? Is it time to quit?” But with five traditionally published novels, I must be doing something right. If the new book tanks, am I going to stop writing? No, because I’ve been chasing this life since I was five years old, and no one else can tell my stories in my voice. I guess my agent’s stuck with me until one of us retires. (Sorry, Nalini.)
- Negative reviews
Want to know what was really driving my neurosis about this launch? My first negative review. The hero of my debut, THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, struggled with OCD. He also came from my darkest fear as a mother: What if, when my young son grew up, no one could see beyond his obsessive, anxious behavior to love him for the incredible person he is? In my first bad review, the reader stated I’d failed to educate her about OCD and clearly didn’t understand my subject matter. I was reading her words when my son stumbled into my office, collapsed on the floor, and told he couldn’t go on. OCD, he said, had won. That review haunted me for months, but it also motivated me to come back swinging. I wanted the last word; I wanted to tell this reviewer, “You’re wrong, and I’ll prove it.” THE PROMISE BETWEEN US is the result, and the heartfelt messages I’ve received from readers in the trenches with OCD suggest I know what I’m talking about with this chronic illness. (Although I wish I didn’t.)
- Will readers understand?
I don’t tackle easy subjects, and my style is quirky. When the PR person referred to ECHOES OF FAMILY—my fourth novel—as a hard read, I agreed. Not everyone wants to be in the head of my heroine while she’s battling manic-depression off her meds. Marianne’s thought process was exhausting and confusing; I was filled with self-doubt as I struggled to bring her to life. Finding her true voice—the one constant in the yo-yo of her mood swings—was my reward, because this cliché is true: the good stuff happens outside your comfort zone. Creating characters like Marianne, who battle invisible disabilities with extraordinary courage, is what I do.
So, cheers—I guess I’ll see you at my next book launch.
Bestselling author Barbara Claypole White creates hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Originally from England, she writes and gardens in the forests of North Carolina, where she lives with her beloved OCD family. Her novels include The Unfinished Garden, The In-Between Hour, The Perfect Son, and Echoes of Family. The Promise Between Us, which shines a light on postpartum OCD, launched in January 2018. She is also an OCD Advocate for the A2A Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes advocacy over adversity. To connect with Barbara, please visit www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com