On the occasion of my new book’s launch, I’d like to tell you a story about something that happened to me nearly 13 years ago; it will help to explain why today means so much to me and why I’m experiencing the publication of this book as a kind of “corrective emotional experience” for an old trauma.
We had only recently moved to Chapel Hill at the time; my daughter wasn’t yet two years old. After a lot of hard work, I’d finished a work of fiction, a literary suspense novel set within the milieu of a psychoanalytic training institute, based loosely on my experience training and then teaching at my own institute back in Los Angeles. It’s called White Lies. Although it involves a murder and a mystery, its theme is the longing to create an ideal self to disguise internal damage and shame. Sound familiar?
As chance would have it, the woman who had been my editor on my second novel had recently left her publishing house and opened her own literary agency. Liza took me on as a client and we worked closely together on revising the manuscript. On the day she began submissions to publishing houses, she hand-delivered 16 copies to editors she knew well and thought would like the book. One of those editors was a woman who came into Manhattan only one day each week — the day Liza had chosen to deliver copies — and had a 3-hour train ride home to upstate New York at the end of it.
Early the following morning, my agent called to inform me that this particular editor had read a big chunk of my book on that train ride and was very interested. Liza said that after she and I got off the phone, she’d be calling all the other editors who had a copy of my novel, to let them know that another house was interested. Those calls had the desired effect. That week, editors all over New York City read my novel and six of them expressed interest in acquiring the book. Movie studios were calling Liza, asking for a copy. It was thrilling.
I recall one night that week, sitting out on the front porch of our house, full of excitement but also deeply moved. I felt overjoyed and tearful that after so many years of writing and rejection, I had finally realized my dream. I would be a successful writer. I might eventually find a way to support myself by writing. On Friday of that week, Liza called to tell me that Doubleday would be bringing in a two-book offer the following Monday. I remember hearing the news just before attending our neighborhood block party. I was elated.
The offer from Doubleday never came through. The reason: at the editorial committee meeting on Monday, the editor-in-chief decided the book fit no clear category, straddling the line between literary fiction and suspense. They felt the main character wasn’t likable enough. One by one, all the other interested publishing houses backed away. It was one of the most devastating experiences of my life. I fell into a depression akin to mourning. Liza and I undertook another revision to address those problems; fourteen more editors turned it down.
I don’t think I fully recovered from that experience for many years, although I continued to write. I eventually brought White Lies to my writer’s group and undertook yet another revision. This time through, I could see exactly why the book hadn’t sold before and felt confident that I’d fixed it. But when it came time to look for a new agent and start the whole process all over again, it felt almost unbearable to me. Liza said she couldn’t represent me (that experience had been deeply disappointing for her, as well) and after a couple of very good agents turned me down, I gave up looking.
We are now in the summer of 2010. My son William came out to Colorado during his break from college; during one of our hikes, he brought up the idea of blogging. He said that he’d made a couple hundred bucks through affiliate marketing himself — Why don’t you build a psychology-related website and see if you could earn money from it in the same way? The earning-money part didn’t seem likely to me, but Will’s suggestion came together with something I’d been hearing a lot lately in regard to the publishing industry: authors with a “platform” and an internet presence appealed much more to publishers, and they even expected authors to be able to market their own books. What if I built a successful platform as a psychotherapy blogger? Might that make me more appealing to agents and publishers?
Thus was After Psychotherapy born. But what started out as a means to some other end turned out to be the most fulfilling experience I’ve had in my professional life. Rather than merely a marketing tool, this website gave me the means of bringing together my two great loves: writing and psychotherapy. After a while, once I found my voice, it seemed that I’d been born to do this very thing. In October of last year, it also led to the opening of my practice to Skype therapy, which has allowed me to work with people in different countries and from foreign cultures — people I would never have had a chance to know were it not for my blog.
In addition, it led to a non-fiction book deal with New Harbinger Publications, which I wrote about in this post about precocity and impatience. Eventually, I withdrew from that contract, finding that I couldn’t live with NH’s editorial restrictions, and then wrote about my decision in another post about contempt. I elected to self-publish: the book available for purchase today is the result.
I spent a year writing and revising the book based on the criticism and suggestions of the members of my writer’s group. I engaged good friends, experienced graphic designers, to help with layout and book design. I wrote the book that I wanted, word for word, gave it the exact title I had chosen and, with the help of friends, came up with a cover design I absolutely love. I didn’t compromise my values or beliefs in any way. Not only am I proud, but I feel that I have now left behind the heartbreak of not selling White Lies. It feels like a kind of redemption, the corrective emotional experience for that trauma from 13 years ago.
For my generation of writers, the validation that comes with a publisher’s approval still feels precious, but I’m finding I can live without it. The experience of creating and writing this blog, and now launching my book about psychological defenses, feels deeply validating. One day last week as I sat thinking about the book’s upcoming launch, I felt tears comes to my eyes; they made me recall that evening 13 years ago when I wept on the screen porch, thinking White Lies was about to sell. As that memory came back to me, my tears dried up. I didn’t want to feel that vulnerable, didn’t want to hope for too much. After all, the book could do poorly and nobody would read it.
I honestly don’t believe that will be the outcome. I suppose I’ll soon have a much clearer idea of what to expect. But whatever happens, it won’t change these past two years, the fulfillment I’ve experienced in creating this blog and the pride I feel about my new book, Why Do I Do That?
Thanks to all of you for being a part of that experience, for telling me so often that you value my work and appreciate my writing. I hope you’ll support me again and help me make this book’s launch a success (and if you don’t know what you can do, read this post).
And maybe now that I’ve had the experience of self-publishing, I’ll turn my attention back to White Lies and bring it out myself!