Thursday, March 11, 2010

suspended disbelief

When my first book came out, I thought it was going to change the world. Not in a life-affirming or educational way—it was a compilation of vomit stories—but in a sophomoric gross humor sort of way. We were sure that every college student in America would have to buy it and spent our own money doing a massive postcard campaign to every college bookstore we could find.

Zero response.

We put a questionnaire in the back of the book, asking people to submit their own stories, sure we'd be inundated and would have more than enough material for the inevitable sequel. We debated getting a post office box, not sure the publisher could handle the massive volume we were expecting.

One person wrote in.

When Cheerleader came out, I envisioned it being sold at competitions, camps, for high school fund raising, at college games. I was sure that everyone who had ever worn that short shirt, been at the top of a pyramid, shouted out for the football team, would revel in cheerleading history.

Nope.

Same for proms, beauty queens, stewardesses. I was sure, positive, certain that each would ride an Urban Outfitter wave to retro coolness, residing permanently on a front table for hipsters to yearn for.

Never happened.

And the projects I did subsequently were fun, smart, beautiful—I love every one—but none of those changed the world either. Should they have? I think a thank you note kit that helps kids learn about gratitude should have flown off the shelves. A labor support guide for dads? What mother-to-be doesn't need as much help as possible?

I've gotten cynical about publishing. Every time a book's come out and I nervously walk into Barnes and Noble to see if I can find it, I'm daunted by how many books are out there. Mine, no matter how much I believe in it, how hard I worked, how great it is, is just one of millions. And behind every one of those books is a writer who feels just as strongly as I do that their book could be the one to take off. My idealism's been scrubbed away.

So when FLOW came out, I was under no illusions that it would sell well. It had taken years (YEARS) for anyone to publish it. And while one very brave publisher took the chance and let it become the book I had envisioned, just about everyone else said there was no audience. No one would buy it. I should stop wasting my time. I knew getting press, the media, people to pay attention would be an uphill road. Martha Steward radio booked and then dumped us. Two NPR shows did the same. Joan Lunden has a tv show but they disappeared as the book was hitting shelves. Articles and interviews and tv segment possibilities that had been dangled quietly slipped away.

Our big break? Dr. Oz interviewed us for his Sirius radio show. Only it never aired, instead showing up, heavily edited, at oprah.com. I found it through a google search.

And then there was The View.

I can't comprehend the difference it's made. Not really. Not at all. The only tangible marker is its amazon sales rank. An author friend of mine very wisely told me to stop checking obsessively and for a long time I was able to let go. FLOW hovered around 20/30,000. Sometimes up near 80K, sometimes it dipped below 10. I checked Tuesday morning, before leaving for the studio. It was in the low 30s. I checked again while heading home on the bus.

661.

I was sure it was a mistake. I could understand 6000 something as a lovely jump, but in the hundreds? And then it was 591. 405. 253.

By Wednesday it was number 2 on an amazon movers and shakers list, highlighting which book's sales increased the most. 12,929% since the day before.

What the hell does that mean?!

Millions of people now know about FLOW. Know who I am. Watched me talk, discuss, inform. Perhaps had an opinion about my scarf (it's been mostly a love-fest).

Now what?

Part of me assumed we'd be inundated with people wanting to talk to us. That couldn't be farther from reality. The View is sort of like the new St. Martin's. The one place willing to take the chance, to put the message out there, to start the conversation no one else was willing to own. And to do it in a really big way.

So what if 25 editors passed? St. Martin's let me create a book more stunning and comprehensive than I ever imagined. Mainstream media passed? The View put time, resources, energy, humor, thoughtfulness into our segment. Interviewing the hosts and cast members about what they called their periods? Completely above and beyond.

I'm thinking, the way this book has been going, nothing will happen and then, out of the blue, we'll be invited to the White House.

3 comments:

Jhanna Dawson said...

Really cool, Elissa. It must feel realy thrilling to be going through the process.

Have you had other shows contact you? I get the feeling you will. I love following you on your adventure!

~Jhanna Dawson

Jane C Woods said...

Brilliant story, Elissa, you really are an inspiration! I hope the interview we did together maybe had a tiny impact too! It's a great book and I love it! Th elink will take you to my modest review of it!

jesse said...

so cool for you. so well-deserved. and dare I say, you sound like a real person. that makes it even sweeter, from my perspective.

congrats!