Originally posted on Girlfriends Book Club blog April 8,2013
I am a huge, borderline stalker fan of writer David Sedaris and have been to many of his readings and book signings over the years. Sitting in the audience of this master memoirist, listening to his fragile and often hilarious voice, I am always transported and never fail to connect to him in an extraordinarily personal way. This oft-repeated experience translates into me buying five to ten copies of whatever book he is selling and then waiting on line for hours so he can sign them all. Then I tell everyone I know and like to buy it because it’s a good read and he smiles at me when we chat.
So, it should come as no surprise that after publishing my own memoir this past October, “Breast Left Unsaid,” I was already sold on using the same format, albeit smaller in scope, to get people talking about and hopefully buying my book. I have done some acting in my day so it’s sort of a natural for me. Truth be told, it’s also how I edit. I read aloud as if in front of a large and rapt audience that has paid good money to see me; I gesture and modulate my voice appropriately, and imagine myself wearing something quite fabulous yet understated.
While I was writing the book though, I never proactively thought about marketing or sales. “Breast Left Unsaid: A True and Uncensored Story of Survival” recounts an 18-month period in my life when a Mid-Life Category 5 Hurricane unleashed wave after wave of damage on me, including but not limited to a divorce and a breast cancer diagnosis. I wrote to make sense of it all. I wrote and edited and re-wrote and polished until I was satisfied I was telling my story with honesty, humor and a compelling narrative, but at no time did I stop and think, “Who is my audience? What is my target demographic?” This is partly because right up until I completed the manuscript I was still deciding whether I would actually publish and lay bare my soul, my boobs and my loved ones in such a public way – and the other part is that as a first-time author, I was completely and woefully ignorant about the process. All I knew was that I had this story; this terrifying, hilarious and absurd roller-coaster of a tale to tell, and my overwhelming instinct was to just finish it.
However, in January 2011, two weeks after I put the period on the final sentence of the manuscript, which ends on a hopeful and I daresay, positive note, the universe saw fit to take me down a scary new path; I was diagnosed with a serious recurrence of breast cancer. It had spread to the lungs and liver. I was now the dreaded and irreversible Stage IV and I had to put my dreams of publishing aside. I needed now to focus 200% on my health, my family, my job, new treatments, and somehow make peace with the harsh reality of my frightening statistical survival rate. The irony of the timing was not lost on me. Here I was trying to push a message of hope and humor out into a world of people dealing with disease and other simultaneous shit-storms in their lives, and I’m now fighting for my own. Again.
“Breast Left Unsaid,” this labor of love and time and energy, now sat dormant on my hard drive gathering virtual dust. I made half-hearted efforts to push it along when I was feeling up to it but it wasn’t until the summer when my husband Philip, my amazing tech-wizard All-Around Selfless and Handsome Partner-Dude, promised to get it over the finish line for me. He jumped neck deep into the crazy and confusing waters of self-publishing, and within two months of taking on the project, it was done. On October 10,2012, Phil called me over to the computer and said, “Congratulations babe, I want you to hit that publish button right there.” Then he smiled and said to no one in particular, “My wife is an author.”
A few days later, I went to my local library, The Mark Twain Library in Redding, Connecticut, that Mr. Clemens himself built in memory of his daughter making it a sacred shrine for Twainiacs. I asked the librarian if she’d be interested in me doing a reading to launch my new book. Her eyes lit up and I knew we had a deal. It was breast cancer awareness month (or BoobTober), so they slotted me right in. The local newspaper interviewed me for the event and I alerted friends via social media.
To my delight the turnout was standing room only! I felt like David Sedaris except for the pencil skirt and sassy boots. It was then that I decided I would pursue more events where I can personally tell my story and look into the eyes of my readers. Slowly and steadily, and in a very gratifying way, I’m selling books. I’ve done several events now and schedule them for my “good weeks” in between treatments so I can really have some fun with it. My publicist was phenomenal in getting me some terrific media spots on national radio, guest blogs, local TV, etc., for the initial launch. But honestly, I truly love the book events.
Remarkably, “Breast Left Unsaid” is landing in the hands of a lot more men than I ever anticipated. They send me heartfelt and sometimes devastating feedback about how they feel they’ve been granted entry into “secret society” of women and the realities of breast cancer. The medical community has taken notice and I’m doing a keynote speech at a hospital in New Hampshire because they want to enhance their patient experience and feel that my book helps them “see the other side.” I’ve also been asked to be an honorary chair for Komen Connecticut’s Race for the Cure along with the actress Laura Linney. I honestly couldn’t have planned this if I tried.
I didn’t write to sell a book. I wrote to tell a story. If I had tried to engineer it for a particular demographic, it would have been a less than true account and I would have lost out on reaching the people I have. And if I couldn’t chat with readers in person and hear first hand that my words have helped them; I would have missed out entirely on finally discovering what drove me to write in the first place.