Self Promotion

I suck at Marketing. It's not like am not narcissistic. Most of what I mine is all about me. But that's different then promoting oneself. I have too much reverence for the absolute beauty of art and I feel inadequate to the gift I believe I have been lent by the muses. It's not modesty but I don't feel I own this. Perhaps the best comparison I can make is when I watch my son and wonder how it is possible I ever had a part of creating something so wondrous. Even as a baby he was part of the world. I could only watch, follow, feed and love. I don't own my ability to weave stories.

When my first novel was published by Harper & Row in 1989 I was invited to my first New York "Literary" party. I think Jay Mcinerney and maybe another one of the Gordon Lish "brat pack" was in attendance. For those of you too young or too smart to not know who Gordon Lish was to the eighties writing mafia, he held a legendary writing class in his apartment that supposedly demanded 4-5 hours of unwavering attention and the rule that no one use the bathroom lest they miss a minute of his brilliance. Mona Simpson, Anne Beattie, Bret Easton Ellis were all students who were being published in the New Yorker and by Grove Press managed by Morgan Entrekin. These people were too cool for school and I had no hope to equal their success. I just wanted to write and not starve. I wanted to be able to live without having to be supported in my art because then I'd be free to do whatever I wanted including revealing horrible family secrets, my specialty as the kid who pointed at the Emperor and screamed, "He's naked!" Also, I had worked jobs that made it nearly impossible to write so my hope was to have work that made writing a reality.

So, the party. It was held in a massive rent-controlled six bedroom Upper-West Side apartment; understanding Real-Estate envy in New York City at this time is to understand why enemies remained friends. I slept with men who had adequate kitchens merely to experience how it felt to cook on an actual stove. I dressed in the requisite black, applied copious amounts of Kohl around my eyes and found a friend who was willing to brave the scary New York Literary elite. There was lots to drink but since I was relatively newly sober that merely added to the tension. In fact I recall the first major drink urge hitting me like a tsunami. If I could down a glass or a bottle of wine, I would be able to seduce whatever man seemed available, rave about my own petty grievances,insult a few people and pass out in a very unsuitable bed. But I was sober and thus aware of how everyone there was subtly talking about their great talent. It was a very fraught social situation, agents, writers, hangers ons, journalists, faces I recognized and me. Somehow I ended up in a corner with a journalist for a major magazine. My friend was lurking nearby and overheard the following exchange.

"Are you a writer?"
"Oh, no. I'm a teacher. I teach writing."
"Where do you teach?"
"Rutgers. But I guess I'm writer now. I have a book. Well, yeah. A book. A novel."
"That's amazing. Did it take a long time to find a publisher?"
"Uh, no. I mean, I didn't really try. This was the first place we sent it. So, I guess I'm lucky."
"Or good. What's it called?"
"Harper & Row. Oh, the book? Uh, PARTING IS ALL WE KNOW OF HEAVEN. Emily Dickinson."
"Great title. What's it about?"
Blank stare. "Death. It's about a family. And death. And it's funny. Sort of. Also, depressing."

The post mortem between my friend and me was brutal. She could not believe I introduced myself as a teacher, the reluctance I displayed trying to describe my own novel, my complete lack of self-confidence. I didn't have a card to hand to this journalist. I seemed embarrassed by my own accomplishment. Welcome to my world, I thought. Welcome to the idea that is inculcated into those of us born into fucked-up runaway Catholic families. Shh. Shut up! Stop showing off. Don't talk about yourself. Be quiet. If you love your children too much, the fairies will steal them. When I was a student at Rutgers my boyfriend and his friends use to sit in their underwear typing out stories a la Kerouac in trances enhanced by pot and cheap wine. I was never invited to these sessions as my femininity would destroy the spontaneity and my job was to keep the bed warm and listen. The stuff was terrible and I knew it. I was up at dawn filling notebooks that I never showed anyone. Someone who once borrowed my car found these notebooks, read them and told me I as a writer, not an actress. It still took 5 years before an agent I knew actually demanded to see my work. I was unemployed, waitressing and desperate. She gave me some feedback, I edited and we submitted the Manuscript to a publisher who bought it. I thought they had mixed up the title page and someone else's novel was sitting on the editor's desk. When she mentioned my character, I was stunned. Someone had opened the door into my room.

I need someone to market me.


  1. Feeling overwhelmed by my own inadequacies about book marketing, I loved this story, your honesty, and candor. Promotion is a drag, and I sometimes feel like abandoning the task completely. Emily Dickinson didn't go on a book tour or have a facebook page, and she still got the word out. I want to be like Emily, or have someone market me, too.

  2. Molly it isn't just fucked up runaway Catholic families that produce writers who can't promote themselves. WASPY New England also. When I started working on my first biography I had an aunt who said she didn't understand why anyone would write the biography of anyone other than Moses or Abraham Lincoln. Talk about a confidence builder! And I could tell you more but it would be too familiar.


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