In the two months since I gave birth to a book, I’ve discovered that post-partum publishing depression is a thing. Even when the baby doesn’t cry at all.
I’m not sure what I thought would happen after my memoir was published. Did I expect Oprah or Reese (or at the very least their people) to come begging to feature it in their book clubs?
Would Terry Gross reach out to my publicist for a Fresh Air interview?
Was the red carpet supposed to be rolled out especially for me to waltz down toward my acceptance of the Booker prize? (I know, the Booker is for fiction and I wrote a memoir, but a fantasy is a fantasy.)
Nah. Except for dreaming about a Netflix miniseries, my hopes are tamer, more subdued. I’m a singer and actor in my other life. I know how unlikely fame is, even for the most gifted among us; as Thomas Edison said, success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. My expectations—I thought—were in check.
So why am I feeling so generally bummed out since my memoir Crash was published?
The weeks and months preceding my publication date were exciting—a welcome diversion from the getting-close-to-the-end-of-the-pandemic boredom and antsy-ness. Since my publicist is on the east coast, I loved waking up to several emails from her in my inbox to peruse while drinking my coffee.
Are you available to do a podcast for a nationally syndicated show? NPR wants to interview you (regional, not national, but I’ll take it).
Please take a look at the updated press kit—it incorporates the quote from your fantastic Kirkus review!
It was all so thrilling (an oh-so-familiar feeling) as if April 27th was another opening night. I even had the requisite jitters.
When I was being rational (which happened on occasion), I knew that the actual day of publication would be far less exciting. It was a Tuesday, a regular workday. There’d be no exhilarating applause, no flowers, no cast party. To fill the inevitable void, I took the day off teaching (knowing I couldn’t possibly focus on my students) and arranged a lunch date with my daughter and some friends. My publisher, She Writes Press, posted a congrats notice on Facebook. There were some nice texts (“Happy Pub Day!” “How does it feel to be a published author?”) and a few congratulatory phone calls. It was a strange day. After eleven years of the writing and editing process, a year and a half of preparing the manuscript, planning the launch, building a publicity team and plan, the silence was deafening. Give it time, I thought. After all, most people haven’t even received the book, let alone read it.
My nerves increased exponentially before my Thursday launch event two days later, surprising me—a seasoned performer. I was so nervous I truly felt like throwing up. What the hell? It felt like a one-woman show, and I’ve always preferred the camaraderie and comfort of ensembles over solos. It would be me mostly alone onscreen, with 140 of my closest friends out in the ether.
But what’s to fear? Am I a mess because I’ve written a deeply personal, vulnerable account, revealing embarrassing stories to former synagogue congregants and current students? Or because I’m afraid I might be sued by the antagonists in my story?
Either way, the book was out in the world now, never to be retracted. It could be a hit—or a flop.
Fortunately, the launch was a huge success. The sponsoring bookstore was pleased with sales, accolades were bestowed, my publicist was happy. I got those flowers (Richard, my husband, has been well trained.) A celebratory dinner with the whole family toasting me was enjoyed.
My baby had been birthed—with a healthy Apgar score.
Richard and I took off for Sonoma for a few days. Despite advice to the contrary, all the wine tasting in the world couldn’t keep me from checking for reviews. The Amazon and Goodreads tabs remained permanently open on my desktop. I refreshed obsessively, becoming a kind of star junkie. As each one came in—many more complimentary than the last—I rejoiced. The few that weren’t so stellar didn’t exactly plunge me into the depths of despair, but my mood was certainly dampened. “What you’re feeling is so normal!” my writerly friends and coaches soothed. “You’re having a bit of withdrawal. So many writers experience that after publishing!” Misery loves company and I did feel bit better. For a few hours.
As the blog tour wound down and the reviews became more of a trickle than a gush, there were days when nothing happened. When the Amazon and Goodreads scores seemed frozen, I panicked. Imposter syndrome would move in like an unwelcome houseguest. Who do I think I am, an author? Please. At times I felt as if I’d never written a word, let alone a book. Then my phone would chime and there would be a text: “Just finished your book. I couldn’t put it down, stayed up way too late reading. SO good!!” and I’d be flying high again.
I’m learning to accept that—as much as I hate roller coasters—I’m on one.
Crash won an award for memoir…up!
Is it possible to enjoy the ride? That answer is still unclear. What is becoming clearer is that the message of Crash is resonating, even if Spielberg hasn’t called (yet) wanting to buy the movie rights. My readers are telling me that my story about the realities of caregiving is having an effect on them. It’s opening a conversation that needs to happen.
In her recently published book, Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? Finding Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish and Promote Your Book, Bella Mahaya Carter writes:
Ultimately the success of your book isn’t up to you or your publicist, even if you both do everything in your power to promote it well. Beneath the dream for fame and fortune lurks a greater yearning: to matter. To be loved. We all matter, and we are all loved. Thinking otherwise is a common, conditioned misunderstanding about who we really are.
Unquestionably, this experience has been a reality check. When I dig deep, when I ask the critical question I posed to myself multiple times during the writing process: “Who am I kidding? What I’m really feeling is…” The conclusion to that question is: I want to be relevant. To be noticed. To matter. When I allow the number of reviews—or the sales numbers I get from my publisher—to determine my relevance, then that’s a problem.
I need to let my book baby grow at her own pace. And not let her little trips and falls pull me down, or even let the awards and accolades mean that I matter. Because eventually she will mature and spread her wings anyway.
In the meantime, I’ll try to tolerate—if not enjoy—the ride.
Rachel Michelberg grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and still enjoys living there with her husband, Richard, and their two dogs, Nala and Beenie. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance from San Jose State University and has performed leading roles in musicals and opera from Carmen to My Fair Lady as well as the part of the Mother Abbess (three times!) in The Sound of Music. When Rachel isn’t working with one of her many voice and piano students, she loves gardening, hiking, and making her own bone broth. Her debut memoir, Crash: How I Became a Reluctant Caregiver, won a Next Generation Indie Book Award. Find her online at rachelmauthor.com.