Today my first book is “officially” released unto the world. The Shame of Losing was picked up by Red Hen Press fall of 2015, so here I am, three years later, wondering how to be a book marketer meanwhile
not choke on my own self-promotional worry tears.
I say “officially” released because the first release date was October 2. Things happen, fine. I was a bit naïve about the timeline, or maybe just excited after all that time spent with production in the fallows. I did the right things: hosted a stylish launch party, read at my community book store, and even led a workshop at the University of Washington Bothell campus.
But recently I gave a subpar reading at the University Bookstore in Seattle. I was sick and running late. I
hated the outfit I had selected and had trouble staying focused. An older couple were there, dear family
friends of mine who are writers and esteemed organizational leadership consultants. I used to clean
their house. For lunch, they’d feed me tuna sandwiches. We’d joke around and talk about writing, and
recently, about book publishing and book talks. Early last summer we had somewhat of a jam session
where they peppered me with questions about my book title, my intentions, my everything.
A few days after this pitiful reading, the gentleman of the couple texted me. He and his wife had talked.
He was going to be in my neighborhood and wanted to give me feedback. Could we meet for a quick
coffee? Though it made my gut churn, I knew Geoff’s feedback would be invaluable, so we made a plan
to meet. That meeting was today.
As an exercise to my MFA community, I offer you the answers-in-progress to the questions Geoff feels
are essential in knowing when going into a public reading. I am still working on them, so please, bear
1. What do you hope to gain from the reading? How do you want your book to serve you, as the
Simply, I wrote my memoir to pull myself together and grow through the difficult process of learning about traumatic brain injury. It sustained me and gave me purpose during a particularly challenging time in life. I wanted to move through the process so that I didn’t hold on to anger, bitterness and confusion for a lifetime. I began and finished the book because I love life and wanted to live it.
2. Why are you here at this event? What do you hope people will gain from being here, listening? What should they do as a result?
I am here to tell you about the process I went through grieving and writing about the grieving that
resulted from my husband’s near fatality in 2007 after a tree branch fell on his skull…
Not everyone has had a traumatic event as specific as a sustained traumatic brain injury, long-term rehab & disability, then divorce, but even so, this story is for anyone who has struggled and felt alone. I want
the audience to understand something about what it’s like to endure and learn, meanwhile raise
young children and sustain friendships and jobs, or lose them. If anyone has a friend, co-worker or
family member that might benefit from feeling less alone about their ambiguous loss, then this book
is for them. I’d like for you to share The Shame of Losing as a resource to anyone who wants to feel
compassion for, and be in partnership with, people who suffer. The content of this book offers ways
to understand the human condition.
I could go on. I have lots of notes. But I will end with a few bullet point suggestions that will stay
with me as I venture on and get better at the business of talking about why I persisted in writing this
book, for me as an author and a person. I think that’s a good question to answer. And also:
Arrive early and visit. Touch people’s shoulders and make eye-contact.
If it’s a small crowd, sit with people. Be accessible, esp if your topic is sensitive.
Briefly tell people what you plan on doing b/f you start reading.
Explain the premise of your book in 2-3 sentences max.
Your reading is not a therapy session.
Read slowly carefully, with affect and gestures.
Make sure your appearance matches that on your website.
Build in Q & A mid-way, not only afterward.
Reading those suggestions is almost embarrassing, because they seem so obvious. But strange things
happen when you’re trying to hold it all in the balance! And not all of us are eager talkers or extraverts
like we need to be for that hour or two. Geoff reminds us that it’s our book, our reading. What do we
want to take away, and what do we want others to remember?
I hope Geoff’s advice can help all of us clarify what we’re doing and why. The Shame of Losing is my
book, and I know what I’m talking about. I know how I feel. I have a natural style and all the skills to do
this right. Now it’s time to use them.
Sarah Cannon is a graduate of the Goddard College MFAW Program in Washington.