The (Shameful?) Author Questionnaire

This is part of the Bittersweet Book Launch case study, where Dan Blank and Miranda Beverly-Whittemore share the yearlong process of launching her novel. You can view all posts here.

by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Shortly after I signed my book deal with Crown back in February, I received a long document of questions from my editor, running from the mundane (name, address) to the philosophical (“What is your book about?”) to everything in between. When I double-clicked, I was filled with the same dread I remembered feeling back in 2003 when I encountered my first Author Questionnaire, but for different reasons. Back then, I didn’t “know” anyone. I hadn’t gotten my MFA, and so I felt I had no “connections.” The internet was still, to some degree, a new frontier, and aside from knowing I wanted a website, I really had no idea how I’d be able to get the word out about myself. In other words, I felt I had no agency.

(Me then, at the beginning).

This time around, it felt as though I have too much. Too much memory, too much disappointment, too many clippings, too many fliers from too many readings. What I felt, as I began to think about the Questionnaire this time around, despite my joy at having sold Bittersweet, despite a renewed belief in my career, was deep shame. The bad sales of my second book, Set Me Free, especially, had been (and still was)┬ásuch a heartbreak that I realized, as I started to dig up old files, that I didn’t even have any copies of the three reviews written about it (if Publisher’s Weekly counts as a “review”).

To clarify: I’m not ashamed of any the reviews I received, even if some of the them were less than stellar. And I’m so appreciative of the little bit of ink both of my books got. So I couldn’t figure out what my problem was! What I began to realize as my palms began to sweat every time I thought about filling the damned thing out, was that I’d internalized so much shame about how my books had performed, that I’d completely forgotten to be proud of the fact that I’d written and published two books in the first place.

Still, realizing that didn’t change much. A few weeks after getting this year’s Author Questionnaire, I answered a few of the questions I felt confident about (my name, and what Bittersweet was about, both seemed like firm terrain), and wrote some vague answers in the other areas that felt a little more shaky (“Please include any reviews you’ve received for previous books”). I emailed it back into my editor and told myself I’d revisit it “later on.”

Time moves on apace, and with my first meeting with my publicity and marketing team looming, I realized last week that now was that “later on.” It was time to bite the bullet.

I told myself the truth: that in order to embrace Bittersweet’s great future– and my future with it– I was going to have to take a good hard look at my past. So I dug up old files, and I scanned them and added them, and I dug up old contacts, and, through remembering all those amazing adventures my early publication life had brought me, I allowed myself to remember how much I love being a writer: doing readings, meeting readers, hearing the ways in which my books have (briefly) touched others lives.

And I realized that most of why I’d been feeling so much shame about the last time I did all this is that I love it so much that I was terrified I would never get to do it again. Until I sold Bittersweet, I had believed that my career was, in fact, over.

Twenty-seven pages later, I’ve written down all I can remember about who I was then, and all the adventures I went on, and also– much more important, I think– all that I believe, and hope, lies in front of me. Uncovering my fears made me feel brave to write down everything I dream for my future.

I just hope the folks at Crown don’t balk at the page count!