Learning Curve is a new series tracing the experiences of debut author Sarah Stankorb, with insights into the steps between writing the manuscript and getting the book into readers’ hands.
I hadn’t accepted that my book was in its final form — in fact, I was still begging the production team to change a couple of phrases — when I received an email late one Wednesday night from my publicist at Hachette full of exclamation points. My book had earned a STARRED review from Publishers Weekly!!!!
Judging by the exclamation points, I knew this was a good thing. But the number of fancy publishing terms jammed into the first sentence of this post (production team, publicist, Hachette) belies how new all this is to me. I didn’t even know enough to know how exactly excited I should be.
I decided I was going to dedicate myself to trying to get a book published over fourteen years ago, then I spent most of the subsequent years failing to sell a book. I’d started to wonder if it was ever going to happen when it did. A dream scenario landed smack in the hardest year of my adult life. I got a deal to write a book about topics I’d been reporting on for years as a journalist just as I wound up caring for both my parents as dementia set in, including for my father who had terrorized me as a kid. He was diagnosed with cancer, and I cared for him as he declined and ultimately passed away.
I didn’t mean for his story to bleed into the book — one about abuse. I’m also not sure how it couldn’t have, he so dominated my days. In its way, writing the book kept me going. Although, my first draft was a mess. I reworked it, chopping the thing up with scissors for a complete restructure.
“Congratulations!!!!” my email now read. How had I gone from that mess to this? Worst, someone I didn’t know had read the book. This was my first irrational anxiety.
I handed my phone to my husband and asked him to read the review. For years, as a woman who made her living writing on the internet, my mantra has been “don’t read the comments.” A male friend recently told me he reads every review of his books. I told him I’ve seen enough comments threatening to stab me in the eyes, that I’ve stopped looking at reader responses.