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So I’m not as funny as Elizabeth Gilbert…

Friday, September 9, 2011 by Marianne Elliott

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I got an email from my agent this morning summarising the rejection responses she’s had to my manuscript so far.

Here’s something you should know about writing a memoir, in case you think it might be a fun thing to do: when editors ‘pass’ on your book they are going to say not-so-great things not only about your writing but also about you.

Things like: “Marianne didn’t come off as very likeable, I’m sorry to say”

Or this: “I could not quite relate to Marianne, who remained a bit Type A and unapproachable. I wanted more Elizabeth Gilbert-like warmth and humor.”

So, yeah, I’m not as warm or funny as Elizabeth Gilbert. Sorry to say.

There were other, lovely comments. Editors who thought ‘Marianne’ was inspiring, courageous, insightful and down to earth.

I’ve read enough reviews of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ to know that for every editor who thinks Elizabeth Gilbert is funnier and warmer than me there is a snarky reader who thinks she’s vapid and self-indulgent – in other words, this is wildly subjective territory.

And ‘Marianne’, of course, is not exactly me. She’s the version of me who I wrote into life in this book. She’s probably more inspiring and more annoying than the me my housemate knows. So I try to remember not to take these comments to heart. I remind myself that getting hooked on praise or blame is a fools game.

All the same, at moments like this I am bloody grateful that:

  1. I’m doing this now, in my (very) late 30’s and not when I was 22 years old;
  2. I know Karen Maezen Miller who very kindly shared with me one of the stunningly harsh comments an editor made about her when passing on her manuscript. Like I said, wildly subjective territory; and
  3. Penguin NZ is publishing my book (I just this moment signed the contract and celebrated with champagne)

A comment on comments: I assure you, dear readers, I don’t need your assurance that I’m as warm or funny as Ms Gilbert. I promise I’m not sitting here feeling rotten, I just wanted to share the process with y’all. I would love to know what you’ve learned over the years about getting hooked into praise and blame. Because this, I suspect, is only the beginning of what I have to learn about standing strong like a tree in the winds of praise and blame.

Love,

Marianne

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33 Responses to "So I’m not as funny as Elizabeth Gilbert…"

  1. Bridget says:

    Congrats! If I have to fly to NZ to buy my copy, so be it! 🙂
    Naw, I know somebody will pick it up!

  2. amy says:

    congratulations, that’s wonderful news. i look forward to reading it.

  3. sas says:

    I seem to have developed a weird detachment to comments about my work. I work in an industry that values hard-arsed delivery with a topping of autocratic dictatorship. a style that I personally find faintly ridiculous and one that usually only works for the person demonstrating these behaviours.

    I try to set clear expectations, be inclusive, supportive and expect high quality. I have been described as weak, decisive, wishy-washy, creative, driven, flaky, too close to the team… in the end it all becomes subjective noise. and it kind of cancels itself out. all that’s left is us on our own. and I am ok with me.

  4. JANE says:

    congratulations on the publisher deal!… praise and blame are such shame inducing topics for me… because it is all subjective (and depends largely on the judger’s perception of what is right and shoulds) it all really is irrelevant – when you touch people’s hearts, make a difference and do your best that is what counts (still doesn’t stop me from cringing in the face of personal criticism like that though)

  5. Annching says:

    I think often times we are too focused on ourselves, when in fact our “faults” are merely reflections of others. And everyone is so different that there is no way to expect that everyone is going to “like” us. Have to remind myself of this sometimes too.

    Congratulations on the book!

  6. Marcela says:

    I wonder what the 7 publishers that rejected JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone said in their rejection responses…and how they feel about that now 😉

  7. Amy Palko says:

    The very first article I sent out to an academic journal for publication came back with 2 stunningly different responses. The process for these journals is that they send your article to 2 other academics for blind peer review, they give their opinion and the editor makes the decision whether to publish as is, request changes or reject outright.

    The first review that I read completely crushed me. It was so nasty. It tore at my argument, it belittled my topic, it undermined my choice of critics. But what hurt the most was that they said my writing style was virtually unreadable and asked whether english was my second language. They suggested the editor reject my work.

    It didn’t matter that the second review was glowing. That they loved the way I wrote, thought my argument was sparkling, my topic new and my use of the critics innovative. It didn’t matter that they strongly recommended the paper be published with no changes. That first review devastated me.

    And as much as I’d like to say I got over it, I don’t think I ever really have. For all the really beautiful compliments I receive for my writing, there is always that small voice that says, ‘Ah, but remember that review where they thought you couldn’t even write a comprehensible sentence – remember?’

    And I wish so much that this wasn’t the case, but it is. However, it has made me infinitely more compassionate in my own response to the work of others. And for that I can be grateful.
    Amy
    xx

  8. Leo says:

    I’ve found that praise and blame says more about the sayer than the subject of the praise and blame. And so I look at it as an interesting way to learn about the person talking.

  9. Laura says:

    When I performed in a play for an NZ audience (granted I was horribly inexperienced as a performer) one of the reviews commented on my obviously fake “american” accent, when i, being Canadian, had not affected an accent at all, and never even thought about it. So, it was simply ridiculous, but interesting to know that was the perception, at least one person’s perception. The tricky part is, that person’s evaluation is so influential.

    I know this is not the point, but EG’s journey was intended to be all about herself. She was not in any danger, or responsible for any serious outcomes for others. While I haven’t had the pleasure of reading your work , it seems to me a rather moot comparison of apples and oranges and I’m concerned that people like that get to choose what’s going to be accessible to me. Is it just a blanket “woman on a journey” evalution and therefore obligated to provide “lighthearted entertainment”? I wonder how its positioned when passed through, or if its an indication of the American mindset.

    The subjectivity is interesting. I come across that with (inexperienced) clients all the time who are not used to separating their own impressions from those of the intended audience, even when it may be a wildly different demographic. In our case, we have the opportunity to push back or involve more opinions.

    What I do get from this collectively, separating the content or expression is a good thing, in that reading your book, people – in that market- feel like they want to know you more, and that can only bode well.

    PS is your book available to buy online from NZ?
    xo

  10. Kim says:

    Thank you for sharing the process and congratulations on getting your book published. I, for one, want to read it. What I need to remember most from this post is to “stand strong like a tree in the winds of praise and blame.” So, thank you for that.

  11. JennyB says:

    Interesting… I know you said you don’t need ‘validation’ comments, but I just have to say that ‘relatable’ and ‘likeable’ and ‘approachable’ are the words that came to mind when you read your chapters to us in San Francisco. My point is that the way you wrote the chapters that you read to us made me want to read more, so this is very interesting that you are having these reactions.

    But, you know what, as you hinted at, I have heard of many examples of books that weren’t received well by editors, and then, later, that book became a mega-hit with the public.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Jen

  12. Jena says:

    Praise & blame are one and the same–both forms of judgment. Mazel tov to you AND Penguin NZ. Can’t wait to read it!

  13. For me, I think that the danger of chasing praise is that I lose my own voice and the sense of what I *need* to say to stay true to myself.

    I find that we get conditioned as kids to gravitate towards the things we are good at and lose out on trying new experiences or doing things that we know we won’t be good at. It seems that being good or right is valued much more than being a hard work and making things happen.

    Bravo to you for staying true to your voice. I know your book will get picked up here in the states and I know that you will find the right person to publish it.

  14. Mark says:

    The challenge for me with praise and blame is that when it triggers emotional reactivity, I know it’s pointing to places in me that yearn for some sort of healing resolution…which usually fails to happen for a whole host of reasons. The most challenging is praise, because it’s so subtle and seductive and I want it to be really about me. As a brain educator I know that lack of healing resolution from pain triggered by praise and criticism can drive even the most superb writers to suicide.

  15. Breanna says:

    I just want to say:

    1. CONGRATULATIONS!!
    and 2. I completely agree re EPL. Guess that’s the differenc between traveling to find yourself and humanitarian work, eh? Absolutely crazy that an editor would even put them in the same sentence!!

  16. Lindsay says:

    ‘Standing strong like a tree in the winds of praise and blame’. Thank you!

  17. Paula says:

    Praise and blame are a big reason why I don’t submit, eh, don’t even write anything much anymore. Too much praise when I was young addicted me to external reasons for making art and just a few criticisms that I viewed as harsh finished off whatever internal reasons I had. Lately I have realized that not only had the criticism hurt, but that I had been blaming myself for my reaction, for quitting. Where I originally thought I just didn’t have talent, over the years I had defined myself as a quitter, someone who didn’t deserve or was not capable of starting over.

    So now I’m just putting the whole mess aside. These things happened, and now something else will happen. That’s all. And because I enjoy writing and creating, I will start doing that again. That’s enough to start with.

  18. What about all the readers in the world who don’t want people to be warm and funny?!

    Seriously though… huge congratulations on the deal.

  19. kathleen says:

    Thanks for this post. I imagine that this very process is what keeps so many writers from putting their work ‘out there’. The thing I have learned is that praise and blame (or criticism) are two sides of the same coin..we crave the praise, but we run from the criticism – we puff up, we shrink…but it’s just our ego playing games with us.
    Staying true to ourselves, connected to our core reglardless what everyone ‘out there’ has to say about us or our work, is what keeps us strong and free. Having a daily practice of yoga or meditation helps keep me steady, but it’s a moment by moment challenge that we humans face each day!

  20. kathleen says:

    p.s. Congratulations on your book contract!

  21. Amy Ahlers says:

    Marianne,

    Thank you for shedding the light on the insanity of getting a book published. My first book is coming out next month & I have been blown away by the praise and criticism both and how attached I can get to either.

    I appreciate you and a HUGE congrats on signing your deal.

    Cheers!
    Amy

    My book trailer for your viewing pleasure (or not!)http://www.BigFatLiesBook.com

  22. Tina Tierson says:

    I, too, want to give you GIANT hugs and congratulations on your book signing! Yay!!!! And if need be, I’ll send away to New Zealand for my copy without a problem!!! xoxo

  23. Roxanne says:

    Marianne, one of the things I think Elizabeth Gilbert is right about is saying (and I’m paraphrasing) that it takes a lot of courage to send a book out into the world — to let it go. To trust that you’ve written the book you needed to write and let the world do with it what it will. Tara Austen Weaver recently wrote about a similar topic here: http://www.teaandcookiesblog.com/2011/09/fear-and-terror.html (aptly titled: Fear and Terror, with reference to the creative process).

    What deeply inspires me about this post is your trust: in the process, in yourself, in goodness. We often believe our harshest critics — or worse, we become our harshest critics, and reading this post has been perspective-shifting for me. Much love to you. [and I’m joining other commenters in saying “I’m coming to New Zealand to read this book!”]

  24. oh darling friend, I recently cleaned out very old boxes of letters and found rejections letter from 25 years ago – you are so so so right, so so so subjective. Such a good lesson in letting go and by the by let’s not forget I LOVE IT. 🙂

  25. Anne-Marie says:

    Why would editors compare you to Elizabeth Gilbert? I can’t imagine your books would have that much in common.

    Any way, congratulations on sealing the deal! That is fabulous news. Part of my job is books editor at our newspaper – I receive catalogues from Penguin NZ so I’ll be sure to look out for your book.

  26. Tracy says:

    Bravo to you!! It is all very subjective. I’ve learned to not take things as personally as I used to when I was younger. I had a very think skin and thought I needed everyone to like me. I now know that is impossible and perfectly okay! I wish you luck and hope you have great success with your book!

  27. Vina says:

    I can’t wait for the book! I’ve been a silent follower, and I have to say that I’m glad that I’ve stumbled on your blog somehow. I think I was going to try your Yoga program but I was really broke back then, but looking into doing it for real this time. 😉 Your story resonates so well with me…thank you so much for writing and sharing!

  28. Richard says:

    So damn glad you aren’t the next Elizabeth Gilbert. 🙂 Will it be possible to order your book from outside NZ when it comes out?

  29. i have a xeroxed copy of brene brown’s ‘shame resilience model’ on my wall. blame is a symptom of shame, she says, and the cure? empathy: courage, compassion and connection. the model’s in her book, ‘i thought it was just me…’

  30. Peter Casier says:

    Marianne,

    I think publishing a book is a real big deal. A real big deal.. To set something on earth, something physical, like a book, for someone -you don’t know- to discover and enjoy. To learn from, laugh and cry with, to think about… I think that is a real big deal.

    An image comes to my mind of the Apia Antica, a Roman-era road, running from Rome to the South of Italy. Just south of Rome, the road is still there. The cobble stones are still there, as they were laid 2,000 years ago. They are carved by thousands of carts that passed over centuries.

    Neither the workers laying the cobblestones, nor the horsemen would have thought, then, 2,000 years ago, I would have passed there, and admired.

    A book is just like that.

    Enjoy!

    Peter

  31. Jungle Girl says:

    Hi Marianne, I’ve written a memoir about my time living in the jungle in Thailand, and am struggling currently to find a publisher. It can make me heart sad the rejections, but i have to believe my work has somthing to offer. I am so happy for you and can’t wait to read your book. Your life experience is fascinating, enriching and of huge huge value in a humanitarian sense – something I don’t think Miss Gilbert’s book even scratches the surface of. Blessings and best wishes.

  32. Lisa McKay says:

    After my first book was published I eventually learned that checking my Amazon sales ranking a dozen times a day (or, on bad days, an hour) (I now call this behaviour Amazturbation) was a sure way to drive myself crazy and put my insecurities on steroids. Now my agent is pitching mys 2nd book – a memoir – to agents, I’m finding that having some distance between the two books is helping me bit a bit more even-keeled about the whole process, but it’s still hard to deal with the uncertainty about whether it will find a publishing home and an editor who loves it at this stage of the waiting game.

  33. Claire P says:

    Praise, blame, privilege, criticism… other people’s responses to our words, our work, our appearance, our manuscript, our *whatever*.

    My job: to hold on to my sense that I and ‘they’ are both part of the Whole. That our work and words are not US. They come THROUGH us but are NOT us. Atman, I think.

    It’s not about me. It’s about the mission. And surrender. And stuff like that.

    Yes. (now, how to implement!!??!!?? step by step, day by day I guess.)

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