Jennifer Lawler's blog post: publishing in the raw
Publishers told author Jennifer Lawler that her daughter's story was too painful to appeal to readers. But the blogosphere is telling her something else.
These days, the blogger who gets a book deal is practically an industry cliché. But how about the established author who touches a new audience through blogging – and wanders down a different literary road?
Most people who saw a recent post on author Jennifer Lawler’s blog knew nothing about the 30+ books Lawler had written or co-authored, and weren’t regular readers of her little-known blog about writing and publishing. They came after a cascade of Facebook and Twitter accolades recommending an unusual, rawly personal post titled “For Jessica,” some first suggesting a stop for Kleenex.
In the post about her daughter’s life, spurred by a recent study on the relative happiness of parenthood, Lawler grabbed readers early. She wrote:
“Only an academic would undertake a study like this, defining happiness as something along the lines of 'satisfaction with life' and 'feeling rewarded by your work.' If there’s an occupation more likely to make you feel incompetent and unrewarded than being a parent, I have never heard of it.
If you weren’t an academic, you might define happiness as the experience of being fully alive. To know grace, and despair, and the kind of hardness you have to learn to stand against; to watch your family fail you when you need them the most, and have your ex-husband look around, shrug his shoulders, and hold out his hand to help you up again.
Right. Your ex-husband, so that you can learn a bit of gratitude, just enough to appreciate him, which you didn’t manage the first time around.
These are things you’d never know if you hadn’t had your daughter. Things you wouldn’t have had to know, and learn the hard way, bitterly.
If the medical resident hadn’t sat down while you held your baby girl in the neonatal intensive care unit and said, 'Your daughter’s brain is massively deformed.' "
The daughter you loved even before she was born. When she was an abstraction, a positive sign on a pregnancy test, before she kicked you in the ribs, long before she ever drew her first breath. Love you did not know you were capable of feeling, primal and angry and powerful, you would kill ten men and Satan if you had to.
But the universe doesn’t ask that from you.”
At the end of her story, filled with hard strength and love, nearly 450 people have left comments so far. As one wrote, “Thank you. Thank you for sharing, thank you for understanding, and thank you for knowing me without knowing me.” They send their love to Jessica. They ask Lawler to write more about her story.
But here’s what Lawler, herself a former book agent, wrote in a later post:
“Many of you have also asked why I don’t write a book about my experiences with Jessica. I have. My agent, the indomitable Neil Salkind, has been trying to find a publisher for it since last August. We have received many rejections, mostly on the grounds of 'it’s too painful; it won’t find an audience.' ”
“I have never believed that, and your response to 'For Jessica' is my validation. People want to read the truth, even if it is raw and makes them cry. They want to be moved, to feel that there is more to life than just another bathroom to clean or a new pair of shoes to buy.”
And she uploaded her manuscript as a PDF file to sell on e-junkie.com (a “digital delivery service for the DIY folks.”) If people want to read Jessica’s whole story, she wrote in the post, at least now they have a way to do it.
And, at the least, Lawler now has a base of devoted new fans.
I’m not in the business side of publishing, but I do wonder if the flare of attention on Lawler’s blog would make publishers think twice about her manuscript, which is so different from her past published works, which range from martial arts guides to romance novels. I do wonder about what Lawler said, if publishers truly think readers won’t spend money on a story that is both true and terribly sad.
‘Right,” one commenter wrote sarcastically. “Because NO ONE read 'A Child Called It.' Or 'When Rabbit Howls' or Angela’s friggin’ Ashes or any war memoir, ever… Our world is absolutely, not at all full of people who are going through awful things, who look for books by other people who have been there first.”
Wrote another, “People want to read the raw, the naked, the real of life. People hunger for it. The problem is, they don’t know it until they do it.”
Have you ever loved a book that had no happy ending?
Rebekah Denn blogs at eatallaboutit.com.