Most authors will readily admit that launching a book can be an incredibly humbling and disjointed process. The highs! The lows! The second-guessing!
People likely think the hardest part of the book writing process – securing a book contract, actually writing the book, going through editing and copy editing, choosing a cover, gathering endorsements, and debating the copy on the press release and back cover – is behind you. But by the time comes for the book to be launched into the world, it becomes another sort of marathon – one that can be equal parts exhilarating and exhausting.
Last Tuesday, my third book, Social Media Wellness: Helping Teens and Tweens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World, was released after four long years of drafts, revisions, and reflections. I wrote the book to help parents and educators understand the new world of social media socialization, and the book is filled with prescriptive strategies on how to encourage teens to make better choices online and in-real-life.
I am proud of how the book turned out. Which is good, because four years feels like a very long time. And all the crazy life happenings and bizarre side issues steps it took to get this book into the world came flooding back into my consciousness this week, including the time in Boston in August 2015 when I sat down on a stoop and just had a good cry after four or five things seemed to all go wrong at once. [Side note: Everything got a million times better after everything seemed to be falling apart]
But now is not the time to reflect on that, because the book is done and out in the world, and parents and educators have found it to be an incredibly helpful resource. A ninth grader told me last week how everything that I described in Chapter 5 on Academic Wellness and technology in the classroom was what her and her friends were dealing with at school, and she was “super impressed” with how much I understood teen lives, classroom tech issues and social media language. Made my day.
A favorite personal moment in this process was filming the book trailer. The amazing filmmaker and I interviewed local high schools about their own strategies for promoting social media wellness. The teens were brilliant – as teens tend to be when you ask them advice about their own lives. You can watch it here.
“I spend a lot of time watching Netflix,” one high school junior boy told me. “There’s this great show – have you heard of it? It’s called Friends.”
As an author, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is the importance of showing up for other people’s book events. I’ve gone to so many author events because I understand the comfort of seeing friendly faces in the audience and the genuine gratitude that comes from the fact that someone took time out of their schedule to attend.
Another lesson is to celebrate the PR surprises, because you never know how or when a book might get attention. Shortly after the release of my first book in early 2010, I was a bit bewildered and had no idea if anyone was ever going to hear about my book. I was about to board a plane when I received a message from an AP reporter in my Facebook messages (note: this was before Facebook Messenger), and did a thirty-minute interview about helping disorganized and distracted boys from the boarding area. She ended up writing a piece that was in hundreds of news outlets. Or the time a fellow writer tweeted a question around executive functioning resources, and I suggested my book. We’ve since met in real life, and she recommended my new book to a reporter this summer, which resulted in this piece in the Washington Post.
This week’s lovely and unexpected surprise came at the end of the week, when a kind and generous writer and editor I know through my work gave my book a shout out on her widely-read newsletter. I was reading the newsletter, scrolling down, and jumped a little when I saw my book’s cover highlighted. It really was the highlight of an incredibly long and wonderful week, and a good reminder that those sorts of surprises can make such a difference.
Over this coming school year, I am slated to visit twenty cities to talk about Social Media Wellness, and am excited to visit some amazing public, private, independent and charter schools across America (www.anahomayoun.com/events).
Have a friend with a book coming out soon? Here are the three ways you can be supportive:
1. Buy the book. If someone spent months and years on a project and you have the means to support it in a small (or big) way, take a moment and do so. If you have no use for their book, perhaps a friend or relative does.
2. Review the book. If you receive a friend’s book and fall in love with it, take a few minutes to write a review on Amazon, Goodreads or wherever else reviews are posted.
So many people buy books based on reviews – and honestly, seeing so many parents write reviews and share about how my first book, That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week, helped them with their disorganized and distracted boys motivated me to cross the finish line with this seemingly never-ending book.
3. Show up and share. If a friend has a book event near you, just go. Don’t say you’re interested and come up a last minute excuse. It is usually just an hour of your time and will likely mean the world to your friend. Tweet, share, email, …do whatever you do… Think of it as positive karma points going out into the world, and in the end, positive book karma is good for everyone.
Today is my birthday.
I’ve never been much to celebrate in a big way. There are several reasons for that, the first of which is that being born near the 4th of July (or any major holiday) ostensibly means most people are out of town on your day of celebration. As a kid, I only wanted to celebrate on the actual day of my birth. It never made sense to that kids would have their parties days in advance, weeks after, or during the weekend on either end. For me, it was all or nothing – July 6th or bust.
Summer birthdays rarely benefit from the group well-wishes from class parties. There are no cupcakes at lunchtime or decorated desk or locker. Most people who know me know I much prefer intimate conversations and small group dinners to fancy extravaganzas of small talk (though I can do fancy, too!). After several glorious decades on this planet, I am totally okay with that. .
My first distinct birthday memory is when I was seven or eight years old. I remember sitting on the back deck of our rural Connecticut ranch home, watching a small table of friends sing an off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Others might have been lost in the moment, but I was looking at my mom, who was getting ready to cut slices of frozen Minnie Mouse ice cream cake that was likely super over-priced for my parents’ budget. The cake was filled with the unhealthy confectioner’s deliciousness that my mom would otherwise avoid. But hey, it was my birthday.
I remember thinking about the effort my mom went through to try and help me have a real American birthday – complete with pin the tail on the donkey, Disney themed decorations and thoughtfully designed goodie bags. My parents immigrated to the United States just a decade before, and for many reasons I can safely deduce my mother never had a celebration like this one when she was a child. In that moment, I could sense she was tired. In my mind, I was like: Wow, this took a whole lot of work.
There was something special about that birthday, too. Weeks before, I asked my mom if I invite could Beth, a friend who had been in my class since preschool and had recently undergone extensive brain surgery – half of her brain was removed – at the hands of current HUD secretary and former Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson (oh, how small the world is…). My mom’s reply was quick and affirmative, “Sure, of course.”
I was so excited to hear Beth could come to my party. When her mom called to RSVP, she started with an apology for her delay, explaining, “I am sorry it took me a few days to get back to you. We were supposed to be in Martha’s Vineyard but moved some things around because Beth really wanted to come to your birthday. It is the only one she’s been able to go to all year.” I still think of that conversation and how much it meant to me that she came.
Beth’s story gained national attention for many reasons, one of which is her amazing friendship with Mr. Rogers, who visited her bedside at Johns Hopkins, and she was most recently profiled in Atlantic editor James Hamblin’s book, “If Our Bodies Could Talk.” She’s in good health, and is a wonderful writer – and when I asked what she hopes to do next, she was quick in her reply, “I want to become a world famous author and speaker.” In a time when we desperately need more stories of positivity and hope, Beth’s story and message is an important one.
In the last few months, I’ve seen more and more videos and clips of Mr. Rogers – especially this one from when the 1970s when public television was under threat of losing funding – and every time I think of Beth. We often see the public figure without fully knowing who they are in real life – and from what I have heard over the years, Mr. Rogers certainly was incredible. I truly hope more and more people will hear Beth’s story, in her own words. Her vision of kindness, healing, family and humor is a powerful one worthy of reflection for kids and adults alike.
Last week, nearly thirty years later, I had a lovely dinner with Beth and her parents on Martha’s Vineyard. Her parents look the exact same as from my childhood, and Beth and I are both just a little older. Three of our birthdays – Beth, mine, and Mrs. Usher’s – are all within a week of each other, and it was a wonderful way to celebrate another year around the sun.
Anyone who spends even a bit of time with my father quickly realizes his idiosyncrasies are sitcom-worthy – harmless and hilarious all at once. For instance, I’ve been in the same office for nearly a decade now, and each time my father visits he brings a shopping bag – this week’s was one from the Nordstrom’s half-yearly sale – filled with random office supplies that my stepmother has likely urged him to throw out. Instead of getting rid of them, of course, he truly believes I can find use for them… and passes them along to me.
This week’s “gift”? A label maker from the mid 1970s in – wait for it – original packaging
. This poor label maker made it through one cross country move and at least two California household moves in original packaging. Clearly, my father refuses to follow Marie Kondo’s
advice on finding joy – or maybe, instead of throwing things away, he simply brings them to my office to share the “joy.”
But I digress. Over the past few years, I’ve thought a great deal about how my work has been so focused on helping students build their own blueprint for success rather than borrow someone else’s. I’ve talked about the importance attitude and approach in encouraging a child to his or her own vision of success, even when that vision may seem muddled, and may completely change course. Sometimes supportive parenting is about listening, asking open-ended questions, being positive and encouraging children to dig deep and find the solutions within them.
When I think about where I learned that most, I know my father’s role was uniquely important. On this Father’s Day, I wanted to take a moment and reflect on three different moments where my father’s attitude and approach made all the difference in helping me design my own blueprint for success.
When I was five years old, I wanted to be on a soccer team – sounds simple, but there were no girls soccer teams in my rural northeastern Connecticut town in the early 1980s. So, my father thought nothing of petitioning to have me join a boys team, and then spent Saturday mornings fielding soccer balls as the assistant coach for a team with circumspect athletic abilities. What I remember most was that it was no big deal – I wanted to play, and his attitude was, “Go for it!” He helped me figure it out at a time when I was too young to do so for myself. I actually never thought twice about the fact that I was the only girl on the team until the mayor’s wife came up to me after a game and remarked how brave I was (I think – or hope – she was referring to the fact that the ball had just hit me in the head).
It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized how my father’s “Go for it!” attitude allowed me to dig deeper when things didn’t go as planned. A few months after graduating from college, I told my parents I wanted to start my own business
and “just do my own thing.” This was sixteen years ago, long before entrepreneurship and self-employment, freelance and start-up life were a way of life for many. Most of my classmates were focused on attending graduate school and/or getting jobs with companies offering benefits and retirement plans. There were far fewer (if any) NYTimes stories focusing on women and entrepreneurship.
But, in a short six month period since graduating from college, I moved (temporarily) to NYC for investment banking analyst training, took the train into the World Trade Center up until two weeks before 9/11, and had an emergency appendectomy after taking myself to the ER at 4 am on a Saturday morning in NYC (and completely thought I was going to die). Then, in November 2001, I was laid off from my banking analyst job along with about half my analyst class. The post-9/11 time for a recently laid off recent college grad was bleak for many reasons, and so when I told my parents I wanted to do my own thing, I was surprised by their two simple questions:
“Can you pay your rent?” Yes.
“Do you have health insurance?” Yes. (side note: it was much easier – and cheaper – to buy a single plan those days. I think it cost $90 per month).
“Then go for it.”
I think of that conversation often, especially when I see recent grads and young adults get advice that takes them away from their intuition and their own sense of purpose. I knew I wanted to write, travel, and help people, and was lucky to have a severance package that I could use to start my own business. I liked my job (still do!) and my work has evolved in ways I could have never expected back then. But I know that my father’s encouragement at that critical moment made a world of difference. He didn’t have the answers (and definitely did *not* provide any financial backing – ha!) but he knew I could figure it out. His positive attitude and realistic enthusiasm freed me from taking on any extra anxiety or concern, and allowed me to spend my energy finding solutions rather than fighting off doubts.
And finally – in September 2008, I called my dad from the corner of 17th and Broadway in NYC after finding out I landed a book deal with Perigee, a division of Penguin (now Penguin Random House) for my first book, That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week.
I am fairly certain he had no idea what that really meant, or what a big deal that was for a twenty-seven year old with very little published writing experience, but I distinctly remember his response, “NO KIDDING!!!” His excitement was palpable. He had very little idea on how I had worked to make it happen, but knew that was my dream and was happy for me.
My third book is coming out in August, and this one – Social Media Wellness: Helping Teens and Tweens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World
– was by far the most difficult to write. I re-wrote the entire draft from scratch. I had surgery (I am fine). I dealt with crazy happenings. And even through everything, my dad was like, “Just finish the book already, everyone will be happier – including you!” That was the version of “Go for it!” that I needed.
I know my father is proud of me (I know this because he tells me *all the time*), and I also know he believed in my ability to design my own blueprint for success from the beginning. He never subscribed to one version of success, and when something didn’t work out, he encouraged me to refocus to find something else that would come together. His optimistic wisdom and gracious determination has made all the difference.
So, for the father who reminds me to cook at home (it’s healthier!) and to drive safely when it is raining, thank you for always believing in my possibilities. Your attitude and approach has meant the world to me.
And also, please stop bringing me office supplies disguised as Nordstrom half-yearly sale purchases. But I digress.
Happy Father’s Day.