Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Signal boost

Tanya Selvaratnam has been a dear friend of mine since our first year of college. We acted in a ton of plays together in those days; as well as being a talented and successful actor, she has been an immensely generous friend in intervening years (in particular I recall a wonderful party she hosted for me when my first book came out, not to mention countless delicious meals cooked for me and copious treats provided over several decades!).

Tanya's first book has just been published; it's called The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock, and she kindly agreed to answer a few questions for me here.
This is your first published book, but you have a rich background as a performer, producer and activist. What past experiences in any of those areas did you find most useful as you worked on the book and as you take it out into the world?

It was more the ways in which my past experiences were different that helped me write. As a performer, I have to be extroverted and relatively social, and also submissive to a director’s vision. As a producer, my head is full 24/7 of other people’s stuff. Writing was the opposite experience and hence thoroughly enjoyable for me. The activism was more useful: finding ways to turn adversity into positive action.

You and I have talked about the importance of hiring a publicist, especially if you are an author of nonfiction books. What are the pros and cons for an author to consider? How did you choose your publicist, and what kinds of thing have you been able to do as a result? Can you share some links to online pieces that have come about in part as a consequence of that relationship?

The support of my publicists, Wunderkind PR: Elena Stokes and Tanya Farrell, has been a necessity. Initially, I solicited publicist recommendations from my agent, publisher, and writer friends, but I ended up finding Wunderkind online while researching another publicist. I was impressed by the expertise and passion displayed on Wunderkind’s website as well as its roster of clients. Both Elena and Tanya had many years of experience at major houses before breaking out with their own shingle. Also, as women around my age and mothers themselves, they connected strongly with my subject matter. The expense is cumbersome, but it’s an investment worth making. I handle PR for many of my projects so I have a strong database of media contacts, and my list converged nicely with Wunderkind’s. There were many media gets that would not have happened without my publicist, such as an exclusive excerpt in Vogue, a guest blogger post on HuffPo Women, and an appearance on the Leonard Lopate Show. And there is much more press to come, which will hopefully translate not only into visibility but also into sales.

The New York Times Motherlode blog has been running a series of columns by a woman trying to become pregnant by IVF, and I have been absolutely horrified by the vitriol in some of the comments readers leave there for her. Why do you think feelings run so high around these questions?

One, we live in a judgmental culture and also a very sensitive one. There is a pervasive polarity of “I hate you. Please love me.” Two, people have loaded, subjective, emotional points of view around these questions. We’re talking about our bodies, sexualities, ambitions, futures, and what we leave behind in this world. That said, it’s important for those who have the mic, like the woman on the Motherlode blog, to understand that people will attack them for simply having the mic. Stay true to your voice and your experience, and be open to multiple perspectives. There is no one answer. I learn something even from those who oppose me.

With my book specifically, I hope to encourage people to embrace the multiplicity of ways in which people build families and also to embrace the different ways in which people live their lives, with kids or without. As Sheryl Sandberg wrote in Lean In, “When arguments turn into ‘she said/she said’ we all lose.”

Buy Tanya's book at Amazon, Powell's, Barnes and Noble, McNally Robinson.

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