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The Labor of Launch

image by Ashley Webb [1]
image by Ashley Webb

It’s not uncommon, especially among those of us who are both writers and moms, to compare books and babies. For a while there was even a blog called Book Pregnant [2]. In my experience, having one go-around with each, books and babies are different in a whole lot of ways.

But as I prepare for the arrival of my second baby (likely later this month) and my second book (a decent interval afterward, thank goodness) I’m reminded of some similarities between the baby part of life — the labor — and the book part of life — the launch.

You can never really be ready for either, in my experience. But if you’re looking to launch a book into the world, you could do worse than to take a few lessons from labor.

To wit:

Find the line between education and obsession, and stay safely on this side. Labor stories and launch stories can both turn into horror stories. And there are plenty (thousands! tens of thousands! and then some!) of people, especially on the internet, who are happy to tell you their stories in stunning/gory/boring/excr-uc-ia-ting detail. In the book launch realm, it makes a lot of sense to research what your options are for all the different things you could do during the launch period for your book, but you will never, ever be able to do all of them. So don’t go alllll the way down the rabbit hole. When you reach the end of the internet it’s likely you will have read an equal number of people avowing that something was the worst decision they ever made — or the best. Gather information and then use your own judgment; that’s really all you can do.

Choose your team wisely. Especially if it’s your first time, you’re going to need some people on your side who’ve been there before. A combination of amateurs and professionals is usually best, since they’ll provide different types of support. In labor, who do you want with you? A doctor or a midwife? Your whole family or not a one of them? A doula, maybe? That’s up to you, but decide well in advance. For your launch, do you want a paid publicist? Do you have author friends you can draw on for moral support, lessons learned, the wisdom of experience? It’s amazing what a difference other people make during the launch process. You shouldn’t have to go it alone. You’re much better off if you don’t try.

Plan what you can, and let go of the rest. Some women have 38-page labor plans. “Plan?” Ha. Labor, much more than launch, does not conform to plans. But on the other hand — there’s solid wisdom to the idea that you should spend a lot of time on your labor plan and then throw it out. Because while you can’t plan when a baby will come, you can figure out what the crucial decisions are, and think about how you will address them in advance. And launch is the same way. Maybe your book takes off hugely in the first few weeks; maybe it tanks and there’s nothing but radio silence. You can’t make publicity happen. You can’t make people buy your book. But you can plan out what you think the best course of action is, and then think about other actions you can and/or will take if things don’t exactly go according to plan.

Because if there’s anything books and babies do have in common, it’s that you can’t fully control them once they’re out in the world.

Which is one of the most amazing and terrifying things about them both.

What do you think?

About Jael McHenry [3]

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter [4] (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com [5] or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.