As an introvert, I was terrified at the prospect of orchestrating a book launch and public events around the release of Rabbit in the Moon, my recently released memoir. One challenge was time zones. I was in Hong Kong, and most of my friends and family were in the US. Then there were my usual fears. What if no one came? Wasn’t it presumptuous to celebrate my own book? Couldn’t someone else do it for me?
Maybe if I were famous, but the truth of the publishing industry these days is that most authors have to do their own marketing. Those of us who were taught not to toot our own horns have to get over ourselves, our inhibitions, and our cultural training. Unless we are fabulously wealthy or media darlings, we also have to set up our own websites, learn to manage social media, submit to awards, solicit reviews, and create events. The good part is there are a lot of women writers who like to network and help each other.
This brings me back to my launch. I am a member of a small group of women writers who write about Asia, and the more experienced among them talked me off the ledge and gave me an outline for a launch. Remembering that the most important thing that an introvert can do is to surround herself with fearless extroverts, I called on a friend, Joanna Lee, who happens to do PR. She graciously agreed to be my host. My music professor, extrovert husband, Fred, offered to create the sound and be the Zoom master. Then I did what I do best—I pulled together images, wrote the program, and turned it over to them. It worked beautifully. Joanna in New York, Fred in the next room, me on the sofa with my beauty filter on. All I had to do was to trust the performers and try to shape articulate answers to questions.
I forgot only one thing. Extroverts are always the last to leave a party. As my adrenaline wore thin and my Zoom fatigue set in, I counted down the minutes until the final farewell. I was ready to sign off and celebrate. It was still morning in Hong Kong, and Fred had made reservations for a fancy lunch at the Conrad Hotel in Central. Joanna said we were out of time and thanked everyone for coming. I smiled and waved goodbye, but nothing happened because Fred didn’t close the meeting. Instead, he started letting people show their videos and encouraged them to stick around.
After a few awkward moments, I signed off. I stormed the hall. He was in the study with the door closed, having a party and calling me to get back on screen. I wanted to kill him. After publishing a book about cross-cultural marriage and answering in-depth questions about my adjustment to my Chinese family, we were having a culture clash. It would be funny later.
I let him live. There was champagne at lunch.
Now that I’ve made it to the other side of the book release flurry, I’ve realized that book events are one of the rewards writers get for spending all that time alone wrestling with our inner demons. It’s when we get to find out what readers think about our work and answer questions about what makes us tick as people and as writers. We get to tell the backstory and learn whether what we thought we were saying is what readers actually heard. We find out that there are secret and aspiring writers among our friends. We get to find out which of our relatives remember things differently and which just want to forget.
We form alliances with other writers. Two members of my aforementioned group agreed to be on a panel we called “Chinese Husbands, Western Wives.” Dori Jones Yang, author of When the Red Gates Opened, was the host. Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of Good Chinese Wife, and I discussed our memoirs and intercultural marriages. Our stories are different, yet fit together in remarkable ways that stirred comments and questions from listeners who are or have been in intercultural relationships
I was in a solo author conversation with a Vietnamese friend at the University of Houston Clear Lake that took a more surprising direction. Gigi Do had been my colleague at Houston Community College when she instigated my very first trip to Asia back in 1996. As we got deeper into our discussion, we realized how instrumental our friendship had been for each of us. My interest in Asian traditions had spurred her to value cultural activities she might otherwise have dismissed. Without her invitations for me to participate with her family, college programs, and our trip to Vietnam, I might not have made the leap to studying and eventually living in Asia.
Other surprises have come from readers. I once had a painting teacher who was fond of telling us that once a painting was out in the world, it no longer belonged to the artist. Every viewer brings the history of their own experience to the painting and sees and feels something different. Readers remind me that the same is true of a book.
ABC (American Born Chinese) readers have told me that they appreciate the part of Rabbit in the Moon that details the rituals and festivals on Cheung Chau because so many of those practices have been lost in the diaspora. A western-educated, Hong Kong Chinese reviewer said she found that part tedious. A group of part-Asian high school students in Texas liked how the story shows acceptance for difference. A book group in Hawaii appreciated the depictions of the East-West Center and Hawaii’s unique humor and diversity. A New Zealander friend said she would never have gotten on that bus with the whole Lau family. Friends in intercultural and international relationships found the same thing hilarious and appreciated how the cultural interactions reflected their home lives.
More seasoned, much-published writers know all about marketing and book events, but I’m betting every book release is still different because the story and the readers are new. As I climb back into the research and writing trenches, I’m wondering what lies ahead for my next book.