Lessons Learned from Every Book I’ve Written: ‘Sexy Feminism’

51DNBGm3epL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_My second book to be published was the one I coauthored with my friend Heather Wood Rudúlph, Sexy Feminism. It was based on the blog we cofounded, SexyFeminist.com. Don’t go visit it now. It’s technically no longer ours, though someone stole our content and reposted it on our old URL. Weird, right? It’s a whole thing. But we’re no longer in control of it, and we haven’t updated for years.

Despite those complications with the site, the book itself was a relatively pleasant experience; it did not provide too many harrowing lessons. But here are a few non-harrowing ones:

  • You don’t just get six-figure book deals. I walked into one by accident with Why? Because We Still Like You. I guess the publisher was counting on The Mickey Mouse Club having more fans who would buy books than we actually managed to find. But Sexy Feminism was a more typical case, it seems: We weren’t a huge blog, we had only one publisher interested (which is better than none!), and we weren’t writing about a topic with a built-in audience. So we got a much smaller advance. On the up side, this made the project much lower-stakes.
  • Fight with your publisher for the title you want. Oh, lord, the drama with this title. Obviously we called it Sexy Feminism because it was based on our website, Sexy Feminist. But we weren’t a strong enough brand name to stop our publisher from messing with that. We went through several titles before we ended up with Girls Just Wanna … for a while. I know, it’s terrible. We knew. Our publisher even knew. They came to us pretty late in the game and said so, which provided an opening for us to re-argue on behalf of Sexy Feminism. By this time, our editor had changed, and no one could remember why it wasn’t called that. So we won.
  • You can only fight so much, though. The first cover mock-up we saw was … not what we envisioned. It was a very graphic treatment, with few elements aside from the title in a kind-of spray-paint-like graffiti font. We suggested perhaps a photo instead. We tossed around ideas like maybe a woman struggling to get out of a corset or something else metaphorical. We ended up instead with a close-up on glossed lips. The idea was supposed to be that the title looked like it was coming out of her mouth, so it was as if she was “speaking up.” We agreed that we at least liked the lipgloss she was wearing. Publishers tolerate only so much art-direction from the sidelines, so this was what we went with. Alas, it was interpreted by reviewers as objectification. The highest-profile reviews we got literally judged us by our cover.
  • In related news, feminism is complicated. We were working out our feelings about modern feminism in book form. We would write a very different book now, both because we have matured five years and because so has feminism. I’m not sure I’d risk writing my own feminist manifesto again, given how fast everything is changing. It’s great that some people still want to do it, because it gives us ways of talking about issues. In fact, from what I can tell, the main function of a book about feminism is for people to argue about it. Totally valid function, but it’s not my favorite way of putting a book into the world.
  • Sometimes writing a book is just fun. Despite the above, it was super-cool to write a book with my best friend. Even our modest advance represented the largest chunk of money we ever made on our blog. We got to do a little book tour together and talk about women’s issues to other women. In the grander scheme of things, we didn’t sell that many books, but we did really well at our events, and we had a blast.

 

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