Episode 296: When Your Launch Doesn't Go as Expected with New York Times Bestselling Author Lori GottliebJan 29, 2020
Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, which is being adapted as a television series with Eva Longoria. In addition to her clinical practice, she writes The Atlantic’s weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column and contributes regularly to The New York Times and many other publications. She is also a TED speaker, a member of the Advisory Council for Bring Change to Mind and advisor to the Aspen Institute. A contributing writer for the Atlantic, she has written hundreds of articles related to psychology and culture, many of which have become viral sensations. She is a sought-after expert in media such as The Today Show, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, CNN, and NPR’s “Fresh Air.” Learn more at LoriGottlieb.com or by following her @LoriGottlieb1 on Twitter.
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LORI'S TOP 3 TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL LAUNCH:
1) Have a great relationship with your publisher
2) Be resilient
3) Aim for long-form interviews
"I really thought like three people would read this. If I thought that so many people would be reading it, I probably would've cleaned myself up a little."
Anna: 00:03 Oh my God, Lori, I literally cannot think about your book without starting to cry. I am just about to fawn in a way that may make us both uncomfortable. It is just one of the most incredible books I have ever read. Even though we've known each other forever, I'm in a new state of intimidation. It's just beautiful. Well, thank you. Thank you so much. You’ve written several amazing books, but this is just your gift to the world is what it feels like. So I will stop fawning in a second, but I will say hi to people listening. Lori, I know how busy you are right now, so I'm honored that you would talk to me. And, and I was reflecting on, do you remember when we met?
Lori: I think we met ah, magazine party. Is that right?
Anna: Ish. It was a Media Bistro event where Taffy was corralling all teachers, all local writers to be teachers. And it was a very impressive group and we all had dinner. And you did that book with Jesse Jacobs. So this show talks about launches and what's really fun for me is that I'm getting people at all stages now. When you launch your book, it is a very different experience than when I'm a newer writer does because you have full support from your publisher. So this is what I am dying to know about and listeners are dying to know about it is what is that experience like? So, but let's, let's trace your history a little bit. Oh, sorry. One more memory. Do you remember when we went on The CBS Morning Show together?
Lori: 02:55 Yes, I do. That's right.
Anna: What was so funny is that I was brought there to be the antagonist a little bit to be like, no, Lori, you shouldn't settle for Mr. Good Enough.
Lori: I agree with, by the way, that was the problem with that book was that you know, the book is about what makes for happy lasting marriages and it's a really good relationship book that people find so helpful. And the publisher wanted to put the word settling in the title, which has nothing to do with settling. In fact, it's about having higher standards about the things that matter and really making sure that those standards are met. And it was really hard to go on TV and do those things. So it was, it was very strange being on that show with you because I agreed with you and you know, but it was, it was really, it's really hard to explain in the three minutes that you have on these morning shows, something that's much more nuanced then a sound bite can capture.
Anna: 04:02 That is so interesting. I mean, was any part of you, I mean it created such a controversy, so in a sense your publisher was quote, “right”? Even if it was misrepresented, they got what they wanted. Right.
Lori: I don't think they were right. I mean, I think that the book would have, it would have served the book and people better if they knew what the book was. I think it's really disingenuous to say to readers, Hey, this is a book about apples and then you open it and it's about oranges. I think that cheats the reader. And we were trying to pull the book actually because of the title, because I did not want to go out with that title. It did not represent anything. I believe in the book, I wholeheartedly believe it. And so you know, and they kept saying to us that they would, they would adjust the title and that we would get a title that we were happy with. And that went on for such a long time that by the time they told us they weren't going to change it which was like whiplash. It was, it was time to launch the book. And, and so we said we were going to pull the book and then we thought, well, how are we going to do this now and how are we going to get another publisher at this 11th hour? And I really felt so strongly in the book that I didn't want to see it not get out there. So I had this sort of horrible choice to make, which was get the book out there with a title that does not represent it or maybe not publish the book. And that's why one of the stipulations I had with this book when we were choosing publishers was I have to be able to have final say on the title. I will not get into a contractual arrangement with any publisher in which I don't have final say over the title because of the fiasco that happened with this other book that I love so much that people love so much if they actually read it. So with maybe you should talk to someone. I think we have the perfect title and it really reflects what that book is about, which is what's about that too.
Anna: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone talks about how you were almost going to do this happiness book and how you struggled with it. And so you already had experience with going against your instincts and what that felt like with a book.
Lori: Well, that's right. So when you ask about launching this book, you have to realize that first I had written this Atlantic, it was a cover story called how to land your kid in therapy. And the subtitle was “Why our obsession with our kids' happiness might be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods” and that spread like wildfire and publishers wanted, but that book for, and I can say this only because I turned it down for an obscene amount of money. Right. And the, literally, the only reason I can say that is because it's because everybody said you are an idiot for turning that down. You've already written the article. It, you, you've done all the research, you've reported it, you know, to, to a large extent. You have all this extra material that didn't end up in the articles. You have all this material. It's such an easy book. Why wouldn't you just take the money and run? And I was a new therapist at the time and I felt like I am really searching to do something that is meaningful to me and that will be meaningful to readers. And I can't do anything. It feels like I'm just eking out a book for commercial reasons. I just, I can't live with myself and do something like that, even though as a single parent with a child it would have made a huge difference in our lives. But I said no. And I said, I'm really interested in what's happening with the adults. And they said, you know what? I said, maybe it's about why our obsession with our own unhappiness is dooming us to unhappy adulthoods but it's really about what I'm seeing with people in the therapy room. And they said, Oh, you want to write a happiness book? And I was like, well, no, but you know, but, but I'll write what I want to write and then we'll figure it out later. I hadn't quite learned the lesson from Marry Him at that point about how to say no in a, in a much more direct way.
And so I was, I was supposed to be writing this book by the way, for not an obscene amount of money I had and I just couldn't get myself to write it. And it was when I canceled that book and, and decided I want to just bring people into the therapy room to get them to see, you know, I have this privilege of going in and seeing real life every day and it's beautiful and miraculous and heroic and sad and funny and all the things that I think I capture in the book. And that's what I wanted to bring to people because I feel like in following these four patients, and then there's a fifth patient in the fifth patient is me. As I go through my own therapy and following these five people, I think we can all see ourselves in them and learn something about ourselves and see the world and other people in new ways.
And so I wrote the book that I really wanted to write right? And then it was, it is a massive success. So what was funny about that is nobody thought that, right? We all said, Oh, nobody's going to read this book. I did not get a huge advance for this book. You know, it was, as my publisher says, they got the deal of a lifetime. And because, you know, we all thought like, Oh, it'll be a good book. But, but it's not one of those things where you can say, Oh look, it's, it's a helicopter parenting book. Everybody wants that. It's, it's a very quiet book. It's now nine months on the New York Times bestseller list. And I just went up this week. I now number four, right. So you know, it’s being made into a television series. It's, it's doing phenomenally well.
Anna: 09:45 And I think what's so interesting about that is I really thought like three people would read this and if I, if I thought that so many people would be reading it I probably would've cleaned myself up a little bit. You know, I'm really, really vulnerable in this book and it's very revealing, not in a creepy way, just in a real human way. And I'm really glad that I didn't know how many people would read it because if I had known, I might have tried to edit myself a little bit. And I think that the reason that so many people are reading it is because I didn't clean myself off as authentic. It's so honest.
Anna: The success of it makes me proud to know you, but it makes me proud of the world because I would not think people would be interested in this topic either.
Lori: 10:35 Well I think, you know, it's funny when you say this topic, I think that the topic is the human condition. And I think that everybody is interested in the human condition. So I think that when publishers were looking at this, they were saying, Oh, therapy, how many people go to therapy? Is it really? And the title, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, doesn't mean maybe you should go to a therapist. It means we all need to be talking to ourselves and other people more so. So I think that, that it's hard. How do you market a book that's about the human condition? I think what happened was word of mouth is what sold this book. I mean I'll say I'll say what sold this book initially it was Terry Gross. I should say that that's the one thing we landed really early on was was Fresh Air and having that long form conversation where you can like you know you have the luxury of 30, 40 minutes bersus those three minutes soundbites on the other shows. That's what really got the book. Its initial attention but then once people started reading it, everybody is telling everybody else “You have to read this book” and that's why the book is doing so well. Yes. But also when I say I'm proud of of the people out there, you know, keeping it on the New York Times best seller list, I do find that people are very interested in the human condition.
Anna: But I find in that people are very interested in a very shallow version of that. It's such a sophisticated layered look at it. That's what makes me proud of people because the majority of people don't seem to be interested in that.
Lori: Well, I think that it's something that people are craving. So on a daily basis we're seeing the kind of top level superficial, you know the curated version on social media of people's lives. But I think that people feel very alone because they feel like, well, what about all these other experiences that we're all going through but nobody's really talking about. And so I think people are craving that connection. They're craving hearing about other people who are like them maybe on the surface don't look like them because I really very carefully and very intentionally chose four very different patients to follow. And they seem very different. But at their core, they're all very similar to each other. And I think to me and to the reader, and so it feels really good for people to read about this and say, I see myself in this, or I see my friends, my partner, my mother, my father, my child in these people.
Anna: 13:11 Yeah, I really saw myself in two of that and then I just saw my mother in another. But okay, so, so let's talk about launch such an interesting perspective because you had this pretty terrible experience with the previous launch it sounds like, And yet you got all the things right. They pitched you to TV shows, it got reviewed in the Times. So I think that's a very interesting perspective of here you are going on the ride that all writers dream of. It's not what people might think. Right.
Lori: It was a really difficult experience because on the one hand I really wanted people to read the book. We're talking about Marry Him now. I really wanted to read the book. And at the same time I felt like most of the press that I was getting were people saying, “I hate Lori Gottlieb. I hate this book.” And they've never read it. They literally would say, “I would never read this book.” And I hate it. And it's like, that's like saying like, “I hate that movie that I never saw because I didn't like the movie poster. I didn't like the ad. And so I'm never going to see that movie and I hate it. And I hate the director and I hate the writer and I hate everybody associated with it.” And then when people read the book, they had such a different reaction to it. I mean, I still get mail every week from people who say, Marry Him saved my life. And this is years later, they're like “10 years ago I met the person that I ended up marrying and I am so happy.”
Anna: And so the launch for this, I think people might be surprised at probably how far back it started, what, you know were you talking to PR department six months before it came out three months before it came out. Walk us through that process.
Lori: So for, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone again, this was this little book that when the publisher sent it out to the sales team, people went crazy. Over this book. We were all sort of shocked, not because we didn't think it was a good book, but just because it's, again, it's a quieter book. And it doesn't have that hook. It's not provocative. And so and so everybody just started talking about it and everybody was telling everybody else, can we get more galleys? We want to read this, I need to give this to someone. It was this just people really found themselves in this book. And so we realized, okay, so the publisher sent me to ABA, which is the American booksellers association and it's this event prepub where the booksellers get to meet you and the book sellers are your best friends, right? The book sellers are the people who are hand selling this book. When people come into the bookstores and we talk a lot about Amazon, which is great, but a lot of people still are walking into a bookstore and they want recommendations and they want to hear what another human being thinks about a book. And so book sellers were so enthusiastic and they were telling everybody about it. And again, this is such a word of mouth thing. Amazon too was really excited about it; Amazon had me on their podcast. You know, when the book launched it was one of the Amazon best books of the month. It was a People magazine book of the week. So in advance it was getting such a positive reaction and everybody wanted to cover it. The problem was we didn't get it, we didn't get coverage early enough. We didn't get people to write back to us. So the publicist was going out to all the women's magazines, which have the long lead times. Real Simple said yes but nobody else did. We didn't get any coverage in any women's magazines. We didn't have a national TV show. We didn't have anything long lead. The only thing we had was Fresh Air, which was no small thing. And it was great because I've got to have that longer conversation, which I think was really important and telling people what this book was about. And so, so you're getting sort of two different messages. You're getting all this enthusiasm from the booksellers and then, you know, not as much from the media and really was it was it, it was Fresh Air that kind of started the snowball but not actually not because People magazine had it in. We knew we were getting reviewed in the New York Times and we knew that People magazine chose it as a book of the week and we had Fresh Air and we had a lot of podcasts. And then we had a lot of other things that sort of started coming that weren't so long lead, you know, like I got to do like the Goop podcast and later I got to do Dax Shepard, which was another big thing because again, these long conversations are, are what helped people to see what the book is about. Those, those quick like three minute things. It's really hard to talk about this book and in any reasonable way. Right. So I did later go on Good Morning America and we got to have sort of a longer for them, you know, conversation five minutes. You can do more. You can. I like those shows. I mean, I think they're important and I think that they help people to you know, they just raise awareness that this book is out there and it might pique someone's interest to go find out more about it. So I love those shows, but I think that what people were really listening, they really listened to these long conversations. It's not just they heard about it on Dax or they heard about it on Terry Gross, but it's like they actually listened to the whole shows.
Anna: It actually got me back into therapy. It made me miss my therapist and my first question when I got back in was to ask her, “Have you read this book? What? You haven't read it?” And she's like, “Well, no, I heard about it.”
Lori: So many people are actually talking about it with their therapists. There's so many of them saying what you said, like it got them back into therapy or maybe they were in therapy or I even had this weird situation where a therapist, I got an email from a guy who said, my therapist said, I should ask you out. Like the therapist read the book and decided that I would be a good partner for him.
Anna: That's pretty, that's pretty confident that that therapist had a lot of confidence in that male patient. Like, I love this book. You should date her. Right. I will say what, what really compelled me in anyone listening who has not read this book, first of all, what's wrong with you? But second of all, you know, it starts with this breakup that you're blindsided by. And anybody who's had that experience, which, you know, that was my experience, drove me into the most intense, wonderful therapy of my life. Yeah. And yeah, I mean it was just so interesting as somebody who's been in therapy since I was 16 there's just… to be a therapist and to have this skill with language and with writing to be able to articulate it from the other side. Oh my God. I mean just fly on the wall stuff that just is amazing.
Lori: But what I really felt was important was, was showing both sides of it so you can see me as the therapist and I wanted to create transparency. I wanted to demystify all of these ideas that, you know, people are wondering, well, “Am I boring my therapist? What does your therapist think when I say this? Does my therapist like me?” You know, I really wanted people to kind of open up that relationship in that way so that people can do the work that they need to do and not have all these other things getting in the way. And I think that, and also being able to talk about those things with your therapist cause those are part of the work. All those questions that you have. And then I also wanted to show the experience of a therapist going to therapy because I think that, as I say at the beginning of the book, that my greatest credential is that I'm a card carrying member of the human race and that what I'm doing with my therapist is what all of my patients do with me. And I think that shows how much we're so much more the same than we are different.
Anna: That's very, very well said and true. In terms of going back to the launch, I think that, you know, one of the things as an author that really surprised me was I thought getting on The Today Show, getting on The CBS Morning Show, sold books, not understanding, Oh there are hundreds of people on those shows all week. And the sort of marketing rule of seven is somebody has to hear about you seven times. It's different if they hear a Terry Gross interview, but these quick hits you know, which have you noticed, have you noticed, like you said, those things don't really move the needle?
Lori: Oh, I think they do. I'm just saying from my book, it's harder to talk about in a shorter segment, but they absolutely move the needle.
Anna: And so if you had to give tips for a lunch, what would be your sort of top three tips of what an author should do?
Lori: I think you need to have a really good relationship with your publishing house because I feel like they are the people. They're your ambassadors. And so it's really important that you find the people in the publishing house who are excited about you and your book. It's, I think it's hard for them to sell something that, you know, they do their jobs well no matter what they feel about the book. But I think it's much better if someone's really excited not only about the book but about you. So I was really lucky because everybody in the house was very, very excited about this book. And I think that you need to really partner with them and help them out because they're very busy and they will give you a lot of attention. But they have like what you said about, you know, The Today Show or GMA that, you know, they're doing a lot of things. They're doing a lot of books anything you can do to help. So I reached out to people on my own. I tried to help them in any way that I could. And, and it's not stepping on toes, it's about, Hey, okay, so you have contacted these people. Who have you heard back from, I will reach out to these people. Maybe we can double team on these people. And we really worked in partnership to try to get as many people aware of this book as possible.
Anna: That's interesting because I would say when I was with Harper, I was not somebody that they focused on. And I think a lot of people don't understand that the publisher sort of picks one or two books every season to focus on. And if you are not one of those books it can be very hard.
Lori: I agree. And I also think that even if you are, because I was their lead title and that sort of lucky position but I still needed to partner with them. There was a lot of work that I needed to do on my own, not because they weren't good, because they were great, but because you know, if you're a publicist in a publishing house and you're sending out all these emails, people are opening your emails so much because they're getting hundreds of emails every day from publicist, from all the houses about tons of books and they're like, Oh, it's another pitch. Oh, it's another pitch. That's not going to be the first email they open. But if I write a very personal email to somebody, they might open that and say, okay, yeah, send us the book.
Anna: 24:54 It's true. It's true. So you, you never hired an outside publicist?
Lori: I got rejected. I tried to! This is so funny. So I thought nobody's going to read this book. Everybody talks about outside publicists. I should hire an outside publicist. I should just bite the bullet and do it even though it's ridiculously expensive. So I contacted the one that I really liked the books that this person would work on. And that person rejected me. They said, send me the proposal? I did. And they were like, Hmm, not, not for me. I mean, you know, in, in nicer words because they are a publicist. But, but, you know, maybe try this other person. I tried this other person, that person rejected me, they said, try this other person, that person rejected me. And then I did get to somebody who was really enthusiastic about the book. And I ultimately, I was already at that point, it was so late in the process where I thought my publicist and the publishing house is already working on this and everyone said she's really good and it's really expensive to hire an outside publicist. So I'm gonna just, you know, for better or worse not, not go that route.
Anna: Hm. That's fascinating. But did you say you gave them the proposal? So it was, you didn't have a manuscript to give the publicist.
Lori: Let's see. At that point I think I either had the proposal or I had the first few chapters of the book. I can't remember what I sent them. Some of them didn't even request. I think some of them, maybe they just said like, what is it about? And I wrote a paragraph and they were like, eh, and okay, I cut you off from the, from the three tips.
Anna: So have a great relationship with your publisher. Help them. What else?
Lori: I think be resilient. I can't even tell you how many people were just were not interested in covering this. And I think you just have to focus on the ones who are. I also was very maniacal about getting Fresh Air and I say like, I was a mad woman, so it was like, I don't remember a month before or so launch and we had no national publicity and I was really concerned. Obviously we have a lot of podcasts, but they, you know, they were all podcasts, which is great. You're launching a book, you need something bigger than that. And I was like, if we get any, like we need, we need Fresh Air. That's what we need. And I know that sounds crazy. That's like saying like, you know, I wanna I want to be president. But, but I was like, I need to have this long form conversation with somebody who's really smart, like Terry Gross and who's going to get this? And we're going to have a really deep, interesting nuance conversation and, and that is what we need since we have nothing else. And so and so I wrote a pitch and my publisher was very gracious and they said, can you just give this pitch? They'd been pitching of course, and they'd been contacted with Fresh Air, but we just couldn't get like a yes. And we didn't get a no, but we didn't get a yes.
And so I wrote this pitch and I asked them to pass it along and they did. And we got Fresh Air. And I don't know if it was because of my pitch. I don't know if it was just because they would have said yes anyway, but I feel like the more you can kind of take into your own hands and again, work in partnership and say, here's something that I think might help, what do you think about this? And, and my focus was literally like, I didn't focus on anything else at that point. It was just like 100% all in Fresh Air.
Anna: Right, right. I think that's a great tip. In terms of the people that you wrote about in it, you show them pages? As a reader you can’t help but wonder: how did these people feel about it?
Lori: I didn't show them pages. But there was nothing that I wrote in the book that they didn't already know. So in terms of how I felt about them. So I work in the room, I work very much in the here and now, and it's very much about the relationship in the therapy room so that they can translate that to their lives outside. So if I was annoyed by John, for example, he knew it. I mean you can you see the dialogue in the book? I told him no, I told him and in a way that I felt would be helpful to him. But there's nothing that, that they didn't know. But I do think that, you know, obviously I've heard from them since and, and they knew that this was happening.
And there's, you know, I think that they feel really honored and they feel, and I also feel like the response that I've gotten was, I knew you cared about me, but now we really know how much you cared about me.
Anna: What has happened to your therapy business? You are probably not taking new clients after this.
Lori: You know, I was full before the book came out. So what's changed isn't that I have a full practice; what changed is that that I get like a hundred requests a week for therapy. Yeah. And so I think what I'm going to do, because I really want these people to have a place to go is I think what I'm going to do ultimately, not at this minute, but this year sometime, is to expand my practice and hire therapists who are colleagues that I work with and trust to work with the overflow and then we can like do case consultation together and supervision and so they're, they're getting something, the experience that they're looking for. Usually it's from reading the book, whether that's with me or with me and as kind of consultation capacity while other therapists that I trust are doing the kind of work that they're seeing in the book.
Anna: 31:15 Well, Lori, this has been wonderful. Like I said, I'm so grateful for your time. I'm just in awe of what you've created and anybody who is listening who is not now convinced that they need to go get this book now, I don't know what's wrong with you. So thank you so much and congratulations on everything. Oh, well thank you so much.
Lori: By the way, if you ever want to talk about launches, other launches, we're launching the TV show and my podcast.
Anna: Okay, so the TV show, you're a producer on it?
Anna: Did I read Eva Longorio is attached?
Lori: Her company is producing it and the creators of the show The Americans are writing a pilot.
Anna: And for anyone who doesn't know, Lori has, you know, serious experience in TV. That was her first career. So, you know, you come at it knowing a lot more than your average author.
Lori: Right. Although I was, I was a baby executive at NBC in my twenties. The TV landscape has changed so much. I mean, back then it was just network television and maybe HBO and Showtime. It’s now a completely different landscape with so much exciting stuff happening in television. And, and the same with podcasts, which is why I'm doing this podcast because you know, I, I just think there are so many ways to reach people and connect with people in ways that feel much more intimate.
Anna: Is the podcast going to be called Maybe You Should Talk to Someone?
Lori: No. Katie Couric is producing it with iHeart and I brought on a cohost Guy Wintz. I did a Ted talk this year. He has done a couple of Ted talks and I am the advice columnist for the Atlantic. I write the Dear Therapist column, but this show is kind of twist on advice because I do I kind of give people what a therapist would be thinking, but maybe not saying in that first session so that people can then look at their issue a different way. So it's not like “Don't talk to your mother-in-law,” you know, it's it's very much like, “Let's look at what's going on here.” And guy writes, he's writing the advice column for Ted. And so we are teaming up and it's going to be called Dear Therapists, plural. And we just actually taped our first episode. And it's basically people come on, they have a letter that they read and we then like an Ester Perel’s podcast, we cut out and then talk to each other.
And then we go back to the person and present when we get more information. And then we go back and we consult with each other about what advice we would give. And then we go back to the person and give them that. And then the part that I love the most is that they come back and tell us how it worked out because you never get to see what happened. Right? And so they're going to come back and say, “Okay, we tried the things that you said and here's what happened.” And sometimes it will be effective and sometimes it won't be. And I think that's really informative for people to know what works and what doesn't and why.
Anna: Yes. When is that launching?
Lori: Very soon. We're just taping the episodes right now.
Anna: So it may be by the time you guys hear this, it may be available. So again, Lori, thank you. Thank you, your goddess. I really, really appreciate this.
Lori: Oh, thanks so much. It's always a pleasure to talk to you, Anna.