Publicist as Psychotherapist: Recognizing and Treating Author Personality Disorders

(When I asked the wonderful publicist at the University of New Mexico Press to write a piece for Murderati.com, I thought it would be a standard — and fairly boring — how-to piece. Instead, she came up with this satirical marvel. Any author — and any reader — will enjoy it. My only request is that you be honest when you take the survey.

Cheers, Pari)

by Amanda Sutton

An author has an intimate rapport with his publicist. From newlywed-like love, to the committed relationship doldrums, to the inevitable dissatisfaction of a long marriage, the relationship between author and publicist transforms through fluctuating levels of emotional attachment.

The author, though he does not always verbally recognize the situation, witnesses the publicist in any number of roles as she performs a variety of tasks for his benefit. The publicist takes on many archetypes under the general condition of multitasking.

Publicist as Spokeswoman promotes the author’s book to everyone, from the mullet-headed stranger in the long concert line to the muckracker on the phone inquiring whether your outlandish book is indeed a memoir. Then there’s Publicist as Coach: choosing outfits for author photos, consulting on hairstyles, planning strategies for media saturation. Another typology is Publicist as Biggest Fan, where the publicist, after a ten-hour workday, is the only person who shows up for the author’s reading. You might also see Publicist as Secretary, Publicist as Minion, Publicist as Fall-Guy, and, in a lesser manifestation, Publicist as Chauffeur.

But have you considered Publicist as Psychotherapist? Publicist as Psychotherapist listens to grievances, reassures the insecure author that snarky reviewers don’t hate him, and soothingly calms a nervous novice. When in the quiet corners of her home study the Publicist as Psychotherapist considers the common emotional and behavioral tendencies of her authors (also know as "patients"), a diagnosis becomes apparent:

Authors have issues. Acute mental disorders.

Not all of them do, but the prevalence is high.

The first step for an author experiencing an unstable mental state is to overcome denial. In developing your diagnosis, the Publicist as Psychotherapist will ask for more information about your, ahem, tendencies.

A survey like the one below might be used for clinical diagnostics. Each scenario asks for the author’s most likely response, and the sum of the responses determine the degree of his respective lunacy (or, hopefully, well-adjustedness) and steer the course of treatment. Treatment methods must also consider the preservation of the publicist’s own mental health.

Take the Author Personality Disorder Test below by writing your answers on a seperate sheet . . . or the one you’re wearing as a straight jacket.

Author Personality Disorder Test*
* Results are from a longitudinal study of 300 authors, from 2001-2006.

1. Your publicist is building a media list to send review copies of your new mystery. She asks you for your suggestions, and you

    A.  list a few media people you know, then scrap it because you know most people hate you now that you’re published. You decide on one recipient: Oprah.
    B.  send a list of contacts and a sweet thank you. Then two days later you leave a voicemail demanding to know why she hasn’t consulted you.
    C. tell her you don’t want just any commoner reviewing your book. The mainstream doesn’t deserve, nor will it understand, your creative genius.
    D.  reply, "Oh, my God!! You’re sending out my book to reviewers?!? What will they say? Will my mother see the reviews?!?! My heart is a-flutter!!!"
    E.  don’t bother sending her a list because you have more important things to do. You don’t need reviews to feel good about yourself anyway.
    F.  flounder because you have no idea what to do and think your publicist can come up with a list much better than yours could ever be.
    G.  mail her a list of two hundred reporters, sixteen mystery bookstores you’d like to visit, every writer’s conference from the web, and the names of all of your mother’s friends from church. Then you send the same information as both an attachment and in the body of the email. Finally, you call to make sure she received your email and ask her to confirm arrival of your package when it comes in the mail.
    H.  email her a list of mainstream mystery magazines, some web-bloggers who review books, and the name of your local newspaper’s book review editor.

2.  Murder Most Cozy, the largest bookstore in L.A., has invited you to speak on a panel during their annual mystery writers’ fair. On their website, you see that the biggest names of mystery are attending. You

    A.  figure they’ve invited you so they can pick on you.
    B.  tell your publicist to book it, then call her back to decline.
    C.  wouldn’t be caught dead on a panel with anyone.
    D.  are elated! You call your hairdresser to schedule an appointment for a new ‘do and then rush to buy yourself a sequined evening gown.
    E.  accept the invitation, thinking, "Of course they want me. No panel would be complete without my words of wisdom."
    F.  ask your publicist if she’ll fly to L.A. to sit next to you on the panel.
    G. respond affirmatively to your publicist, call the bookstore to accept, post your event to every mystery blog on the internet, let all your friends and family know, then create and post fliers all over town.
    H.  say, "yes," and begin working on a witty presentation for your part of the panel.

3. You receive a letter from your publicist. It’s the first review of your book, in Publishers Weekly. The review is, at best, milquetoast, offering a plot synopsis and concluding with "A solid debut." You

    A.  prepare for ensuing reviews paning your book.
    B.  are first pleasantly surprised by the initial response of the book trade, then become angry at their snubbing you.
    C.  don’t read any reviews of your book. Reviewers are a bunch of dilettantes.
    D.  scream so loudly your neighbors come over to see if you’ve been stabbed.
    E.  say to yourself, "They love me. They really love me."
    F.  call your publicist to see what this means for your career. It was such a short, inconsequential review.
    G. trim the ripped edges of the envelope. It has to be perfect to go into the acid-free pages of your scrapbook.
    H.  are pleased your book has been reviewed in Publishers Weekly. This "hit" will contribute to the cumulative effect of your entire publicity campaign.

4. You leave your publicist a voicemail on Monday, wondering if she’s followed-up with the New York Times Book Review about your new crime novel. By Friday when you haven’t heard from her, you assume your publicist

    A.  hates your guts.
    B.  loves you but has been busy. No, she despises you and wants you to die.
    C.  is a bitch. Why would you want to talk to her anyway?
    D.  is angry at you, so you leave several more voicemails begging her to call.
    E.  is not as organized and professional as you are.
    F.  thinks she’s better than you.
    G. didn’t understand the importance of your message. You email her the history of the NYTBR you wrote this morning while you were thinking about her not calling you back.
    H.  will check in with them soon and let you know if a review is planned.

5. It’s time to submit your book for awards. You

    A.  know you’re an Agatha contender but assume no one will vote for you.
    B.  ask your publicist to submit your book for the Edgar, since it might get your book into important hands. At 11PM that night, you write to tell her that book awards are frivolous and not to bother.
    C.  don’t want to give away a copy of your book to any committee member for any award. They’re just popularity contests.   
    D.  are so excited about the possibility of winning an award you begin to imagine yourself at a spot-lit podium with a gold medal around your neck.
    E.  only want her to submit for the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and the Nobel Prize. Why bother with the little guys?
    F.  let her decide. You’re not sure your book’s good enough for consideration.
    G. send your publicist a long list of awards: the Best First Novel from a Southwestern Writer Under Sixty Who Worked for the Government During the Gulf War Years Award and the First Evangelical Church’s Most Noteworthy Congregationalist Honor are among your eclectic entries.
    H.  know which awards your work is eligible for and send a courteous note to your publicist asking her to submit your book.

That wasn’t so bad, was it? Now let’s analyze your results, dear patient.

If you answered mostly As, you are Paranoid Author. You assume the worst and flip every response to your book toward a negative end. You refuse autographs because you imagine fans are psycho celebrity murderers. You think your publicist is your worst critic. Successful treatment for Paranoid Author Disorder includes positive visualization of publicity tours in sunny places. Further recommendations: Don’t share every delusion with your publicist.

If you chose mostly Bs, you should investigate your family history of schizophrenia. Your Polly personality is your publicist’s favorite client; your Damien alter ego is her most dreaded. There is no pattern to your demonic possessions, which makes treatment complicated. Your Publicist as Psychotherapist recommends consulting an experienced mental health professional or a priest trained in exorcism. Do not consider publication of a book until you’re on major medication.

Mostly Cs indicates Antisocial tendencies, which are manifest in mumbling into mics and generally hating every aspect of publicity that involves people and talking to them. The outcome is bleak for Antisocial Author unless the name is Brown, Steinbeck, or Dickinson. Writing is the way Antisocial Author communicates effectively, but due to his habitual disregard for the Publicist as Psychotherapist’s suggestions, he will only show positive growth if Michiko Kakutani reviews his book. The Publicist as Psychotherapist discourages interviews and prescribes long hermitages to faraway places for salvage of patient’s public image.

D is for "Drama Queen." You are Histrionic Author. Your pageantry makes you eligible for a Tony: utter despair, sheer elation, public displays of affection for your publicist. If your writing is more ingestible than your theatrical personality, you will likely become popular. You’re an adept entertainer, a shameless promoter, and your publicist’s hardest-working author. Histrionic Authors also frequently exhibit narcissistic tendencies. Your Publicist as Psychotherapist takes notes on your charisma and powers of persuasion, but you make her very, very tired. Treatment recommendations: take up performing your writing onstage.

Egoism is the verdict for mostly Es. You are Narcissistic Author — an unswerving egomaniac and the highest-maintenance patient. Narcissistic Author might already be famous but can also be a beginning success. Regardless, he is fabulous. Treatment is difficult due to long bragging sessions that simultaneously make the patient feel better and make the Publicist as Psychotherapist physically ill. Caregiver secretly hopes you become rich enough to pay for a personal publicist and psychotherapist who will have time to devote solely to your treatment.

If you answered mostly Fs, you need to get a backbone. You have just published a book; there’s no reason to be a Dependent Author. People who meet you like your humble demeanor; they just wonder who the anonymous woman standing next to you is. Treatment is easy: Lose the Publicist Security Blanket and venture out. Initial treatment calls for regular visits where patient discusses ways to contribute to the PR plan, followed by short phone calls to track progress. Conquering of Dependent Author Personality Disorder is most effective in the care of an encouraging but firm Publicist as Psychotherapist.

The tendencies exhibited in G answers are among the most prevalent in authors. The high number of Obsessive-Compulsive Authors seems directly related to the act of writing itself, which requires complete consumption in an irrational act. Treatment is best in short durations. The Publicist as Psychotherapist must filter the patient’s excessive explanations to recognize information pertinent to the case. Publicist should perform yoga to maintain a sense of calm and objectivity before seeing this type of patient. Author is instructed to take deep breaths. In severe cases, prescribe Valium.

If you chose mostly Hs, you are Dream Author. As a Dream Author, you are a joy to your publicist and reminder to her why she loves the work that she does. Helpful but not pushy, ambitious but realistic, and, most importantly, psychologically well-adjusted, you are excited about your book, and it is contagious! You have your publicist behind you, and also your friends, family and fans — new and old. You extend your gratitude to reviewers and event venues that host you with hand-written thank-you notes. You call your publicist to check-in and update her on your travel schedule and promotions so that she can coordinate additional opportunities. Your publicist’s efforts on your behalf show her affinity for you.

It is possible that not just one Author Personality Disorder fits each patient. Truly, some authors suffer symptoms of a combination of tendencies that make their treatment not only frustrating but nearly impossible. The Publicist as Psychotherapist, though not always trained in pure psychology, is a caring professional who does her best to alleviate patients’ general anxieties, co-dependence, excessive egoism, histrionic outbursts, sociopathic inclinations, split personality interactions, and delusional paranoia. However, great care should be taken that the projection of these problematic tendencies does not affect the publicist, or she herself might require counseling, shock therapy, or, in the worst cases, a memory erasing and change of vocation. Indications for curing sufferers of one of more of the Author Personality Disorders are promising with early recognition, appropriate treatments, and regular visits to reality.

For further information on these findings, please email the reporting publicist at amandaasutton@hotmail.com.  For more information on mental illness, write to

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
6001 Executive Boulevard
Bethesda, MD  20892-9663

Thanks to Murderati.com for publishing this survey.

No, no, Amanda. Thank you!

6 thoughts on “Publicist as Psychotherapist: Recognizing and Treating Author Personality Disorders

  1. Naomi

    Okay, Amanda, we want the scoop–what was Pari’s diagnosis? No, you don’t have to answer that, because we know she’s all H. Why else would you have written such a hilarious and creative essay for Murderati?

    I’m sure some folks may have additional questions/multiple choice answers to add to your survey!

    Thanks again.

    Reply
  2. Pari

    Oh, come on, Naomi,

    You’re not getting away with that! What were you?

    Believe me, when I took the test the first time, well, I’ll never tell . . . heh heh heh.

    Reply
  3. JT Ellison

    Oh, to be an H! What author doesn’t dream of this level of sublime cooperation? Alas, I really was hoping to put a review from my mother in my presskit for dissemination to the Nobel committe. Maybe I need to rethink that.Pari, you must run this column again for the ne’er do wells who can’t be here with us today. Priceless.Thanks for putting so much effort in, Amanda. Love having you visit Murderati!

    Reply
  4. Pari

    J.T.,I’m definitely going to run this piece again . . . maybe even later in October because I think many of our readers are outside enjoying the day — or, are at Bouchercon and won’t be able to catch up to their emails and web viewing for a few weeks.

    This is too good to have a small audience.

    Reply
  5. Elaine

    Well, I am naturally an “H”. I mean, did anyone think elsewise?

    Pari? Run this at LEAST once a month – I’ll even give up one Saturday a month if need be. I mean – this is PRICELESS!! I am so glad I had to be out of town so Amanda could join us. I think every writer out there needs to read this. ๐Ÿ™‚ Spread the word – make up banners, take a spot on Sunday night football!

    Amanda! You’re wonderful. And a scream!

    Reply
  6. Amanda

    Hi, all,

    Thanks for your comments! Just so you know, Pari is the author who hand-writes a thank you note. She’s been one of the most grateful authors with whom I’ve worked.

    I’m honored to have been a guest on your blog and would be happy to fill in anytime one of you is busy on the road.

    Reply

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