Rebecca Glenski Coppage has a dirty little secret. And now she's telling the whole world. Because it's a dirty little secret that way too many girls and boys, men and women carry around with them, locked away in their closets. And she wants to do something about that. We first met Rebecca at our Kansas City Pitchapalooza. When she pitched us her book, it was clear she had something special. But it wasn't ready to be published yet. There was work to be done. Lots of writers tell us they're serious about getting their book published. But they don't build the house brick by brick. Rebecca is one of the hardest working writers in show business. She just kept grinding away and grinding away. Yes, she has tons of inspiration. But she also cranks out the necessary perspiration. Now that her first novel, My Perfect Little Secret, is about to come out, I wanted to ask her about what it was like to write her book, about the publishing process, and yes, her dirty little secret.
The Book Doctors: What made you want to write about such a difficult topic?
Rebecca Glenski Coppage: I wrote about a teenage girl struggling with an eating disorder because it's something I am very familiar with. It was easy for me to write about something I know and understand so well. I also wrote about this topic because I feel like there are not enough novels out there for teenagers that have a strong character who is dealing with an eating disorder. There are tons of self-help books and textbooks about eating disorders, but I don't think that's what teens want to read. I wish a book like mine had existed when I was in high school, and that made me want to write it for teenagers now.
TBD: How did having an eating disorder change your life, and how did you get over it?
RGC: Having an eating disorder impacted my life in every aspect. It made high school and college a very difficult road for me. I protected my secret at all costs, which meant building walls and not getting close to people. I kept friends, boys, and family at a distance because I couldn't let them find out about my eating disorder. It made it hard to socialize, to make new friends, to keep the friends I had. I didn't get to have the typical college experience because halfway through my first semester, I had to leave to get treatment for my eating disorder. It made my dreams harder to accomplish, and it took away some really amazing opportunities. I missed out on building strong relationships, I missed out on dating opportunities, and I had to start college over. Keeping a wall up around you is exhausting and it makes every part of your life that much harder. That said, it made me a much stronger and more secure person after having gone through it. It has shaped the person that I have become today. It took many, many years for me to "get over" my eating disorder. The process has been long, with several relapses. Essentially, it consisted of learning to see myself in a different light and retraining my thought process regarding my body and my relationship with food. I credit my family and my husband for their support, love, and open minds with helping me heal.
TBD: Was it hard to write about such a painful thing when it's so personal?
RGC: To be honest, writing this book was very freeing for me. An eating disorder is a difficult topic to write and talk about but so many people suffer from this in silence. It is a problem that touches so many teenagers all over the country, and all I had to do was remind myself of that when the writing became difficult. I want my book to be a voice and to help teenagers feel like they have someone to relate to.
TBD: Why did you choose to make a novel instead of a memoir?
RGC: For me, there was never a thought of a memoir. I didn't want to tell my story. While having an eating disorder is a subject very familiar to me, I didn't want to write about myself. I wanted to create a character, explore her life, and tell her story. It was fun to have the creative freedom to develop Lilly and to not worry about if I was getting the facts straight. I'm not going to deny that Lilly's character and her life have many similarities to mine when I was in high school, but this novel is not the story of my life.
TBD: Tell me about your road to publication -- what were some of the pitfalls and what were some of the joys?
RGC: The road to publication was so incredibly long and difficult. It was filled with a lot of rejection and a lot of waiting. The worst parts of trying to get your book published are the rejection letters from agents saying they aren't interested in your book. It is also hard to hear criticism of your book when you have spent so much time working on it and developing it. It was especially difficult for me because many of my rejection letters stated they weren't interested in my book because it was an "issues" book. Essentially, they don't want to represent a book about an eating disorder because it's a controversial topic. Even with all the pitfalls, I kept my head up and persevered until I found people who were excited about my book. Now here I am with a published book! I think one of my biggest joys on the road to publishing was receiving my first few reviews! Reading all the positive feedback and finding out that teenagers really enjoyed and related to my book was amazing!
TBD: What do you hope people take out of reading your book?
RGC: I hope that people, especially teenagers, walk away from my book with a sense of being understood. Part of having an eating disorder is that it is this huge secret. No one talks about it but it is around us everywhere. So many people I talk to about my book reveal that they suffered from an eating disorder or that they struggled with poor self-image. If they didn't, they know someone who did. I want readers to know that they are not alone. I also want the reader to know that having an eating disorder does not negate the fact that she is a normal person with hopes and dreams.
The Book Doctors are Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, co-authors of the book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. They travel the country doing their event Pitchapalooza, where writers get 1 min. pitch their books to a panel of publishing pundits. Watch the video of Cathy Camper, Portland Pitchapalooza winner (Low Riders in Outer Space) who now has two book deal with Chronicle Books!