Anne H Putnam graduated from the Non-Fiction MA in 2011. She is a writer and editor with a special interest in mental health, body image, and relationships (basically anything involving an awkward amount of vulnerability). Her first book, Navel Gazing: One Woman’s Quest for a Size Normal, was published in 2013 by Faber & Faber. Her essays have appeared in Catapult, PS I Love You, The Good Trade, Heartland Society of Women Writers, HerStry, and A Practical Wedding. Anne lives on the northwest coast of the US with her husband and their cat, Bismarck.
Can you tell me about your time at City?
I started my MA at City in the fall of 2009, and I had no idea what to expect. The university system in the UK is pretty different from the US, where I did my undergrad degree. I was lucky to have a really brilliant group of classmates; our workshops were full of genuine encouragement and useful critique. They really helped me shape this book.
What happened after you graduated?
In my second year at City, I’d picked up a part-time job at Bloomsbury Publishing, and after graduation I was moved to full time. Meanwhile, the anthology City put out had reached a number of agents, three of whom ended up emailing me to ask to see the manuscript. By the time I heard from the third, I was deciding between the first two, both of whom offered to represent me. It was all very surprising to me, and I was even more surprised when the book sold to Faber a few months after I signed with Caroline Hardman – working on the book with my editor, Sarah Savitt, and then promoting it, all while working at Bloomsbury (who’d rejected it, incidentally) was exhausting, but it was extremely rewarding.
Describe your book in a sentence.
Navel Gazing is a memoir about what happens when changing your body, no matter how dramatically, doesn’t fix your life.
What is the opening line?
“Giggles and shouts echo off the tile walls around me.”
How did the idea for your book come about?
I’d been fixated on my body, and my struggle to reconcile living inside it with the perception society and I had of it, for most of my life – so it’s almost less that the idea came about than that it was the only thing I thought I could ever write about. Now that I’ve written a second memoir, I know that’s not true, but for a long time I thought I only had one book in me and Navel Gazing was it.
What has been the biggest challenge with regard to writing your book?
Probably the biggest challenge was structure. I’d originally planned to write a book of essays, all around a particular theme or element of my body issues, but then in our publishing module we learned that essay collections are much more difficult to sell than cohesive narratives. So I set about morphing the thing into a single narrative arc – it was arduous, especially because I had to comb through it carefully multiple times to make sure I didn’t drop any future knowledge in early chapters – but ultimately I think it’s a better book for it.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of the experience?
It’s 100% the connections this experience helped me make with others: with my classmates, whom I adored and still think of often; with my readers, some of whom took the time to reach out and tell me what the book meant to them; with my editor, who is still a friend to this day… I’m so grateful for everyone who’s appreciated or critiqued or related to my work.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?
The main piece of advice I have is boring and easier said than done, but it’s crucial: don’t give up! The publishing industry is full of hurdles and rejections and pitfalls – all we control, really, is our writing and our tenacity. If the writing is really excellent (and the best way to get it there is to keep writing and learning), and we keep pushing ourselves to get it in front of readers, we can only hope the stars will align and an agent, then an editor, then the editor’s acquisitions team, then readers across the country and the world will see the value in it. Don’t give up!