Our editorial director, Lisa Tener, had the pleasure of guiding Vicki Tidwell Palmer on her book proposal for Moving Beyond Betrayal: The 5-Step Boundary Solution for Partners of Sex Addicts. The proposal was immediately picked up by Central Recovery Press, which publishes books on various types of recovery from addiction.
Vicki’s story is a great example of how, with a strong niche, if you can identify a publisher that focuses on your niche and demonstrate that your book will not compete with, but will complement, their offerings, you can get a book deal without a gigantic platform or a literary agent.
Charlotte: I always like to start the interview by asking what made you decide to write your book, Moving Beyond Betrayal? What inspired you to write it? Did the inspiration come at a particular moment or had you been planning to write the book for a while? How did you know you wanted to write a book?
Vicki: I’ve been a writer since my teens, and it’s always been a dream of mine to write a book.
As I’ve trained with certain thought leaders in my field and worked with clients as a psychotherapist, I’ve come to understand how fundamental boundaries are to people’s sense of safety and relationship satisfaction, along with how challenged most people are around how to establish healthy boundaries.
I enjoy helping clients navigate boundary issues, and I wanted to formalize and systematize my thinking and way of presenting this information to individuals and couples in therapy– to put the information in a format that could reach many more people than I can in my office.
In addition, there are very few books about boundaries in the marketplace so I also felt that Moving Beyond Betrayal would fill a void, not only for my specific niche/target audience, but for the broader public as well.
Charlotte: Does this book have a specific target audience? How did you decide what audience you were writing to? Did you write the book with that audience in mind? If so, what are some of the things you did in your writing to target and engage that audience, such as use a particular voice, vocabulary, structure, etc.?
Vicki: The target audience for Moving Beyond Betrayal is partners of sex addicts and survivors of infidelity. However, the 5-step process for boundary setting presented in the book (the 5-Step Boundary Solution) can be used by anyone who wants to learn how to identify, create, and maintain healthy and effective boundaries.
I definitely wrote MBB with the target audience in mind because this audience has some very specific challenges and needs that only a book written for them can address. Of all the partners of individuals who struggle with addiction, partners of sex addicts have the highest safety risks, and therefore the greatest need to understand the way boundaries work.
I used quotes called “Partners Speak” throughout the book. These were actual quotes from partners of sex addicts. Since I work with this population every day as a psychotherapist, I used the same voice and vocabulary I would with clients in my office.
Charlotte: Did you have to do any research before writing this book or was it more self-guided knowledge on the subject? How did you know when you had enough information about this topic to write it the way you imagined? If you did have to do additional research, what did this research process look like? How did you turn the information you gathered into the book as it is now?
Vicki: The book is completely based on my professional experience working with partners of sex addicts as well as my own life experience with boundaries in relationships of all kinds. The book is also based on my extensive professional training with Pia Mellody, Senior Clinical Advisor for The Meadows treatment center in Wickenburg Arizona. Pia is an expert on boundaries, childhood trauma, and addiction.
Charlotte: What did your process of writing this book look like? Can you describe what this looked like both in your everyday process and your long-term writing process? How did you begin the writing process?
Vicki: I began the writing process with an outline and once that was complete I started blogging as a way to get the writing done. I intentionally committed to blogging on a regular basis and that helped tremendously in staying on task. There were times throughout the process when I had an accountability partner for support. It’s also a big help once you have a contract with a publisher and there are deadlines to meet! When I began putting the book together I started with what I had already blogged about regarding that section or topic in the book, and then edited it for manuscript format.
Charlotte: You mention in the book your own path of recovery. What are your thoughts about disclosure when it comes to recovery?
Vicki: I mention my own path of recovery in the book, but I don’t mention specifically what type of recovery work I’ve engaged in. When people ask me whether I am a partner of a sex addict, I use it as an opportunity to talk about the challenges this population faces with regard to isolation, stigma, and shame.
For example, there are partners of sex addicts who never disclose even to their closest friends that their husband (or wife) is a sex addict. Most partners experience extreme isolation when it comes to their being in relationship with a sex addict. There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about sex addiction and I honor every partner’s choice about whether and how they choose to disclose.
Charlotte: How do you decide what genre (self-help or memoir) is appropriate for a work and the work’s audience?
Vicki: When thinking about the decision to write a memoir versus a self-help book for partners of addicts (if the author is indeed a partner), it’s important to keep in mind that the author’s decision to write a memoir is deeply personal, impacting many other people in ways that other types of memoirs don’t. A memoir written by a (current) partner of an addict is an “outing” of the addict and for that reason, many books about addiction are written under a pen name. I look forward to a day when the general public has the same level of understanding and acceptance around sex addiction as there is today for alcoholism, for example.
Charlotte: How did your own personal experiences inform the writing process – both your own experiences and experiences with your clients? Did you find yourself writing from a more personal standpoint or a more clinical, observant standpoint? Did you find any difficulties using these personal experiences to create a book for a broader audience?
Vicki: Those are great questions, and I think there is a fair mix of both personal and professional experience, specifically around boundaries and how they work. However, the sex addiction-specific information in the book is definitely more professionally informed based on my training and clinical work with this population over the past 9 years. In general, I would say that my own personal experience with boundaries makes the information more useful and relevant to my target audience, as well as a broader audience.
Charlotte: I noticed throughout the book there were specific aspects such as figures and charts, examples of treatment steps, conversations or experiences, the Partner’s Bill of Rights, and the “Partners Speak” stories. How did you decide to include these aspects? What effect do you think they have on the reader?
Vicki: Figures, charts, and treatment steps presented in MBB are all intended to provide the reader with useful information with which to make informed choices or to guide them to get support or help, if that’s warranted in their particular situation.
The target audience, as well as the general population, is typically not well informed about addiction, boundaries, or trauma, and this information is vital for partners to help them practice self-care and experience healing.
The Partner’s Bill of Rights came from my clinical experience of working with many partners who often ask very little from the person who has betrayed them. The Bill of Rights is intended to inform and empower them.
Regarding the Partner Speaks quotes, I wanted to include some direct personal experience from partners in the book in a voice that the target audience would resonate with. The Partner Speaks quotes were written by partners of sex addicts with many years (sometimes decades) of healing and recovery, so they carry deep wisdom and power.
Charlotte: How did you decide which pronouns to use when it came to “him” and “her.” Did this affect your writing process at all?
Vicki: The publisher and I wanted to vary the pronouns but we didn’t end up doing that based on the reasons given in the section “A Word About Pronouns.” When I attempted to alter pronouns it created confusion and unnecessary distraction. Although there are female sex addicts, the majority of sex addicts who seek treatment are men, and their partners women, so in the end it made more sense to refer to the addict as “he” and the partner as “she.”
Charlotte: You also include some tests in the book that the reader can fill out, such as the adverse childhood experiences score. What made you decide to include these tests? What effect do you think this level of reader participation has on the reader’s experience?
Vicki: I provided the assessments as a resource for readers in case they had questions or concerns about these issues. In particular, many partners are victims of childhood abuse and a fair number of partners struggle with symptoms of love addiction. I felt that having these assessments immediately accessible in the book could be a benefit to many readers who might not necessarily seek out the information if not included in the book.
Charlotte: You describe in the book the five types of boundaries that are essential in a relationship and the concept of boundaries seems to be a big part of the foundation of your philosophy. Can you explain a bit about these types of boundaries – what they are and how we experience them? How did you develop the concept of these boundaries from an initial idea to a broader foundation for recovery?
Vicki: The four primary boundaries are: physical, sexual, listening, and talking. There is also a fifth type of boundary—the personal energy boundary—which is an intuitive or “felt sense” of another person.
Physical boundaries are about how close you allow others to get to you physically, and the access you give others to your personal property.
Sexual boundaries involve the ability to choose with whom, when, where, and how you will be sexual. Sexual boundaries, like physical boundaries, are non-negotiable—meaning a “no” to sexual touch means “no.”
Listening is the most difficult of the four primary boundaries. The listening boundary is about taking in what you hear and deciding what you think and how you feel about what you’ve heard.
The talking boundary involves the ability to share your thoughts and emotions in an honest, authentic, and relational manner.
In addition to the four primary boundaries, there is a fifth category I call the “personal energy boundary.” Personal energy is not necessarily something you can hear or see, but is rather an intuitive or “felt sense” of a person that extends or radiates beyond the physical body. When a person seems to fill up the room so that he or she dominates or unduly draws attention to himself or herself, this is an experience of personal energy.
Regarding developing the concept, the primary concept, including its relationship to recovery, originated with the work of Pia Mellody and I added the fifth boundary – the personal energy boundary. I added my own perspective and expanded on Pia’s work to create the framework I present in MBB.
Charlotte: What are some of the steps you took to get Moving Beyond Betrayal published? How did you choose this method of publishing?What do you think worked well with this method of publishing as opposed to other methods? What do you think didn’t work as well?
Vicki: I was not interested in self-publishing for a variety of reasons, the most important being I felt that it would be a better use of my time to focus on the writing of the book rather than learning the publishing business along with handling details such as choosing a book cover, etc. I wanted to work with an experienced team for the project, which is the way I prefer to work on projects of all kinds.
Because of my target audience I focused on publishers who publish books on recovery and/or sex addiction. I approached just two publishers and was offered a contract by the second one. By the way, my book proposal coach, Lisa Tener introduced me to the Acquisitions Editor at Central Recovery Press who later became the editor for MBB. I would encourage authors to find a good match between publisher and their genre/target audience rather than focus on a large and/or well-known publisher.
Charlotte: Did you encounter any roadblocks during the writing and publishing processes? How did you overcome these? What advice do you have for readers encountering similar roadblocks?
Vicki: I often say that MBB wrote itself. I did not encounter any roadblocks. In fact, I often had an experience similar to when you’re on your way to a particular destination in your car and you encounter one green light after another at every stop light. Writing MBB was like that.
Charlotte: What are some of the positive results or responses you have received since writing the book? Has writing this book given you a particular insight into your own practice or experiences with your clients that you didn’t have before writing it?
Vicki: The book was officially released May 24 so I haven’t gotten much direct feedback yet about the contents of the book. However, one of the things that was most surprising to me was that one of the endorsers of MBB (Alex Katehakis) referred to the 5-Step Boundary Solution as the first formal treatment model created to work with partners of sex addicts. This was a perspective I hadn’t seen. I saw MBB as a book about boundaries, and my colleague saw it from a much broader perspective. My deep wish is that MBB reach all of the partners, and others, who need it.
Vicki Tidwell Palmer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT), and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP) in private practice in Houston, Texas. She offers online courses and workshops for partners of sex addicts and survivors of childhood trauma. She is a blogger for The Huffington Post, as well as her own blog—Survival Strategies for Partners of Sex Addicts— where she offers expert information and guidance for partners of sex addicts and survivors of intimate partner betrayal. For more about Vicki, visit her website.