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Meghann Foye and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Have you heard about the controversy swirling around Meghann Foye’s new novel, Meternity?

Foye’s book about a woman who fakes a pregnancy so she can enjoy all the wonderfulness that comes with a maternity leave (cough cough) has gotten lots of attention.

LOTS.

Here’s why, pulled straight from the book description on Amazon:

Like everyone in New York media, editor Liz Buckley runs on cupcakes, caffeine and cocktails. But at thirty-one, she’s plateaued at Paddy Cakes, a glossy baby magazine that flogs thousand-dollar strollers to entitled, hypercompetitive spawn-havers.

Liz has spent years working a gazillion hours a week picking up the slack for coworkers with kids, and she’s tired of it. So one day when her stress-related nausea is mistaken for morning sickness by her bosses—boom! Liz is promoted to the mommy track. She decides to run with it and plans to use her paid time off to figure out her life: work, love and otherwise. It’ll be her “meternity” leave.

What sent countless working mothers to Amazon to read this suggestion that working parents have some kind of advantage in the workplace? Her “as-told-to” piece in the New York Post, ” I want all the perks of maternity leave — without having any kids.

In it, she said, “And as I watched my friends take their real maternity leaves, I saw that spending three months detached from their desks made them much more sure of themselves. One friend made the decision to leave her corporate career to create her own business; another decided to switch industries. From the outside, it seemed like those few weeks of them shifting their focus to something other than their jobs gave them a whole new lens through which to see their lives.”

Seriously? SERIOUSLY??

Women who make these changes after maternity leave — which, by the way, isn’t the sabbatical Foye seems to think it is — do so because their current position makes it impossible for them to be working parents, not because the weeks  spent at home crying alongside a colicky baby who never stops wailing or trying to figure out if that actually is diarrhea in the diaper or wondering why every baby but yours loves those swingy-things have given them any kind of clarity about their life’s calling.

Changing jobs is an act of desperation, not a freakin’ career decision.

But I digress.

That Post piece was a strategic error. Had we seen the book as nothing more than fiction, it might be amusing. But knowing that the premise is based on her real-life beliefs introduces a whole new, “Are you kidding me?” perspective.

The backlash against Foye from working mothers has been spectacular. Here are a few sample tweets. (Clicking on each tweet will give you a clear image.)

bad book publicity

Bad publicity 2

Bad publicity 3

And . . . she pulled out of this morning’s “Good Morning America” interview.

Is this good publicity or bad publicity?

There’s an old saying that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, so I went to the book’s Amazon page to check sales and reviews. Sales are decent but not as high as I would have thought considering Foye and her book have been all over social media and the major media outlets.

Bad publicity 4But the reviews? Mama mia!

There are 39 reviews as I write this averaging 1.6 out of five stars.

It’s hard to tell if the reviewers actually read the book because the “reviews” are more like comments on Foye’s theories about maternity leave than they are true reader reviews. Here’s a sampling:

Let me ask you, Meghann Foye: do you also resent that your co-workers with cancer get super-fun free time to go to their chemo appointments?

And:

It wasn’t entertaining, but rather infuriating to read about how ‘witty’ even an entitled fictional character could be about pregnancy/career status. There’s no purpose in reading this.

Is it worth it?

Some might say that the book’s premise is brilliant because it has a built-in news peg. Even I teach novelists to write news hooks into their manuscripts so they’ve got something to talk about with the press when the book is published.

This, however, has generated so much negative publicity that it makes me wonder if the book (and Foye) will tank as a result.

And even if sales go through the roof, is it worth it, Meghann Foye?

This author is sure to be stoned wherever she goes — no Starbucks for her today.

I’m all for clever publicity angles that get attention from the press, bloggers, and tweeters. But even I draw the line at anything that could put anyone’s mental health at risk.

I think the book is ridiculous, but I feel sorry for Foye. I question whether she and her publisher really thought this through. If they did, and if they anticipated everything that has happened and are clapping their hands with glee, okay.

But I wonder if they underestimated the negative impact of the backlash. I thought that when I sat down to write this, and when I saw that Foye cancelled her GMA appearance, my opinion was validated.

What’s your take?

Nobody is going to want to be seen reading this book.

I’ve won a couple of national awards for publicity excellence, but I’m saying in this case that there IS such a thing as bad publicity. You might see this differently, though, and I’d like your impression. Maybe my “I’m a mom” bias is interfering with logical thought.

Will all of this negativity work in Foye’s favor when it’s all said and done and will it be worth it? Or is she paying too high a price for this exposure? Please comment. 

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26 Comments

  1. Oh, my goodness. Yes, this is the kind of bad publicity that is no good.

    Didn’t Ms. Foye talk to actual moms before writing this story, or during vetting of the story, or during editing of this story? And I assume the publisher/agent/editor wasn’t a mom either, or didn’t know any to ask…

    Wow. Just stunning, even though it’s fiction. Maternity leave is not a vacation.

    1. I think that plugging into the mom world would have had too much of the wrong kind of perspective for the book, Susabelle.

      Sandy

  2. I always believed that any publicity was good publicity. One or two years down the road, people will forget the controversy but the name will still be recognizable. In this case, however, the subject matter elicits such an emotional response, I don’t think the author will be able to recover.

    1. Roxanne, this makes me think of the woman who wrote “Tiger Mom.” That got pretty crazy, and years later, she wrote another book. She had what it takes to survive the sh*tstorm but not everybody does, right?

      Sandy

      1. At least w/Tiger Mom, her grown kids have come forward with the “review” of their childhood…honestly. With this, God help her if she actually has kids someday. That “post mortem” will be nothing but resurfaced ridicule.

        1. True! Thanks for weighing in, Carol. I do feel bad for her. I think that w/out that Post piece, people who have thought, “Oh, what a clever idea for fiction!” I can see it as a really funny movie. Now it has become nonfiction…sort of.

          Sandy

  3. Bad publicity for sure for her as a person, but it just draws attention to the book. You don’t have to politically agree with a novel to read it. Many people just want to read so they can join the conversation. The fact that it is a novel and not a treatise (necessarily) makes it harmless to me. I won’t read it, don’t like the self-centered stupid premise of the story. Not my thing. But I bet others that wouldn’t have noticed it otherwise will now buy it. Hmmm….

    1. Chris, I often check Amazon book sales rankings in situations like this and this book’s numbers aren’t as good as what I’ve seen with others. The reviews though — yikes! Amazon will probably remove most of them soon because they don’t seem to be from people who actually read the book.

      Sandy

  4. As you know – I’m on your Facebook group so responded there but all I can say is jeeeeeeeeez and what is up with this lady? Like I wrote on Facebook… after her ‘Me ternity’ she can the pay for ‘Me Care’ until she is of school age at about 1/4 to 1/3 of her salary monthly.

    Ha! That would give her a good dose of ‘working parent reality’ 🙂

  5. Any specific reason why she cancelled GMA? Producers changed their minds and asked her to cancel? She couldn’t deal with the negative feedback?

    I don’t read light fiction so I would never buy it. But just because some people don’t like the concept doesn’t mean that it can’t generate significant sales. There are probably zillions of women without children who sympathize with the premise.

    Anyhow, it’s fiction. Some people won’t buy it, others will.

    But I’d love to know the author’s thought process. Look at the Kardashians–millions don’t like the family and everything they represent but they still have fans and bring in the big bucks.

    The bigger question for us book writers is should we be careful what we wish for? Most of us dream of publicity, toiling at length on publicizing our books with minimal success. What would happen if all of a sudden we got publicity and it turned out to be hotter than expected?

    Diana Schneidman, author, Real Skills, Real Income: A Proven Marketing System to Land Well-Paid Freelance and Consulting Work in 30 Days or Less

    1. Diana, GMA didn’t cancel — the author did.

      Amazon sales rank isn’t as good as I expected considering the exposure.

      Sandy

  6. The writer is an editor at a major magazine with a mom target market. I suspect this controversy was planned.

    I also suspect she has faced backlash from magazine articles in the past. She is likely to be accustomed to and trained to handle negative publicity.

    Has this negative publicity achieved the writer’s goal? I don’t know. I have no idea what the writer’s goal is. There are many more reasons than book sales to publish a book.

    1. I suspect that the book is well-written and a good story, but that the anticipated controversy contributed to the decision to give her a book contract.

      It’s also quite likely that she was media trained specifically for this firestorm. My first book was on a somewhat controversial topic, and my publisher paid for media training, so I’d be surprised if that wasn’t the case here. No, I’d be shocked if it wasn’t the case.

      I also suspect that while she knew that the Post piece would stir up chatter, she was unprepared for the intensity of the response. A friend of hers commented on Facebook that Meghann regrets the decision to talk to the Post, which validates what I wrote — it was a strategic error. And I think she cancelled the GMA interview because she was overwhelmed — and who wouldn’t be? I don’t blame her, and I feel bad for her. This is tough.

      As for her goals, I have no clue but that’s not my interest. My question to readers is: [Will all of this negativity work in Foye’s favor when it’s all said and done and will it be worth it? ]

      I don’t have an answer, but I appreciate it when others share opinions.

      Sandy

      1. I hope that she warned the writers giving her cover quotes and the editorial reviews that the story would be controversial and marketed with that angle.

        I know from personal experience that angry readers are likely to target anyone associated with the writer.

        Discussing the pros and cons of both giving and receiving cover quotes might be a great future blog post topic, Sandra, if you haven’t already covered it.

        1. Good point, Cynthia. I hadn’t thought about that. And that’s a great idea for a post — thanks!

          Sandy

  7. I read the full Post article.

    Meghann Foye apparently took time off from her career for an extended period. The article doesn’t claim she was paid for time off. In fact, I think it implied she resigned from her job and was unemployed for awhile.

    If this is the case, she could have explained that she used paid maternity leave in her story to write an entertaining novel, but in real life she did not recommend faking pregnancy to get paid leave.

    However, stepping off from your career, dealing with the stress in your life, and taking unpaid time off if you can afford it can be a sound decision and put your life on a better track. It worked for Meghann Foye.

    Why can’t the author simply clarify?

    By the way, there is a countering article on the Post website about the difficulties of labor and caring for a baby that takes a reasonable argument and overplays it to the point of ridiculous.

    -d

  8. The description of the book doesn’t make it sound interesting enough to read. That may be the fault of the publisher, or I am simply not their target audience.

    The premise sounds ridiculous, right? And your points above are well thought out. Is it all a ploy? Is it a long term strategy and we will see it in the years to come? I’m unsure.

    What interests me is that people are talking about the U.S. being so far behind other developed nations in family leave benefits. I’m happy people are sharing the stories of stress rather than the perfect pictures published or shared on social media.

    If anything has come from this, it is the conversation started about feeling you have the right to disconnect from your job when you leave (in a perfect world) and that we have a lot of work ahead of us regarding benefits to employees.

    1. That’s an excellent point, CJ — thank you. It does seem to have started a conversation about the value of a true sabbatical for everyone.

      Sandy

  9. Wow, talk about misconceived angst and misplaced disputation, I think the mothers who are “upset” by this work are just taking it wrongly.

    If you want to take this as an affront to true and genuine motherhood, then you can take it that way and be upset and hypersensitive, which, by the way, is a major problem with modern society. We have forgotten how to take things with a grain of salt and how to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person and just see it from a different perspective and laugh about that perspective.

    An alternate perspective does not have to be true. Jokes are not true. What makes jokes funny, most of the time, is their illogical perspective. In fact, scientists have proven that our laughing center is the same as our dream center in our brains, because it is the illogic of a joke that makes us laugh and most dreams also make illogical thing logical to us.

    So, just for a second, let’s see this from an alternate, though illogical, perspective. You have workers in every workplace and corporate environment who have seen a pregnant mother first of all suddenly get to take many hours off during the week for classes, appointments, to rest if the Doctor feels it is needed and on and on, and yet, they are still working 8, 10 hours a day, no breaks.

    Put aside the fact that the mother truly is pregnant and needs this time for the proper care of her developing child and that this time is correctly provided so she can bring forth a happy, healthy baby into the world. What the co-worker sees is time off. A lot of time off. Oh boy, what I would do with that time off.

    Yes, it is illogical, because they are not thinking that the mother is actually taking the time off due to increased challenges and that she is not out there partying and having the time of her life, she is incubating a developing child in a body that has changed dramatically and she’s dealing with and enduring things many people have never had to endure.

    And now extend that to the time that the pregnant woman finally gets to go on maternity leave for 2 maybe 3 months. Wow, what a vacation, 3 months off of work to rediscover yourself, to enjoy life without the 8 hour a day rigamarole, who wouldn’t want such a tremendous time off in life?

    Again, it is illogical to think this, the new mother isn’t laying on a beach drinking beverages that feature toothpick umbrellas and tropical fruit, she’s figuring out life with a new child that is 100% dependent on her for its every single need and cannot even communicate in ways other than crying, laughing, cooing or smiling. Her whole world is turned upside down and she has to figure out life with a “dependent” that needs love, affection, attention and care.

    But the co-worker doesn’t see all that. The co-worker sees someone who gets to take 2 or 3 months off and dreams about what they would do in those 2 or 3 months, of course from the illogical perspective of NOT having a child, but that it is time to find themselves, to re-discover life without work and who they truly are and truly want to be.

    So, in light of that, I take the novel for the “joke” it is, for the lighthearted look it takes at that strange and illogical perspective of a co-worker who dreams about what they would do with 3 months off, minus the genuine and true responsibilities that being a new mother is. It is a frivolous look at that time off. It is intended to be a fun look, even if illogical, at that time.

    And it raises some interesting themes, like, how many people would really rediscover themselves if their bosses said, “We’re giving you 3 months off with pay, just for you, call it me-ternity leave.”

    So, get the “joke” of it. Get the lighthearted look at life that it takes. It is not intended to be a slam on true motherhood nor on the fact that maternity leave is a good and necessary thing for genuine mothers giving birth to their first or subsequent children. It plays upon that co-worker delusion that somehow this maternity leave is the “time of her life.”

    It’s a humorous take on an aspect of life. Don’t be hypersensitive, take it for what it is.

    1. DE, I think that part of the problem for this author is that not everyone thinks it’s a “humorous take” on pregnancy, etc. That shouldn’t surprise anyone.

      Still, there is that school of thought that says that all publicity is good publicity. I’ve been watching the Amazon rank and it’s been decent, for sure. I would have hoped for the author that it was better than it has been been, though, because I think she’s paid a high price for the attention brought to her book by the Post piece. This kind of intense backlash can be very hard to deal with. It does make me wonder what kind of guidance she got from her publisher.

      Sandy

  10. In my opinion as a 2 book a day reader….not only was this book written in bad taste…but it didnt taste good. No matter how much mango chutney i put on this printed insipid claptrap I still couldnt get it down. And Im NOT a mom. Im 54 with a huge allergy to books–t! Enjoy your day. Cynthia L. Schultz

    1. My goodness! Somebody who read the book! Do you usually read books in this genre? And how did you hear about it?

      Sandy

  11. I think the mistake the author made lies not in the novel but in the opinion piece. Comedy often starts from a premise that might be objectionable in real life, but so long as it remains comedy, we are usually OK with it.

    Imagine, for example, if the writer team behind the film “Trading Places,” where an upper-crust duo decide to create an experiment of putting a black street person (played by Eddie Murphy) into the position of a white corporate ladder climber – imagine the writers revealing that they actually had carried out the experiment in the movie on unsuspecting real people. Most of us would be revolted. That would take away the comedy for most of us.

    Or consider Nabokov’s novel Lolita. As far as I know, it was not based on any real-life pedophilia. But if it was, or if Nabokov had written an op-ed piece defending his real-life right to have an affair with a 12-year-old girl, most of us would have a harder time accepting the premise of the novel, which is considered to be a great work of art.

    The opinion piece demolished the “suspension of reality” that is involved in comedy or literature, and that is the problem here. Not the novel itself.

    1. Thanks, Marcia. I agree (see my observation: “That Post piece was a strategic error. Had we seen the book as nothing more than fiction, it might be amusing. But knowing that the premise is based on her real-life beliefs introduces a whole new, “Are you kidding me?” perspective.”) and I think your analogies help explain that beautifully.

      Thanks for weighing in. I always enjoy it when you share your wisdom!

      Sandy

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