|"Buying a book," courtesy of photographer Herman Brinkman |
of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and sxc.hu.
Question for the day: Is there something to be learned from one writer's experience?
At this juncture, I am fairly confident that I will continue to be able to publish the books I want to write. I’m not promising where I will publish. I have three books of poetry and three novels forthcoming, and not one is at a major New York City house. I can’t say that I tried too hard to stay in New York, as I have shown exactly one manuscript to exactly two big houses in the past few years. One of the editors liked my books and asked to read a certain manuscript and then wanted to buy. In the end, she gave me the lowdown on the increasing commercialism in New York and her own lack of control over what she could buy. The other gave me a fairly usual rejection. I didn’t bother beyond those two.
Side note about publishing: I find that most book-manuscript rejections are flattering. Don’t let it influence your mind. Don’t get carried away. Nothing in publishing matters until it matters.*
Why have I gone elsewhere? Having parted with my agent, I somehow didn’t want to bother struggling in the city. None of my books to date had received a push. Catherwood was the only one selling wonderfully well at any time. But that time happened to be just after it had just gone out of hardcover at Farrar, Straus & Giroux and into paperback at Bard, an old literary imprint that had been newly revived. Then HarperCollins imploded and took down many books and whole lines, including Bard. So I was in a situation where it seemed that the big boys had never done more for me than any hardworking smaller house. I was glad to have been on prestigious lists, sure, but my books had remained rather obscure. When I received a flurry of requests for manuscripts from outside of New York, I was ready to accept some of them. More metanoia.
A side note about publishing with a house: expect bumps. Expect disasters, small or large, because your book depends on a publishng and distribution machine and other people who have lives and goals of their own. Also, it is part of time and our human calendar—events that appear to have nothing to do with books affect the visibility and selling of books.
Should I be pleased about where I am? I have a book of poetry and a novel forthcoming at a rising university press that has decided to build a literary line. One of them was given a prize by an outside judge. The Throne of Psyche will appear shortly, and I was very taken with the design. Three books are forthcoming in the UK, where I hope to have more of a presence than I do now. I can reprint those later on in the U. S. And I have a book forthcoming in Canada. The only thing that I’ve ever published there prior to this is a translation of one of my books.
All of these books (and other requests, some that didn’t quite fit me) came out of editors and publishers liking my work and asking to see more or inviting me to submit. I love that. I just plain love it.
What are the worst things about where I am now?
A lot of the older books are out of print. Right now I'm working on obtaining a reprint of Catherwood. Because I haven't experienced that old-fashioned publisher's effort to build a readership for a writer and because I have worked in many different forms, I tend to feel a little uncertain about whether my readers will follow me into new or more unusual territory. (I tend to move about a lot in both subject matter and form, a thing publishers do not love, though it makes life more interesting. And alas, poetry seems to be unusual territory for many people these days!)
What’s the best thing about loving it and where I am now?
I wrote the stories and novels and poems that I wanted to write and gave me joy in the act of writing.
I wrote what I wanted to read.
As a result of a clear prior track in the world, I managed to be lazy about placing books and yet everything turned out fine.
All anybody can say about publishing comes from experience. My experience has been mixed. But most people’s experience is mixed. That's from the simple and inevitable fact that most writers don't have lead books, and therefore they are not at the forefront of the publisher's concern.
What can we take from one writer's experience, as readers or writers?
If you are a reader and you buy a book that is not a lead book and not perched anywhere near the bestseller list, you are making a statement and placing a vote that will affect both writer and publisher. Every book purchase counts. Every book purchase says you want to read a certain writer and that the publisher should have confidence in him or her. In the case of poetry, a modicum of readers voting this way may even mean that a house decides to retain its poetry line rather than jettisoning it. I was told that if each poetry book in a certain smallish house had managed to sell 300 copies, the house would not have gotten rid of the line. 300! Skip lunch out once, and you can vote for a book.
If you write and publish, be prepared for things to go otherwise than dreamed or planned.
If you are a writer passionate about words and storytelling rather that "product" and "market," hang onto your heart and soul. Don’t sell them down the river. Because if you do, a day may just come when you wish with all your being that you had written exactly what you wanted to write and wanted to read.
*The very same thing goes for movie rights. Does not matter until it matters. You sell rights? Still doesn’t matter, though the spare change is welcome. Set to film? I have a friend whose book was six weeks from shooting with a major star signed on for the lead. Six weeks out, the whole thing fell apart. Does not matter until it matters.