I thought you might be ready for a change in subject matter. And I have been talking to myself about something new lately, so I’m not forcing a different conversation. I need your input. I want your opinion, maybe your permission, perhaps your forgiveness. This conversation that I’ve been having with myself is not unrelated to the events in the last year of my life, which I think will be obvious. But it is also not about sickness or death.
I have a book. It’s not a new book; it’s one I’ve been working on (off and on) for 20 years. I’ve mentioned it before, although not recently. It’s the memoir, with some fiction stirred in, of a certain summer in the middle of college. It’s a damn good book. I mean, really. There is not a shadow of a doubt in my mind. And it’s as finished as it’s going to get. Not perfect, but good enough, and done.
After “When the Roll Is Called a Pyonder” was published in 2014, I pulled this one out of the vault, and worked on it as hard as I could for …about 2 years. I poured my heart and soul into it. I paid real money for a writing to coach to help me. And then I started sending it to publishers.
Through 2015 and 2016, I sent this book to every small publisher that (a) publishes either fiction or memoir and (b) doesn’t charge a reading fee of more than 20$. I even pitched it to a bunch of literary agents. I have the loveliest collection of complimentary rejection letters you ever saw. Like I said, it’s a good book. But nobody wants to publish it. Nobody is convinced it will make them boatloads of money, which is what “the business” is about. What can I say? These people know their business. They’re probably right.
Then in January 2017, something amazing happened. A real literary agent in New York City wrote me back and said he loves my book, he thinks he can sell it to a big NYC publisher, and would I sign a contract? I was so happy I practically cried, and Pio was so proud of me. I almost splattered the great news all over Facebook, but then I didn’t. Because a contract with an agent does not equal a book deal. And how embarrassed would I be if he couldn’t sell it either?
Which is exactly what happened.
The feedback from The Big Boys is that I don’t have a big enough “platform”—meaning followers on my blog and on social media. In other words, it’s a good book, but I’m Nobody. And that my book is “too quiet.” I interpret that to mean there’s not enough, sex, drugs and violence. Well. Guilty as charged. First, I don’t really write about sex, drugs and violence. Why would I? After “Pulp Fiction,” what could I possibly add? Second, it’s a book about Mennonite kids, for the love of God! A little imagination? Anyone?
So, I can think of 3 possibilities for this book:
1. Give up.
2. Spend more years of my life sending this book to publishers and agents.
The problem with #1 is that I can’t do it. I’ve even tried, but I can’t.
The problem with #2 is that I have a limited number of free hours to spend on surfing/reading/writing/lying in my hammock looking at the stars/pestering the cats/drinking wine… doing anything that isn’t sleeping or working. And honestly? I have other things to write. I can either spend my free time on cover letters (like I did for 2 of the last 3 years) or I can get on with life and write something else. I would love that.
The problem with #3? It has 2 problems. On one hand, even though this may be bogus, self-publishing a really good book feels like a cop-out, like giving up. And maybe there are ways in which I am ready to do that. What the hell? Who am I kidding? What am I doing? Hold out for an imaginary audience of people I don’t know, when I have you and me to write for? Why? Are they better people or more worthy? I think not.
The other problem with self-publishing is a very deep very personal can of worms that I would rather not open. But if I self-publish this book, the worms are going to be all over the place, let me tell you. All over. And I might need a whole lot of moral support.
I would rather have introduced this book to the world with the support of a traditional publisher (no matter how small) behind me because this “too quiet” book is going to deeply upset/offend/dismay every single person in the state of Pennsylvania (and a few in upstate New York) who is a blood relative of mine. Each and every single one. I am choosing my words carefully as I write this. If you don’t get what I am saying, go back and read that again. Unless I somehow publish this book “in secret” (oxymoron?!), there are going to be painful personal conversations as a result. That I am not looking forward to. And I would just rather have had a publisher who thinks I’m awesome holding my hand, instead of having to stand here spitting into the wind all by myself. But I’m not sure I’m going to get my way this time. Sometimes, being a big girl sucks.
I’m 47 years old. It shouldn’t matter. I didn’t think it would at this point in my life. If I had known, at 17 and 27 and 37, that it would still matter this much, I would have been devastated. So now I know: it’s never going to go away. Never. Which ties directly, for me, to the reason you have to read this book—the reason it must get out of my computer. Because if I have a heart attack in my bed tonight and this book NEVER gets read by anyone, THAT will be the real and true failure. I will have failed to face something that has been waiting for me my whole life.
I actually believe this. It makes me shake in my shoes in the way that happens when you know a thing is true. …And it’s kind of also what the book is about.
So. What do you think? I’m asking.
Please know: There is nothing even remotely scandalous in this book for anyone who was born anywhere other than where/when I was.
(O, the ironies of knowing your “too quiet” book will shock the covering pins out of some people’s hair…)
I can feel your passion for this book. You really are a true writer for you can tell its in your heart, your blood. As I tell people to me writing is like breathing. I need to do it.
I understand the rejection letters I have had them too! Everyone has and yes it does make it harder when you really are a little fish in a big ocean.
Don’t give up on your dream! Keep persevering!
I have a book at last coming out later this year. Going to Writer’s Conferences is what helped me to find a publisher. Have you ever been to a Writer’s Conference? They are wonderful, so much information. Its information overload and you have many literary agents and publishers that you can talk face to face to throughout the conference, which is usually for a weekend.
I wish you the best and will stay tuned to hear how your book progresses.
Congratulations on your book coming out!! …I’ve been to one writer’s conference. It was a Mennonite writers’s conference and I had the time of my life. No publishers there, but very affirming in so many ways. Thing is, living in Costa Rica on a shoestring budget, writer’s conferences are so far out of my ballpark that I’ve pretty much told myself to forget it. Unless somebody decides to hold one here! 😉 I made it to that once conference because it was held during the years that I was living in the US. But the minute I got half a chance, I left again.
Oh gosh! I wasn’t thinking about how they probably wouldn’t have Writer’s Conferences in Costa Rica! Sorry!
Glad you got to go to one.
Praying that things will work out for your book.
Thanks for the Congrats! I am very excited to hold the book in my hand!
You know how that feels. 🙂
Seems your past efforts produced the latest and most positive inquiry. Who is to say that continuing those efforts, at your leisure, might not generate even more interest and further support? Hard to figure out what success really means in this world anymore. I have a copy of your poetry and I’ve read every poem, and all are salient and beautifully written. A quiet book has as good of a chance at success as any loud book with all of the dressings… perhaps yours will quietly become successful if you continue to try and make it so. Or, you can always love and appreciate the success it has already attained! I do!
You answered the question yourself – “if I have a heart attack in my bed tonight and this book NEVER gets read by anyone, THAT will be the real and true failure. I will have failed to face something that has been waiting for me my whole life.” So my opinion would be option #3. Everything else that MAY happen after you will be able to handle.
I talk myself into it and out of it, into it and out of it… But yes, the question is mostly if I’m done trying one way and ready to try something new. The question has never included not trying. And honestly? If there’s ever a time when I think displeased “people” will be merciful to me, it’s probably now. So, yeah. Talking myself into it…
The disappointment must be heart-breaking: I know because I’ve been there (although I have learnt to be realistic about my limitations, which are severe). But, unlike me, you are a brilliant writer; this is absolutely clear to anybody who reads your blog. You must not give up, so why don’t you self-publish? Amazon has produced an extremely helpful guide entitled Building Your Book for Kindle, which you can download for free. Getting to grips with it will take you some time, but, once you’ve digested its contents, you will find it quite easy to publish an e-book (despite being a dinosaur, I have managed it). I would certainly be the first person to buy your book! One can also create a physical book through Amazon, although I haven’t yet tried it. Instead, I have published my physical books through Lulu.com (the link is given below).
The only cost involved (apart from the investment of time, that is) relates to producing the book cover (the front cover only for an e-book, which is two-dimensional, and the front cover, the spine and the back cover for the physical book). Don’t approach any vanity publishers; doing your own publishing will take a bit of time, but you are bound to do a better job formatting your book than any of them (who, let’s face it, couldn’t care less). After all, if I could do it, anybody can.
Self-publishing does not preclude having your book published later by a “proper” publisher. Please let me know if I could be of any help (for example, if you’d like a free copy edit); my e-mail address is given below. These days, I do quite a bit of walking in my beautiful mountains but will reply as soon as I return home.
Thinking of you,
Thank you so much for those thoughts and insights, Anna! Let me take some time to digest them. I did self-publish a poetry book through CreateSpace in 2012. That was a positive experience. I didn’t look for a “real” publisher for it, because–I pick my battles, and I picked not to fight that one. It was a small-scale project that I mostly intended for friends, so that was a fine way to go. I feel like I got lots of good input today and I want to consider it all… ❤
One more thought, Diana: perhaps you could try becoming a contributor to an American newspaper or magazine (after all, you ARE a brilliant talent). This would immediately give you more exposure. I am SURE you could write most engagingly about your life in Costa Rica or, indeed, on a whole range of other topics – correction, you DO this already. I’d subscribe to this newspaper/ magazine just to read you!
Thinking of you,
(a proud acquaintance of a great American writer)
xxx (I don’t know how to do hearts and suchlike – I did say I was a dinosaur!)
Yes, what Greg said! I can’t wait to read it! You got this girlfriend. 😚
I’ve been pondering your thoughts as I too think it’s difficult sometimes to share art closest to home. Sometimes I think about writing a poetry book labeled” the little book of bad poetry” for all the stuff I’m afraid to put out there. It takes courage. I don’t have it. But the stuff does scream to be read. Was thinking today about the Great Teacher who struggled fulfilling his purpose with his home people/ home town. hmmmm…. there’s a theme going on here.