Tuesday, January 4, 2011

In which you revert to type of being a crazy writer

In your time, you have been directly allied with forces that caused authors to take to the road, promoting their works on radio, television, and newspaper venues, stopping off at key bookstores--more independent than chain--to talk about their work and autograph copies.  You have seen and thrilled to good reviews in such places as The Kirkus Service, Book Week, The New York Times, Publishers' Weekly, and other sources of that stripe.  You have even done the gritty work of extracting a positive review from a lukewarm or hostile source, sometimes resorting to that great mischief the ... between words and entire phrases, and on one occasion in particular memory, taking one word from a review that frankly hated the work, explaining why, and proclaiming for advertising purposes "first-rate" when the review said, in fact, "way off the mark from first-rate quality."

These moments are necessary elements in the activity behind publishing a work; they are often at odds or at least tangential to the necessary elements in the activity of writing a work which is then thought highly enough of to send it forth in hopes it will find a home.  The times and vectors of publishing are, as Bob Dylan put it, 'a changing.  You know one author who writes superb short stories, at least piercing and dimensional enough to be read all the way through at the major journals.  She will not send them forth.  At least two writers you know have paid huge sums to so-called mailing services "research" potential markets for their stories, then send them specially printed envelopes and mailing labels to submit individual works, little realizing that when such manuscripts arrive, they stand out as having come from the literary equivalent of Coyotes in the illegal entry business.

Thus there are necessary elements beyond writing if one wishes to write with the notion of publication; by extension, these elements take the writer out of the process of writing.  Yet other horrors come when the emerging writer seeks agency representation, hopeful of being taken on by an agent who has connections and enthusiasm.  The moment of truth comes when the agent requests a precis or pitch or synopsis or concept memo.  You can hear the groans or read them on Facebook and Twitter.

You are aware of your own groans both as writer and editor:  Non-editing and non-writing activities are necessary if one is to move beyond talented amateur.  How many times have you heard well-intentioned individuals envy you any position as editor because they love to read, have a basic knowledge of literature, are good at grammar.  When you tell them that most editing is done at home, on your own time because it is impossible to edit in an office, they are stunned.  Appalled.  Then you tell them about meetings and the need to forge alliances within the organization in order to secure the support necessary to bring a work to contract and production.  Sometimes you become so caught up in your passion that you come close to exploding, Don't tell me you don't have time to send your work out.  Look at the crap I have to go through in order to get the chance to give you editorial notes that could help your project grow incrementally better than it is now.

The rewards of authorship and of editing are not spotlight events, they are personal moments in which a scene is brought in and landed and you see it for the remarkable thing it is, a drama you felt was there and are now relieved to see has even more heart and soul and transcendence than you'd first imagined.  The rewards of editing come when you go through a scene, perhaps indicating a word or phrase that needs attention or perhaps even deletion, perhaps moving the scene to another place or starting later or leaving sooner, or perhaps saying casually to the writer, have you considered having another character be the point of view here?

There are enough of these private moments to repay the public moments of authorship and editorial support.

You are reminded of all these emotions because you are at heart the kind of writer you are, never realizing when you began that this was what you had in mind.  You are reminded of these emotions because you have not long ago received an email from the entity that intends to become your publisher, greeting you with the information that--well, here it is, verbatim: Everyone at WWP is very excited to be working with Shelly and publishing The Fiction Lover's Companion.


You note the contract attached as a PDF file, which you open, reeling at the language.  Understand, it was not the terms, which had already been relayed to you.  It was the language, the fucking language.  You have written publisher contracts, have read others, signed others still.  Your primary reaction came from the fact that you wish to sign something that reads more like a publishing contract than a first-year law school exercise.


There is a satisfying P.S. to this; your literary agent, who has put in heavy-duty time running the editorial depts.of two major houses, agrees with your take.

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