Monday, September 19, 2011

The Wannabe and Conspiracy Theory

There is a conspiracy to keep you from being published.  Make no mistake about it, your overarching goal is to find homes for your work.  By design, year of birth, and cultural influences, you think first of printed publication, but you are well aware of and have no animosity toward electronic modes of publication.

While you're in the thinking process, you also think "being published" first means having your work appear in a hardcover book.  Even though your most recent publication was by all accounts a reference work, you did not find it in any way disturbing that it emerged from the publishing process as what is commonly called a trade paperback and, in a simultaneous publication, an electronic or e-book.

In the mail today you received a hardcover book from a publicist you have known since your first job in book publishing, while you were coming up, and when you were editor in chief.  There was a note clipped to it, from the publicist (who knows of your present day activities)asking what suggestions you could give that would produce some interest in the book.  There are many hardcover books such as this one as well as many hardcover books that have the look and feel of a hardcover book with a chance in the world.  Seeing this book helped you over the hump of preferring a hardcover to a trade paper edition.  This particular book virtually cries out that it was self-published.  After you read its first paragraph, all doubt had vanished.  In a real sense, you are already a part of a conspiracy against it.

The conspiracy against you begins with your own indolence, your own moments of not practicing enough, not reaching deep enough into the story or high enough into the craft.  The conspiracy against you is in large measure you not producing text that will turn the heads either of the young first readers at publishers venues or secure the attention of those men and women within the trade whom you know on a first name basis and can count on their reading the work first,

The conspiracy against you is the hundreds and thousands of manuscripts being sent through snail mail and electronic circuitry every day, all of them with expressed expectations of finding publication.  The conspiracy against you resides in all the gatekeepers who see your work, who look at it after having spent hours, days, reading materials that come flooding in.

If your work does not secure their attention to the point where they are moved to read beyond the first two or three pages, then beyond the first chapter, then all the way through the manuscript, finally attaching a note to their superior--You need to look at this--then the conspiracy is in firm place against you.

It is something of a miracle that you have had as many stories published as you did; they got through the wall and were passed along.  For the moment, your publisher tells you she wants to continue being your publisher, but the conspiracy against you could surface there if you did not take exquisite care with the material you showed her.  The conspiracy could come from your literary agent, who is now a good friend.  She could tell you that her editor thinks your work needs attention before it can be sent out.

You are becoming part of a conspiracy against a writer with a genuinely funny and compelling story because of the things you are finding to say in diagnosis of why an editor at a publishing house will be able to put it down after the first chapter, which ends with literally and figuratively a shocking revelation about a primary character.

Conspiracy abounds.

This is why musicians practice, artists sketch, photographers "take" images, writers blog and keep journals.

Not too long ago, at the birthday party for a friend, you were in conversation with the mystery novelist, Sue Grafton, whom you've known long enough to know the name of the novel she wrote before she wrote A is for Alibi.  She spoke evenhandedly of throwing away a hundred-fifty-page draft of the newest work in progress, as though such things were matter-of-fact.  She asked you if you were still teaching, and when you said yes, she observed wryly, "Doesn't get any easier, does it?"  You of course agreed.  When it becomes easy, the turkey vultures of conspiracy begin hovering.

Another writer whom you met back in the 1980s and who has long since become friend rather than student, didn't bat an eye at a note you gave him on a work in progress.  "There,"  he said, "goes the opening chapter."

When we first become aware of the conspiracy, we tend to think the way around it is through knowing someone who wants to give new talent a boost.  As time and work progress, we understand that it is knowing someone who wants to give any talent a boost and will be happy to do so provided the manuscript is the most memorable, resonant, bravura performance.

The conspiracy has the tenacity of street-wise panhandlers, hustling for spare change.  You need the greater tenacity of looking within the people who propel your story, nudging each to grab hold of some agenda and ride it like a bronco rider, reins in one hand, feet tightly planted in the stirrups of emotional discovery.

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