June 7th, 2013
I received a note from a friend in Kansas City this week, and it is worth quoting, because it shows just how whimsical this publishing business is, and why you shouldn't give up:
Last Saturday at our local independent book store successful novelist Nancy Pickard joined in a "conversation" with a new author in her 30s named Jenny Milchman. They spoke to an overflow crowd.
Here is Jenny's story: she wrote 8 novels, bing, bing bing. Didn't sell. In 2000 she got an agent. In the 13 years since, she has had 3 agents and had her eighth novel come SOOOO close to being accepted by several major publishers, always to miss at the very end.
She wrote Nancy a fan note about Nancy's book, Scent of Rain and Lightening. They got into an email exchange and when Nancy learned how close her novel had come several times, she offered to read it. (Something she normally never does.) And she liked it! So much that she sent it to her editor at Ballantine (something else she has never done.)
Her editor liked it! And the novel is now out in hard cover. (Title is Cover of Snow). Ballantine accepted the mss 2 years ago and even though it was already highly polished, Jenny spent another year of polishing under the aegis of her editor. She and husband and two school-age kids are taking SEVEN months to go around the country to all the independent book stores they can find. Their kids are being "car-schooled."
The late John Denver who hailed from this area, was due once to meet his brother for a round of golf at a local course. When his brother arived at the clubhouse, he was handed a couple of golf balls by the superintendent: "John said to give you these. He says, for this game you're going to need balls." Same goes for writing and publishing and any other stage for which there is a glut of performers standing in the wings.
The problem is, that glut of artists needs to get through a barrier manned by folk who often wouldn't know a good piece of art if it jumped up and did a belly dance in front of them. I know people all through the arts facing this. I always say there are two levels of art in any given age: there's real art and then there's fashion. Fashion always has its guardians, the ones who need to attach themselves to trends to give themselves some sense of identity. These are the guardians of buzz and not to be mistaken for wizards. Wizards are few and far between.
Take a look at the TV cult programme American Idol. Talent and charisma characteristically resist definition, and yet week after week the "judges" dismiss this one and accept that one according to some fashionable criteron of what makes a great performer. If Paul Simon or Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell or most icons of music history had stood before them, they would have got the gong before they reached the end of their first line. You can't quantify this stuff. It's like trying to catch a cloud. Your hands go right through, and in the case of American Idol you end up with a name that goes on to be forgotten.
So, the lesson today is: Keep pushing ahead! Elbow those twits out of the way and get to the stage. Sing your song for all your worth. Turn deaf ears on the boos if they come, and on the applause if it comes instead. Both are empty responses. You should be listening to your heart. That's all. Here endeth the first lesson.