My ex-agent phoned out of the blue yesterday, the return of a call from August. It was the first time I’d heard from him since he declined The Spiritkeeper. It was a good call, despite itself.
We are in a difficult world, publishing-wise. No one knows this better than H. The industry is facing problems like how to sell from shelves when selling is accomplished more cheaply from an e-platform… how commercial fiction that sells has long carried literary fiction (which doesn’t sell)…the costs of positioning a book near the door…about the industry’s head-in-the-sand confusion about what it is and how to perpetuate itself…about the fact that I effortlessly walked through the door with my first two books—a rarity then, an even greater rarity now. We talked about books like The Help, which have spanned the gap between the popular and the literary. And I reminded H. that the author was rejected by 60 agents before one deigned to take her on.
My feelings about this aspect of the publishing world are akin, I expect, to the approach to childbirth during the 1950s: Put me out NOW, and wake me when the baby’s here. I am particularly sensitive to rejection, right now—that’s the most honest thing I can say about myself. I write to be read. I know what I’m writing is good…and in some ways, perhaps, better than that. But waiting for someone else’s wholehearted enthusiasm to catch up with that knowledge? A lot thornier.
H. noted that my writing, these days, is treading the line between the literary and the commercial. That he saw that was gratifying, although he didn’t exactly mean it as a compliment. Why, I ask, must one value be devoid of the other? Might readers find a new reason to read in the emotional complexities of literary fiction when they are propelled by the fantastical devices of commercial enterprise? Is that combining of the two a failure to fall into a niche—or is it a new niche altogether?
H. and I concluded our conversation with his enthusiastic promise to look at the book-in-progress again once it’s finished. I know that he has faith in my writing, even though he questions my recent attempts; even though he doubts the prospects of work not written for that supermarket slot in the publisher’s realities.
So. Where does that leave me?
Scared. And determined.
My greatest fear? Being one of those amazing-unread writers…someone whose talent is discovered only when it’s too late. We write to be read. We hope to find an open seat on the cosmic ferry that shuttles us to where recognition lives.
In the meantime, we write. We write not because we choose to—or ever did: We write because that is who we are. We do not choose to breathe. We do it because nothing exists without it.