Heartbreaking because this writer's experience--of traveling horrible distances to do a book signing that isn't promoted, and which nobody attends--is replicated to one degree or another by virtually every writer I've ever known.
Heartbreaking because it happens dozens of times every single day, to writers of all stripes (not just literary), reflecting a culture that does not treasure its authors as once it did.
Heartbreaking because writing a book and getting it published, and being the editor who discovers and gets the opportunity to work with that writer, can be for both parties such a deliriously beautiful experience, full of love and optimism and the promise of great things--and then, too often, even when everything goes as planned, things don't go as hoped; and the result, too often, is--well, heartbreaking.
But the final and most powerful pang comes for this author's unexpected generosity toward--and respect for--the editor(s) with whom s/he has shared this particular heartbreak. Says, "Rely on your publisher for nothing, when your book comes out. If they do anything, you'll be pleasantly surprised"; but also says, "Your editor is not betraying you. Your editor may well be fighting hard for your book, but [is] unable to surmount the opposing forces..."
That such kind-heartedness exists even in the face of such disappointment: this moves me. It motivates me. This author understands that, for so many of us, it's not about product or units or bestsellers per se--it's about publishing books we believe in by authors we admire, publishing them with as much care and pride and vigor as we can.
I don't concede. I don't think it's true that editors are powerless, or that the marketing departments call all the shots. I'm not saying it's easy; I'm not saying an editor can move the mountain every single time; and I'm not saying that the stack of disappointment--for editors, I mean--isn't always quite a bit taller than its opposite. Passionate advocacy won't carry the day even 50% of the time. But without passion, all is lost. And it's still the case that, sometimes, an editor's passion--even for a "small" book bought for an unspectacular sum--can set in motion a chain-reaction that ends happily for all--but only if the work itself subsequently bears up again and again to the scrutiny of the many, many sets of readers along the yellow brick road to publication. And in such a case, the power an editor possesses comes, ultimately, from a single source.
The work itself.
"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."
PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]
"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."
PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]
"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."
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