Britta sent my work to twenty-three publishers during what she called “The First Round” of submissions. One statistic kept running through my head: one out of every three agented manuscripts never gets picked up by a publisher. These are the kind of numbers that stick in my brain, and it seems I’m always hearing things like this, or filtering out all the liquid positive comments, from writers, agents, and publishers. What I’m always left with is a heavy collection of silt in my mind about the process, the industry.
I met a guy the other day who told me that he went into self-publishing because the chance of a writer breaking into the industry and publishing a book is as good as winning the lottery. When I hear things like this, I just nod my head until the words stop coming at me. I really should have challenged it, disagreed and gave him my philosophy, because I don’t buy any of it. You can just tell, though, what kind of a writer you’re dealing with when he or she starts talking to you. You can almost tell, with stunning accuracy, how good the writing is just by talking to the writer. I didn’t argue with this particular guy because I spent some time listening to him. I’ve quit writing groups after listening to the participants, without seeing much of a sampling of their writing.
There are other kinds of writers I don’t care to associate with, and I know it sounds pompous and arrogant to say things like this. The problem is that I just can’t hide my displeasure when it comes to writers I think are poor examples of the literati: low on talent and purpose but high on gimmicry. I’ve lost friends over this. If I attempt to psychoanalyze my feelings about these people, though, the griping usually comes right back to a problem I’m having with myself, a bitterness residing somewhere inside that I can usually purge from my mind and watch float in front of my face on Thursday afternoons during my therapy sessions.
The first response we got for Absolute Gentleman came within a week of Britta’s sending the book out. Amanda Patten called from Touchstone/Fireside, a division of Simon & Schuster (you know I must add this), to express interest in it. I danced, swelled with pride. Here I was, and I’ve come all this way to be here, where I was: some guy with a book that was loved by Simon & Schuster.
Well, what was Simon & Schuster publishing now, actually? What kinds of promotional efforts did they make on behalf of their writers?
This was the first response we had received for the book, so I scoured the internet, as I often do, to make sure they were publishing great books. I had to make sure Simon & Schuster was worthy of my writing.
Then Britta called during jury duty at Pittsfield Superior Court. “Move aside, mutants,” I must have thought, “For it is my agent…Yes, that’s correct working-class slobs…My agent. I am not one of you because I have an agent. We will not be chosen for jury duty, but if anyone is chosen for duty, it should be me, I. It shouldeth beeth I, because I am the only one in this small dusty basement reading a book of literary value, and I am not misusing the English language in my conversations with the woman next to me, nor will I dangle a participle or split an infinitive with my agent – MY AGENT. Mutants, are you hearing this?
So I’m on the phone with Britta, and Amanda Patten is on the line as well (OH, MUTANTS! Dwellers of Pittsfield’s basements!). Amanda asks me if there’s novel in the collection, and who am I to stick to my principles? I would have turned it into a Harlequin right there on the phone — dictated every stroke of the hair to her over the phone.
So now Britta and I had a new project: a synopsis in a month, sample chapters. It was the first response I received. There were 22 hungry and envious publishers left to comment.