- E.M. Forster
I think, to a poet, the human community is like the community of birds to a bird, singing to each other. Love is one of the reasons we are singing to one another, love of language itself, love of sound, love of singing itself, and love of other birds.
- Sharon Olds
Hello friends. The autumnal equinox is almost upon us, that great shifting of light across the world that heralds the dip toward winter. The equinox is also my birthday - the beginning of my personal new year. Personal new years are a perfect time to take stock, plan and dream, collect ourselves and celebrate. Along with the farmers working the late harvest, I gather in the apples of hard work and the sheaves of lessons learned. And while I could torture the metaphor further, I'm sure you've taken my point. Whether you're relaxing from a strenuous summer and looking forward to fall or gearing up to take on a personal goal just around the corner, take a beat to celebrate yourself. There's much about life we hurry past and neglect to notice - accomplishments eclipsed by newer goals or growing to-do lists. Acknowledging the work of the year and the fruits of our labors is more than just a pause for applause: giving attention to our efforts consolidates the foundation of goal-setting and confidence. This is life lived. It's good to take a compass reading from time to time.
I wrote in an earlier blog late this summer about reaching the end of a novel manuscript and moving forward toward submission. This novel is a big project, a marriage of research and imagination, and often one side of the work depended heavily on accomplishment in the other. This one novel took the longest to write of any of my books, and I am surprised, pleasantly, by the way that resounds in my soul in a good way, and also by the degree of hope I have for this project. I promised you I would share the journey, and so I will. First step? Take a deep breath and send the manuscript to my agent.
Literary agents work incredibly hard out of deep love for books and the written word. This first professional review of any writer's work is very meaningful. Neither writer nor agent wish to waste one another's time. A writer's creative effort will be leveraged through an agent's market expertise: at it's best, the agent-writer relationship functions as smoothly as a two-man crew, rowing in perfect rhythm, powering forward. I rely on my agent for her market savvy and her guidance, her knowledge of everything that lies outside building a book in my head. The best moment to date? When my agent finished reading the lengthy manuscript and sent me the literary equivalent of a big kiss and a bow.
The manuscript is then readied for submission to publishers, accompanied by a scintillating book synopsis (one hopes), an author bio, a page of sterling past reviews... And the not-so-small matter of sales track. Certainly literature and poetry are the classic face of the book business, but they aren't the bread and butter of publishing. The book market is frequently driven by block-buster sales and a question mark hangs over every experienced author's head. Do sales numbers (collected by Bookscan and available in perpetuity) justify a publisher launching the newest book, or the promotional expenses involved? Modest sales, good reviews? Was the author a victim of a bad economy or a stroke of bad timing? Is the author's work undiscovered or is the writer's artistic run spent? Do good reviews guarantee a loyal reading audience? Is it just about Facebook follows? An expert platform? In the end, I have faith it always comes down to the strength of the writing.
The manuscript stands naked. Success often comes down to one editor, one reader, a stroke of luck - connecting with an editor who falls in love with a book they will fight to bring out even against the competing submissions of their own colleagues. Is it any reason we all drink? But seriously. There is wry truth in what Helen Frankenthaler observed, The price for living the life I have - for any serious, devoted person, is that at times one must live alone, or feel alone. I think loneliness is associated in many people's minds when they think about success.
My birthday wish is probably an easy one to guess. My hopes and plans for this next year are focused on placing this book in your hands. Keep the faith. And send good thoughts!