One More Time. . .

            I’ve just finished a novel that I like a lot. Edith! Finished!

            This morning I found myself copying down information on fourteen agents who say they are looking for fiction.  Already. I have begun the mental process of composing the hook of the first line of the query letters I will send out. Edith, a disappointed old woman, doesn’t much care that her husband of forty-seven years is laying dead next to her.  Her mind is on the Christmas strata she’s to bake in an hour or so.  Too long? Too depressing?  Not appealing to anyone except maybe other cranky old women? Try again.
            This research, mulling, word crunching is not an unknown activity to me.  I’ve sent out hundreds of queries in the past.  And received hundreds of rejections which were stuck in a desk drawer until I realized how much negative energy I was absorbing from them, coupled with the anxious weeks of silence that followed my electronic submissions.  I’m not sure why I’m thinking of trying one more time to find an agent.  Perhaps I just need the ego-boost an acceptance would bring. Or perhaps I remember the several lonely year-long efforts I’ve plowed through to sell my books.  Or maybe I’m looking for a knowledgeable hired hand who knows how to find the best publisher for Edith.  And once found, it’s possible I would benefit from the publisher’s experts in the design process, in the distribution to bookstores and airport terminals, and even in getting of a newspaper review or two. 
            All these reasons for sending out query letters ring true as I evaluate them, but one more thought keeps rising unbidden to the surface.  “Yes,” I would really like to say. “Yes, I have an agent–she’s terrific!” when friends and fellow writers ask.  I know, this is shallow, very shallow, but that is where I am right now, as I shuffle through Agent Query one more time. 
            But I do wonder.  Am I alone in this compulsion?  Do any of my other writing acquaintances, mostly self-published like me, ever spend a day wondering what it would be like to have a sympathetic partner, an agent, in this process? If so, what have they done about it?  Did they find one? Or did they come to their senses and return to the realities of indie publishing?  Will I?


              Last week I heard an agent speak about the number of queries that landed on her email desk in a year.  One hundred thousand, she said, and her audience  looked up from their scratchpad notes aghast.  “Of those,” she added, “I was able to take on twenty-three as clients.” A hiss spread across the room, a silibant echo of one of my favorite swear words when I am disappointed or have stepped in something.
            April Eberhardt went on to describe the new age of publishing in which the author is in total control of getting his/her book out of the computer and into the hands of potential readers.  Self-publishing.  Used to be another dirty word, but by the time Ms. Eberhardt had finished, a number of us, including the three women sitting on either side of me were wide-eyed and grinning at each other. Hopeful our faces were, the way I feel when I have sent out a really good query and I know I’ll be asked for pages shortly.
             As I walked home, the doubt set in.  A memory of a friend’s mother’s autobiography came to the surface.  The book detailed her many trips off the main road of widowhood into the beckoning woods of sex and libido.  Her stories all began with “I” and we didn’t really get to know any of the men, but what made me finally put it down unfinished was the book’s great need for editing, both line and content. 
            Similar books have created a bad name for self-publishing.  Vanity presses have made millions for themselves, seldom for the authors, producing books that moulder in the back of car trunks or garages after the first twenty copies have been handed to friends and relatives.  This particular book went to few relatives, its contents a bit purple for most of them. Her daughter recycled the remainders when she emptied her mother’s home, saving a copy, along with the cut lead crystal pitcher she held back from the estate sale lady, to bring back memories and smiles.
            However, now, with Kindle and other e-readers, the agent assured us, all that is changing.  We writers have to become knowledgeable about the new technology.  Give up the vision of a book in hand for the reality of a book in the ether.  Besides, she said, if our book is successful (that is, sells a few thousand downloads), we’ll make more money than we would have with an agent and a contract. 
            But first, we have to hire other experts to help us get it all together, she said.  A good editor, a graphic designer, a marketing consultant.  My seat partners and I had left the auditorium convinced we could do all this.
            Why is it, then, that I continue to check my email twice a day?  To wait for word that a stranger wants to see the whole book?  To say no to a husband offering a Kindle after he’s listened to me describe this meeting?  Is it that I need to be validated by some sort of judge before I can believe in my writing?  Or is it my hope that when my home is cleaned out,  a grand daughter will pick up a book with my name on it, will say, “I want  this,” and will put it on her book shelf and think of me once in a while.

Night Thoughts: When Counting Backwards From 100 to l Didn’t Do It

At 3:00 a.m this morning I realized that I should not have sent out twelve query letters for Graffiti Grandma the same week I laid fifty invitations to  a Holiday party on the doorsteps of my condo neighbors. I can now expect rejections in not one but two areas in my life and I’m not sure my ego will survive.

Just how much stress can an old lady handle? An even better question might be: Why did she think she needed to do either kind of reaching-out?  And what inspired her? The long hours in front of the computer, the tentative smiles from strangers on the elevator, the panting novel, the hope to move past smiles to names?

In the midst of that night-churning I forced myself to think about other things,  about the four novels I’ve finished.  Each is about a woman who needs to solve a few problems.  In fact, one of the protagonists is dead already, but still trying.  And each woman is older than the one in the previous book.  Just as I am getting older.  They’ve gone from sexy to arty to philosophical to crabby.  Just like me.  They worry about marriage, divorce, children, loss, and redemption in the same ways I have.

What seems to be clear now that it is light outside and I’ve had my coffee is that I’ve spent the past fifteen years chronicling my life as I wandered through it.

How uncreative of me, I think, pouring another cup.  Then I run my glance over my book case full of old and new books that I love enough to make me unable to donate them to the library used book sale.  I see that I am not alone.  Roth, Updike, Hemingway, Smiley, Proulx and even Evanovitch, I betcha, seem find their truths and their characters first in themselves.  I’m thinking that most writers do.  While I’m not in the same league as these writers and most of the others on my shelves, I am beginning to understand that I write to learn more about myself.  And that it is okay.  Maybe even healthy.

So my next story will involve a woman who sits bolt upright in a midnight bed and discovers a way to deal with  an heavy onset of rejection.  Maybe she’ll start testing recipes for Holiday punch and discover that after a few swallows, rejection isn’t that big a deal, just life.

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