Hey, How’s Your Novel Doing?

Posted by on Dec 20, 2007 in Writing | 7 comments

It must be the time of year, because I’m feeling extra annoyed. Just now, the Mysterious Mr. M sent me an email in response to Monday’s post. He empathizes with my rejection agitation because he’s currently in search of a literary agent and received a thanks-but-no-thanks letter from an agent he liked.

In this agent’s rejection letter, she mentioned that editors are running after legal thrillers, zombie detectives, and urban fantasies (which means what exactly?). So, I’m annoyed on his behalf and extra annoyed at the moment because his email got me thinking about a conversation I had earlier this week.

This conversation mimics dozens upon dozens that have come before it, and it goes something like this:

Person I haven’t seen for awhile and don’t know well: “Hey, how’s your novel doing?”

Me: “Uhm, well, I finally landed an agent not too long ago and…”

Person, smile faltering: “Oh, I thought for sure your novel would be published by now.” (Or some variation of this theme with the unsaid thought: How hard could it be?)

Me, in my head: !!$#!%&!!!!

It’s true that hundreds of thousands of books are published each year. What outsiders to the publishing industry don’t understand is that the number of publishing slots available for debut novelists is tiny, in large part because book publishing is like any other big business: going after the surefire money as often as possible. Not huge on risk-taking, those multinational multimedia conglomerates.

Plus, seems like everyone with a computer is writing. Agents are inundated with crap, and even if a talented newcomer makes it out of an agent’s slush pile — not a given — he or she is likely to get rejected anyhow because of market trends. This is Mr. M’s current plight.

I’m one of the lucky ones who made it past slush and into the hands of an agent who believes in my work. And I do mean it when I say “lucky” because, given talent, sometimes it’s only luck that differentiates the published from the unpublished, or the agented from the unagented. (Actually, with some books talent was obviously not a factor, but this is a rant for another time.)

I don’t bother explaining all this to people who ask, “Hey, how’s your novel doing?” Instead, I sometimes want to wonder aloud why in the realm of creative pursuits, it’s considered easier to become a working novelist (by this I mean no day-job needed) than, say, a working painter or a working musician.

Frankly, I think we creatives who are truly going for it must be a crazy bunch. But we gotta do what we gotta do, right?

7 Comments

  1. interesting blog.

  2. Lisa:
    Last night I watched “The Hoax” with Richard Gere. An amazing true story of how the publishing industry can make you go insane. Hang in there, chickie.
    –Liz.

  3. Hey, how’s your love life? Hey, when can I expect grandchildren? Hey, where’s that 20 bucks you owe me? Hey, who’s that guy I saw you with? Hey, when are you going to host another party? Hey, are you fine with just being friends? Hey, did I leave my underwear at your house?

    There are always worse sentences that start with “Hey” and end with “?”.

    Hey, happy holidays.

  4. You’re in a mood today! I’m obviously behind on the haps in your life (reading between the lines of your comment). Hey, what’s going on with you?

  5. My mood is great! I was just trying to think of worse things people could say to you. That is the way of a eternal pessimist.

    I’d love for people to ask “Hey, how’s your photography?”. True, I’d have to say it is going pretty slow, but I’d get to tell them about the great workshops I’ve been to this year, my new lenses for my real camera, my new toy camera (point and shoot), etc. I guess it is different though, seeing as how writing is your total focus, while photography is just my hobby and partial-focus.

    The haps in my life are roller-coaster-y, but when haven’t they been 🙂 We missed ya last Saturday.

  6. Then I hear of people who get book publishing deals on the basis of one short story – eg. Zadie Smith.

  7. lactatingbookworm,

    I hear you on that! And when I do hear such a story, I try not to dwell on it…Hard not to at times, but then I remind myself that those cases are rare.

    Thanks for commenting!

    (Will respond to your other comment on November’s “Growing Pains” post.)

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