Lunch with Book People

August 18, 2016

 

Last week was the most exciting week of my life. 

 

At noon, I slipped out of the conference I was attending in Midtown Manhattan and walked to 5th Avenue to catch a cab. (Well, to be precise, I walked to 7th Avenue, because I am afflicted with Geographic Opposite Syndrome and generally go 180 degrees in the wrong direction when navigating anywhere.) I managed to hail a cab with broken air conditioning—in near-100 degree heat—for the half hour ride to the West Village, but whatever. A little sweat never killed anyone. I also managed to hail the only cab driver in Midtown with a broken GPS, who asked me to please tell him how to get to Houston Street, despite the fact that a) I’m a tourist, and b) I have GOS.

 

When I finally reached my destination, I sponged myself off as best I could, collected my name badge and gamely headed for the elevator. The doors opened into a vestibule with glass cases full of books—beautiful books; they evoked the same response in me a normal person would have at viewing magnificent art, or perhaps the crown jewels—and then a door opened, and I met my editor at Penguin for the first time. Here’s what I’ll say about my editor: she’s the most likable person in New York. And, with the possible exception of my cab driver, I like everyone in New York.

 

My editor introduced me to her boss, whose title was something along the lines of Supreme Bigshot Editor at this division of Penguin Random House. My memory of what exactly she said has largely been replaced with the sound of trumpets and chorusing angels but I know she mentioned she loved my book. She loved my book! This is exactly what insecure writers dream of. I know when I decided to be a writer, my dreams involved Having Lunch in Manhattan with Book People, and here it was actually happening. Totally surreal. 

 

My editor and I had a lovely long lunch. We discussed the book forever. Normally I have to cut myself off from talking about the book when my long-suffering friends start to get the glazed look, so this was a nice change. Here was someone who wanted to talk about the book as much as I did. (And, yes, I know she’s being paid, but at least picking my book was voluntary.)

 

As if all this weren't thrilling enough, I also got to have lunch with my agent the previous day. She’s in Union Square, so I worked in a trip to NYC’s most magnificent bookstore, The Strand. Then I met my agent at her office and we walked to lunch. She’s absolutely fascinating: she’s tiny and beautiful and ferocious. Think spitfire. She’s also warm and kind and knowledgable about everything. 

 

Almost every writer knows what it’s like to be pummeled by rejection. Outside of the Olympics, there are few people in the world who work so hard for so many opportunities to be squashed. Writing a book is an immense amount of work—even before other people weigh in about how much you suck, you wither under your own cloud of self-doubt on a daily basis. Then you get beta-readers and critique partners and local editors, who, if they are any good, tell you what’s wrong with what you wrote. Then it’s on to the highly unlikely feat of acquiring an agent. Agents literally get hundreds of letters a week from people wanting representation, so at best you get no response, and at worst you get an insulting rejection. (Or vice versa, depending on whether you’d rather your life’s work be ignored or dismissed.) Occasionally you get a request for pages, followed by a personalized rejection. Writers blog happily to each other about these: I got rejected, but it was a NICE rejection! She liked a sentence on page 107, y’all! Agents are wonderful people but they're swamped by all these writers.

 

If you manage to snag an agent, they’ll often ask for revisions. Then when you’ve re-worked the thing you wrote for the 400th time, it’s time to move on to be rejected by publishers. This is especially disheartening because you have an agent for God’s sweet sake. You know you possess some viability by this point, so why aren't the publishers falling all over themselves for your brilliant manuscript? You want to know the most reviled words in the English language? Not Right For My List. Ask any writer. Those words suck.

 

Then, if you manage to reach this exalted pinnacle—you’ve been signed by a publishing house—you are rewarded by heaps of scorn from reviewers and readers. Everyone likes to share their opinion on books. This is fine and should be encouraged, unless it’s a negative opinion and it’s regarding my book. Then it should be suppressed, because it’s going to kill me. If ever the phrase Don’t Read the Comments should be taken to heart, it’s now. Because I read the comments about other writers’ work (including comments I myself have made back when I was merely a judgmental reader) and I want to stab myself in the eye with a fork. Just look at these, from an absolutely outstanding thriller I just read: 

 

What an over-wrought, overly complicated , totally impossible mess of a book! One of the worst books I’ve ever read.

 

I don’t know the person who wrote this, but apparently the only other book she’s ever read is War and Peace, because this writer has got to be in the top 1% of all writers ever. She’s phenomenally talented, and even if you didn't care for the plot, the prose is spectacular. But here’s what she gets: One of the worst books I’ve ever read. If this reviewer ever gets ahold of Fifty Shades of Grey, she’s going to spontaneously combust.

 

Ahem. I have wandered a bit off topic here: I meant to illustrate that it’s a hard row to hoe to get published. So when something absolutely awesome happens—like Lunch in New York with Book People—it is cause to celebrate. 

 

Love on your writers, people! 

 

 

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