Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Monday, September 18, 2006

When people are desperate to publish....

I have nothing but good things to say about Critical Mass, the National Book Critics Circle blog. I am also a huge fan of Rebecca Skloot's father, writer Floyd Skloot. But today's post about the "Sobol Award" sets off every alarm. Doubtless "Sobol" will receive many, many submission with the requisite $85 via paypal or credit card. Certainly any number of oft-rejected, would-be writers will hope fervently for good news.

I understand. A couple years ago I wrote a novel and was able to secure an agent, who sent my baby all over New York. As the rejections piled up, she'd say blithely "Oh, it'll get published." She was hardworking, honest, and kind, until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 2004, when she telephoned to announce she was leaving agenting immediately for another position, entrusting my book to the senior agent.

The senior agent clearly wanted nothing do with me; she had not read the book and did not answer the two emails I sent her. When I wrote asking to excuse myself from her representation, she answered within ten minutes. She then mailed me a copy of my mss with a pile of rejection letters atop it.

I was crushed. Also confused. The book had been rejected by numerous houses, which was fine by me--my agent had yet to hit the indies or smaller publishers, where I frankly thought the work had a better chance. But what agent wants to take on an already tainted book by a nobody from the left coast?

I submitted to a couple more agencies, interacted with some stunningly unprofessional people, looked around at what was getting published, and started putting the book up here. Along the way, I have had countless crises of faith about writing. On my worst days I tell myself I will stop making myself sick by age forty. Then I remember Julia Alvarez--first novelist at 43--or Janet Fitch, who slaved for twenty years before White Oleander got published--also in her forties.

I relate all this not to engender sympathy, but to say I completely understand the kind of desperation that would drive somebody to underwrite a "writing contest" with money better spent on books--the new Atwood is out tomorrow--or on lots and lots of stamps. You can query lots of publishers with $85 worth of stamps.

Keep on rocking in the free world.

Books, Publishing

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