• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Once Upon a Time You Dressed So Fine

Sales figures. When I was a young editor, a highly regarded literary agent sent me the second novel by a writer whose first I had loved. I was desperate to acquire it, but before my boss had even read a page, he quickly surmised the situation. The novelist’s first work hadn’t sold much and his publisher had passed on the book. He asked me to ask the agent for sales figures. She sneered at my request. I wasn’t allowed to bid on the book. And I never saw another project from the agent.

Fast forward. Today, all sales figures are available to publishers on Bookscan, which tracks approximately 70% of sales. Now, you can no longer fib about how many books you’ve sold the way you might fib about penis size, body weight, or SAT’s

Duh, a good track record is hugely helpful in providing leverage when you’re selling your next book or the one after that. But it’s not everything. I think of bad sales figures as a sand trap. If you can chip your way out  you can stay in the game. The novelist I couldn’t acquire went on to win five literary prizes and was twice a finalist for the National Book Award.

How do you stay in the game, overcome sales figures, demons, financial insecurity, creative ebbs, night terrors?

11 Responses

  1. By writing the best possible next novel. Speaking from experience here!

  2. I read somewhere – I think maybe in Anne Patchett’s book, Truth and Beauty – that you edited Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face. I’ve been impressed ever since.

    Both books to me are wonderful. What an achievement to have a hand in such a book, Lucy Grealy’s that is.

    Obviously you have to hang on in there to succeed, but it seems to me you have a pretty good track record regardless of sales.

  3. I like that happy story. I was just about ready to change my name.

    • I did.

      My first deal was two thrillers for mid-six figures. Big name blurb on the front cover, etc.–the one big chance that every writer dreams of. Both novels tanked with a sort of cosmic completeness. (My current deal is low-five for two YA.)

      My agent suggested that I change my name on any future thrillers. So after a great deal of thought, I came up with a brilliant pseudonym. We sent out the next thriller (which Neil Nyren, may his cities fall and his name be forgotten, rejected a few weeks ago with Extreme Prejudice*) and my agent sent me a rejection, and I saw that he’d sent it out under a completely different name, one I’d never seen before.

      My agent must’ve seen my brilliant pseudonym and figured it’d be easier to just make up his own than have to talk to me again.

      Sadly, he hasn’t been able to fix the night terrors so easily.

      * By which I mean ‘Politeness.’ But that doesn’t help, does it?

      • See, you should have picked “Nicholas Sparks.”

      • I think my big idea was ‘Commander Frankenstein’ or similar. ‘It’s unforgettable!’ I burbled at my agent, who is notoriously a non-burbler.

        (And that’s a nice blog you’ve got there. I’m half of a writing couple, too. Well, I’m more like 30% of a writing couple. But it’s always interesting to find another. Of course, neither of _us_ write for Granta or The New Yorker, no matter how they beg.)

      • Thanks! I am about 3.5% on a good day, unless we’re talking body mass. Then I’m about 50% of a writing couple.

        However, I totally dominate the crock pot.

  4. A great ending to that story!

  5. I have not had a book published, but your words speak to me in terms of “creative ebbs.”

    I recently finished a novel that had been inspired by years of life and meditation. Now that it’s done, I find I’m having a hard time digging for that other idea. I’m a little worn out and not sure how to live up to that first accomplishment. But I’ll keep trying. Perhaps your book has some advice in that regard. I’ll look into it.

  6. Wow, that sand trap metaphor is a keeper. Chip chip chip.

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