• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Sometimes the Lights All Shining on Me

An editor told me that pictures of cute animals increase traffic exponentially. I'm not proud.

If the best moment in an agent’s life is telling a writer that a publisher has made an offer on his or her book, the worse is when, about three weeks after publication, it becomes clear that without an act of god the book is likely to slip beneath the waves. How do you tell a drowning man there’s no raft?

The tour that didn’t materialize, reviews that didn’t appear, feature articles failed to showcase you at your desk, your cocker spaniels aloof on the couch. You had to throw your own publication party and your editor didn’t come. Or your agent for that matter.

I’ve never met an author who didn’t think that publishing a book would change his life. The problem is you never think it’s going to be a change for the worse. Some writers never recover from their book going unnoticed, some can’t take the negative reviews (JDS). Even those who get good attention can get stage fright. Can’t live up to or live down from expectations. And some, just some, can access their gift, harness their desire, and get back to work.

If you have been published, what was it like? Did you get rich, famous, laid? Did you get another contract? Did the book help you in achieving other career goals. Did your father stop calling you a bum? If you have not yet been published, what is your fantasy about what might happen. Don’t be shy.

45 Responses

  1. Not rich, not famous, but three published books put out by good houses. Enough for dedications to my husband, son, and daughter. All bases covered. I have a post-it next to my computer which reads “Don’t let your writing define you.” I don’t know the author of this advice, but it’s sound.

  2. I got published. With a co-author, a little non-fiction book. We threw our own parties and did our own “blog tour,” and the book still floats along out there (this was in 2006), although it has never earned out its meager advance. But it put me in a whole new category as a writer, helped me catch the attention of a great collection of magazine editors, and gave me an expertise in writing about a subject (it was about children’s books) that led pretty much directly to the best regular writing gigs I have now. I could have made as much in the way of fame and fortune by standing around on Broadway in a sandwich board, but the experience was “priceless.” Of course, now I’m hoping that all the unpaid hours I’m putting in on the proposal for book #2 pay off in at least the same coin. (Well, I’m hoping for the NYT bestseller list, but I’d settle.)

  3. My fantasy? That I might get published again. That I could say “I’m a writer” for more reason than the amount of time I spent staring at my laptop and scribbling in notebooks.

  4. Well, maybe it’s good to out these things. If my book is published…

    I imagine my presence online will increase dramatically. Hundreds of little things will fall under this category. Much of it can be done by me, but it will be exhausting. Too, all of the respect I’ve gained and doors I’ve opened will have to be taken into account, played to their best advantage.

    I’ll be organizing, funding, trying to promote, and attending to a book promo tour. I have bookseller friends who are going to help me, but still. I can see a lot of work going into something that nobody shows up to, no matter how much effort I put into it. So, I’m often thinking of what I need to do to get people to come. To what lengths do I have to go?

    I know I’m a fighter. I know I can only depend on myself. I know I will do everything I can, drive myself into the ground for my book. Yet, in spite of all of my efforts, it may be that the book comes out at the wrong time. Some things are beyond my control.

    All the while, I’ll have been working on my next effort. No slacking. I believe I’ll just dig in and focus my energy there in the case of a failure or success. The time will come.

  5. Three books published. The first one won a rather Large Deal award. I’ve bored you with that story before so I won’t do it again.
    But I clearly remember that night, receiving that award, knowing my agent was salivating over the project she was about to sub, thinking that I was on the edge of breaking out, of becoming Somebody.

    Instead, my publisher folded the line and I was orphaned. No one bought the project my agent had such faith in. She subbed another project and had no takers. I wrote another book and she hated it. Said she couldn’t rep it. I said, are you breaking up with me? No, she said – I just can’t sell this book. After months of angst and grief, I said goodbye, certain it’d be a piece of cake to find another agent who would love me…er, my work. I had no clue what I was in for. Turns out I left my agent the day the music died. Suddenly, no one was selling, editors were losing their jobs, publishers were posting lots of red in their books.

    It took over 2 years to find another agent – this January. She sold my YA project in 2 weeks. I’d love to think I’m Back, that I have another shot at becoming Someone – and by Someone, I mean an author whose work is talked about enough and sells enough that at contract time, there are more zeroes in the advance – but I am now insanely superstitious and will never again think I’m anywhere close to All That.

    As if karma hasn’t already kicked my ass enough, last week I received a royalty statement from my ex agent, along with a check. I was ecstatic when I saw there was a check in the envelope. Then…it was for $.01. Not kidding. One f’ing cent. If she weren’t a class act and a hardcore professional, I’d think maybe she was sending a message with that check. But that’s not her style. I asked her to wait until there was enough to be worthy of a check and she agreed.

    Did publishing three books change my life? Yeah, but not in any way I thought it would. It taught me to be humble, and glad for those fleeting moments when everything feels right and good. If they come again – as happened when I signed with my new agent and again when we sold this YA project – I won’t be looking ahead to the next Big Thing. I’ll savor the moment, well aware this may be all there is.

    • This is one of those posts I want to send to everyone who notices I’m writing a book and says something along the lines of: “Wouldn’t that be nice, to just write a book, sit back, collect checks, and be rich?” (That one was my mother). I’ve given up trying to explain the whole query process and steps to publishing (let alone the difficulty in succeeding, which can be largely beyond our control). Now when people ask me what I’m doing with my laptop on the bus, I just answer “porn.”

      • LOOOOOOOOL ya i’ll do that too! Orthodox scarf-wearing Muslim woman, answering porn! No kidding I’m gonna try it!

        Ya, my favorite is when people ask when the book will be on sale (the day after you finish writing it–and before it goes on submission)–as if it will be in a couple of months at the most.

  6. As one of your writers who slipped into obscurity and can’t seem to get back, I feel angry, abused, cheated, and responsible. Sometimes it’s my fault; sometimes it’s yours or my editor’s. It’s the publicity people who, after thirty days, said, “Well, we’re done here. See ya.” Mostly it’s the economy that’s stupid, and no one else is to blame. I’d like to think I’m someone who can overcome it and get right back up there, but it’s not been so easy. Still, even if it’s all I have, I got a book published by Simon & Schuster, repped by a rock and roll agent.

    Show me where I lost.

  7. I published my first novel in 1994, and my 8th is coming out this fall. I expected the moon with that first book – and the second — and then by the third, I settled down to reality. My life hasn’t changed; I still have my regular job.

    And yet, each book has done a little better than the one before. I am still with the same editor, having moved publishing houses with her. My advances have gone up, and my last book spent several weeks on the NYT and other bestseller lists. My husband and I now have a plan than will have me writing full-time in four more years. That’s 20 years after I started publishing; 25 years after I started writing seriously. And I now believe that will really happen. But only because he pays for health insurance.

    This was not what I thought my fantasy would look like way back when. It is nonetheless fantastic and I appreciate it all the more for it not being the result of lighting striking. I can keep writing through anything, and I know it.

  8. Wow. I think I’m depressed.
    😉 My fantasy? I’d like to be quietly successful, so there’s no pressure on me as I continue to write.

  9. I don’t think I had any outsized expectations — I live with a writer who had published two or three books by the time my own sold, and I saw how that went down.

    But I was surprised by my devastating inability to handle the pressure to somehow make the book sell, to market myself as a writer, to deal with publishers and publicists, to say clever things in interviews, and then to write another book that would sell, or just be, better. Turns out my mom was right: I’m a hothouse flower. Ten years of self-loathing/confusion/drinking/writer’s block later I’m finally, I think, for the most part, over it.

    Selling the book was absolutely the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me, and it did change my life. But it also totally kicked my ass.

  10. I wrote a series of books about sea animals for kids a few years ago. Most of the editorial staff was let go during this time, so after the books came out, I never heard from anyone again. The whole experience was a bit of an anticlimax–to say the least. But I’m proud of these books–the series idea and title were my idea and somehow (with a persistent agent), it happened. The books–last time I checked–are still in print.

  11. I’ve been purblished three times. It has changed my life. In unexpected ways. The readers write to me. They tell me how my stories make them cry or laugh or helped them get through the death of a friend. Very powerful stuff that humbles me. Touches me in a way I thought that strangers never could.

    Dealing with agents, editors and publishers has also changed me. It’s made me more bitter. And almost psychotically protective of that which I love. And exhausted. The constant struggle against the lunacy claws at my desire to keep going every single morning.

    Always on the edge of fuck this. I’m too old for this shit.

    • This part of your post: “Dealing with agents, editors and publishers has also changed me. It’s made me more bitter” stood out from the rest.

      When we finally realize that no agent, no editor, and no publisher is better than us, peace happens.

      We’ve made gods of ordinary people and given them power over us that most probably don’t even want.

      • Gods? Better than me? Hahahaha…

      • ‘We’ve made gods of ordinary people and given them power over us that most probably don’t even want.’

        Exactly. I think we’ve discussed this before but as much as publishing professionals are mostly, in my experience, more passionate about their jobs than your average bear (or else why are they dealing with crappy pay and general sense of doom?) it is a hard thing to feel like you have someone’s fragile dream in your hands. Some authors seem to come to the project as though they’re at your mercy. Mind you they’re at the mercy of many things–fate, a bad economy, fickle readers–but it ain’t me who has the power to make your book sell or not sell.

  12. This is my fantasy: I put my toes into the mouths of Chelsea Handler and Malcolm Gladwell and David Sedaris and Michael Pollan and Elizabeth Gilbert and Greg Mortenson as I’m climbing up all their faces and stomping on their heads until they fall off the list. Where did all those fuckers go? I’ve been up here for 370 weeks and I haven’t seen those poor bastards anywhere.

  13. A member of our writing group (6 members) sold a YA novel to Little Brown who proceeded to do a truly amazing job of bringing the book to fruition. From cover design, through marketing, and distribution their approach was totally professional, effective, and inclusive of the author. The hardcover sold out and the paperback just came out. They also cut a deal with Scholastic who immediately shot a trailer they say will be seen by half-a-million school children. Scholastic’s school market paperback also just came out.

    After all the horror stories of publishers ranging from indifference to almost criminal negligence toward an author’s book, It is good to hear something positive.

    She gets preteen fan mail from all over the world. And they are negotiating for her second YA novel.

    I could be this fortunate? Probably not.

  14. I’m not published yet, but the experiences of my published friends have helped to downsize my own expectations and fantasies. One of my pals had a book twice-orphaned, and though it’s been out for two months now, I’ve yet to see it on a bookstore shelf. Meanwhile, her pub spends wildly on one or two mediocre lead titles in her genre, while her beautiful book sits… in a warehouse somewhere? I don’t even know. The idea that you can get “skipped” by the chains was something I didn’t understand until a few years ago, and it’s colored my publication fantasies ever since.

    One of my other friends has had two books out in the last three years, and both could have been much improved with a more deft editorial hand. She’s a plotter, my friend is, not a stylist. Her books were YA but the characters seemed more like middle grade, and the prose just wasn’t up to snuff. Both books tanked. She has a top-notch agent, but who knows if she’ll be able to publish again?

    So here are my publication fantasies:
    — Have a signing at my local indie.
    — Have the manager at my local indie remember my name! (Seriously, I’m in every week, I’ve introduced myself to her a zillion times, and still it’s “Hi, have you been here before?” Should I dye my hair purple?)
    — Go to BEA
    — Speak at my local SCBWI conference.
    — See my book face-out at one of the chains.
    — Get a “congratulations!” cookie-cake from my co-workers. ‘Cause I have no illusions about giving up my day job.

    • Bless you. Some future publicist is going to love you and tell her co-workers how you’re one of the good ones.

  15. If getting a short story published while in high school counts, then I have been published. As for my present project, I do not care what happens. I am a stroke survivor and my present finished novel is about my experiences. I know it will shed some positive light on the event that millions of people a year endure. Too many just give up. I want to publish to try to help.

    As for the fantasy part, what can be better than writing? I get pleasure from the act itself. Your thoughts and feelings appear as text to be saved for later enjoyment. Then there is the enjoyment of fantasizing about getting published. Just like buying a lottery ticket. You know in your hear that the odds are stacked against you, but if, just maybe. A long running, pleasant mind game.

  16. I’ve already lost touch with reality. At least, I think that thing that keeps knocking at my door is reality. It sure isn’t the postman comething. It’s like a psychiatrist once asked me: “Do you see people or hear voices that are not there?” and I answered: “How should I know?”

  17. This story sounds like my debut novel–zero major reviews, tour fell through, publisher put its marketing eggs in other books’ baskets. The only good that came out of it is that the small press publisher agreed to publish my next book, on which it had an option. Yes, the chains “skipped” the second book because of the failure of the first, but when it came out, it received great reviews and some major honors, so the chains reconsidered. Like its characters, the second novel has traveled a hard road, but I now have an agent for the first time, and its success may have opened doors (the size and elegance of the doors remain to be seen) for a third novel and the one I just started.

    My experience and those of writer friends have taught me that this is as precarious a business as there is, and one has to have a Plan B in place. Mine is using my successful novel to find teaching jobs that enhance my writing and where I can contribute to the lives of my students. The experience has also taught me the importance of spending the time to write the best book you can write, because the second book really was superior to the first.

  18. My Publishing Project class (on Masters program) has an anthology coming out soon and it will include a short story I wrote. It will be my first published fiction piece. But I don’t feel like I’ve earned it – we were each asked to submit something which classmates then edited, but it’s not like there was any real vetting process. It doesn’t feel like it counts.

    Any high-falutin’ ideas I had about being published or “making it” as a writer have been beaten out of me by every single writer, poet, editor, agent that has guest lectured us this term. Well, that and Betsy’s blog. Still . . .

  19. I think that working in publishing probably tempered any truly wild fantasies I had about what it means to be published. You see too many otherwise perfectly reasonable human beings going absolutely nuts when the experience doesn’t live up to their expectations. I try to remind myself that all the hard knocks of being unpublished will help to toughen me up for the hard knocks of BEING published. One of the big lessons I took away from NOT getting a book deal is how important it is to go back to writing as soon as possible after a big disappointment and I think that will apply for getting published as well; whether it’s a big disappointment or a big success–just get back on the horse.

    Mainly I fantasize about the moment I get the call and how that will feel because no matter what came before and what comes after, for that one moment it will be really, really exciting.
    My goal is to be able to work only part time and write the rest of the time, that’s my ideal life. Admittedly I do fantasize occasionally about the soundtracks and casting decisions for the movie version but that’s just for kicks.

    • After the debacle of the first novel, I was so done with fantasizing that when someone asked me in an interview about casting decisions for the movie version of the second novel, I didn’t have an answer for him. The only thing I could say was, “Next question.”

      • Sad face cmwb! Did they cast Paul Walker to play the lead in the film version of the first one or something?

  20. I’m curious why some of the commenters who have published don’t link here to their books or websites. I read your comment, I’m curious. Maybe I’d buy your book. Maybe I’d tell my friends to do so. Blogs are a great way to build relationships — why not use your full name and a link? I don’t get it. If you want to be obscure, that’s not going to help you sell books, right?

    • Good question, Amy. A book that bombs spectacularly is really embarrassing to the author and in most cases a career killer. This is not a field that offers many second chances. And because it’s also a field in which public image is so important, an author still struggling to overcome an early career misstep is not going to want to be associated with that misstep in public.

      At the same time, it’s important for those at the beginning of the process to learn from the mistakes of those who’ve gone before. Among those mistakes are the assumption that the publisher will take care of all publicity and marketing, that the first book accepted by a publisher is the best candidate to be the author’s debut book (yes, this sounds strange, but the debut is an opportunity the author will never have again), and that one can never recover from a flop because it can happen.

      • What clawing said.
        I’m trying to reinvent myself – even signed this YA contract under a psuedonym. I also kind of dished about my ex agent. I don’t think I put her in a bad light – and if I did, I certainly didn’t mean to, because other than not loving my gritty, edgy never-been-done-before-so-I-was-sure-it-would-sell-in-five-minutes women’s fiction, she is an awesome agent and human being. I just don’t want to be known as That Guy. You know, the one who sounds like she’s whining about her POS career and appears to blame it on her agent.
        Just wanted to share that once you sign a contract, it’s not the cupcake dreamworld we imagine. Unless you’re Stephenie Meyer.
        I bet she gets cupcakes flown in from Far Far Away.

      • My fantasy is to be successful enough as an author that I can talk about my failure in public to show young people that one can bounce back and learn from bad luck and bad choices. I’d always been a straight A student, but in my first teaching job I taught students who had repeatedly failed in school, and I don’t think I understood them as well then as I do now. Since then, I’ve come to realize how easy it is to give up on yourself, that after falling short a few times, it’s easy to stop making the investment of time, resources, and caring to succeed in the future.

    • On the other hand…my books have been pretty damn successful. Still doesn’t mean I don’t want to have one fucking place on Earth where I can say what I want about the publishing world without it getting back to this person who will tell that person who will…can you hum the soundtrack to It’s a Small World After All?

  21. I would simply enjoy being successful enough that my publisher continues to publish the books I write. I don’t expect to get rich (though I must admit that I have entertained fantasies where my book becomes a bestseller and I sell movie rights to someone like Clint Eastwood). But a more realistic dream is that I get published, my book is relatively successful and I develop a modest but steady income from my writing. I therefore fullfil my aesthetic and monetary dreams.

  22. Still in the revision stage with my agent. Fantasy of being published? Public justification for my reclusive daydreaming demeanor in every aspect of my introspective life.

  23. I just want enough power and fame that I can give David Ulin a list of people I want banned from the green room at the LAT Festival of Books.

  24. “…I develop a modest but steady income…”

    This is the part that is nearly impossible.

  25. Here’s probably the biggest gift after five successful novels. I no longer care about getting respect from people I don’t respect.

  26. Wow, these stories are depressing. Not the lack of fame and fortune, but the way the books are published, but then languish in warehouses, or orphaned. I had been thinking of self-publishing, but everyone urges me to keep querying, but now I’m having second thought, again. I think it might be better to keep all my rights to my book and epublish for as long as I want.

  27. A few years ago, a year before my book debuted, I attended The Muse & The Marketplace writer’s conference. And agent (not mine) Sorche Fairbanks said something that I am certain made a huge difference in my attitude: “No one will ever care as much about your book as you; not your mother,not your agent, not your editor–nobody.”

    When she said it I felt a little frightened, but I took it to heart. And it’s true. I’ve been very happy with St. Martins Press, but I haven’t counted on them to sound the drum. I figured if I want people to read the book I wrote I better get out there and tell them about it.

    I’m writing this from a hotel (paid for by me) in NJ, readying to speak at the Watchtung Bookstore with author’s Therese Walsh and Shelley Stout on “what to do before you debut.’ Sleep an awful lot, because if you want to do right by your book, you’ll be working seven days a week.

    Last month I got to see Sorche again (this time I was at the Muse to participate on a panel about giving good promo) and gave her a probably too-intense hug. Her words put me on the path to realizing that while I couldn’t do it all, I could do plenty.

    Publishing my book has brought me a feeling of accomplishment and yes, happiness. It feels like I am finally living honest. I’m working hard to finish my next one. I’m planning to sleep sometime in 2012.

  28. If all goes well next week, I will have my 115th book acceptance (actually more books have been accepted but I’ve had at least 20 books canceled for one reason or another). Yes, 115 books. Has anyone heard of me? Not really. Do I make a fortune? No. The sheer number of books will tell you that I have to keep writing multiple books to keep the wolf from the door. In 30 years I’ve never had a book launch party because I was too busy writing books and doing school visits.

    I write books because it’s why I’m here. I keep my expectations low–if any recognition or award comes along, and some do, well, that’s nice. Meanwhile, I have work to do.

  29. I’ve published 12 books, have one coming out next year and another the following year. That said, I’ve had years when I couldn’t sell anything. My taxable income in 2008 was -$2. Yes, that’s a negative sign, not a dash.

    But publishing my first book DID change my life. It wasn’t a runaway bestseller, or a bestseller at all by any measurement, and some of the reviews completely and totally kicked my ass all over the map. BUT opening a paper — a real, national paper — and seeing a review of my book was a thrill. It’s still a thrill, when it happens. And just being published at all proved to me that if I could do it once, I could do it again, and each time out of the gate I figure out a bit more about how to market myself, what to expect, etc.

    It didn’t make me rich, but other than that, being published really did live up to my expectations. (Maybe I had low expectations to begin with!)

    On the other hand, you caught me in a really good week. Maybe if you’d asked in mid-2008, hereafter known as THE YEAR OF THE FORM REJECTION, my answer would have been different.

  30. My fantasy of getting my book published is to definately get laid and preferably with a martini by my side. It is like running the NY Marathon, been there, done it, came with a tremendous amount of pain, but was a f…awesome journey! I have been published as a colunist with the New Haven Register for many years and what was best about it was the reaction of women who read the columns who claimed that I made them laugh and on other days made them cry. Reaching others to let them know they arent alone is my goal.

  31. As a relatively recently addicted fiction writer (I know, those adverbs are a giveaway), I’m a little bemused by the hunger out there. I understand ambition, but there are other things in life! Like most people, I’d love to make a living doing something I enjoy, (my wife would love it too), but I have no doubt that it’ll take time. A lot of it. Also a fair amount of luck, so it would appear.
    Though not exactly prolific, I’ve managed six novels and more than a hundred short stories in the last five years. I’ve won a few minor prizes and been published in a few anthologies, but it’s true that selling yourself takes far more energy that story-telling.
    So my fantasy, like most people’s I guess, is to get an agent or publisher firmly on my side, and ultimately to get as many people as possible to read my stuff.
    But to tell the truth, right now I’d settle for a failed book launch!

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