This is a column by Susan O'Doherty, from the blog, Buzz, Balls, & Hype, and it speaks to many of the fears that all writers — including myself — feel. Some inspiration for the holidays:
DEAR BOOK-BIZ SANTA:
As you know well, this is the season when I usually petition you to intervene on behalf of clients and friends: a good agent for this one; a fat contract for that one; a great review (or several) for the other. And you’ve been very helpful; thank you.
The problem is, it’s not enough.
I don’t mean that these writers are greedy, demanding two agents, or a multibillion-dollar contract, or front-page reviews. If anything, the requests have become more modest in scope as the business (apparently) fragments.
It’s just that these gifts don’t give the recipients the same fair crack at success they used to.
One friend has written a series of well-published and well-received nonfiction books, but she can’t get anyone to look at her novel (and they should, it’s fabulous). Another had a great contract from a first-rate publisher—but as she was finishing revisions, the imprint her novel was to be published under was eliminated. The book came out under a different imprint, but at an odd time of year and without any “push” from the publicity department, and despite stellar reviews, it’s not doing nearly as well as it should.
And then there’s me. You brought me a terrific agent, who loved my novel. I’m grateful, Santa, truly. But then after several near-misses, she told me that although she still believes the novel is brilliant, she’s decided it’s not marketable, and it was nice to know me.
So I’ve been puzzling about what would make us all happy this year. Then, last week, I visited the Eugene Von Bruenchenhein exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum.
Von B (I’m not typing that again!) worked in poverty and obscurity his whole life. He toiled in a large bakery, and painted on bakery boxes because he couldn’t afford canvas. Later in life, he constructed elaborate sculptures of chicken and turkey bones—the remains of his family dinners. He would boil the bones in ammonia, dry them, glue them together, and paint them with leftover automotive paint his friends donated. He also created hundreds of drawings and photographs.
The point, for me, isn’t the quality of his work, which is, well, debatable. It’s the palpable enthusiasm, the perseverance despite any prospect of encouragement or reward from the outside world. From all appearances, E. von B was a happy, fulfilled person.
So I’ve decided to ask you, instead, to sustain that spirit in all of us—to remind us of the joy inherent in creation, regardless of the outcome. To keep us grateful that the materials we need to write are minimal and don’t require boiling in ammonia. To help us to enjoy all of our gifts, despite the uncertainty of pretty much everything.
One of my clients turned in the final revisions of her latest book yesterday. Despite an impressive publishing history, she confided spasms of anxiety about its fate: “I’m afraid they’re going to call me tomorrow and say they’re not going to publish it after all—they’re cutting back by 50%; my editor has been fired—anything can happen now.”
However, she went on, “I’m just trying to sit with the knowledge of what I’ve accomplished, no matter what this crazy world decides to do with it.”
Let’s spread some of that around, Santa. Please.
And have a happy holiday.