This Is One of Those List Thingies

I don’t usually hang my hat on these kinds of lists, let alone pass them along, but this one made me pause (thanks to my publisher for sharing it yesterday).

For my writer friends out there, you can find a fair amount of truth in here. But considering this list came from best-selling author Curtis Sittenfeld, I took the liberty of commenting on each item from my current position in the writing world, which is clearly a very different position than Curtis (and by different, I mean earth-bound vs. astral plane).

You can find her original post on BuzzFeed here.

24 Things No One Tells You About Book Publishing

1. When it comes to fellow writers, don’t buy into the narcissism of small differences. In all their neurotic, competitive, smart, funny glory, other writers are your friends.

ME: This is true. If for no other reason than it’s good to have people who intimately understand your specific brand of neurosis…because they share the same.

2. Unless you’re Stephen King, or you’re standing inside your own publishing house, assume that nobody you meet has ever heard of you or your books. If they have, you can be pleasantly surprised.

ME: Except for a smattering of people in three other states who happened to read my book, I am still the equivalent of a literary wallflower.

3. At a reading, 25 audience members and 20 chairs is better than 200 audience members and 600 chairs.

ME: I wouldn’t know about that. I’m pretty sure I’d freeze in front of an audience of three people, two of which were related to me.

4. There are very different ways people can ask a published writer for the same favor. Polite, succinct, and preemptively letting you off the hook is most effective.

ME: The favors I get asked are whether or not a comma is in the right place. Polite, succinct—yes…but there’s no letting me off the hook since they usually need to know right NOW.

5. Blurbs achieve almost nothing, everyone in publishing knows it, and everyone in publishing hates them.

ME: I didn’t have any blurbs when my novel was published, so again, I wouldn’t know.

6. But a really good blurb from the right person can, occasionally, make a book take off.

ME: I believe this. Imagine what Oprah could do.

7. When your book is on best-seller lists, people find you more amusing and respond to your emails faster.

ME: When I tell people I’m a writer, people find THIS amusing. No one, however, responds to my emails any faster.

8. When your book isn’t on best-seller lists, your life is calmer and you have more time to write.

ME: Amen.

9. The older you are when your first book is published, the less gratuitous resentment will be directed at you.

ME: What’s the average age of a first-time published author? And to Curtis’ point, if I’d published a book when I was 19, I’d probably be a terrible human being right about now, positively crusted over with other people’s resentment and my own.

10. The goal is not to be a media darling; the goal is to have a career.

ME: I’ve learned that lesson. I’ll go a step further AND get all spiritual on ya: the goal is simply to do what you love, whatever success may or may not come as a result.

11. The farther you live from New York, the less preoccupied you’ll be with literary gossip. Like cayenne pepper, literary gossip is tastiest in small doses.

ME: I’m in Colorado. We have mountains. On a nice day, nobody works and the parks are full. Literary gossip to me is who’s read “50 Shades of Grey” and who hasn’t.

12. Contrary to stereotype, most book publicists aren’t fast-talking, vapid manipulators; they’re usually warm, organized youngish women (yes, they are almost all women) who love to read.

ME: I don’t have a publicist, but my book editor once talked up my manuscript to a rep from HarperCollins. That made me feel kind of good. Oh, and he was a warm, middle-aged GUY who loved to read.

13. Female writers are asked more frequently about all of the following topics than male writers: whether their work is autobiographical; whether their characters are likable; whether their unlikable characters are unlikable on purpose or the writer didn’t realize what she was doing; how they manage to write after having children.

ME: I tend to get questions along the lines of “How long did it take you to write your book?” and “How many pages is it?” Really? How many pages is it? This is what you want to know?

14. If you tell readers a book is autobiographical, they will try to find ways it isn’t. If you tell them it’s not autobiographical, they will try to find ways it is.

ME: The latter point. I never said my book was autobiographical, and yet every single friend who’s read it thinks they know exactly who “my” character is.

15. It’s not your responsibility to convince people who don’t like your books that they should. Taste is subjective, and you’re not running for elected office.

ME: Amen again.

16. By not being active on social media, you’re probably shooting yourself in the foot. That said, faking fluency with or interest in forms of social media that don’t do it for you is much harder than making up dialogue for imaginary characters.

ME: I can barely maintain my Facebook page. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest—all of it confounds me.

17. If someone asks what you do and you don’t feel like getting into it, insert the word freelance before the word writer, and they will inquire about nothing more.

ME: I do this all the time…because I actually am a freelance writer. It pays the bills.

18. If you read a truly great new book and feel more excited than jealous, congratulations, you’re a writer.

ME: See my post from last year called Four Novels. That was pure excitement at play. No jealousy in sight. Wow—does this mean I’m a writer?

19. Fiercely, fiercely, fiercely protect your writing time.

ME: I’m just now learning how to do this. Gave up a fun happy hour with friends the other night because I was on a roll with some revisions. Felt guilty for a millisecond, and then knew that I’d absolutely done the right thing.

20. It’s OK to let your book be published if you can see its flaws but don’t know how to fix them. Don’t let your book be published if it still contains flaws that are fixable, even if fixing them is a lot of work.

ME: Can I get another amen? I’m doing rewrites on my second novel as we speak to fix its obvious flaws. And yes, it’s a lot of freakin’ work.

21. Talking about how brutally difficult it is to write books is unseemly. Unless you’re the kind of writer who’s been imprisoned by the dictatorship where you live and is being advocated for by PEN American Center, give it a rest.

ME: I used to do this. And then I stopped. No one really cares how books get written. They just want to see the end result. And frankly, so do I. (Besides, don’t you know it’s magic?)

22. Books bring information, provocation, entertainment, and comfort to many people. You’re lucky to be part of that.

ME: I never met an open society with a thriving literary culture I didn’t like. And yes, I am damn lucky.

23. Sometimes good books sell well; sometimes good books sell poorly; sometimes bad books sell well; sometimes bad books sell poorly. A lot about publishing is unfair and inscrutable. But…

ME: But we deal with it anyway? Because we have to? Because not trying to put our writing into the world would be like not breathing ever again?

24. …you don’t need anyone else’s approval or permission to enjoy the magic of writing—of sitting by yourself, figuring out which words should go together to express whatever it is you’re trying to say.

ME: Yep, what she said.

Class Trip

We are stargazers.

At night on the mountainside, the trees are black ghosts and pine needles crunch like shards of glass. The air is moist, cold, scented of the naked earth. Above us the stars are scattered crystals in lavender dust we can sift through our fingers.

Three of us sit on the edge of an old mine shaft with our legs dangling over nothing. Far away we can hear the noises of our friends around the fire. We can’t see the orange glow or smell the smoke, and they can’t see us. We have disappeared.

We kick our legs over the chasm and then lie back on the damp ground. All of the universe is up there. How could we have ever thought our small circles and cruel jokes and tired crosses were the center of it. We can’t bear what we now know. Someone starts talking; someone else chimes in. Our conversation turns infinite and wise; words pour out of us that we don’t understand, and we laugh and laugh and laugh. We know it’ll fade tomorrow when the beer wears off and life becomes urgent again. Our ideas tonight are as fleeting as the minutes, as driving as a comet’s tail, and we don’t yet have a way to contain them. So we sit up and brush the needles from our hair.

We feel the cold now and wipe our eyes.

The night creatures have stayed away in their holes and their lairs, their breathing still. And we make our way safely through the trees.

Back at our tent, we climb into sleeping bags and hold onto each for warmth. We are giggling and bleary-eyed at this unknown hour deep in the night or early in the morning, depending which way you face. Everyone is drunk on something; some of us, simply freedom. One by one our friends drift off to their tents or pass out by the fire or climb into the cars parked along the forest road, curling up on a backseat under a coat, forgetting the thrill of the exodus and the rocks and the ruts and the rules.

In our tent the cold slowly seeps toward warmth. Outside twigs snap and the fire pops.  The night creatures still stay away. No one is sleeping and everyone is quiet.

As we brush the lavender dust from our skin.

For Mary, who is up there somewhere…