Terrific reviews but no sales. Astounding rejection notices. What could be crueler for a writer?
Sadly and swiftly we fell to earth, Fanny and me. I was ready to vault into the next chapter of my life. I was enchanted by my subject and believed that everyone else would be equally enchanted.
But publishing is a peculiar institution, particularly these days. Two dozen editors looked at the proposal for A Dangerous Subject, the book that would take readers on a romp through Jacksonian America and the weirdness of the present day United States as well. (Note I don’t use the word read here, only looked at. How many editors have the time to read everything, actually? It’s a lost art.)
Some of them disliked the subject (“too small”). Many loved it. I remember my agent sharing with me one editor’s response: “omigod!” she wrote, and went on to say she’d had five proposals on her reading stack that night and had thrown them all aside to read about Fanny.
But like I said, publishing is peculiar. At the end of the day, lots of editors relished Fanny but they just couldn’t figure out “a way to publish the book.” In other words, to sell the hell out of it. Me and Fanny were too small to get our chance. And so we fell, like Alice down the rabbit hole, grasping at straws we passed along the way. Mawkish, but still.
And having nursed a novel and a nonfiction idea when neither would end up reaching any readers, after a quarter century in the business of book writing, I had to ask myself: Is that all there is?