All writers complain at one time or another about the time we spend waiting: for the proposal to be read, and accepted or rejected; for the manuscript to be edited; for the final longed-for publishing date to arrive. I am probably as impatient, if not more impatient, than most writers, and I have had my share of year-long, or even years long, waiting—when it seemed that my latest writing might never be published, or only after such a long period that it would no longer mean anything to me or anyone else.
Now, a dose of that cold water called reality: visit your nearest bookstore, surely an independent: if we writers don’t support the only venues that showcase us and support us, we should be dubbed ingrates!
Look at the tables full, or shelves full, of brand-new hardcover books.
There are dozens, if not hundreds.
How many will you read? One? Perhaps ordered on Amazon, to save a few bucks? Or taken out of the library?
And what you are looking at is only this month’s, or maybe this week’s crop.
If you are honest, you may admit that you don’t plan to read any of them, even the ones by authors whose names you vaguely recognize or even respect.
So: too many books, too few readers, and too few writers who are passionately involved with reading, and buying, new books.
Yes, passionately involved. There’s no other way that writers can survive.
Here lies the reason for our long waits. When I was just out of college, my first novel was snatched up in a matter of weeks; my first two collections of short stories, almost as rapidly. But the great glut had not hit publishing; there were fewer books appearing, and more readers waiting for them.
As we all know, that has changed now.
So—go out and buy, and read. And while you’re waiting for the next step in the process of publishing your own work, reconsider what you are proposing to an editor or a publisher. The proposal I just sent out almost finished my prospect of getting a contract for the still-to-be-written biography. I was too ernest, I was beating away on one of my literary tin drums.
During my long wait, and with the help of two agents and one editor, I began to change the tone of my deadly-serious proposal. I began to think of the book I’ve loved recently: Timothy Egan’s “Short Night of the Shadow Catcher,” a biography of the tragedy-tinged life of the great photographer of North American Indians, Edward Curtis. Egan doesn’t skip over Curtis trials, but he makes the trials so juicy that I for one would willingly have followed his dogged travels across the western plains, up the Pacific coast, to the Rocky Mountains, enduring cold, sleet, hunger, financial collapse, divorce, and personal betrayal to produce the twenty volume “Indians of North America.”
We can only hope to write one, or possibly two, books in a lifetime that merit an audience numbering more than your loyal friends and family. And to produce that one, or two, we will have to wait, and wait again, using the time that might seem wasted to revise our own ideas about what a book should be.
As an editor told me, “High class literary popcorn”—and worth the wait, for writer and reader.