However, because the author was so young when imprisoned, he retains few vivid memories about the camp and its inhabitants. Most of the book is about the rest of his life.
The author’s question was: Did I think he could get an agent for the book? It was, after all, a memoir by a Holocaust survivor. Life stories don’t get any more dramatic than that.
My research turned up these surprising (to me) facts: Holocaust memoirs are “a dime a dozen.” Agents, publishers and readers don’t buy such books out of respect for the survivors. They snap them up only if such memoirs are very detailed and shocking and revelatory, and if the book centers on the camp experience. Agents and publishers want THAT so badly that they will seize upon phony Holocaust memoirs cooked up according to that recipe.
Very carefully and politely I told the author my crushing conclusion: If he wanted to see his memoir in print, he should self-publish. He wouldn’t stoop to that. Can’t blame him. But since that time, someone has tried to establish a Holocaust-memoir vanity-publishing business to make themselves some money from these dime-a-dozen manuscripts. I’m not kidding.
And you want an agent for that memoir you wrote about your relative with Alzheimer’s? Your broken hip? Your infertility treatments? Save time and effort: Publish it yourself.
Then the contact person sent a polite and apologetic email saying the group was following the leads I had suggested to them previously, had learned what they felt they needed to know, and frankly some of them had been uncomfortable with the idea of paying me -- someone they knew -- and therefore had decided not to meet with me after all.
It hurt. Clearly, the money was the sticking point. I feel embarrassed having asked for it. I think the writers' perceptions of me have changed. But I wouldn't be following my own advice if I had bartered a Sunday afternoon, a 40-mile round trip, and hard-won expertise for "Thank you, you're very generous" and "Isn't she a nice girl." I want to say, "I AM a nice girl. But I'm 51 and if you've noticed that I'm on the skinny side these days, it's not because I'm dieting."
As small as this incident is, as small as I feel, this was a victory in the battle for writers to get paid.
"You're so arrogant, thinking you can publish a book as-is and get a smidgen of glory. Get real. Remember you are a servant. You serve the publisher and readership. The publisher suggested you compile full bibliographies of all 11 authors. In certain cases, such as Gerald Early's or Don Finkel's, this would take years and you'd come out, as in grad school, with a face like a sneaker sole. But you should do it as a service. Learn to think not like an author, but like a servant."
To this I said (to myself): "That violates my boundary. I think it does. Yes. It does. I perform a service. But I am not a servant.
The effort was all worth it! All worth it!
1. I should do any chore that has even a remote possibility of helping me toward my goals.
2. Fourth time's the charm.
3. If a publisher's interested, they'll respond ASAP!
The ms. sent out in June got rejected yesterday. YAY! Now for Plan B. "B" stands for "Better"! With the social-software course I took this autumn, and the appearance of the very viable, buyable, Kindle reading pod at amazon.com, I can with confidence bypass traditional publishers and, if I decide, turn it into an eBook and do just fine.
That’s sort of like sending a movie not to theaters but straight to DVD.
To make an eBook is free unless an ISBN is required. Ridiculously, ISBN numbers are sold, by one vendor (Bowker), normally in packages of 10, and that package costs $245 plus $30 handling. They sell singles for $125 (!) but they don’t advertise that. (Info is from http://kk.org/cooltools/archives/000668.php and http://blog.selfpublishing.com/?p=145). Talk about artificially difficult!
But I might just do it for Fame: St. Louis Writers of the 1990s. Somebody must want to read interviews with Donald Finkel, Carl Phillips, Harper Barnes, Ntozake Shange, and seven more, for their historic value -- or just explore the minds of fine writers. This summer I researched and wrote killer introductions to each interview, and (in a rare instance) am still glowing from how well I did them. They kick! Wish I’d interviewed MORE writers.
Actually, I was doing the smart thing, business-wise, because publishing is a business, but it only increased my fragility. Approaching age 50, I dreaded those S.A.S.E.s even more. Now I'm ever so careful to:
1. Send only my very best poems.
2. Make sure my poems have a a ghost of a chance at that publication. (Next blog will be about that!)
3. Avoid contests, no matter how tempting -- the chance of winning, about 1 in 1000, is too remote.
4. Take long, long breaks in between bouts of sending, sometime six months or a year.
5. Keep working on more, and when those S.A.S.E.s or E-mails come back, curse or cry, feel grossly ashamed of my "arrogance" and "presumption" in thinking the world might want my poems -- and then get over it, and put poems right back in the mail.
See that list of five things? That's my new backbone.
And yesterday: **Good news! ** A long, risky poem, perhaps the longest and riskiest yet, accepted. How long has it been since a poem got accepted? Three years? Five?
Joy? No. Forehead on forearm, and a sigh of Relief.
Although we have decided against using this manuscript, we were interested in it and would be glad to see more of your work between Sept. 1 and May 1. - Stephen Behrendt, Interim Senior Editor
Taped it up on the September wall-calendar page!
We're now sending the book proposal directly to publishers. More than ever, publishers' listings say, "We don't take "un-agented" submissions, or look at unsolicited submissions." No, not even a glance at a two-page book proposal.
It looks as if publishers think they benefit from a setup that keeps them apart from writers. Now, think: Does that make any sense?
I said to her, "What good are they in your file drawer? How about self-publishing?"
She found this idea distasteful. Self-published books are "not legitimate." But then she complained that a poet friend whose book was accepted three years ago by the "legitimate" LSU Press now hears it is scheduled to come out in 2010.
I said, "The system is broken. We all moan about how the publishing world is insane. We have to do things differently. Look," I said, "a book is a book. If you self-publish at least you'll have a book. It'll have an ISBN so people can find it. You can give it to libraries. You can give it away. Somebody somewhere will read your book."
My friend says it isn't legitimate. She wants to be legitimate more than she wants to publish. And she is getting what she wants.
Me? I'm publishing another book! It's essays this time. I am happy that my illegitimate books get bought and sold, and are in print, and in libraries, and on amazon.com, and not in my file drawer. I'm a happy little cheat who beat the system.