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.
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.
After months or years of heroic solitary labor, the Lone Writer emerges, reeling, with a stack of pages: a literary masterpiece. Published, it becomes immortal.
The image of the Lone Writer, the burner of midnight oil, the solitary genius, haunts us, but it's misleading. In a word, it is false. The Lone Writer is like the private detective in his trenchcoat and fedora, or the Texan with a six-shooter and spurs: simplified, stylized images, created for entertainment. We know better than to confuse them with real people. But belief in the Myth of the Lone Writer lives on, even in the minds of writers, and unlike our images of detectives or Texans, this image can destroy people. It destroys writers.
The truth is that there is no such thing as a Lone Writer.
-But, but! Some great writers of the past actually worked that way. Edgar Allan Poe, for instance. Right?
-No. Poe was a magazine editor. He spent his days reading other people’s writing.
-Well, Ernest Hemingway wrote at his stand-up desk alone in the woods.
-He was alone while he wrote, but he had a great editor advising him and keeping him on track: Maxwell Perkins of Scribner’s. Hemingway called Perkins his most trusted friend.
-Well, Thoreau, then.
-Thoreau’s mentor, author Ralph Waldo Emerson, opened his home to Thoreau and at times supported him financially. Walden Pond was on Emerson’s property. And even at Walden, Thoreau was not always alone: His book describes the many visitors he had while living there.
-Sylvia Plath wrote the Ariel poems alone at 4:00 a.m. while her children slept.
-Those poems didn’t come out of thin air. For seven years Plath was married to British poet Ted Hughes. All that time they were a team. They read and critiqued each other’s poems. They had shared interests. Plath typed Hughes’ manuscripts and got him published. Hughes gave Plath writing exercises when she felt blocked, and inspired her to write a voice play and children’s books. Each deeply influenced the other.
-Emily Dickinson never left home.
-She asked the biggest poetry editor in the U.S. to critique her poems and come visit her. (He did.) They corresponded for 25 years.
-Twain’s first novel, The Gilded Age, was a collaboration with a writer named Charles Dudley Warner. Look, why are we focusing so much on writers? Why don’t we focus on what they wrote? That's what's important.
-I think we want to figure out how they achieved what they did.
-One thing is sure: They didn’t do it being Lone Writers.Because Lone Writers hold themselves apart from the world, there are all kinds of writing and publishing opportunities they will never hear about. They forego the chance that someone will suggest, for their manuscript, a really great title, or a better ending. They will never meet someone who knows a friend-of-a-friend who can help the writer get a grant, or get on the “New and Notable” list. However, it will be bitterly clear to the aspiring Lone Writer that other writers benefit from such “connections.”
Literary history, like art history, is full of artists’ circles and groups and movements and hot spots, as on the Left Bank in Paris, or Harlem in the 1920s. Can it honestly be said that because Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston worked together, or because Van Gogh and Gaugin were friends, they sacrificed their originality and integrity? Artists of all kinds need a community. Friends. A circle. Colleagues. A support group. A network. Sponsors. Grantors. Accomplished writers have always had these things – or they figured out how to get them.
- Gertrude Stein had Alice B. Toklas and a weekly salon for artists and writers at her house.
- Virginia Woolf had Leonard Woolf and the Bloomsbury circle.
- T.S. Eliot had as his mentor Ezra Pound.
- Jack Kerouac had Neal Cassady and a bunch of poet friends.
- The Brontë sisters had each other.
How do I know all this? I used to be a Lone Writer.
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.
I urge all writers in these changing times to continually update their knowledge about publishing, especially from firsthand sources such as these editors. Take advantage of a great privilege that will cost you nothing.
From Wikipedia. I got a genuine thrill reading this, and hope you do too:When the book was first published, Whitman was fired from his job at the Department of the Interior after Secretary of the Interior James Harlan read it and said he found it very offensive.Poet John Greenleaf Whittier was said to have thrown his 1855 edition into the fire.Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote, "It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote 'Leaves of Grass,' only that he did not burn it afterwards." Critic Rufus Wilmot Griswold reviewed Leaves of Grass in the November 10, 1855, issue of The Criterion, calling it "a mass of stupid filth" and categorized its author as a filthy free lover. Griswold also suggested, in Latin, that Whitman was guilty of "that horrible sin not to be mentioned among Christians", one of the earliest public accusations of Whitman's homosexuality. Griswold's intensely negative review almost caused the publication of the second edition to be suspended.Whitman included the full review, including the innuendo, in a later edition of Leaves of Grass.
On March 1, 1882, Boston district attorney Oliver Stevens wrote to Whitman's publisher, James R. Osgood, that Leaves of Grass constituted "obscene literature". Urged by the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice . . .Stevens demanded the removal of the poems "A Woman Waits for Me" and "To a Common Prostitute", as well as changes to "Song of Myself", "From Pent-Up Aching Rivers", "I Sing the Body Electric", "Spontaneous Me", "Native Moments", "The Dalliance of the Eagles", "By Blue Ontario’s Shore", "Unfolded Out of the Folds", "The Sleepers", and "Faces".
P.S. Whitman's title Leaves of Grass was a veiled way of saying "this is trash written by a hack or unimportant person."
Now I see that it was always a matter of growing up. And asking for what I want, and not settling for less. I had to step out of my comfort zone. My old comfort zone was about half the going rate. Isn't that pathetic? But now I am a grownup. A professional who finally asks for and gets paid a professional rate. It's a wildly new feeling. The air I breathe feels different. I have more energy. I have more confidence!
Don't know what to charge for your writing-related services? Consult the chapter "How Much Should I Charge?" that appears in the front matter of every annual Writer's Market. In the 2006 Writer's Market, that chapter begins on page 68.
Whatever your comfort zone is, whether financial or artistic, I urge you to try stepping out of it.