Aspen Princess: The grind of the aspiring writer
“There is a certain degree of religiosity that’s involved with writing,” said Jess Walter, the author of the No. 1 New York Times best-seller “Beautiful Ruins.”
Every time I go to these Winter Words events, hosted by the newly renamed Aspen Words, I get one pearl of wisdom I really needed to hear. It’s almost as if God herself was sending the message, thus the heel-of-hand-to-the-forehead relevance of Walter’s words. I was gobsmacked.
“I hate it when authors say it took them 15 years to write a novel and that the characters were in charge of themselves,” Walters said. “But it took me 15 years to write this novel, and it wasn’t finished until the characters took care of themselves.”
It’s gotten to the point where people don’t even ask me what’s happening with my novel anymore. It hasn’t been 15 years, but it’s been close enough to where even my most devoted fans and friends have decided it’s probably better not to ask.
And to think of my arrogance, my ignorance: In my mind, my book was my meal ticket. “When I sell my book, … ” I’d say, and then follow it with some fantasy about something I’d buy or a place I’d visit or those frequent trips to New York City I’d get to make. I would make a million dollars, see, and I’d go on a book tour, which would mean it was OK to pay for things like hair and eyelash extensions because I’d want to be my very best. And let’s face it: That’s not going to happen naturally, so it’s OK to ask for a little help from glued-in human hair.
I worried about how I might overcome my little anxiety disorder when it came to public speaking without having to chug a 22-ounce beer in the parking lot to wash down my Xanax. I wondered how I’d possibly be able to manage a baby and a burgeoning career as a best-selling author with a movie coming out that required I make frequent trips to L.A. to be on set. I even joked at one point, long before I met Ryan, that I’d be more likely to walk down the red carpet than the aisle.
All this proves is that I have a very active imagination and an even more vibrant fantasy life but that it’s about as incongruous with reality as you can get.
So here’s where we’re at with the book (since we all know I never got the baby):
That big agent lady, who was a friend of a friend’s brother’s sister-in-law? The one who was going to make me rich and famous and be my future best friend? She passed on my novel, what, after the 10 years it took me to finally finish it. I heard this secondhand, through our mutual friend of a friend’s daughter’s uncle’s brother.
“She said she thought it was too young,” he said. “She thought it was going to be a little more out there. She said she just didn’t know what she would do with it. She did give me a list of agents you could try, but she said not to mention her name because the fact that she passed would not help your cause.”
“Right,” I said, bracing my steering wheel with shaking hands. “OK.”
So I jumped right back on the horse and started networking my tail off. Within a few days, I had the names and personal email addresses of four more big-time publishing agents. I learned that I am very good at pitching my book because all of them requested the manuscript, and that’s huge, right? Because most agents don’t even read, they just have their interns read the synopsis, and most projects don’t even get that far.
“While there was much to admire about your book, I did not connect with the material the way I would have hoped,” one wrote.
Another was nice enough to write me a long and very encouraging email. “I love your credentials and I have no doubt you’re the person to write this book. You’re funny and you’re a talented writer.” (Wait for it — wait for it.) “But … I wasn’t happy with the execution. I’m just too old to care about a girl looking for love.” She said it was purely subjective, of course, and that “someone would snatch me up soon.”
The third kept in touch with me for months. Every time I’d write him and check in, he’d write back to me immediately: “Thanks so much for your patience,” he’d write. “I’ve been slammed.” I was so happy not only that he responded but that he hadn’t said “No.” Until one day, he stopped responding.
The fourth I never connected with, never even knew their name. A former intern of a friend worked in a publishing agency and passed it along. When I asked her, “How long until no response means no?” she said about eight weeks.
It’s crazy to me that you can hand off your life’s work to perfect strangers who then ignore you until you go away. I mean, what happened to that illustrious rejection letter all those best-selling authors talk about, the ones they pin to the bulletin boards in their offices as an incentive to overcome? Nowadays, even with the convenience of email, for crying out loud, these people can’t be bothered with dignifying your beating heart on a platter with a response.
I always equate submitting my manuscript to having taken off all my clothes in front of someone and saying, “So? What do you think of my body?” and having him turn his back and walk away without so much as a single word.
I guess the bottom line is this: Trying to get my novel published is exactly like trying to find true love. Maybe it’s not in the cards for me to have it all.
The Aspen Princess is feeling very discouraged. Email your love to email@example.com.
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