Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Publication Day

Three important events mark this date of April 15:

1. On this day 97 years ago, the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, taking over 1200 souls with her.

2. Income taxes, in case you don't already know, are due.

3. My novel, Life Goes to the Movies, has been published.

The first two events are familiar to practically everyone. The third event—if you can call it that—will, I'm afraid, remain obscure to all but a handful of my friends.

This, I admit, is unfortunate—especially for me, since I spent nearly twenty years, off and on, working on the book. Yes, folks, twenty years—counting all the revisions, all the drafts, all the queries and submissions and rejections to and from agents, editors, contests, you name it. If between 1989 or so, when the novel was first drafted, and today there were places to which a novel might be sent, rest assured that it was sent there.

I will not back into the murky water's of my novel's history. If that interests you, there was a fine essay on that subject written (by me) a few years ago and published in Poets & Writers. Or write to me and I will send it to you, if you're so curious.

My subject here is a different one, and it is this: the very LOUD and ABSOLUTE silence that has greeted this event. For as someone once remarked: "Nothing is louder than the silence of a book being published." (The someone, too, happens to have been me.)

What people don't but should tell those who dream of writing novels is that, among other things, it is a waiting game. You wait for an idea, and then you wait to have the time to execute it, and then you wait for more ideas—for sentences, paragraphs, and pages to take shape (true, this is a more active kind of waiting that some people call thinking, but really it's more like waiting with a pencil or pen in—or keyboard at—hand). Then, when the work gets done, you wait for people to read it, and wait, and wait, and when they have read it you wait for their remarks, which may or may not come, and when and if they do come you realize that you must go back to work and wait for more ideas, brighter, better ones, hopefully, since the first ones weren't so bright after all, and then more waiting for more ideas, until at last the next draft is done and the next and then you send it out and then more waiting. You wait for the agents who wait for the editors who have hundreds of manuscripts to read (all, incidentally, as or more important than yours). And then, when at last they have gotten to your plucky little monument of paper, you wait for them to read, and when they've read, you wait eagerly, patiently, for the rejection notice that will in all likelihood follow.

But then, at last, and assuming you are very, very lucky and talented, at last, an editor takes the book, and then you wait for him or her to sell it to his or her bosses, which takes another forever and may not happen at all. But let us not draw things out unnecessarily here. Let us assume that all has gone perfectly well and that, voila, you have your book contract in hand. Then you wait to have your editor's feedback, and you wait to find the time to do ANOTHER draft, and then you wait for your editor to be satisfied, and then you wait as the manuscript sits in a pile somewhere collecting dust while waiting to be copy edited. And you wait and you wait.

Then come the copy editor's notes. And you make another round of corrections. And then you wait for the galleys. And then the galleys come and you make MORE corrections. And then you wait for the corrected galleys. And then you wait for the cover. And you wait for the authors to whom you have written begging for blurbs to respond. And if and when they respond and say yes then you send them the book and then you wait for the blurb, and wait and wait. And finally you have all or enough of your blurbs and you write the jacket copy and then you wait some more. And so now, you ask yourself, what are you waiting for? For the DATE OF PUBLICATION.

And then the DATE OF PUBLICATION (which may or may not fall on the day the Titanic sank and taxes are due) finally arrives.

And you wait. And you wait. And nothing happens.


But—however—if you sit quietly and listen very, very hard, you may just hear it. Hear it? That sound. Do you hear it? Listen. Beyond the birds singing in the trees (if you live where there are trees and birds), and the rush of traffic on the highway (if you happen to live near a highway), and the clatter of freight cars on the train tracks (if you live by a railroad): do you hear it? Yes? No? Listen . . . Listen . . .

Hear it?

That, my good friends, is the sound of my book being published.


Karen said...

Well said. It reminded me of something I read about Julie Hecht, whose stories I enjoyed: after publishing several books, she was upset because bookstores didn't even have her new one. (Maybe this was before Amazon, etc., but even so.)
Karen Wunsch

Talia said...

Dear Peter,

On this gloomy note, you will soon discover that once your book is out, it has the shelf-life of yogurt....

It is so sad that documenting our passing through this planet leaves very little impression. Yet, we'd like to think that we've contributing something that touches some people even with something as small as a few hours of pleasurable reading.

I am looking forward to your May book launch party, a day that will not be as quiet as Apri 15....

Linda said...

Wonderful essay.

I just finished LIFE GOES TO THE MOVIES book and loved it so much I'll be blogging about it this week. Twenty years? Worth the wait, as far as this reader goes... thank you for persevering. Peace, Linda