Monday, December 17, 2007

Hard News

I woke this morning in the wake of this last year in
my writing. I was not depressed or frightened,
but I knew it was time to take a cold look at the
realities of the attrition---personal and greater.
Here is the accounting:

(Personal): I worked for at least four months on the
fine-tuning of the fine-tune of my second novel, Going
Through Ghosts; then fine-tuned that fine-tune for two
months. I wrote my third novel, Scylla. I compiled a
collection of ten years’ essays, Trajectory. I wrote
three NPR commentaries; twenty-six Wordsmithing
columns; three essays to submit to High Country News’
back page; three essays for Inside/Outside; two essays
for Mountain Living magazine; and created three blogs,
one a collective effort. I submitted my first novel,
Sisters of the Dream to two presses and one agent for
the possiblity of re-issue. I sent Going Through
Ghosts to one agent and two presses; Scylla to two
agents. I sent four essays to Mountain Gazette; one
interview/review of House of Rain to Four Corners
I earned $2315. for my writing.

Sisters of the Dream was turned down for
re-publication. In both cases, the editors wrote: “I
love this book, but we have had to tighten our list
and re-releases are not selling.”
Going Through Ghosts was turned down by one agent and
one editor: “You are a wonderful writer, I just
didn’t fall in love with the book.” A peer reviewer
at a university press wanted me (among some biased and
some legitimate concerns) to convert an
ensemble/community book to a book focused on the
relationship between the heroine and her lover.
Scylla was rejected by two agents: “You are an
astonishingly gifted writer. I didn’t fall in love
with the book. (One agent wrote: “This book should
do wonderfully in the hands of the right agent. You
need to find a more literary agent.”
Trajectory was taken by an acquiring editor who was
then told by the marketing director that “This kind of
book won’t sell.” It was then rejected by a peer
reviewer at a university press.
The new editor at High Country News conjectured that I had made up one essay.
The NPR commentary editor rejected all submissions as
“Not right for us.”

I am not alone in this escalating attrition.

(General): Two fine editors (a small press, a
university press) tell me they can no longer “afford”
to publish books they feel proud of. They have not
made that decision themselves. They are under
pressure from marketing and, in one case, a new owner
who knows nothing about publishing, but is hugely
One respected writing center is in shambles; in part
because its parent university is being run on the
business model.
Two respected writing conferences will no longer be
held; one because of student attrition, the second
because its parent college is being run on the
business model.
Our local publisher, Northland/Rising Moon, was
purchased by investors, its catalog retained, but the
actual business and workers terminated.
Most other writers tell me similar stories.
As Barry Lopez said at Ed Abbey’s memorial service:
“The news is hard.” That was in 1989.

Yes, I know the stats on Americans relationship with
reading; yes, I know even the big box bookstores and
corporate publishing are hanging on frantically. But,
one of those editors whose hearts are being broken and
I talked for hours about the disappearance of the
women who were once writing the Western terrain and I
believe I have become one of them.
At this time, I
don’t want useful advice. While there may
be something I haven’t thought of in terms of getting
my life work out to others; there seems to be nothing
to be done about the greater story.
I’m willing to sit in that silence. And see what
Writing this down was awful and illuminating.
I'll send it to a few trusted people in the
Seeing it in black and white---one year's
losses---made me feel a little less crazy.
And, the bigger question is: How do we care for
each other in this?
The biggest question was posed by one of my editors in response to my accounting: "It's not how we care for each other; it's how do we get others to care?"