Have a listen to the BBC Woman’s Hour conversation about happiness. Might it be that we are happiest when we aren’t thinking about happiness? Does the American concentration on the pursuit of happiness, and emphasis on our projecting an image of happiness and well-being sometimes defeat happiness itself?
After you have toiled and tinkered and revised for ages, and you feel you finally have a strong manuscript, you begin to wonder how on earth to get your book into print.
I always tell people, if you think your memoir has commercial potential (the rule of thumb I’ve heard lately is: it will sell 20,00 copies right off the bat), a good plan might be to give yourself six months, or three, or a year (depending on your stamina) to try to get it published via the agent and New York publishing house route. Also, if you happen to have excellent contacts in New York, or can muster some, this can be a good choice. It goes (almost) without saying that that is a tough world, and even really exquisite, top-drawer literary manuscripts fail to find a New York publisher. It also goes without saying that unless you have had a very unusual life—you were raised by wolves or by head-hunters (having murder, incest, or substance abuse in your family is now probably passé)–or are as brilliant as Einstein or Brad Pitt’s dresser, it may be a hard road. I don’t know who said that trying to find a publisher is as hard as, or even harder than, finding a mate—but this wasn’t an overstatement. But everyone ought to have a go. There are all the obvious potential advantages if this happens to work for you—a six figure advance, wide distribution of your printed book, a review in the New York Times, TV appearances, fame and fortune. Mind you, these benefits arrive for the very few even among those who do get a New York publisher.
Okay, now, if after six months, or three, you tire of the rejection letters, don’t feel ashamed and shrink into depression. Remember that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected twelve times before a small British publisher took a chance on it—and then only at the urging of the publisher’s daughter!
The next step is to look for a smaller publishing house. The university presses may be an option for your book, or a specialty publisher—a publisher that prints only sailing books would be a good bet if you were born and grew up on a sailboat, for instance–or one of the independent presses, of which there is an ever-increasing number. Buy yourself a copy of Writer’s Market or go through it at the library, and feret out the publishers that take your sort of book. Send your query or proposal to them.
If the latter doesn’t appeal or yields no fruit, self-publishing has become a very respectable and blissful alternative. As for respectability, in the democratic domain of the internet, quality speaks for itself. Sneerers and snobs beware. On the bliss side, self-publishing is far faster than traditional publishing, and you have more control over the product. You can make your small or weighty volume into just the book you want! Also, since traditional publishers only really market a very few of their titles and leave most to maunder in a quick grave, you must do all the marketing yourself, whether New York- or self-published, so there is no advantage to traditional publishing on that score. In fact, if you are published by a New York house and are not a million dollar author, you may be driven mad by the lack of marketing assistance. You will be assailed and tortured by one of the mysteries of the late 20th and 21st centuries: Why, once publishers have gone to the trouble of printing a book do they do nothing to sell it??? Finer minds than yours and mine have tackled this puzzle…
So, back to self-publishing: do your homework here and find the least expensive option, and the one with the best terms. Admittedly, self-publishing involves work and thought. You’ll probably need a copy editor along the way, and you’ll probably want to think about design, photos, and cover, for instance, but, approached with a spirit of adventure and creativity, this can be great fun.
The upshot is: one way or another, you can and will see your memoir between covers. All that toil through storm-wracked seas will finally toss a jewel on the shore. Pick it up. Hold it in your hands, and, dripping, savor the pleasure.
This piece was published on the wonderful website Women Writers, Women’s Books:
Originally posted on Friday, October 25th, 2013
Edward Said’s reconciliation with being “out of place:”
I occasionally experience myself as a cluster of flowing currents. I prefer this to the idea of a solid self, the identity to which so many attach so much significance. These currents, like the themes of one’s life, flow along during the waking hours, and at their best, they require no reconciling, no harmonizing. They are “off” and may be out of place, but at least they are always in motion, in time, in place, in the form of all kinds of strange combinations moving about, not necessarily forward, sometimes against each other, contrapuntally yet without one central theme. A form of freedom, I’d like to think, even if I am far from being totally convinced that it is. That skepticism too is one of the themes I particularly want to hold on to. With so many dissonances in my life I have learned actually to prefer being not quite right and out of place.
Out of Place: A Memoir
Originally posted Wednesday, July 24th, 2013
For the global nomad, every place brings to mind somewhere else, as Andre Aciman so deftly conveys:
I could never understand or appreciate New York unless I could make it the mirror—call it the mnemonic correlative—of other cities I’ve known or imagined. No Mediterranean can look at a sunset in Manhattan and not think of another sunset thousands of miles away. No Mediterranean can stand looking at the tiny lights speckling the New Jersey cliffs at night and not remember a galaxy of little fishing boats that go out to sea at night, dotting the water with their tiny lights till dawn, when they come back to shore. But it is not New Jersey I see when I watch the sunset from Riverside Drive.
The real New York I never see either. I see only the New York that either sits in for other places or helps me summon them up. New York is the stand-in, the ersatz of all the things I can remember and cannot have, and may not even want, much less love, but continue to look for, because finding parallels can be more compelling than finding a home, because without parallels, there can’t be a home, even if in the end it is the comparing that we like, not the objects we compare. Outside of comparing, we cannot feel…
False Papers: Essays on Exile and Memory
Originally posted Wednesday, July 17th, 2013
After a sojourn in America, Milosz finally gains a sense of home, back in old Europe:
But it was not the same as it had been in America; it was not only nature that cured me. Europe herself gathered me in her warm embrace, and her stones, chiseled by the hands of past generations, the swarm of her faces emerging from carved wood, from paintings, from the gilt of embroidered fabrics, soothed me, and my voice was added to her old challenges and oaths in spite of my refusal to accept her split and her sickliness. Europe, after all, was home to me. And in her I happened to find help; the country of the Dordogne is like a Platonic recollection, a prenatal landscape so hospitable that prehistoric man, twenty or thirty thousand years ago, selected the valley of the Vezere for his abode (was he, too, moved by a Platonic recollection of Paradise?). And while I climbed the hills of Saint-Emilion near a place where only yesterday the villas of Roman officials had stood, I tried to imagine, gazing out over the brown furrows of earth in the vineyards, all the hands that had once toiled here. Something went on inside me then. Such transformations are, of course, slow, and at first they are hidden even, from ourselves. Gradually, though, I stopped worrying about the whole mythology of exile, this side of the wall or that side of the wall. Poland and the Dordogne, Lithuania and Savoy, the narrow little streets in Wilno and the Quartier Latin, all fused together. I was like an ancient Greek. I had simply moved from one city to another. My native Europe, all of it, dwelled inside me, with its mountains, forests, and capitals; and that map of the heart left no room for my troubles. After a few years of groping in the dark, my foot once again touched solid ground and I regained the ability to live in the present, in a “now” within which past and future, both stronger than all possible apocalypses, mingle and mutually enrich each other.
Originally posted Wednesday, July 10th, 2013