Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Fistful of Rejections [and what they may mean (or why depressives should avoid this field)]


Rejections are a part of the publishing process (for me at least). So here I offer a smattering of recent comments from editors. These are not run of the mill rejections. They are not form, summary rejections. These are rejections from well-placed editors at major publishers, some of them with their own imprints. They are often complimentary and sincere. I think they demonstrate a love and respect for narrative and those who devote themselves to writing. Take a look. At the end of the blog I’ll share my growing impressions, gleaned from painful experience.
Thank you for thinking of me with Brandon Graham’s work. Missing People is an impressive novel, and I admire Brandon’s talent for switching points of views throughout the manuscript. He captures Chicago, and movingly renders the effects Etta’s disappearance has on her parents. I was impressed by the emotional nuance.

The premise is so intriguing, and I love how Graham reflects on family, its dissonances, and its inextricable ruptures. I was immediately pulled in.

I have been going back and forth about this one because it’s really terrific; I love the different points of view, the diverging ways the family members deal with grief, and the prose itself is lovely.  

Etta's disappearance is so gripping and I admire the control the author has over his eccentric characters. I liked reading about Townes especially.

It's not a fast read - and I mean this as a compliment - the writing is too good to rush through.

It’s very accomplished and assured, and a powerful read. Thanks for giving me a chance to read such an impressive novel.

 Brandon Graham, who I can so clearly see is an amazing talent...

His writing stands out – and always leaves such a strong impression on me.

Thank you so much for giving me the chance to read Brandon Graham’s MISSING PEOPLE. There was a great deal I admired about this novel, Graham’s resonant prose not least among them. There is an uncommon richness to the way this novel develops, rare in a book with a thriller’s plot at its heart.  

The storytelling is brisk, clear, and compulsively readable throughout, and one is presented with a strong sense of place with the authors’ attention to Chicago. The development of the characters around Etta make her present in every scene. Newton struggles with her disappearance and adjusting to normal life after war. Meg and Charlie’s relationship falling apart, along with Townes’ guilt all made it feel like Etta was still present in the plot, six years after her disappearance

Brandon Graham portrays radically different responses to loss movingly, and he captures disparate corners of Chicago with a clear and observant eye.

He’s tremendously talented and I really enjoyed reading.

I enjoyed the structure and the writing. Townes’s section in particular held a unique appeal. There is great rationality and deliberateness in the characters’ actions and thinking. Though, of course, they are ensconced in a situation outside of their control. I shared the manuscript with a few others here to see what sort of consensus I might make… a general acknowledgments of this being an impressive debut.

Both of us admired the novel, which is very well written, but neither of us feels able to publish it in the right way.  It’s not quite a literary or reading group novel, and it’s not quite a crime novel, so falls between stools—which can be a fine place if a given book just isn’t categorizable, but depends therefore on an editor falling in love and making the book a special focus and a passion. 

I enjoyed the panoramic perspective this book takes in not only tracing the story of a missing person, but also honing in on the crushing negative space that’s left behind, reverberating through the hearts of multiple people.

Lessons Learned:

1) The publishing industry is full of professionals who are passionate about good work. But, the mark of success as a professional in the field is to publish not only good work, but also profitable work. The path to profitability is made easier with clearly defined marketing strategy. And so, like so many intersections of the arts and capitalism, the marketing machine does hold sway over the choices editors make. The systemic dynamics can take something kind of pure and taint it with a tad of hypocrisy.

2) Original, memorable narratives are good in that they distinguish themselves from the avalanche of manuscripts editors read constantly. Conversely, original narratives are problematic because they are not sure things, and are challenging to handle. They require extra work and may never pay off. This is a shitty situation.

3) Lastly, I know solutions that have served me well in the visual arts my not work in commercial publishing. Namely, playing around the edges of genre; or anticipating reader expectations and subverting those in order to make social commentary. 

To summarize: I wrote another quirky book that succeeds very well on its own terms, but that doesn’t mean it will find success in the marketplace. It's important though, to bare these lessons in mind as I move on to the next project. Books are long projects, and if I am going to make the time and energy commitment to dive in again, if I am willing to open myself up to more criticism, then I should at least wring what I can from this experience.

London Book Fair is ramping up, and I hope the right editor will believe in my work enough to put in the extra work to help it find the readers it needs.

On a slightly more upbeat note, Good For Nothing has done well with readers. Here is a new review I found on Amazon. 
Image by Jason E Hodges

Good For Nothing is an approachable story on the complexity

Good For Nothing is an approachable story on the complexity of seemingly mundane decision-making. Though I found parts of it humorous, I also found parts terribly sad. Graham does a great job of bringing the main character Flip to life - I often thought he could be someone I knew or even be myself at times. As a result, I was endlessly thinking about people around me, and how they got where they are in this world. The novel is one that catches your attention from the outset and makes you want to follow through to the finish.

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