What the Universe Doesn't Owe You, #2,384
The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?I didn’t think so. And I don’t want you writing books.
Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil.
Ah, now we come to Mr. Wurzelbacher's true crime. He got a publishing contract and Mr. Egan thought it belonged to him. I feel his pain, really I do. I have written five book-length manuscripts and despite the best efforts of my excellent agent, have yet to publish any of them. Here's the thing, though. I wish Joe the Plumber the very best and hope he earns out his advance, and more.
Mr. Egan's cri de coeur is even less understandable since he's *published* five books. I have no idea how many he's written, but the bile generated in his op-ed indicates to the knowledgeable he's gotten some pretty memorable rejections for some opus that has not yet seen the light of publishing day. I don't pretend to have profound wisdom about the book publishing world, but I *do* know this:
- Publishing houses are businesses, not charities. They buy manuscripts they think will earn them MONEY. More money than they pay the author for said manuscript. Lots more. This means manuscripts OTHER people WANT TO READ. Sorry.
- The existence of a good novelist does not, a priori, magically create a budget for publishing said good novelist. Many are called, few are chosen.
- A memoir may very well be riveting to the one having lived the life described therein. If after ten years said riveting memoir has not found a congenial home, the possibility exists that it is riveting to no one else, specifically the editor who is gritting her teeth at yet another middle-aged man's midlife crisis and profound puzzlement that hot chicks find him dull.
A polite and considerate writer may occasionally hear editors letting their hair down and describing the abysmal, turgid, unoriginal, BORING manuscripts that land on their desks. I thought for a while they were making it up, but then I saw some of that quote original and creative writing unquote and it made me want to find the perpetrator's high school English teachers and do some wall-to-wall counseling. It was that bad. The invention of the word processor has removed quite a bit of the dam keeping bad prose from leaking out into the world, and editors suffer. And spread the pain. It used to be unremarkable to submit a manuscript directly, but now they (with VERY few exceptions) want someone to filter out the sludge -- e.g. an agent.
To summarize: a writer may have truly worked hard, and produced a pile of dead tree with markings on it, but NOBODY owes them anything for that effort. If you're really a writer, the writing is the point and publishing is icing on the cake. A real writer can't not write, even if they don't get paid.
p.s. I can fix toilets, too.