Do you hear that sound of smacking lips? That’s me trying to get the bad taste of Austin out of my mouth.
That sounds really negative, doesn’t it? It wasn’t all bad. I’m just let down. In my previous post, I wrote with excitement about going to Austin to the Agents and Editors Conference. The trip really was worthwhile. I met some interesting (in a good way) writers and even made a couple of friends.
So what was it that brought me down? The keynote speaker at the luncheon, Sara Nelson, Editor-in-Chief of Publishers Weekly, also wrote a memoir called “So Many Books, So Little Time.”
At the beginning of her speech, Ms. Nelson promised to bust some myths about the publishing industry. There was one myth she didn’t really need to bust for the majority of us. She said aloud that only 1% of all books submitted to publishing houses become published.
Most writers know this but saying it out loud is enough to drain anyone of hope. Ms. Nelson went on to say that even though she had connections in the publishing business, as well as a mother who would do anything to promote her daughter’s book, her book sold well, several thousand copies, but it still wasn’t a runaway blockbuster hit. And she made okay money from it but not a huge amount.
A pall settled over the tables. I don’t think we were truly prepared for someone to tell us the God’s honest truth. I’ve been to other conferences where keynote speakers gave more of an, “If I did it, you can do it” speech. A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing brand name author Debbie Macomber speak.
Ms. Macomber told us that she once had a contest judge read her anonymous entry in front of people as an example of someone who should never, ever write again. Macomber recounted how she didn’t let that one person’s comment stop her. She kept at it, writing and rewriting, all while staying at home raising six children, until one day Simon and Schuster called and wanted to publish her book.
At the A&EC, I guess I wanted hear a fairy tale. That all it will take is for me to publish my book and sell thousands of them is to believe in myself and all my dreams will come true. As I talked to people afterward, most seemed to be asking themselves, “Why the hell am I busting my ass writing? Am I stupid for doing this?”
However, I did meet a pragmatic lesbian couple who saw it differently. “Well, the lady told the truth. If you’re getting into something, don’t you want to know what you’re getting in to?” I admit, they had a point.
After the luncheon, I underwhelmed my appointed agent with my pitch. I gave a snappy, five sentence sales job, delivered with a lot of enthusiasm. “Ms. X, I wrote a light-hearted women’s fiction book about….” She stopped me and said, “No one reads chick lit anymore.”
For those of you who may not be aware, according to publishers in the know, the term “chick lit” is as dead as Latin. To which I replied with a smile, “Well, that’s why I wrote a light-hearted women’s fiction book.” However, she did ask to see my first fifty pages so I really can’t complain.
I compared notes with another writer who pitched to the same lady and heard the exact same thing she had told me. But when my friend pitched to a different agent with the same schpiel, that one was very enthusiastic and had the opposite reaction.
On Sunday, everyone seemed morose. Subdued. For many of the three hundred attendees, this conference was their first ever. They were new writers who thought this would be a good place to start and give them direction. Some were authors who had poured their hearts and souls into ONE self-published book and hadn’t written a sentence since.
Of course, no one would be cruel enough to tell those people that they really didn’t have much of a chance of getting an agent or becoming published if all they’ve written is one book. It takes years of writing and tons of rejection to become a better, worthy writer.
I think all of us left the hotel reevaluating what we want and how serious we are about writing.
I don’t mean to harsh everyone’s mellow so I’ll end this post with something positive I heard an agent say. “There will always be readers. There will always be writers. And there will always be agents.”