I started this column with the intent to chronicle my experience trying to break into the mainstream publishing business. Well, guys, this may be my last column, because…I got a book deal!
Sort of. A friend of a friend contacted me a few months ago about a book he was overseeing with a bunch of different writers. We were all going to conduct interviews with comedy-related people, and compile our information into a tome that fit my mutual interests of comedy and having-written-a-book. Success!
But it was not to be. My editor friend wrote me out of the blue a few weeks ago about how that book had fallen through. The publisher had backed out, sadly. BUT, he emphasized, a new publisher was even more interested in the concept; and the other writers had all slacked off, so would I be down to be the sole writer? Hell yeah, I replied! It was all but a done deal, he promised—a mere formality, really—so he suggested I get to work right away. I had a deadline of a year from now, and a bunch of interviews to line up. And line them up I did!
Then, this week, my editor wrote yet again to tell me the trail had gone quiet. With no response from this publisher, he was cutting the book off and starting an entirely different book that I could maybe help with, possibly. Potentially.
[Column continues with one eye open]
Needless to say, it’s been a harrowing few months. When my editor got off the phone with me the second time, after saying the words, “All right, get to work writing your book,” I got pretty excited. You know, as people do. I thought, “This is what it feels like to be a soon-to-be published book author.”
I’m almost embarrassed I figured it would be easy. In my attempt to break in to the mainstream publishing business, I’ve implicitly agreed to give up control of the process entirely, just as I’ve implicitly agreed that there should be others who make decisions about the final product itself. It’s a trade off, of course: I let some big wigs call a few shots, but in theory I’ll be leaping into a Scrooge McDuck-style money bin full of nickels and dreams. But little did I realize the “process”—if you call such a nonlinear thing a process—would translate into such emotional volatility. One minute I’m thrilled to have finally scaled the ivory tower; the next I’m dusting myself from the fall, and the tower has mysteriously vanished.
It’s times like this that make me wonder why I write at all. In my experience, writing is 99 percent rejection—be it of my own ideas or someone telling me an article idea isn’t going to fly—and one percent feeling like I know what I’m doing. There are lots of different things I could be doing with my life; the fact that I have chosen to pursue something with so little a success rate says a lot about my propensity towards self-flagellation, or constant desire to seek validation regardless of the cost. I mean, do you think the lion trainer at the circus stops training lions when one of those lions bites his arm off? I’d assume so. (If you are a former lion trainer please verify this fact by messaging me on Friendster.)
Of course, when people like my grandparents ask me how things are doing in the writing world, I tell them everything is fine; it’s reductive, but it’s easier than telling them the truth. I visited one set of grandparents about a week ago, and my grandpa proudly showed me an article he found about a middle-aged guy telling his parents he’d been laid off. This guy’s parents were in shock at first, but rather than think of their son as a freelancer, it helped for them to think of him as a “consultant.” It sounded sexier, I guess, and calls to mind rounds of golf and expense accounts for business class tickets to Singapore. In any case, my grandpa showed me this article, and was just about as proud of me as the parents in the piece were of their son.
Basically, I lie to my grandparents to make them feel better, and they lie to themselves about me to make themselves feel better.
I finally understand book publishing, guys. See, I’m my grandparents in this scenario, and mainstream publishing is me. They string me along with the promise the everything is going just fine, and I let myself believe them because the alternative is terrifying—that rejection isn’t steeling me for eventual success, it’s just signs I’m doing the wrong thing!
I think I’ve lost my mind. Which means…this new book is totally going to work out.