Amy Tan filled Seattle's Benaroya Hall last Wednesday night. Svelte and glorious in a black dress and heels, she shared stories of her mother's fatalistic parenting advice with grace and humor. She didn't read from her latest novel, Valley of Amazement, scheduled for release later this year, but instead spoke of the deaths of her mother and her editor, both in 1999. Then she read a lengthy letter written in response to a new editor's request for a synopsis of this first novel manuscript she'd completed since the loss of the two women who shaped her writing world. In her letter she introduced herself, shared stories of her life and explained her reasons for writing. She said little about the novel other than a few closing sentences. As I listened, my mind floated to a dark place: I questioned how many editors would spend the time to read a letter of such length regardless how interesting and well-written without Amy Tan's name on the envelope.
Later that evening I found a Facebook post in my inbox, an article attributed to Joyce Carol Oates published in The Onion. With over fifty novels and numerous other publications to her name, I was curious about Oates' advice to young writers. The title also intrigued me: If You Wish To Be A Writer, Have Sex With Someone Who Works In Publishing. In contrast to Tan's lengthy contemplative letter to land a publishing contract, Oates suggests fucking the editor. In fact, she suggests fucking any and all editors, fucking anyone with a connection to an editor, fucking anyone who might even have the ear of an editor. I laughed until my sides hurt.
Now, as I reflect on these two approaches, weighing one against the other, I decide I'm the one who's fucked. I'm not famous and I'm too damn old to sleep my way into a publishing contract. So what's left? I ponder this question for endless hours, hours better spent saturating the indie market with that dreaded synopsis Amy Tan sidestepped. Determination, perseverance and seat time are the tools in my publishing arsenal.
I promise myself I'll send out 100 queries. I decide I can stomach 100 rejections (or silences since many editors simply don't respond) before I turn to the world of self-publishing. That's not a slam against self-publishing - some of my best friends are self-published authors of wonderful works - I'm just not ready to take the leap. I enjoyed working with an indie press on my memoir and want a similar experience with my first novel. Of course there's also the agent and big five path to traditional publishing, the path taken by the likes of Amy Tan and Joyce Carol Oates, but they got in before the ground shifted under all of us. They were household names back when self-publishing was scorned as vanity press and e-books had yet to revolutionize the reading (and publishing) experience. Sans fame and youth, I'll keep my butt in the chair, my pen moving and wait for that 1 in 100 response. At least until the end of summer.