Tuesday, June 9, 2009

WORDS MEAN WHAT THEY MEAN

When someone compliments me, the words echo. Later (an hour or a day later), if the words keep echoing, I wonder -- was it really a compliment -- was a criticism implied ? I invariably (invariably? yes!) I always find that the words mean what they mean.

A turn-down of a manuscript means what it means. An editor has decided "No." He composes a rejection letter quickly. He's got a ton of manuscripts -- he needs to clear his desk! When you get the letter, common sense tells you "Skim it! Don't dwell on it! It's just a TURN -DOWN."

Even so, those words he used -- he didn't look them up, didn't look for synonyms. When he wrote "... too long ... not enough plot ... " and his nasty sentence about lost interest in the central character... those words mean what they mean. The editor, or his assistant who read it, lost interest in the story.

Why am I telling this story? I don't know -- the history of Em, rejected books, agents losing interest in them, isn't something to brag about ...

Irene, one of the six agents at the agency who handled my books, had said she "loved" the book. Yay hurray -- agents are rarely effusive. The changes she suggested were clear, constructive specifics, that were possible for me to do.

After my manuscript was sent to various publishing houses, Irene and I communicated by e-mail. Hers were brief, and to the point. Mine -- longer, in my talky writing style.

Irene attended the reading of my play, "Shattering Panes." Didn't say much, but expressed that she understood the "moment of the play," and enjoyed the feeling she'd gotten from the afternoon. Her eloquent moment of the play pleased me.

"I really like her! She's helping me," I said to myself.

I e-mailed, asked her to read two of my other books. "They might be something for you to sell, later on." She responded positively. I sent her downloadable copies.

Out of the blue, an e-mail arrived. Irene announced, "I'm pregnant, Monday's my last day at the agency. I can't be the agent for your other books, but I loved Karen -- loved the prologue of Heart City."

It was a blow. I phoned, asked if she'd be working from home, and offered to e-mail her names of producers, who might give her part-time work as reader. " Oh yes," she said. "That's sweet of you."

Sweet? It echoed. (I'm not sweet. It was a practical offer, a way of continuing the relationship.) After culling our list of producer pals, I e-mailed her thirty good names.

No answer. Weren't we friends? Was she okay? No thank-you?

I e-mailed her two weeks later, asking for copies of the turn-downs. She replied tersely, "Agency has them in their files." I wanted to ask "How are you feeling? Do you see the father? Are you okay financially?" Couldn't -- she'd never offered personal information about herself.

Two months later I sent her a note about my website being launched. No comment.

I shouldn't have been surprised, or disappointed, but I was. One of the reasons I created The Readery was Irene "loving" my work. Her quitting, the general down-turn in arts along with the economy, my inability to communicate with her galvanized me. Made me realize I had to get my books out there -- in the world, on line -- STOP sending manuscripts to an agency, who'd keep on trying to sell them to recalcitrant publishers.

What Irene said and didn't say, means what it means. I'm passing all this onto you, the person reading this blog. Listen hard to the words that are said to you, argue with them, examine them, maybe discard them, but those words may be what you need to be telling yourself.

1 comment:

Carola said...

There's an interesting comment in the New York Times for June 12 about "women's literature." The reviewer reviews a number of books and discusses how books by and about women are either categorized "chick-lit" or serious "women's" literature. I wonder if your books were never published because they didn't quite fit into any preconceived categories.

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