It rained last night, but I don't think we got as much as other places. This year an odd trend has emerged, where the radar shows a line of storms heading right for our little dot, but as they reach the dot they either weaken and die, or they weaken and re-form just on the other side of our dot, or they split and go to either side...you get the idea. So last night's rain was welcome, but I'm sorry I missed it.
Yesterday's post spurred some interesting comments, so I thought I'd address them in a new post. I referenced a post by Rachelle Gardner, in which she says it's better for an unpublished writer to have more than one book under her belt, in a couple of ways. The part of the post that struck me was where she points out that it takes more than one book to learn how to be a writer, and that's the part I blogged about yesterday. I was grateful for her honesty. It helped me appreciate my journey over the past year. I took it as a helpful and honest glimpse into the mystery that is the agent.
But others saw it as arrogant or judgemental. So what if you have only one book. Is that book a good one? Why wouldn't they give that single good book a chance? (A quick Google search brought up this post and this one about one-book authors.) Would today's market have room for great books like Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird or Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind? Marta mentioned Sylvia Plath, but I'm not sure I'd put her in this list, because she was already a published poet when The Bell Jar was published.
So here are my thoughts on the feeling that the system is unfair. With Mitchell, yeah, she wouldn't have been published today, because she never even submitted her manuscript! The editor came to her, something that would NEVER happen in today's market, and neither should it, because they have plenty of books to choose from. Mitchell is a great--if extreme--example of why it's a gamble to work with an author who has only written one book. The pressure of her success crippled her. Yes, she made everyone involved with her single book oodles of money and notoriety, but like I said, that's an extreme situation. Most authors will never reach that level of fame, and yet still find the pressure to be too much. That's where the "learning to be an author" part comes in, I think.
As Rachelle said in her post, "Any editor will tell you that no matter how fabulous an author's first book is, it's rather scary signing a contract with someone who's never written more than the one." And I think that's the point, and here's an example. Patrick Rothfuss is a guy who published a really popular first book, and he had trouble producing the second book. The post I linked to explains why, but basically he had a lot of personal stuff happen to him, plus the pressure of his new-found "popular writer" duties. (I really appreciate his being so open about his reasons, because it gave me hope during a very dark time.) Now, I don't know if The Name of the Wind was his first novel ever, or just the first to be published, but his struggle illustrates why publishers are nervous about debut authors and why they want to be as sure as they can about an author's ability to produce work.
With Lee, I think To Kill a Mockingbird WOULD be published today. Agents and editors do take chances on very good first novels. White Oleander is the first contemporary example that comes to mind (yeah, it's a little old, but it was still acquired under the system we use today).
I've had this discussion several times over the years, but I still don't really understand the frustration with the "gatekeepers", i.e. agents and editors. I understand being frustrated with wherever I am on the path, like receiving a form rejection letter, but I don't have a problem with the form rejection itself, understand? Overall, the system makes perfect sense to me. Do a few publishable books fall through the cracks? I'm sure. But overall I think the system keeps the quality of the books we're offered to a higher standard. If I have to jump through their hoops to prove my worth, it's okay. It sucks, but I accept it. Does that make me weird?
Dang, writing a real post is a lot of work. Let me have it, people. Rebut.