Page 78 - Vol. VI #10
P. 78

Selling a Book (continued from preceding page)
tan. First we go through the requisite small talk, but since I’m not good at that sort of thing, I get quickly to the point.
the crowds of Manhattan, never to be seen or heard from again, and it might well have turned out that way if the literary world hadn’t already stormed
the Gates and torn them down. In short order, I will find another agent, one who intimately understands my work, alcoholism and addiction, because he has wrestled with the same demons. In short order, this agent will pair me with another casualty from New York, a former executive editor at one of the major publishers who grew sick of the corporate mindset and quit and went to work at a small but fine house in Los Angeles. This is a city I know well, and though I suppose it can be as tough and heartless as any other, I like having an editor that returns my calls. I like that we can get together for lunch every now and then. I like that he shows up for the readings of the writers he publishes. His notes, on that last book of mine that New York rejected, are extensive, but all that tells
 “So,” I say, “what’d you both think?”
My agent looks down at her plate. She dabs her mouth with her napkin. My editor is braver. She looks me straight in the eye.
“I’m sure the writing is wonderful,” she says, “but I checked the numbers just before I left my office.”
I blank out for a second. Being sure that the writing is wonderful is a very different thing than saying that the writing is wonderful. How can you pass on a book you haven’t read? And what’s this talk of numbers? Doesn’t she remember telling me that she publishes big commercial writers so that she can afford to pub- lish less popular ones? I’m in a daze, and for a short while I only recall bits and pieces of the conversation, terms like “track record” and “sales force.” As the news sinks in, however, my hearing improves, and I catch the tail end of her words. “You need to look at the best-seller list,” she says. “You need to come at us with an entirely different sort of book, not another memoir, but something along the lines of that novel about a man and his talking dog. What’s it called?” She squints. She furrows her eyebrows. Damn,” she says, “it’s right on the tip of my tongue.” She rises from her chair, excusing herself to use the bathroom. “I’m sure it’ll come to me by the time I get back. Can you order me another diet coke if the waiter comes around?”
me is that he cares about good writing. His input is sharp and smart and invaluable and makes for a bet- ter book. I also like that I’ve made a whole lot of new L.A. writer friends and that we have a terrific literary community right in our own backyard.
When she’s gone, I look at my agent.
But at this juncture in life it’s also about relationships. I’m tired of the games. I’m tired of my own faulty expectations of what a writer is and isn’t and how crudely New York measures success. I’m sixty years old now as I come full circle, nearing the end of a thirty-five year career, and if I’ve learned one thing along the way it’s that it is the act of writing, not publishing, that brings writers our greatest sense of worth, purpose, and pleasure.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she says. “But she’s right. It’s a tough business and it’s not getting any easier. You need to come up with a hook. Something catchy. Something not so depressing.”
“I don’t write fucking talking dogs,” I say.
After lunch I walk the streets of New York, wondering what just happened and realizing that I should’ve seen it coming. The coup de grace is delivered by
my agent, who, for fear of offending the powerful woman to whom she sells so many books, tells me that she won’t show the manuscript to anyone else. She doesn’t mention the fear. That’s me guessing, so I could be wrong, but after my last book receiving so much praise, it’s hard to believe that another New York editor wouldn’t have at least read my new one. Then again, what do I know? I write. They sell. To them it’s a busi- ness, to me it’s something of an obsession, with a pull stronger than any drug I’ve ever taken.
Brown is the author of the memoirs, This River and The Los Angeles Diaries. Apology to the Young Addict, his third memoir and the last of a trilogy, will be published by Counterpoint Books in 2020. His work has appeared in GQ, Ploughshares, The New York Times Magazine,The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New England Quarterly, and is anthologized in Best American Sports Writing (Houghton Mifflin); and Fathers, Sons and Sports: Great American Sports Writing (ESPN Books).
I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss the big New York advances.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss all the attention and fanfare that comes from the support of the big New York publicity machine.
 The story could end here with me disappearing into 69

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