Friday, August 23, 2013

On Not Winning

Last week, I didn’t win a contest.

Earlier this summer, I entered the first three chapters of a Young Adult manuscript in a contest called (unsurprisingly) The First Three Chapters.  The first prize was e-book publication.
The reason I entered this particular manuscript was twofold: 1) I like it, and 2) my agent hasn’t been able to sell it.  She told me the reason lies (in part) with the fact that since the story takes place in 1968, it is considered “historical fiction,” and editors aren’t buying much historical fiction these days.

(So much about this just boggles my mind.  In the first place, how can 1968 be considered “historical”?  I was eleven in 1968: acing spelling bees, building model cars, outfitting Barbies, and falling helplessly in love with Peter Tork.  Isn’t there a difference between “history” and “the past”?  And also, even if 1968 is considered “history,” why aren’t editors buying books that take place in it?  Why must all teenagers be forced to buy books about vampires and slutty girls who drink too much?  Isn’t there any room for something else?)

I should note that the title of my manuscript is EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED THE SUMMER HELEN KELLER DIED.  The reason I should note this is that it is by far the best title I’ve ever come up with.

I should also note that I came in second.  Which is gratifying, although not as gratifying as coming in first.  I imagine.

The second-place prize is free copy editing with a company that specializes in bringing e-books to market.  I had my first conversation with the “publishing associate” at the company today.  He is named Shea and he is from South Carolina. He is very gentlemanly and has a cute accent, but he will not be my “publishing consultant,” to whom I will speak next week.

Despite all the aggravation involved in this process, I am planning to proceed with this new way of doing things, even as I nurse the secret fear that e-publication lacks the prestige of traditional book publication.  This, I know, betrays my own snobbery, which is based on my own preferences. For so long, I have loved not just literature, but books themselves: how they look, how they smell, the way they feel in your hands.  The fact that I have written seventeen of them is something in which I have always taken great pride.
I do not know if I will feel the same way about an e-book.

But the world is changing.  Three years ago, I couldn’t imagine needing a smart phone.  “Why do I need internet access on my phone?”   I used to say (snobbishly).

I will post about the process as it unfolds.  (I am very happy that my great friend, the artist Brigid Manning-Hamilton, will be designing the book’s cover.)   In the meantime, I will wait to hear from my “publishing consultant” and ruminate on all the ways that old preferences can yield gracefully to new ones.  (As it turns out, I now think Peter Tork is ridiculous.)

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