The write stuff? Sometimes I wonder.

September 15, 2008

I wrote Brown Girls in 2002-03 while managing Big Tree Hideaway in Wainui, New Zealand. I actually composed most of the book while strolling the magnificent Wainu Beach and then would reluctantly leave that golden expanse, go home and type.

It followed, then, that I should initially try for a New Zealand-based publisher. I was, after all, living in the country, and my book is set in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, a nation that has close ties with Kiwis (most of those ties being of the financial sort).

With literary agents being a rather new breed on the publishing evolutionary scale in this outback, writers are actually permitted to approach publishing houses directly. Sort of like asking the Queen to pass you the salt at McDonald’s.

I tried the Big Three — Penguin, HarperCollins, Random House — and, considering I’ve already blogged how Brown Girls was eventually published by PublishAmerica, you already know the ending.

I don’t remember all the sad and sordid details (rejection is always sad. And sordid.), but there was something about my manuscript never actually arriving at one publishing house. Now, for New Zealand Post to misplace a package in a country this size is akin to misplacing a crocodile in your bathtub. But, hey, it happens. Or at least it happens to me.

I do remember waiting months and months for someone at Penguin to get off their ass, even as the time was ticking down to when we had to leave for Viking Woman’s next employment in North America. I finally worked up the nerve to send a short but oh-so-polite note asking if any decision had been made as to the feasibility of publishing my manuscript.

And there it was — a mere two days later — the rejection letter in my mailbox. (One delivery I would have gladly had New Zealand Post fumble.) Talk about your coincidence! Talk about your timing!

Apparently, just as teens who are sexually active in horror movies are doomed to perish in ghastly fashion, those writers bold enough to query the progress of their manuscript through the Publishing Kingdom’s Hallowed Halls are instantly rejected for being unworthy. And cheeky buggers to boot.

You might want to write that lesson down. I just did.

I contacted a number of smaller presses as well, including Cape Catley. Their reply was, “Sorry, but we’ve just published a novel set on a tropical island.”

I’d read that book — Temptation Island by Graeme Lay — quickly gave a it a three-word review (“Piece of Shit” No, wait, four words: “Horrible Piece of Shit”), and so was sorely tempted to write back to Cape Catley and say, “Alright, but now do you want to publish a GOOD book set on a tropical island?”

But you do not — I repeat, DO NOT — want to get into a pissing contest with a publisher. It’s almost always comes back to bite you in the ass.

While my immediate publishing future remains in the hands of Jeff Buick, and has now for about six months (see my blog “Buying a Buick”), I can either sit here moaning or start exploring Plan B.

Which explains why I had an interview today with Chrissie Manson of Workforce Development. Her group has joined forces with Creative Hawke’s Bay to facilitate a series of workshops for “artists, including musicians, visual artists, WRITERS and jewellers.”

Except the more I talked to Ms. Manson, and looked at the literature, the more I realized how these workshops were really aimed at the likes of painters and potters and creators of necklaces, helping them determine how much their end product is worth.

Not a whole lot of help for me because, you see, a writer’s end product — the manuscript — remains basically worthless until a publisher says otherwise. To paraphrase an old song, “You’re nobody till somebody publishes you.”

If I had to do it again, I’d be an artist and dabble in watercolours and landscapes. That way, if no one bought my “masterpiece,” I could at least frame it and put it on display in the bathroom or the garage or the pantry.

And then, when someone asks, “Whose cat vomited on the wall?”, I could proudly proclaim, “That’s MY vomit.”

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