Greetings, literarians, we find ourselves mired in piles of revisions on this gorgeous Friday afternoon. There’s also the neverending attempt to get published. Couple weeks back, I posted about how good it felt to revisit an old draft of a novel and then, after five months of rewriting, finish that draft (which I’ll call the “LOWBROW POTBOILER.”) Meanwhile, my thesis from the Columbia Graduate Writing Program — we’ll call this the “ARTSY FARTSY BOOK” — remains in the hands of several agents and editors. One agent recently passed on it, with very generous words, going so far as to give the awesome feedback that the book was “too avant-garde for commercial publishers,” which, though devastating, was also strangely encouraging.
Here’s the problem (and this is admittedly a good problem to have): it’s hard to know which book to promote. As writers, don’t we all want to be taken seriously? We want our first book to be the earth-shattering, genre-busting, face-melting success like HOUSE OF LEAVES or INVISIBLE MAN or CATCH-22 (yes, those were all debut efforts). Sure, there are a few authors, Faulkner, for instance, whose THE SOUND AND THE FURY came after two previous attempts at pot-boiling had failed, but there’s something special about your first book establishing your artistic chops, your moxie, your go-for-broke-book you wanted to write when you were completely free of any expectations. Well, that’s how I feel about the ARTSY FARTSY BOOK. That’s the one I want to keep pushing, but it’s so risky, so perverse, even, I’m starting to think I might have to cave into the more commercial LOWBROW POTBOILER and start trying to peddle that one instead. How’s this supposed to work, anyway?
Tom McCarthy’s REMAINDER is my inspiration here, as it was published by some art house in Paris called the Metronome Press, gained a fiercely loyal readership, and was eventually picked up by Vintage. Seems more bad ass to retain your artistic integrity, say to hell with the money, and publish your book exactly as you want it published: even if you’re not getting any kind of advance. The risk of going with the POTBOILER first, it seems, is that your ARTSY FARTSY book would then be scrutinized and commercialized into something the masses could safety consume (without being too scandalized). Is this a realistic fear, dear readers? Or is this just ridiculous writerly anxiety? Does it make the most sense to just move forward with the “safe” book, pray that it’s an easier sell, and then hope to move forward with the psycho-sexual-mindbender later? Need some help here, friends, so let me know if any of you have any stories to share about what’s the best way to break into this big bad beautiful game.