As I wandered the halls between meetings I couldn’t help but overhear tidbits of conversations from the formal, “The barrier to entry has never been higher” and “We’re focused on sure things because we have to be,” to the awkwardly boastful: “This book is going to CHANGE the WORLD!” And I began to recognize the familiar faces of certain strangers. Two of the paneled authors I had heard give their testimony haunted me as I fought to make their stirring remarks sit down in my unsettled soul. One had mentioned that her perilous path to publication had involved a stultifying 300 rejections, but that she had persevered until the “universe had positively responded.” The second writer had humbly stated that once her first novel was accepted, she had had to edit it eight times. “I pushed myself two to three generations (beyond) what I thought I was capable of” or had within her to revision it. (Should I run for the hills now or what? It wasn't in me to face those odds--and if I did, I'd wind up an egotist or a martyr; but, like those ladies, I just wanted to tell stories for a living.)
At lunch I broke the ice with the man seated next to me merely because he was wearing the same large name tag around his neck as me. It gave us common ground, I felt, like I had sudden access to him, some unearned affinity or shared affliction. It was as if I were one pregnant woman reaching out, fondly and knowingly, to touch the belly of the expectant woman beside me. (So, for the next hour, this budding writer of crime drama and I laughed, compared thoughts, and ate our soups and salads.) I felt bold and open and linked in to my universe.
As Saturday ended in a toast, I smiled at the table of strangers around me. Everyone I had rubbed elbows with had been friendly, and the agents, editors and publishers were down to earth and approachable; it made a potentially harrowing experience less traumatic, and each successful engagement encouraged a next encounter (I had garnered the interest--and contact information--from two additional literary agents). . .Yes, we were all operating from different “X-factors,” that which motivated and drove us, but I think everyone was there because we loved a good read.
Although the experience of finding a good read is hard to describe (and its prescription slightly different, depending on the genre), any book fiend can tell you that it is the feeling that someone is telling you a great story. The voice is “fresh,” the concept “wins you over,” and the well-constructed writing is consistent as it “sweeps you along.” And, yet, there is an opposing maxim we can agree upon, as well: “There is NO book that EVERYONE wants to read."
(Tomorrow: "Build It (They Will Come): The Writer's Platform")