My newest novel, The Brothers Path (working title: The Schneebeli Brothers Go to Church) has been accepted by two publishers for publication.The first offer came with very clear information about the terms of the contract if I chose to go with them. The second didn’t come with any terms at all, just the information that they would have the book vetted by an expert historian and I might have to make changes. I emailed them back with questions the first publisher had answered and I’m waiting for their response.
As I was walking the dogs this afternoon, I thought about how teaching business communication changed me. When I wrote Martin of Gfenn I was primarily interested in the historical accuracy of the book. I even found a Swiss Medievalist Historian to help me and we became friends. When I was given an offer by an agent, I didn’t ask any questions. I just said, “Yes!” Now — almost 20 years later — I’m very concerned with the bottom line and I also get some information from the WAY people communicate with me. The first publisher was far more businesslike and that impressed me. I want business people in charge of my novel because I want it to be successful out there in the world. BUT they are also a “print on demand” company and that means they have little clout when it comes to getting books into actual brick and mortar store. They were up front about this which also impressed me.
So I feel a little disappointed and lonely at this moment. I guess I wanted — hoped — the second publisher would present something comparable so I could sit down and evaluate the opportunities in a businesslike way. It’s one thing to “love” a book it’s another to believe you can sell the book. The first publisher made no comments about liking the book or why. That was fine. By wanting to publish the book, I knew they liked the book. The second wrote, “This novel is very well done and hard to put down!” I’m happy about that but, at this moment, I want to know something about how they plan to sell it, where, my take, etc. Perhaps that’s information I would get by saying, “Yes,” but I can’t say “Yes” without knowing what I’m saying “Yes” to.
Another development in my writing consciousness is that while I hope other people like the book (even love the book) the only love relationship that really matters to me is that between the idea and my mind leading to the creative effort to realize the idea. I also thought of last fall when I began the ill-fated (for me) writers workshop and dealt with comments from my uncomprehending “class”mates. “This is like Tolstoy. I don’t know how you’ll ever finish it.” “This reminds me of The Brothers Karamasov.” OK, I like Russian novels, but the book is NOTHING like Tolstoy OR Dostoyevsky.
I remember comments such as, “If I can’t keep track of the characters, no one can.” “These German names are impossible to remember. Change them to something your reader can identify with.” This was written by a young woman, an angry, lesbian social worker. I felt amused (and a little frustrated) that I couldn’t turn around write about her story, “Quit writing about lesbians. I can’t relate to that. Write about normal heterosexual relationships.’ It would have been petty “revenge” not a wake-up call to her. She would have called me insensitive to LGBT “issues.” (Which I am most certainly NOT.) My contempt for them led me to drop out with a lame excuse about “good news” about my book, good news I didn’t have, but hoped for without expecting it.
Maybe they were right and Heinrich, Hannes, Conrad, Peter, Andreas, Thomann along with Vreni, Verena, Katharina and Rudolf were names too alien and their intertwining stories too complex, but I also remember that snowy afternoon when I sat down at my drawing table with my 24 x 36 newsprint pad and charted out the lives of the brothers, their intersections with each other and with history. I believed any half intelligent reader could sort out both the family relationships and the names, that no real reader wants the same story they’ve read before. It seems I was right.
I should be excited — over the moon! — I’ve waited so long for this. All my life? Instead of excitement, I feel a coldness, that what matters most is that my book get its best shot and that things will soon change. At times like this I guess it’s natural to wish for someone who would say, “I’m so proud of you! Let me take you out for dinner! Champagne!” because it is really that kind of moment. I don’t feel sorry for myself because there is no such person in my life; that’s OK. If there were, maybe the Schneebeli brothers would never have gone to church?
I’m going to Switzerland next May. I decided to look for people with my family name in the village where I’m staying. There are three. One is the fire chief. And their names? Hans Peter. Hans Jorg. Uschi. I wonder? Should I find out?