A couple of weeks ago, a reader sent me am article from the Wall Street Journal about a first novel that became an overnight success, (“Preparation for the Next Life,” by Atticus Lish. (Click here) The story is one that would make any struggling writer salivate. Tyrant, a small press established in 2009, published 3,500 copies of that first novel and the sales unexpectedly skyrocketed. To its credit, Tyrant had published a few books of note previously, one which was sold to Random House for seven figures.
I confess, I didn’t read the article critically. I was happy for Atticus Lish, author of the book in question, and wished there were more stories about struggling writers like his. Instead, I sent the article to my writer friend and colleague, Susan Stoner, who co-hosts our book review series on YouTube, Just Read It. I suggested we consider Lish’s first book for our program not only because of its literary merit but because his story would give hope to other writers.
Susan writes the Sage Adair historical mystery series which in 2010 won her first place in the Mystery category of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I will also confess that years ago, she was a student of mine and an excellent one.
Her reply to my email was terse and, frankly, it drove a stake through the heart of my euphoria.
This person was the son of a famous editor … And, his publisher had the $$ to hire ‘one of the most successful publicists’ in the business.
I could do nothing but laugh at my naiveté. I’m old but still young enough to long for miracles. I wanted to believe a book by an unknown writer, printed by a small publishing house in a limited edition could somehow find its way, unaided, to literary acclaim. An artist always hopes. How else could he or she write of dark despair or paint glorious murals on the walls of prisons if not in the hope someone would see those words, that painting and understand?
Just as a tree, falling in the forest where no one can hear it, makes no sound so, too, without an audience there is no art.