My former nine-time elected Congressman, Steve Israel, must have been having a really bad day in DC if he suddenly decided that becoming a novelist would be far more rewarding. Understandably he’d had it with chicken dinners, fundraising and the wrath of unhappy constituents.
But never did he imagine that sitting behind a table at a book event hoping someone, anyone, would buy his novel would be more brutal than listening to the angry chants of 3,000 people who hated his views.
If only he had asked…
I’ve been there. Every author has. Even the mega stars know the loneliness of having readers dismiss their work. That’s because they only rose to fame after enduring rejection, disparaging reviews and probably a bunch of misfired novels that ended up in remainder bins.
But what Steve discovered after his first novel, BIG GUNS, was published was that unlike politics, writing fiction is personal. Very, very personal. He wrote:
“Politicians put on protective gear, fiction writers take it off — fully exposing their creativity, emotions, fantasies. It’s like unburdening oneself on a therapist’s couch, only every reader on earth is your therapist.”
Or as Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
If it helps Steve to know he’s in good company, I’d be happy to share my experiences in the trenches. The email I got from a reader that said my work was so awful my time would be better spent selling pantyhose at Macy’s. Or, the time I was set up in front of a bookstore at JFK airport and all anyone wanted from me were directions to the bathroom. Then there was that time I was about to lead a book club discussion and a woman trashed my novel, unaware I was in the room.
The best was when my mother’s boss gave her a gift card to Barnes & Noble so she could buy extra copies of my book and she went to the store and demanded cash instead. “I already have enough copies,” she told me later. “I’d rather have the money.”
So Steve, I feel your pain. It is brutal to get real time feedback on your novel. But over time you learn to laugh at the ridiculousness of what writers subject themselves to. You trade war stories. You keep going. You hopefully keep publishing. And one day when you least expect it, you lead a book discussion about your novel and hear the words you long for. “I loved it. It made me laugh and cry. What else did you write?”
I experienced that joy this morning when several readers told me they didn’t expect to like my novel but they did! Happy ending, indeed.
If you would like to read Steve’s New York Times essay about the life of a writer, off you go. He is also the author of THE GLOBAL WAR ON MORRIS.