Tuesday, February 14, 2012
TUESDAY BRINGS TROUBLE
I think most of you have probably heard my Ian Rankin story by now. After 150+ rejections by literary agents, The Beggar’s Opera was shortlisted for The CWA Debut Dagger in Harrogate, UK. As I was getting ready to leave for Canada, unemployed and feeling very dejected after travelling such a long way to lose, I met Rankin in the bar. Thanks to his generosity in sharing his contacts, I ended up represented by his agent, Peter Robinson, and Peter’s Canadian counterpart, Anne McDermid. Within a few weeks, the book was on the hot list at the Frankfurt Book Fair and picked up by Penguin Canada.
The Beggar’s Opera is now in bookstores across Canada, which is exciting but also stressful. I’ve come to realize that, in some ways, this is the most difficult part of the journey.
Sure, all those rejections hurt, but they were private. When I got anything at all, it was usually a form letter—more often, it was silence. ( It’s like going out on a date with someone you like; if he hasn’t called in a month, you sort of get the message.) And once I was represented, my agents didn’t bother me with rejections; I didn’t want to see them, and they didn’t think I needed to, unless they saw the same comment more than once.
But now that The Beggar’s Opera is out and in bookstores, there’s no buffer anymore. It’s like watching your child cross the street alone for the first time—exhilarating and sort of grownup and terrifying at one and the same time. The Globe and Mail’s bestseller list, I’ve discovered, requires that 1,000 books a week be sold to be a bestseller. 1,000 books a week! I’m humbled by those who have achieved that kind of success and right back to feeling like a little puddle on the ground.
I’ve also discovered that people feel quite free to make all kinds of personal comments to you once you’re an author.
For example, I was invited to a small writers’ group (I’m afraid it will be the first and only time I’ll be there). “Wow, they sure airbrush those pictures, don’t they?” the organizer said to me, as he looked at my jacket photograph.
Last night I had an email from a reader who said she loved The Beggar’s Opera and couldn’t put it down. She then proceeded to list every typo she’d found. She was just trying to be helpful, she explained, given her attention to detail. Of course, now I can’t look at the book without seeing those errors myself, given my own attention to detail. Sigh.
As a “newbie,” or “debut author,” as we say in the biz, I have to hand my hat to those of you who have not only survived as authors, but thrived. You must have a thicker skin than I do, although mine’s certainly thicker than it was. (But then again, that could just be the airbrushing.)
Peggy Blair has been a lawyer for more than thirty years. A recognized expert in Aboriginal law, she also worked as both a criminal defence lawyer and Crown prosecutor. She spent a Christmas in Old Havana, where she watched the bored young policemen along the Malecon, visited Hemingway’s favourite bars, and learned to make a perfect mojito. A former member of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, Blair is named in the Canadian Who’s Who. She lives in Ottawa.