Friday, September 07, 2012

My Soul Takes its Pants Off and Moons the World

I recently learned that due to office budget concerns, my grant writing contract will be cut by 10%. The concerns being that the budget is a whirling black hole with a gravitational pull so strong everyone now pitches slightly to the left when they walk to the break room.

My reactions:
  • Yaay! More writing time! In theory! 
  • Boo! Less money! For real!
  • Oh shit! J’s job is being considered for outsourcing next quarter! REALLY less money!
  • Does Bach Rescue Remedy work better for anxiety than glazed donut vodka or large animal tranquilizers?

Due to the budgetary vortex of hell, we just laid off a new colleague who is also one of my dearest friends. I wrote her a letter of recommendation today, and I wanted to add in small font at the bottom:

PS: Please don’t hire her. I’m clinging to the bright, unrealistic hope that our budget deficit is simply a math error and she will be back at the office next Tuesday. 

And (this is the part that really makes my chest go all tight) I am losing faith that traditional publishing is going to swoop in and save the day by offering three suitcases of money for either of the novels currently making the rounds in NYC.  

One has been doing go-sees with the Big 6 and their imprints since last fall, racking up heart-achingly close editorial rejections like these:

“ … an out-and-out pleasure to read.  Riley’s writing is funny, energetic, and completely spot-on when it comes to family and their many tragedies and triumphs.  I loved the voice here and Jaime’s wonderfully warm, wacky, and resilient way of looking at her life and taking it as it comes. I’m a great fan of Riley’s writing and her smart storytelling instincts.”

“Jess is clearly a talented writer, and I really enjoyed her sense of humor.”

“I've been on the fence about this one. I think Jess Riley is a very good writer who pays wonderful attention to the small, vivid details in relationships…”

“I’m sorry I’ve held onto ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE for so long. I was facing one of those editorial moments where you know you have to let something go…but you just can’t bring yourself to do it.”

Of course, each one of these had a BUT attached to it. (“I truly think you’re great; you’re such a smart, funny, pretty girl, and you’ll make a great catch for some really lucky guy one day.  But I’m just not that guy, and here are the myriad reasons why …”) 

Here’s my favorite BUT, condensed: “however, I’m just not sure I can sell this book into accounts … ‘(it) isn’t quite book club’ … ‘humor isn’t quite cutting it these days.’  What it is:  very cinematic…I wish this would be a movie and then everyone would be rich.” 

Me too. 

Can you hear me screaming and crying and punching walls from where you sit?

I’ll be chatting with my agent next week about my options, none of which include glazed donut vodka, unfortunately. But at least there ARE options, which is something you couldn’t say ten years ago, when I’d optimistically march to the post office with a handful of queries and later, my full, printed manuscripts tucked safely away in cardboard boxes and padded mailers.

Basically, what I’m saying here is this: I hope you have a Kindle! 

It’s time for this impatient, neurotic control freak to actually take some control. I'm tired of dicking around. I might crash and burn, but at least I can say I tried. And then drank some vodka infused with the taste of a Krispy Kreme cruller.


  1. You know I am here for you right? We shall conquer publishing together. One way or the other.

  2. I heart you big time, E!!

  3. Oh, no. I'm sorry Jess. That must be so frustrating and disheartening, especially when you've worked so hard and gotten so close.

  4. Thanks Caryn, you're very kind. I'm definitely not giving up, and I'm actually getting excited to try this new experiment.

  5. Take it from me--becoming your own publisher can be life-changing. In fact, I can't imagine anything better for a writer. I no longer worry about pleasing the front line. Instead, I write what I want and let the readers decide. It gave me the joy back and I get to make my living doing what I love. These are good times for writers. I predict your book will do great!

  6. Karen, I am all fan-girl giddy that you commented here!

    Your words are so, so wise. Thank you!!!! xoxo

    Wisconsin writers are the best.(Is it totally nerdy of me to point out that I once heard you on WPR ...I think it was the Larry Meiller show?) :)

  7. Jess, that WAS me on the Larry Meiller show! I can't believe you heard that and remembered me. It pays to have a distinctive name.

    Wisconsin writers are the best, I agree. If you decide to put your book out yourself, and you want to talk about it, keep me in mind. I'd be glad to tell you what I know.

  8. Hugs to you, Jess. I'm betting you do more than "try" - here's to you and your success!

  9. Anonymous7:47 PM

    This is really why I wish I worked in publishing. Typically I do not read contemporary adult fiction because I'm so sick of what sells. Sex. Sex, more sex, vampires, vampires having sex, etc. I want to read books about people that I want to become friends with, not someone that I would shake my head at and say "Um, you met him 5 minutes ago and now you're in love? How's that possible?"

    Anyway, my point is, if I worked in publishing, you'd have a book deal.