Friday, August 22, 2008

Open Letter to Anonymous

Here's a comment I just received from Anonymous, regarding my post about the David Baratier debacle.

Hi there,
I totally empathize with your predicament. It sucks that it had to happen with your first book, too. Not that I know this guy, or the press, or you, or that I'm making excuses for anyone, but we all have to remember that this is poetry, and whatever reasons small presses have for doing what they do is definitely not for money or prestige. They do it for the love of the word. And they can get away with more "stuff" because they are...small. We have to give them the benefit of the doubt. They keep all of us going. They're the little invisible machines in the air that we hear whirring at night.

It seems like, and I could be wrong, that if you were a little more patient, this guy would have eventually put out your book. It may have taken longer to get your check, but was that check really going to help you do anything? If you're counting on poetry to pay your rent, you picked the wrong genre. If you book came out a few months later than you thought, is the world really going to hold its breath until it does? I don't mean to sound like a jerk. I'm only playing devil's advocate, but it did seem like you were a bit high maintenance with him. Which makes sense. You're young and excited and expect more from everyone. You want to be catered to, adored, complimented. We all do. I totally do. That's not how it works in our scene, unfortunately. The Pavement guy has a busy life on top of doing his press. Kids and death and teaching can really put a damper on small presses. Yet he's put out a lot of books. I'm pretty sure he would have eventually put out yours, too. Whether he's a jerk or not. Separate the art from the artist. Always. Or you will be constantly be let down.

What the hell do I know, though. I'm nobody, located in Nowheresville, population 1.

Regardless, if your book got picked once, it will probably get picked again. When it does, maybe ask for a few email addresses from other people already published on the same press, so you can get a different feel/view of your editor(s), just so you don't go pulling your book again!

I'm working with a pretty big time editor/publisher right now, and he/she is impossible to get a hold off, they don't return emails, I haven't signed a contract yet, etc. But it doesn't matter, really. It will happen eventually. And if it doesn't, then I start sending it out again. Patience is the key in poetry, I've found. Not drama, not anger, just patience. If I were a novelist with an agent and a $50,000 advance, I would tell you differently. But I'm not.

Sorry to go on so long...Good luck!

Dear Anonymous,

Under the guise of empathy you decided to comment on my blog in order to tell me about myself, and offer helpful suggestions for self-improvement.

Unfortunately, offering disclaimers such as "not that I'm making excuses", "I could be wrong", "I don't mean to sound like a jerk", and "what the hell do I know" does not ease the blow of things like, "You're young and excited and expect more from everyone." I'm pretty floored by this. I keep re-reading it and waiting for the sentence to change. I expect more from everyone because I'm young? It's true that I have high expectations of myself, but from others, I simply expect that they do what they say they're going to do, and finish what they start. David Baratier did not do what he said he would do. I lost faith in him as an editor and in his operation.

My age is irrelevant, unless you want to get to the point about the thousand dollars, which you apparently do. If you had just broken up with your boyfriend in New Mexico, were living with your parents in Illinois, and had accepted a job in New York City requiring immediate relocation, would the thousand dollars that was promised you four months prior be a significant amount of money? Yes.

You admit you don't know anything about me, so really, you shouldn't be telling me anything about me. You haven't noticed, for example, that I work in publishing, in New York, and understand the world of contracts! editors! deadlines! advances! I get it. And I get that poetry is a different league than Michael Chabon novels. But that doesn't mean I should have any less respect for myself, as a writer, and as a person, because I'm a poet, and not Michael Chabon.



Tortilla ex Machina said...

Hello Leigh,

I won't use the 'devil's advocate' line that ANONYMOUS used but perhaps all he meant by 'you're young' is that the more years you pile on the more disappointments and disillusionments you (possibly) can experience and therefore, no–you don't expect everyone to keep their word, or honor their commitment – for some, if you do, you can go mad with the disappointment.

I am 50 this year. My expectations from people (editors and otherwise) are that I expect those I love and care for to honor their commitments, keep their word, treat me well. If the rest do, well, that's nice, a welcome surprise, and I feel better for it.

I have also lost a book contract to an editor who decided to focus on his family and having children. "That's nice," I thought, "but I wish you had decided to change your focus BEFORE you said you would publish my book."

Stuff like that, makes me, well, not depend upon the kindness of strangers.

From what I see, the biggest loss here is the cash. I am completely certain that your talent will lead to a contract for your book. Your work is too good for it not to do so.


Leigh Stein said...

Sticking a young tag on anything is dismissive and hurts my feelings. Yes, hurts my feelings! I'm young and I have feelings!

Obviously, unless I die soon in a freak accident, I'll grow older, more things will disappoint me, I'll make bad choices, I'll have unrealistic expectations, and on and on.

But the issue here was: David's actions weren't fair to me or my book, so I backed out.

The issue is not: it's Leigh's fault all this happened because she's young and high maintenance and expected too much from an editor of poetry.

Thanks for your input & presence.

Hattie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hattie said...

Hi I'm Hattie and younger than the both of you, and I'd just like to say I think it's sad people expect less as they get older. If you decide yourself to be fair to everyone, not just the people you care about, and set that as the standard, and someone goes below that standard, you SHOULD be dissappointed, it doesn't matter how old you are. let's be the change we wanna see in the world, as ghandi pointed out.

Leigh Stein said...

Hattie is my life coach.

Tortilla ex Machina said...

Dear Leigh,

I agree with you. Nothing about this was your fault. As for feelings, I am not even sure what the difference is between the ones you have in your 20's and in your 50's or beyond. I used to say that I felt things more powerfully when I was 20, and more deeply now (I do not mean 'profoundly' or with greater meaning, just more deeply!) but even that is not so certain to me anymore.

Maybe the biggest thing for me now is that I don't feel as certain about things.

Whether this is good or bad, I don't know!


PS If you ever want to check out comparable publishing escapades, ask anyone who has ever dealt with Gordon Lish, once with Random House. Those stories are absolutely AMAZING!

Jason Bredle said...

Leigh put a lot of time and thought into her decision. She asked advice of others who'd published books, she talked to others published by Pavement Saw. It's not unreasonable to ask for a contract. David Baratier's first reaction was to ignore her, then to lash out at her and make excuses for himself. He's older than Leigh, he should really know better. Why would she want to give something she worked on hard at over to someone who acted the way he acted? She deserves to have her work published in a way that makes her comfortable and happy.

It's really not about age. Leigh's one of the most mature, intelligent people I've ever met. I imagine everyone who knows her thinks the same. It's true that as you get older emotions can be less intense and melodramatic, but I don't think that came into play here. It's certainly not true that you expect less from people as you get older. You do tend to understand things in a broader sense and it's easier to be patient and understanding with others, but I also don't think that came into play here either. Asking for a contract is a reasonable request and the press's reaction was really unwarranted. If David Baratier is too busy with a bunch of jobs and a family to respond to one of his author's requests, then perhaps he shouldn't be trying to run a press, too.

It's true too that you should expect to make sacrifices when your book gets picked up, but you shouldn't be expected to make sacrifices you're not comfortable with.

Tortilla ex Machina said...

I agree with Jason almost completely. And I absolutely believe that age has nothing to do with anything regarding a book contract, expectations, fulfilling obligations, etc. Although I will say that when I was in my 20's I would have been MUCH more willing to put up with anything to be published. This, of course, would have been due to 1) lack of confidence which was due in part to the fact that 2) I wasn't writing anything nearly as imaginative or polished as what I have seen of Leigh's.

Although I agree with Jason that you see things in a broader sense as you grow older, I do not necessarily think you become more tolerant – although it is hard for me to speak for all of humanity. Speaking for myself, though, and it is a personal failing, I find that I give less room and attention to writing and/or conversations if I find them following a familiar path that may no longer interest me. The good news is: the unfamiliar, the exciting, the innovative work, being, conversation, event–I hold on to with joy and excitement.

That's why I read Leigh for a second time. In my opinion, she is a completely established writer, with or without a book contract.

Steven D. Schroeder said...

Hi Leigh:

I don't actually know anyone involved with this (though I have met Jason Bredle twice, and he seems like a really good guy). I tend to respond to things in haste, and puffed up as large as I can look. I would have said almost the same things to Anonymous as you did, though it surely wasn't my place to. Maybe it's because I'm "young." Except not so much. It's really because Anonymous wrote a bunch of stupid crap on your blog and deserved to get called on it. Anonymous is wrong and was being a jerk. Leigh, you should start shopping your book to other presses as having won a prize but being available again. My friend who got shafted by the Cider Press Review Prize is doing the same, and it's amazing the extra interest you can generate that way.

Steve Schroeder

Leigh Stein said...

Thank you, Jason.

Thank you, Steve. Yes, I've started sending the book out again. That original post was written back in April, and was just picked up recently by another blog, so I guess some people think I need to get back on the horse and stop feeling sorry for myself, but really, I'm on the horse. It's been four months.

Steven D. Schroeder said...

Yeah, I found your original post through the other blog. I'm just good at offering glaringly obvious advice... :-)

brooklyn said...

I didn't realize that post was so old when I commented!!

-And what I couldn't do a thou! What anyone couldn't do with a thou! I would have already spent it, in my mind.


Tortilla ex Machina said...

You've probably already seen this ...

(August 25th) ...

Ana Božičević said...

Leigh, may your book find a true home soon!