KATHRYN HAYES CONTEST!

KATHRYN HAYES CONTEST!
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Monday, August 6, 2012

THE BITTERSWEET TRUTH OF BEING AN ARTIST: SMALL VICTORIES

by Jonathan Marcantoni, Guest Blogger

Sitting at a small table covered with copies of my book, TRAVELER’S REST, watching people glance at its surreal book cover and giving me faint smiles as they just kept walking past me, I began to wonder, ‘Is it me, or is it my book?’ My first novel as a solo-author is very difficult to categorize. Part literary fiction, part interconnected short story collection, part political treatise, part historical fiction, part drug addiction story, and very much concerned with subjects like depression, suicidal thoughts, alienation, an existential search for self and the pains of being an exile—does any of that sound like something you’d want to read? It’s not fun reading that’s for sure, even if you do have a taste for the dark side of literature. Oh, and the style is stream of conscience—Jesus, I didn’t make this easy on myself, did I?

At the same time, my last book, a collaboration with Jean Blasiar called COMMUNION, was about as mainstream as they come. A WWII-based fantasy about a little girl who uses her gift of communicating with animals to find her father amidst the rubble of post-war France, COMMUNION is about as warm, inviting and enjoyable as a book can be. And it sold practically nothing. Not for lack of trying, we did everything we could think of, and still it didn’t sell.

So if neither approach worked, the question again rears its ugly head—‘Is it me, or is it my book?’ I have gotten a handful of reviews, all positive, I have set up radio interviews and done a few for blogs online, but I haven’t seen any sort of increase in sales on Amazon’s Author Central, in fact, I haven’t seen any sales.

Eight years. Eight years ago I sold a script and signed a contract with a production company and could officially call myself a professional writer. For eight years I have done every BS and scam job imaginable just to make pennies on the dollar, as well some very good, legit writing work that didn’t pay me at all, just to build up a resume. Things were looking up when I began working for an independent publisher, the same one who published both of my books. I have edited fourteen books in the last seven years and even got a Hollywood agent interested in a script I worked on with Jean, and yet, for all that resume padding and for all the things I could say I had accomplished, sitting at that table and being completely ignored and completely uncomfortable—I couldn’t feel like more of a loser. Eight years of work just to be an embarrassment.

Anybody who has been trying to make it as an artist, whether with theatre, painting, dance, or writing, knows this moment. You’ve put everything out there and returned with nothing to show for it. Whenever I am working with a new author as their editor, I always counsel them about how difficult emotionally releasing a book is. I always caution them that sales are not guaranteed, and that all this work may often feel like it has been in vain. But I also tell them that it is worth it, that you don’t write to make money, you write because you have to. It is an essential part of yourself, and this sales game is the worst part of it, but you gotta do it. You can’t quit. I usually get a head nod or some kind of dismissive response, as though they will be the exception and not the rule. And then the book comes out, and reality hits, and not one of them I have known has written a second book.

When I lived in Atlanta I had the chance to see Eddie Izzard, for those of you not acquainted with the cross dressing British comedian, he was huge in the early 2000s, do a DVD signing Tower Records in Buckhead, which for those of you who don’t know Atlanta, is an extremely upscale part of the city. Anyway, this massive store was packed to the gills and Mr. Izzard walks up on a make-shift stage and does a stand up bit prior to the signing. Toward the end of the act, he decided to do a Q&A with the audience and someone asked him what advice he would give up and coming entertainers. For the first time that night, Mr. Izzard stopped smiling. He looked that person straight in the eye and said, “Persistence. You have to be persistent”. He went on for another five minutes or so espousing on that idea, and I don’t remember the rest of it, but his answer has stayed with me for almost a decade now. Persistence. I tell myself all the time I have to be persistent, I have to push through. Now that a couple days have passed, the sting of that night has gone away and I am continuing on my quest to get my book sold, but that night I wanted to burn everything down around me, including myself, yet, in spite of my feelings I allowed the sales clerk at the store convince me to schedule another book signing. Maybe it was my memory of that night at Tower Records playing in my head that forced me to swallow my pride and schedule it, or maybe it was the fact that this signing was made with less than a week’s notice and I was woefully unprepared, so the practical side of my brain told me that it was, in fact, me who was the problem, and some good planning could yield a better result. Whatever it was, I was able to fight through the pain of yet another disappointment and move forward.

The bitter truth is that these things are unpredictable, like gambling, you may hit the jackpot one night and not do it again for years, but at least you did it once and that means you might do it again. That possibility is what keeps you placing bets. The sweet truth, is that the victories you receive in this line of work are more often small, but nonetheless significant. Take this evening for example, the signing was a bust, but now I have five copies of my very own book being sold at a real brick and mortar bookstore in the downtown of the 7th largest city in the country (San Antonio, Texas). It’s the first time I could say something like that. It may not be a million dollar book deal, but it’s a start, and if I want to keep being a writer, and believe me I do, I have to milk that small victory for all it’s worth. Because I’d never know if that day I hit the jackpot will come or not, and I’d rather raise my bets than fold my hand.♥



ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Marcantoni is the author of TRAVELER’S REST (Aignos Publishing 2012). He is also Editor in Chief for Aignos Publishing, a new bi-lingual independent press specializing in experimental and innovative literature. Jon is the co-author of COMMUNION with author/playwrite Jean Blasiar, which was published in October 2011 from Savant Books and Publications. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his wife and three children, where he is currently working on his next novel.

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