Thursday, January 17, 2013

None of This Would Have Happened But for James Lileks

None of this would have happened but for James Lileks. Seriously.

I signed with my first literary agent at 19. Not only had he been an editor before becoming an agent, he had been the one editor I really wanted to crack but never did. So when he offered to represent me, it felt like God telling Moses things would all work out in the end. First one manuscript and then another went out, always getting good reaction if not a contract, and I was hanging out in the SFWA suite at conventions and being introduced to writers I had grown up idolizing as one of the new up-and-comers.

And of course, it never happened.

I kept writing, though. And I kept trying. I signed with and changed agents, more than once, as time went on, and I even took a 10-year detour in Hollywood as a screenwriter, snagging an option or two, developing a bunch of scripts with various producers that in the end went nowhere, and being introduced again as one of the new up-and-comers.

And of course, it never happened.

I kept writing, though, and I kept trying. I had been knocked back to square one more than once as a writer, and form-letter rejections from publishers and agents don’t have quite the same sting after you’ve had 10 movie or TV pitches shot down in 10 minutes (or less) by someone sitting right in front of you. Besides, I was married and in my forties at this point, and had gained a hard-won perspective on things that I couldn’t have imagined back when I was in my twenties writing novels or in my thirties writing screenplays.

And of course, the Internet was rising, the traditional publishers were dying, and e-readers were appearing. Things were changing, but I had come of age not just before the Internet but before as well, back when indie or self-publishing meant dropping a large chunk of your savings to a vanity press for a closet full of books that no store would ever stock. Even worse, your career would be over, we were told, because you had cheated, broken the rules, skipped out on paying your dues, and clearly just weren’t good enough for a real publisher to take you on.

I had had agents, though, one after another. And Hollywood had optioned more than one screenplay. And I had heard from editors, more times than I cared to remember, that it was a great book, just not right for them, and I should have no trouble placing it elsewhere. And the agents, one after another, had agreed as well.

And of course, it never happened.

Then James Lileks published Graveyard Special for the Kindle. And he did it on his own.

That was the tipping point for me. Lileks had already published books traditionally, after all, and seeing him go the Kindle/self-publishing route with a new novel meant the stigma was at least fading, if not gone. I’d known this in my head, of course. It just hadn’t made its way down into my gut, where it really needed to be.

And if James Lileks could do this, what in the hell was I waiting for?

Besides, I was 47 now. Banging my head against still more walls to get yet another agent, and then going through yet another round of submissions to still more traditional publishers, well, that seems a lot more glamorous when you’re young and have no real idea what an unknown fiction writer is up against. Especially these days.

So here it is:

It’s available at for Kindle and as a trade paperback. Hopefully, this is the first of many more to come as well.

And none of this would have happened but for James Lileks. Seriously.