I started my writing career in the early 1980s as a satirical essayist. I wrote a book but was eventually lured away by the crazy money writers make in film and television. A few years ago, having accrued some cash and a Writer’s Guild pension, I returned to more literary pursuits.
My reentry into the publishing world’s atmosphere was staggering. I was the 1950s airplane passenger—accustomed to flying in style—walking onto a flight today and being trampled by earbud-wearing passengers in velour running suits hogging the overhead bins with skateboards. When did this happen? How? And why?
I sent a proposal for a book of satirical essays to several agents. Responses ranged from radio silence to the standard “humor is subjective” to, “In today’s market, if it came down to Oscar Wilde or Grumpy Cat, most agents would sign the cat. I know I would.”
“You’re a very funny writer,” another said. “What’s your platform? You need followers on Twitter and Facebook.”
But getting followers is a job in itself. I’m a writer. That takes up my day. Writing is hard and even harder to do well. Now I have to draw attention to myself with something other than writing in order to draw attention to my writing? Maybe I’ll post pictures of my pug playing shuffleboard on the QE2. Then I’ll get a book deal. For my pug.
Will there ever be a new writer, I wonder, who hasn’t the time or the interest to tweet, who is too busy writing a novel to write a blog about writing a novel? Will no writer ever again be discovered by an agent or an editor until he or she gets enough hits on Tumblr, which, by the way—and I hold the entire publishing world responsible for the internet grammar laissez-faire attitude—is missing an e.
According to my math, people with real stories to tell and the ability to tell them are at a premium. Yet probably fewer people have credit cards than have blogs where they throw up prose and fashion tips onto the internet like bad Chinese food.
“You’re bitter,” I tell myself.
“I know,” I reply.
“Shape up,” I tell myself
I start a blog. I stop. I create a public Facebook page. I never look at it. I open an Instagram account. I close it. And I will never understand how or why anyone would have a YouTube channel.
“You’ll have to self-publish,” I tell myself, recalling the snickers just the mention of Vantage Press garnered in the ’80s. “Some self-published books have become bestsellers,” I say, trying to convince myself, dangling a most unappetizing carrot. Yes! Fifty Shades of Mollie. The Joy of Mollie. The Mollie Prophecy. Those agents will rue the day.
No, they won’t. They have mob wives and sister wives, makeover moms and dance moms, Kardashians and Jenners, and that teen mom who does pornos and fights with her mother.
I force myself to try to understand the complexities of self-publishing, but it’s no use. It’s like explaining to me what toner is and how to replace it in a xerox machine. And just when I’m thinking about Hemingway and The Sun Also Rises, and then about The Jersey Shore’s Snooki eating jars of pickles and getting soused on the Seaside Heights boardwalk and the big advance she got for her novel, A Shore Thing, my phone rings. It’s an agent who I’d assumed wasn’t interested. I figured that out when he didn’t respond.
“Your writing’s terrific,” he says.
“But I don’t have a social media...”
“Reminds me of Fran Lebowitz. Problem is, she’s iconic. So’s Sedaris. Even Dave Barry. You left and want in again but no one remembers who you are.”
“No one’s following me or viewing me or connecting with me,” I tell him. “It’s just me.”
He paused. “ ‘Me’ is good,” he says. “I’m willing to take a chance on ‘me’ ”.
“I’ll bet on your talent. A little madcap, no?”
“My career as a screwball comedy...”
“Who knows, maybe we’ll start a trend. Truth is, we’ll be lucky to get a deal.”
“Then why are you...”
“Occasionally, just to keep me on my toes, I go with my gut. Hasn’t paid off yet, but who knows?”
I signed agency papers this week. #Whoknows?
Satirist Mollie Fermaglich is currently working on a book of essays.