Saturday morning. The kid is occupied with Legos. The wife is in bed, taking a nap after waking frightfully early. I have the house to myself. Nothing disturbs me. Dogs sleep at my feet.
The stillness and peace reminds me what a rollicking week I’ve had. Part of my job these days consists of teaching three classes at the community college, two of them online. The students have much to read, many quizzes to take. They have three exams a semester and have to write four papers. I have to grade it all. The summer semester moves fast, and woe to the student (or teacher) who falls even a little behind.
But I have become adept at teaching. I care about my students and they get a rigorous course. I think they walk away knowing more about American History, Western Civilization, and Modern Latin American History than when they started. They will exercise the muscles of their critical thinking. They will learn how to write essays and, secondarily, the work of the historian. Some will excel. Others will stumble along. The rest will not produce and get the appropriate grade.
Another part of my job is selling my third book. This is not the third book I’ve written. I have a novel in the computer, which is right where it should stay. When I edited books, I ghosted seven volumes for writers who could not deliver their manuscripts. At different times in my publishing career, which lasted three years, I wrote business, golf, and teaching books. I even wrote a motivational book whose original manuscript used the word “that” over 14,000 times.
A friend pointed out to me this week that “the writer” does the important work. “The author,” on the other hand, tries to put food on the table. I wrote what I consider to be a good book, one that I’d want to read. The author in me now has to get that book out into the public. It’s that part of the job that’s least attractive and is, for me, almost as much hard labor as forging the thing to sell.
The process is tedious and time consuming. It takes about an hour to research an agent and pen a couple of ingratiating sentences to put at the head of a query letter I’ve written. As I mentioned in a previous essay, I try to query at least four agents a week.
This week, I queried seven agents and one publisher. I also rewrote two essays that appeared on this website in the past. I’m readying these pieces of work for publication in literary magazines and journals. This brings me to another part of my work. I research and read about seven to ten of these publications a week. My goal is to find at least five to which I can submit my essays.
This week, I submitted to only four. I have a stable of about eight essays I’m trying to publish now. When one gets accepted, I pull another from a list I’ve made of possible candidates for submission. The rewriting is the best part. The unlovely part is finding the right journals and following their guidelines.
Since I’m kind of a boob when it comes to details, I sometimes make mistakes. For instance, I wrote an essay I titled “The Lottery.” Since I didn’t want to use the same title of the famous Shirley Jackson story, I changed the title at the top of the story but failed to alter the footer at the bottom of the page. It’s not a big deal, it just makes me look careless and dimwitted. I’ve submitted stories to journals with my name on them when the journals wanted blind entries. I’ve addressed submissions to the wrong editors. I’ve even peddled my wares at journals that don’t deal in what I have to sell.
And, oh, well, come the rejections. Some journals take months to get back with me, some, like the Penn Review, have turnarounds that number in the hours. I’ve had one essay at a journal called Big Muddy for nine months and haven’t heard back from them. When a magazine I’ve submitted to contacts me, I’ve won. A rejection is proof of work accomplished. It says something about my assiduousness, my drive, my persistence. The more rejections I can rack up, the better I feel.
Then, there are acceptances. I’ve scored eight publications since the beginning of the year. With a publication in New Letters of an essay the editor solicited from me in September, I have nine. That’s pretty good people tell me. It’s certainly feels right. I started this experiment in October with a goal of publishing five essays or short stories in two years. Now, I think that if I have ten publications by the end of the year, outside of the New Letters essay, I will have done my job well.
So it goes, as Vonnegut would say.
Now, I’m also looking for a job, which is no easy matter for a person with a Ph.D. You’d think that degree would take me places. But, in fact, the Ph.D. qualifies me for only certain kinds of work. I’ve been on the websites for all the institutions of higher learning, the community colleges, and the school district. The pickins’ are slim.
My next move is to look at places that need writers. I think I might like working as a copywriter for an ad agency or corporation. But don’t get me wrong. I don’t look forward to getting a desk job. I haven’t done well with regular jobs in the past. They challenge me for about the first six months. Then I figure them out and sit around rotting at my desk until the pain becomes too great to bear. Then, I’m off to other horizons.
The saving grace in the job search this time is that my attitude toward drudgery has changed. I only have to have whatever work I get for ten years, enough time to put a kid through college and build some retirement funds. I will structure my day so that I get about two hours a night for the job of writing and authoring. A job will definitely slow down my efforts at publication, but they will not stop them. Regular work may, in fact, give me the opportunity to build a discipline of a Marine Corps sergeant. I’m good at that sort of thing.
So, summer has me hopping. Teaching, writing, querying agents and publishers, submitting to magazines, looking for a job. That’s my work.
I would also like to take up painting again. But we’ll see. I’m kind of busy.