On November 5, a powerhouse trio of Minnesota writers entertained those of us who descended upon Grand Marais for a festival that celebrated readers and writers. Lorna Landvik, Faith Sullivan, and Judith Guest held a panel discussion about the writing life.
The number of books the three of them have had published, and the incredible success they’ve seen, is worthy of admiration. From Lorna’s Patty Jane’s House of Curl to Faith’s The Cape Ann to Judy’s Ordinary People (yes, Ordinary People!), it’s hard to find comparable success among other Minnesota authors.
But these successes do not guarantee future success. A successful book by a successful author does not mean you have a winning ticket, which was incredibly disheartening to hear. If Lorna and Faith and Judy have trouble getting published today, what about us “ordinary” authors? Or writers who have not yet been published?
I offer a little more detail from each author.
Lorna: She became a household name across the country with Patty Jane’s House of Curl and Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons. These novels are female-centric and were big hits with book clubs. Lorna had a big publisher but when she wrote a manuscript that featured aliens, her editor said no, no, no…too big of a departure from what she had been writing. So she put the manuscript away for years and when she decided she wanted to publish it, she had to publish it herself. Lorna Landvik self-published. I’m happy to say my publisher, the University of Minnesota Press, recognized Lorna’s appeal and re-issued Mayor of the Universe.
Faith: Like Lorna, she also had a big New York publisher. But after a phone call with her editor, in which the editor asked Faith to change a key scene in a manuscript, a distraught Faith refused and instead chose to stay true to the story. It cost her the publisher, but Faith found her footing with Minnesota-based indie publisher, Milkweed. Milkweed has published Faith’s Gardenias and Goodnight, Mr. Wodehouse.
Judy: Judy said she has two manuscripts with her agent, and the agent so far has not been able to sell them to an editor. What?!?! This woman wrote Ordinary People! You would think that would be enough to put in a cover letter to get someone to take on your next work.
My takeaways from this talk:
- Past success in the literary world does not equal future success.
- Big publishers are thinking of the market, not necessarily literature.
- Big publishers want to put authors in a box and want them to stay within a genre. Crossing genres is not encouraged.
- Independent and small presses care about literature and are willing to take risks on authors.
- Good writing will be published somewhere, somehow.