In the late 70’s, I had the dizzying experience of being an overnight success. I had been submitting op-ed pieces to The New York Times for several months. The fifth piece, titled, Blondie, Dagwood, Maggie, Jiggs and Us, was sent out with the sedate expectation that it would receive the usual: “Thank you for sending but the large number of submissions makes this ...etc”. Charlotte Curtis was the editor of the Op-Ed page in those years and she ran a lively forum full of political opinion but also unexpected personal pieces. An exchange of letters between Erica Jong and Henry Miller appeared around that time.
A couple of days after I mailed off my piece, I was at the Roosevelt Field Shopping Mall trying to find a parsons table to fit the end of our sofa. Our babysitter, Tara was staying with my three children who were all under seven. Macy’s strapped the table to the roof of my car, feet up and I drove the car into the open garage and sheared off all the legs. I could not accept what I had done and tried every which way to make that table right. It wasn’t until the kids were asleep and the kitchen cleaned up that I saw the note written on the back of the phone bill. Mr. Goldberg called, NY Times. I woke up the oldest boy. Did the New York Times call Mommy? “Yes. I told them to take your writing. I said you wanted them to.”
The morning it appeared, my byline was between C .L. Sulzberger and Russell Baker.
Not quite overnight because it was a Saturday, I received several offers to turn the piece into a book. I signed with Simon and Schuster with the famed Michael Korda, nephew of the celebrated director Alexander Korda, as my editor. Four books followed including a hefty historical novel set in turn of the century Jerusalem and loosely based on the lives of my Palestinian paternal grandparents. The book received great reviews and was translated into several languages but the appetite for books about Palestinians at that time was not robust.
Nicholas Callaway who is starting up the Callaway Digital Studio to create thousands of apps for the iPad says that “all content is being re-imagined for the entirely new platform that the iPad brings.” I like that.
Technology has allowed me to re-imagine a new life for books that I hardly looked at or thought of in many years. New readers leave beautiful reviews on the Amazon page. I have six offerings on Amazon and my sales have increased each month. One of the most gratifying events has been the reviews left for my e-book original, One Hundred Open Houses. The intensity of feeling behind the reviews has made me understand my own book.
Without the sledgehammer of traditional publishing to leach all the ambition out of me, I have the psychic energy to continue writing. If that sounds harsh, let me just give you a short tutorial on traditional publishing.
The book is sold (happy ten minutes), it takes a year to “produce,” it is presented by your editor at a sales conference, the salesmen (yes, the salesmen) decide the print run, if the print run is 10,000 or less your book is dead on arrival.
You get great reviews and erroneously think: “oh, this will help.” The book is on the shelf of Barnes and Noble for a week. The book is done. Two years of your life have passed. You go on Prozac for a few months to regain your self-esteem and the will to continue writing.
There’s one other outcome of this new turn in my life that has brought unexpected happiness. I’ve helped a friend to re-issue some of her books and I see how happy it makes her. The idea that I would ever be savvy enough at all this to help anyone else is an event that makes me believe in that sappy self-help phrase: anything is possible.