As artists we all struggle between the tensions of marketability and beauty of craft. Both need to be present for an agent/publisher/publicist/marketer to be interested. But what happens when the very thing we pursue (marketability) gets in the way of discovering fresh voices both out in the marketplace and within ourselves? It is for this basis that I write this extremely fictional story about George the Editor.
Once upon a time, there lived a publishing professional named George who very much wanted to discover fine talent, engaging stories, the kinds of stories that wow the masses with beauty and sheer brilliance. In the beginning (to borrow a well-written phrase), George poured over manuscripts, placing them in three piles: circular file (AKA garbage can worthy), encourage file (AKA, not quite up to snuff, but maybe someday) and brilliance file (AKA, oh-my-goodness-wow-that’s-amazing-writing-cut-a-big-advance-check stuff).
But poor George got discouraged. After chucking 90% of the work he’d received, getting raging letters from mediocre writers who didn’t like his encouragement to improve, and having the publication committee poo-poo his discoveries of brilliance, George decided on a new tact because he needed to keep his job, and his wife Georgette and their kids Gigi, Georgia and George Junior enjoyed eating, living in a house, and wearing clothes.
George decided to reshuffle his piles into two: marketability and non-marketability. Poorly written manuscripts lacking theological depth but written by big names ended up in the marketability pile. Great writing ended up there too. Some brilliant pieces were incinerated because they simply didn’t fit market demands or were written by unknowns. And some of the worst pieces of writing (one in particular about how a hamster can teach us the attributes of God) were chucked forever. George started winning friends in the pub board. His job title changed for the better many times. Wife Georgette started getting her nails done every week. Gigi, Georgia and George Jr, rose up and praised George, particularly after he bought them an Xbox.
One day, George received a brilliant manuscript. Stunning, surprising, creative–all words he used to describe the piece. Though he knew marketability to be a bit sketchy–I mean, how many people were interested in an Indian boy on a life boat with a tiger in the Pacific? Absurb, really. But something stirred inside George’s heart. He chose to lay his life on the line for the manuscript, pushing it to committee. But the committe folks hemmed and hawed.
“Ridiculous,” one snorted. “Zoo animals don’t sell.”
“This is far too esoteric for our audiences,” a salesperson iterated.
“This story could never happen. How do you expect audiences to suspend their belief this much?” another editor said.
“George, are you out of your mind?” George’s boss asked.
The committee passed on George’s baby. He hung his head, wondered if he should find a life boat and a tiger to escape with, though he didn’t think he had the gumption to tame a tiger at this point because so much of his life had drained from him in committee. Georgette scolded him. The electronics shop repossessed the Xbox, causing Gigi, Georgia and George Junior to picket their father.
George got a job at Costco. The benefits were good, and besides, they he could get a discount on all the stuff his family demanded of him. He scanned numbers, ate Costco dogs for lunch (and sometimes splurged on a chicken bake or an ice cream bar), and pretty much settled into the Costco lifestyle.
One day George inventoried the books. One caught his eye. He gasped. His book! There in front of him, staring him in his once-ideal-addicted-editor face was the tiger, the boat, the boy. It’d sold millions, the cover said. Millions! George, though not a crying man, wept in the middle of Costco Store Number 3597, hugging the book to his chest and mumbling, “I tried. I tried. I tried.” But no one listened. One lady bumped into crying George with her oversized cart while absent-mindedly reaching for Your Best Life Now. A kid stepped on his toes running toward the latest Xbox games. An old man handed him a tissue, but then said, “Costco is no place for crying, young man!”
George went home to his family. “I quit my job,” he said plainly.
“Where will I get my mega-pack of maxi-pads?” Georgette yelled.
“Dad, you’re a loser,” the three kids cried in haunting unison. “We want stuff,” they chanted.
“I’m going to start my own publishing house,” he said, his words trembling.
“Then I’m going to start my own family,” Georgette said, handing George her wedding ring, then taking it back. “No way, I can take this back to Costco for a refund.”
George, having lost everything and everyone, hung a shingle on the Internet, calling for manuscripts on his website www.georgepublishesgenius.com. He again sorted (electronically now) the submissions into three piles: circular, encouragement, brilliance. One day he came across a manuscript that sung, blessed his sensibilities, about a young Seattle girl who tentatively falls for an artist. He immediately called up Mrs. Jeanne Damoff, tells her she’s the next best talent, sends her some advance money, and publishes her book. Jeanne’s book makes it to Oprah. Oprah cries, begs Jeanne to please stay for four more shows, which she does. George smiles. And laughs. And giggles, too, which is a bit strange, but hey, that’s George.
Georgette suddenly finds her old George endearingly attractive, but finds George has moved on . . . to Oprah . . .who hires him to find surprising new voices in fiction. He becomes the next Dr. Phil (except he’s Mr. George). And he lives happily ever after.