“Would you dig into your cash stash, for the privilege of playing the publishing game? Would you publish you?”
I ask that in Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing, because we writers sometimes forget the investment a publishing house must make to publish us. It is costly, in terms of both time and money. A publishing house can easily spend anywhere from $2, 500 to $10, 000 to bring a book to market. It can easily spend more than a year to edit, design, and begin distribution and promotion of our book. So, in Rumors, I gently turn the tables and ask, What would you be willing to spend? Would you publish you?
Robert Frost was willing to spend a great deal.
Unable to find publishing success in America, he moved his family to Britain in 1912, paying for passage and housing. He spent two years networking in the British poetry community, for the chance at a few good reviews, so he could turn around and pay again—to return to America and get published on his home turf.
These were the days of Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Rupert Brooke, and someone you may not recognize: Edward Thomas.
Frost paid in public humiliation from Pound (a surprise judo throw in the middle of a restaurant, after which Frost would declare Pound an “incredible ass”). He paid in rejections from movers and shakers connected with the famous Poetry Book Shop and the Georgian poets. He paid in a “lesson in plain living, ” enduring a Beaconsfield bungalow that was more like camping than a homestead. He spent years, money, emotions, comfort. He paid his dues.
As writers—and I am not sure I understand this dynamic even in myself—we tend to think we are not going to have to stand in line, nor should we be required to do so. We romanticize the easy book deal or the quick move into major journals, magazines, or newspapers. I was reminded of this when a journalist associate told me how long a road it had been to get to The New York Times: twenty-two years. It encouraged me, in an odd sort of way, to keep on with my career and not to worry. Writing takes time. Getting published takes time. Not that this needs to be the goal for every writer, but if we are on a mission like Robert Frost, we should expect cost and passage.
In the end, it was a friendship, without a lot of publishing agenda, that propelled Frost where he wanted to go. Edward Thomas, who came to deeply respect Frost’s poetry, wrote reviews that tipped the scale. Frost would later say of Thomas that he was, “the only brother I ever had.” And he would mean it both professionally and personally.
I have never minded this: when people connect with me to get somewhere. After all, I appreciate the people who have given to me, to forward my career, and I am happy to do the same for others. But it is always a good reminder, for both myself and those I connect with… writing indeed takes time and standing in line. Even for someone who seems like a shoe-in. Even for a Robert Frost.
Photo by Claire Burge. Used with permission. Post by L.L. Barkat, author of Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing.
For more on Robert Frost’s journey to getting published, and his vital friendship with Edward Thomas, check out Now All Roads Lead to France: A Life of Edward Thomas.