The overwhelmed ivory towers

Have you ever been to an ivory tower? I've been to a few. Some are so tall and disconnected from reality it's frightening. Others are shorter, closer to the ground, freshly painted with well-tended gardens. And some simply don't know you exist.

Last fall, I spent a fair amount of time writing cover letters, packaging up ARCs (Advance Review Copies) of my just-off-the-presses novel about chocolate, and standing in line at the only officially recognized black hole of time (the Post Office) to send up to the ivory towers of book review publications.

The most respected of these publications, the ones that really matter, number fewer than ten, vs. hundreds of thousands of authors. No math necessary here, is there.

I've done this before, with zero results. Not a word, not even a no-thank-you slip. In a way it's worse than pitching publishers and agents because you receive no response. No rejection you can throw darts at, just a big, yawing void of silence. It's understandable though. Everyone, and I mean every author who wants to get anywhere, sends his and her books to these lone and few publications. They're overwhelmed. I imagine teetering towers of packages in their mailrooms, bleary-eyed interns buried somewhere under, or in, them.

Then there's the fact my book wasn't published by HarperCollins. Or Simon & Schuster. Or Random House. Pardon me—Penguin Random House. Or the other two Big Five. Those guys get a red carpet rolled out to them. This doesn't mean all the reviews are rosy red and fall-over sweet. But the likelihood of having their books reviewed is a LOT higher for them than it is for us little nano-presses. I've even had some publications tell me up front, oh sorry we only work with the big houses. Read: "We don't care how good your readers say you are. You are not worthy.

So yes, the cards are stacked heavily against you if you're independent and want the big review pubs to notice you.

Still, the books keep on coming.

But you know what, the sun does know how to shine.

On March 1, I received an email from Foreword Reviews, saying that "The Jaguar and the Cacao Tree" was selected to be featured in their Young Adult Spotlight in their summer issue. As one of just six titles.

I sat staring at the email. It took a while to sink in.

Not only would they write an actual review, they would feature my book! How many other books had been submitted, I thought, how many other authors had stood in that line in the Post Office hoping their books would catch the eye of an assigning editor.

I know that pain. That gnawing, empty hole in your gut that grows bigger with time until you realize there is in fact no response and no apparent interest, or worse, your package, your work of art is lying still unopened in some forgotten corner in the basement under weeks-old boxes of leftover pizza—and until you resolve to let it go and move on.

It's not just publishing, it's any industry, especially if it's creative. If it's a work you created, spent monstrous universes of time on, knotted your brain into a Gordian ball over, you sure as hell want someone at the very least to notice—who's not directly related to you. If not share it with others and derive pleasure and/or insight from it. Is that not, after all, that annoying genetic tendency we humans have to "leave a legacy"? Why can't we be like all of the other animal species and just do our evolutionary thing?

Wait. That is our evolutionary thing. Sigh.

True to their word, Foreword did run the featured review. Just recently I received the complimentary copy of the magazine, my book listed first in a series of six titles. Here's the full review online. As far as an actual review goes, it's more of a straight-up synopsis, but who am I to complain.

Good things come in... two's, right? The sun smiled again just last week. Actually, it had smiled back in May, but somehow I had completely missed it. And this was a BIG, HUGE, TOOTHY GRIN.

The School Library Journal. One of the BIG FOUR—as far as children's literature is concerned—had blessed my book with a wonderful review.

They never notified me. They just posted it. I found out because I was looking up something on the book's Amazon page, and suddenly found myself staring at an editorial review I had not uploaded. Somehow, mysteriously, SLJ had whisper-synched with Amazon's omniscient soul, and there it was.

So don't ever give up, in whatever it is you're trying to accomplish. Just have more compassion for the ivory tower you're trying to scale... because it might just be more overwhelmed than you can imagine.