For many years, when I started work on a new hardcover book, I would go to a "book launch" trip, meeting, and lunch, always in New York City. If I happened to live far away, my publisher would fly me in and put me up in a sweet hotel. First, I would be invited to the office of the publishing house, in a monumental tower right in the heart of Manhattan.
There, I would be taken around the editorial offices, to meet with my editor, his or her assistants, and the other editors on the floor.
There was always a conference room, and it was full of people trying to assure me that I was important, and that my book was the most important thing in their lives. I knew this wasn't really true, but I was always grateful for the effort.
The publicity and marketing people would come in to meet me, they had all of these thoughts and ideas about the selling of my book. It would be a big book, they would always say, a smash, a sure-fire best seller.
I would talk about my book, my ideas for it, and they would tell me their ideas for promoting and selling it. The meetings were always warm and courteous, I was treated with great respect, they seemed to actually love authors.
Then we would go to a restaurant nearby, usually a four-star French or Italian restaurant with the kind of food I never got to eat. There was usually some wine and some Scotch and we were all happy campers by 3 p.m., when the book launch would finally break up.
I would leave with a folder filled with editor's notes and ideas.
The launch was important to me, an important chance to talk about my new book project, hear my editor's thoughts about it, get to know the people who would be working on the book. We were all usually on the same page, as it were.
It was apparent to me that the editors wished me to feel important, and succeeded. In publishing, there was this idea that the enthusiasm of the editors was a key factor in the success of a book, and everyone seemed to want me to know they were enthusiastic. For writers, who often have hungry and delicate egos, this was important, a kind of nourishment and enthusiasm that lasted a long while.
Writers work alone, day after day, often for years
I always left those launch days feeling excited and creative, there was always some wind at my back when I went off to write.
Things change, of course, as they always do in the lives of almost everyone, especially since the Great Recession. That publishing world is gone, there are no launch lunches, meetings, or invitations to New York, if I speak directly to the publicity and marketing people at all over the next year, I'll be surprised, and my very good editor and I communicate mostly through e-mail. I doubt we will lunch anytime soon.
I have a very fine editor, but like most authors these days, I also have a second editor, a free-lance editor, who works with me on my books, the big publishing houses don't have the time or staff to edit too closely any longer.
This change is not unique to me or to writers, there is an epochal change in the way people are treated by the corporations who pay them. But I still get to write book, which I love doing. I love being a writer, I have spent my life doing work I love.
When my new book contract was sealed recently, Maria and I went to the Round House Cafe for an egg sandwich, the opposite end of the restaurant chain from those New York City restaurants. Maria is very enthusiastic about my work, and so is a man named Charlie who lives in Cleveland, and compares me to Tolstoy.
This morning, Maria and drove to the small town of Lebanon, New York to meet with Rosemary Ahern, my freelance editor. We had a book launch celebration in a cafe along Route 22, I celebrated with a rare (for me) lox and cream cheese oat bran bagel. Maria had a veggie and cheese burrito, so did Rosemary.
Red came along, he slept in the back seat.
I brought Rosemary a galley of my next book "Talking To Animals," which she helped edit with me, and she told me the introduction to my next book, The Lessons Of Bedlam Farm was wonderful. I talked some about E.B. White, whose book One Man's Meat has always been an inspiration for my idea of writing about life on a farm, especially in tense times.
We are friends now, Rosemary and Maria and I, and the launch had the feeling of intimacy, not business. We talked about the book a bit, but mostly about our lives, Rosemary left New York publishing to go live and work in a small town in Columbia County, N.Y., a couple of hours from me. The cafe is a central meeting spot. We have so much in common.
And you know what? It was a sweet launch, a good launch, I wouldn't have any other launch. It offered a prism on my life, then and now, before and after. I am happier than I have ever been, am writing and taking photographs, and living a life of meaning and connection.
I am closer to being the person I always wanted to be than ever before.
I don't need all those meetings and discussions, I don't need to go to New York City, I don't need a fancy meal at an expensive restaurant. That world has changed, but my world has changed even more. My farm is my inspiration, there were donkeys braying to me at the pasture fence when I returned.
I felt nothing but gratitude and excitement.
Change is life, in so many ways, and we measure our lives by how we adapt to it. Here I am, starting work on my 20th book, living in love and meaning, sitting in this cafe for more than two hours with two people I love and trust, and they are the wind at my back.
I am nothing but lucky.