December 29, 2009


by Pat Walsh
192 pages, Penguin

Review by Melissa Conway

78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never be Published & 14 Reasons Why it Just Might (let’s prune that from now on to 78/14, shall we?) is a slim-ish volume, but it’s not an easy read. The first time I read it, it took me weeks to plow through those first ruthless 78 to get to the promised nougatty center of the 14. I’d make it through a chapter, barely conscious after being bludgeoned over the head repeatedly with the cold hard reality of my chances at ever getting published, then after each slow, painful recovery of my psyche, I’d pick 78/14 back up and tell myself, “Keep your eye on the prize, Missy. It WILL get better.”

It didn’t.

As a writer struggling for the last ten years to become a card-carrying member of the “legitimate” publishing world (that is: *not* self-publishing, which Walsh refers to as “the red-headed step-child of publishing”), I took every word he wrote seriously. I weighed each chapter, each whipped-into-your-backside-with-a-switch lesson (the chapters are blessedly short, so the agony only lasts until the next chapter is begun—ha). By the time I got to the last section of the book, the part where Walsh imparts (in 23 measly pages) his wisdom on how I might actually get published, I was hotly anticipating some good news.  Unfortunately, the good stuff was mostly regurgitated bad stuff with a positive spin on it, for example, where before he wrote about how a BAD writer doesn't research before querying; now he encourages you, as a GOOD writer, to research those queries.

You might think I’m leveling criticism at Walsh, who, as a founding editor of MacAdam/Cage, should know of what he speaks. The truth is: I adore this book. What I wouldn’t have given to have read it ten years ago. (Well, okay, in all honesty, if I’d read it soon after finishing my first novel, when my skin was thin as the recycled paper my book was written on, I might have plunged my head into a sandbank and never pulled it out again.) There is repetition in this book, but it’s necessary. Walsh is giving new writers the kind of insight ten years of bumbling around never gave me.

Yes, he back-hands you across the face with the truth, but he does it with such sly humor you don’t even mind when he brings his hand back around to box your ear from the other side. Once he’s gotten you thoroughly tenderized by pointing out the many, many ways in which you can screw up by simply writing the damned thing, he fills you in—in gruesome detail—on the multitude of ways in which the publishing industry can choose to ignore your novel. What’s really great is that he sheds light on why they do what they do, so by the time you get to the end, you’re almost rooting for the very faceless, heartless business machine that forces you to grovel for the privilege of making them money with your writing in the first place. (And by virtue of being who he is, he gives the faceless a face.)

What you must take away from this book is that if you are not prepared to be brutally honest with yourself (about the quality of your own work), meticulously careful (with how you comport yourself) and hold to a firm belief that luck will find you eventually, you won’t succeed. Have “high hopes and reasonable expectations.” And patience. Walsh encourages patience and persistence, especially as it pertains to editing your novel to a high-gloss shine and continuing to perfect your craft.

You're probably wondering why I wouldn't rather avoid a book that points out many of the mistakes (crimes against the industry) I’ve already humiliated myself with, but this last decade has thickened my skin. 78/14 is now one of my “go to” books whenever insecurity rears its butt-ugly. I may have finally gotten over the hurdle of getting an agent, but waiting to hear from her as my baby makes the round of editors (Oh, dear Lord, these are men and women JUST LIKE WALSH, aren’t they?!) makes me reach for the one book that, beneath a sarcasm directed at writers and industry alike, offers me hope. True, it’s a perverse hope based on the concept that knowledge is power, but it soothes me nonetheless.

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