I used to have big aspirations.
When I was twelve, I wanted to write like Virginia Woolf. Really. I read everything she’d ever written and I wrote these endlessly long stream-of-consciousness stories that were all deep and pithy and emotional and meaningful and probably absolutely dreadful.
Fortunately, my dreams have gotten smaller since then. I’m a humbler person than I used to be: life has a way of humiliating you.
Once I thought I’d write the Great American Novel. Now that I’ve been published a few times (and a reader has been kind enough to point out that my most recent book is nowhere near the Great American Novel), I can safely put that goal in storage.
No, my hopes and dreams have gotten more realistic. As I said to my editor when I was working on my last novel, Knitting under the Influence, “All I want is for Target or Costco to pick it up and sell it.”
I don’t see this as being crass and commercial. Well, not JUST being crass and commercial. It’s focusing on a somewhat realistic goal: maybe more people will read the book I’ve worked pretty hard to make entertaining and maybe even (a tiny bit?) enlightening in some minor way.
See? I’m not grandiose. Tell me my book entertained you for a few hours, gave you a laugh or two, helped relax you so you fell asleep at night after an otherwise stressful day, and I’m thrilled. After all, that’s what I want books to do for ME. Sure, there’s the occasional work of true brilliance that makes you stop and reevaluate your life and the world and the choices you’ve made and maybe even make you want to be a better person (Hello, Charles Dickens!), but in general–entertain me a little and I’m yours. And if my books do that for someone else, yippee.
I’ll let others write the Great American Novel. Me, I want to sell books at Target. Costco would be even better. Unfortunately, Costco is aiming too high for me (you have to have an initial printing of 100,000, or so I’ve been told, and while my books sell, they don’t sell like THAT). But Target . . .
I love Target. It’s like Disneyland to me–the happiest place on earth. I know, I know, that in these times of economic catastrophe and environmental destruction, I shouldn’t worship at the altar of consumerism. But, what a place! Everything you ever wanted–stuff you didn’t even know you wanted–at prices where you’d be crazy not to buy it. I dress in Target daily. My kids wear Target clothes. My dog plays with Target chew toys. We sit in Target chairs and watch Target TV’s. (Okay, actually the TV is from Costco but I’m not about to give them a plug since they won’t sell my books.)
And Target’s book section is fantastic. The thing is, any bookstore will stock any book. But Target only stocks some books. So getting onto their shelves is a bit like winning the lottery. People actually FIND your book there because it’s not competing with a million other books–just a few hundred. And it’s discounted, which is a very good thing when you want people to buy it and not just leaf through it.
I still remember the call I got a couple of years ago from my editor. Her voice was almost shaking with excitement. “Remember how you said you’d rather have your book sell at Target or Costco than win a Pulitzer?” she said. (Did I really say that to her? Reader, I did.) “Well, I have good news for you . . .”
It was Target. And I give them credit for a lot of the sales of that novel.
Sadly, they passed on my most recent novel (The Smart One and the Pretty One). It broke my heart. How could they love me and leave me like that? Hadn’t I done everything they wanted me to? Hadn’t I loved them back and bought all of our household goods there? Hadn’t they sold tons of copies of Knitting under the Influence? I wanted to shake Target by the shoulders and beg it to love me again, not to leave me flat like that. But love never works that way: it can’t be forced. It can only be won over.
And then word came, through my agent this time: “Target’s going to sell The Smart One and the Pretty One.”
And, just like that, the love affair was back on. All was forgiven.