July 18, 2018: The Day I Got Dumped, Hit On, and Disowned (Part 1)

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Dear Diary,

Today was the worst day of my life.

I do not say that lightly, as I might have in my adolescence. All of the previous "worst days of my life" pale in comparison to this one.

When I was twelve the worst day of my life was when an unflattering haircut befell me on the morning of my crush's birthday party.

When I was twenty the worst day of my life was when Dad called to tell me our thirteen-year-old Scottish Terrier, Mr. Miyagi, had finally succumbed to kidney disease.

When I was twenty-six the worst day of my life was the day that fancy-pants editor gave me the ultimatum to either rewrite my manuscript with the changes she wanted or pay back my fifty-thousand-dollar advance in full.

That was a legitimately bad day that kicked off a very bad month. But from the sheer number of extraordinarily bad things that happened today, July 18, 2016 raises the bar for "worst day of my life" far, far above the heights achieved before.

At 9 a.m. I called my agent. I teased her lightly about her vanishing act, which she laughed off nervously. Then, in a rush, she said she read my last manuscript and it's "brilliant, as usual," but she didn't love it and didn't believe she could sell it.

As I sat tongue-tied, she rambled about hooks and comps and the "tight market" for literary fiction. She said while I'm "an exceptionally talented writer," she doesn't have the right contacts to sell my books, and there are many other agents in the business who would be better able to support my career.

In other words, she dumped me.

I said I understood completely; her job is to sell books that make money, and mine don't. I wished her good luck and hung up.

Because it's true, Diary. Her job is to sell books that make money. Publishers don't care how "brilliant" a book is. They care only about whether they can sell the concept in a thirty-second sales pitch to Walmart buyers and Hollywood studios. If I were a "real writer," I'd forget about literary merit and strive to churn out guaranteed blockbusters with sexy elevator pitches.

It's Jane Eyre...with BDSM!

It's Crazy Rich Asians...with zombies!

It's The Hunger Games...at an elite prep school in Manhattan! Gossip Girl meets unbridled dystopian violence! (Tagline: "High school will change everyone. May the seating charts be ever in your favor.")

I'm not even sad about losing my agent, Diary. I'm relieved. Getting published was the worst thing that ever happened to me as a writer.

I didn't pen my first published novel in the pursuit of fame or fortune. I wrote it because writing was my passion, once. That story took over my thoughts the moment I woke up in the morning and refused to let them go until I went to sleep at night. Writing it was cathartic, exhilarating, joyful--better than first kisses and chocolate ice cream and afternoon naps combined.

I wrote it for readers, too. Not for their money, but for them. For readers like George Wickham, who feel like no one understands them. When George told me how deeply my novel affected him, I felt happier than I ever did at the sight of a royalty check in the mail. I realized then that it doesn't matter to me if my books never make a single cent, as long as I can reach the heart of one reader like him.

Lizzie Bennet, aspiring author, understood that. Then E. Bennet, literary darling, usurped Lizzie's office chair and locked her up in a remote palace to wither away. Brainwashed by "the industry" into believing that the worth of a novel is measured solely by its sales reports, E. Bennet smothered the joy of writing through her debilitating fear of editorial conflict. Maybe this "breakup" is a cosmic sign that it's time for Lizzie to gather her ragtag band of unlikely allies and overthrow E. Bennet to reclaim her rightful place at the writing desk.

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