Tinkers, Tailors, Soldiers, Poets

The New York literati were taken by surprise when Paul Harding's Tinkers won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction earlier this month. It was published by the tiny Bellevue Literary Press and had sold less than 2,000 copies. The New York Times failed to review it, and Book Review staff editor Gregory Cowles had the temerity to write a post for the Paper Cuts blog calling Tinkers "the one that got away." He closed the post with the final kiss off that he still hadn't read it, but that the Book Review had reviewed the runners up.

Essayist, nature writer and blogger David Gessner took issue with Cowles' blog and posted his response at the blog he shares with Bill Roorbach, Cocktail Hour. The post, We are all poets now, has caused quite a stir as it takes a shot against the New York publishing world and the Book Review for not only ignoring Tinkers, but thousands of other books that don't come from well-known publishing houses.

"We are all poets now" refers to the fact that poetry is the tiniest niche in literature, which the public at large neither reads or reviews. There's no money, glory, book tours, Oprah appearances or multi-million dollar movie deals in poetry, and now that is trickling down to fiction as well. I have first-hand knowledge of this in both poetry and fiction.

Gessner's post came just as I received some sobering news about Conquering Venus -- the novel has yet to crack the 1,000 mark in sales. When Vanilla Heart told me this, I admit that I was devastated. Despite a dozen glowing -- or nearly glowing -- reviews, countless interviews and traveling about for readings, the book has yet to catch fire. I'd be thrilled if it sold a couple thousand copies at this point.

As Gessner notes, moments like these can fill a writer with self-doubt and rage. I've felt a wide range of emotions this weekend, but I am not deterred. I don't expect to sell a million copies or find myself in the pages of the Book Review (as a matter of fact, the press didn't even bother to submit a copy to them for review), but I do want to find a larger audience. I'm not saying I've written the great American novel, but I think it's a pretty damn good story and will hold the interest of readers beyond its labels of "literary fiction" and "gay fiction."

For a brief second, I thought about abandoning the sequel to Conquering Venus, but Gessner's post reminded me that I need to free myself of expectations and write for the love of the craft and make the next book as great as possible. I know there are many of you who read this blog -- or lurk -- who have yet to read Conquering Venus, and while that's disappointing, I can't put a gun to your head. You'll read it or you won't. I can only hope that you will and tell your friends and post something about it at your blogs or a few words at Amazon.

I worked on Conquering Venus for nearly 15 years, went through two agents, countless rejections and editors who pretended like they were going to publish it, then reneged on their promises. It spent many years in a drawer. The fact that Vanilla Heart picked it up and put it between two pretty covers is almost a dream beyond measure. I can't take that for granted.

So, it's back to working on the sequel. And if the "important" newspapers and magazines, don't review it -- fuck 'em. I know there's a few hundred of you out there wanting to know what happens to Martin and Irène, and I can't wait to find out myself.


January said…
Fuck 'em. And I will start reading my signed copy of CV in May.
Anonymous said…
Fuck 'em all is right. Conquering Venus is a beautiful book. Keep plugging along and it will find an audience.


don't be discouraged. The world is different; so many people don't even read at all. I love your book and you should write the sequel. In today's atmosphere, you have sold alot of books~

rock on~

Collin Kelley said…
I appreciate it, guys!
Karen J. Weyant said…
Your post reminded me that I need to get my butt going and get your book off my Amazon wishlist and into my hands! So I just ordered my own copy -- should be arriving at my doorstep sometime next week!
Collin Kelley said…
Karen, thank you! I really do hop you enjoy it.
Lisa Allender said…
Collin's "Conquering Venus"nis a wonderfully intense journey that you'll love!
btw, Oprah will be launching a new,night-time series this fall..on her own(OWN--that means,literally:
Oprah Winfrey Network)
network, and she plans to TRAVEL ALL OVER THE WORLD.
I already sent a letter to one of her producers, suggesting Poetry/Poets and the American South be considered..guess what?
They ARE considering it! :)

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