A few weeks ago, I ditched work early, went to the mall and sat on the floor of a mammoth Barnes & Noble for three hours, reading a pile of books that I eventually cradled in my arms like a paper baby, hauled to the cash register and bought. I had told my husband that I’d take care of dinner, and across from the B&N is a Cheesecake Factory, so I placed an order for an inhuman amount of food (which, of course, I would claim to have cooked from scratch), was told that the wait would be half an hour and then wandered around the mall instead of returning to the bookstore, where I’d likely lose myself in another three-hour reverie. Now, unlike most women I know, I despise shopping and am not afraid to admit that I’m mildly terrified of bustling, sale-crazed crowds. At the same time, I was on a quest for some kick-ass fitting jeans (aren’t we all?), which might be the only item of clothing I can’t buy with a click of a mouse. So, what do I do? Go to the two stores where I get all of my clothes? Of course not. That would be too easy. Instead, I gawk at what has apparently become a nightclub in the middle of Suburbia, Texas.
It’s been a long, long time since I stepped foot in an Abercrombie & Fitch, and while I was aware that the company had revamped its image in the last fifteen years, I wasn’t quite expecting this. Gale force exertions of a fragrance akin to Drakkar Noir. Gut-thumping bass. And this was even before I entered the store. Which I did. Why, I couldn’t tell you. Maybe it was curiosity. Or disbelief. Who knows.
If I thought that the stench outside of the store was overbearing, then the inside of it was beyond breathable. The house music drowned out my gasping and eventual choking. Which wouldn’t have caused alarm anyway because no one seemed to work there. Or maybe they did. I couldn’t see them in the pitch blackness. Racks of stuff bumped into each other, making free movement impossible. And while I waited for my eyes to adjust, all while feeling enormously ridiculous with my overstuffed B&N bag, I spied jeans. An entire wall stacked from floor to ceiling with jeans. All of them sizes 00, 0, 2 and 4. Clearly, A&F is catering to the prepubescent. Which, for better or worse, is how I’m shaped. So, I grabbed as many pairs as I could and tried them on. What wash or color they were, I couldn’t tell in the dimness. And if I passed out while fumbling in the changing room, for sure no one would ever discover me. But here’s the kicker—despite the lack of lighting, despite the air filled with what can only be described as douchebaggery, despite the complete dearth of customer assistance, the jeans fit. Miraculously so. And that excitement—that notion that I wouldn’t have to trudge around the outlet malls (“What size are you?” “Irregular, apparently.”) thrilled me to death. I bought all of them.
So, what in the world does this have to do with publishing? Well, in so many ways, my road to publishing felt like my quest for jeans, and as I bumbled about the store, I kept thinking about its similarities to getting OFF THE MENU published. The industry is, intentionally or not, designed to intimidate a writer so that she questions whether she even wants to try. And when she finally shores up the courage to give writing a go, a thousand obstacles block her path. Want to write fiction? You need an agent. Want to get one? Well, most of them don’t want you. One wants you? Well, editors don’t. One of them does? Guess what, the editorial board doesn’t. The editorial board likes you? Huh, the publisher doesn’t. And so on, ad infinitum. After a while, it’s hard not to take rejection personally, to feel like a failure when you’ve poured everything you’ve got into a novel. It’s suffocating, too, not unlike the fragrance A&F apparently can’t get enough of, the yearning of publication when no one seems to be there, the feeling that you’re wandering around blind. But at the end, I did walk into the store, I did try on jeans, I did find some that fit me. And so it is with publishing. Try, try, try. And try again. Because there’s a word for someone who never gives up—published. And there’s a word for fitting jeans—readers. For whom I’m enormously grateful.