Everything I considered writing about this week seems so negative to me today, as I sit here at the substack dashboard. Our distributor taking out huge “misc” fees, diminishing our January payment for sales in September (we don’t know until the day the payment is processed how much our September sales will net, after they deduct returns, their share, and fees, and the January amount was less than I had estimated, and yes we are paid in Jan for books sold in Sept). The “best of 2020” lists being circulated that don’t include our titles, damnit, and we hustled to get galleys to those outlets on time to be included, and have really good titles coming in 2020 (see a few of them here.) Those photos by review editors showing their enormous piles of galleys gathering dust, which cost us so much to send to those folks, posted with the subtext: “I’m never ever gonna even open that envelope you sent.”
But these are the small annoyances that grate, and stick out when casting about for something to talk with all of you about. There is another, beneath-notice reality that I am finding myself focused on more and more: I really love my job. From the mundane to the profound. The mundane: yesterday I drove my son back to college and back, a 9 hour drive, on a Monday, and it was fine, I listened to Lizzo, I wrote some emails in the gas station but no biggie, I’m the boss, we all work remotely and on our own schedules, we have flexibility. I enjoy collaborating with all the Belt crew,, and we’re a team, all together now 3 years, and most for 6. I make enough money to pay for my housing and food and vacations and college tuition and my Roth IRA and even Zabar gift baskets lately because they are on sale and SO GOOD, and I can anticipate, given how publishing works—our backlist keeps growing, throwing off more fairly passive income each month, despite those damned fees— that this will continue to be the case, so I am increasingly decreasingly nervous about my job three years from now (ten is still too far in the future for me to even entertain imagining.) I could probably get another job with a bigger salary in another city (people do ask, it’s flattering, I always consider), but I probably would not come out ahead in the end, living the way I want to live, because my costs are so low here in Cleveland. This job, here, affords me what I want to be able to afford. I believe what I do has purpose, is important, and is driven by a worthy mission, while also being creative, aesthetically rigorous, and intellectually challenging. I wouldn’t be happy with a job that wasn’t the all of the above: every time I flirt with the prospect I get anticipatorily depressed.
Look, there were a few intensely difficult years there, getting this all off the ground. I cannot believe me from 2012-2016. I worked so frigging hard, and paid myself nothing. (I dipped into my retirement savings each of those years.)
Things just keep getting easier, so given how I am built, I often find myself pushing against that, questioning it, wondering if it is a problem. Am I not hustling enough? Should we double our number of titles for 2021? Is there some problem with all this career satisfaction and well-grooved workflow? And of course ready at hand are always structural problems with publishing to rant about—the big five, the being overlooked, the assumption we are not ‘as’ because we are in Cleveland, and the people in New York who are ‘the people’ might not know who we are.
For the past year or so, I have thought about these strange, unexpected developments in lifecycle terms. It’s because I am getting older—in my early fifties—and I am slowing down, and I should push against that, because… Death! Boredom! Complacency! Why not try to make enough money to buy lots of fancy clothes and buy a second home, Anne?! What’s wrong with you being okay with your current modest lot? Maybe you need to see a doctor?
But these days—well, today at least, as the late afternoon January sun struggles to brighten my tiny former millworkers cottage where I sit typing at a table covered with a paisley tablecloth from Goodwill (it’s really cute), I am thinking about this slowing down as a reward for hustle, something deserved, and okay, and to be sat with, considered, and maybe, even, to accept. A quieter-than-I-imagined satisfaction that maybe I should lean into it, in a very anti-Sandbergian sense.
In what it makes even harder—riches and prestige and mobility— and what it eases—the burden of choice, the drum of ambition—starting one small business might be a far more radical act than I realized.
What I’m Reading: I love Alan Hollinghurst but man if I had been the editor the Sparsholt Affair would have been killed, or revamped entirely. Sheesh.
Shout Out: The Cleveland Public Library Union, which is on the verge of a strike vote, and deserves support. Not only is supporting a union usually the right call, but the management is really coming off terribly, and the Union is charming, smart, and doing the work.
Some bookkeeping: I’m moving all posts to ‘subscribers only’ after a week or so, now that the book release date is in sight. But you can still get all the new posts emailed to you for free! Oh and hey—about those Spring 2020 titles? You can pre-order one or six! Use BELT15 to take 15% off and we’ll ship it gratis too.