Shelf Life

The reality is that most books have an ephemeral shelf life.
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When someone mentioned the cover of this week's The New Yorker during a meeting I was attending, I thought it a curious non sequitur. I'm a committee member of The New York Round Table Writer's Conference and we were finalizing the line up for our upcoming fourth conference when the cover was briefly brought into the discussion. If I had glanced at the magazine after pulling it from my mailbox and before immediately stuffing it in my purse for later reading, I would have realized that the comment wasn't a non sequitur after all and understood why the cover was deemed "sad."

If you haven't seen the cover by Adrian Tomine, which is titled "Shelf Life," it shows the life of a book via nine frames with well, yes, a sad ending. The first frame shows a writer at her laptop. It's an inspiring image. The next few frames, one that writers' conferences tap into, is hopeful with a finished bound book hot off the presses -- every writer's dream. And there we were in that conference room, my committee members and me, trying to help make that dream come true. What differentiates our conference from many others is that besides empowering and educating writers about the publishing industry, it also gives close accessibility to agents, editors and published writers. Eager scribes of every genre have attended in the past looking for a break; looking for someone to believe in them; looking to be published as the end all. What they often miss, though, is how rewarding the process is of "getting there."

With that in mind, on my train ride home after the meeting, I began to study The New Yorker cover and realized that the writer was only in the first two frames before the book was handed over and journeyed elsewhere. Quite likely, the writer wanted to impart something visceral on those pages to move readers, touch emotions, highlight a wrong, or exemplify a right. However, in the end, the reality is that most books have an ephemeral shelf life. The last frame on Tomine's depiction is indeed sad, since after time, commitment and energy, the final product may end up being part of its own funeral pyre. This is why writers, especially those desperate for their big break, should savor the process.

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