Ya Gotta Believe

Apparently this is a saying most associated with the Mets (thanks, Google!), but to me it’s both the punchline to an old Doonesbury comic strip and the unofficial rallying cry of nearly everyone who works in publishing. At a writers’ conference this weekend I was repeatedly asked by aspiring writers if it’s true that first novels are impossible to sell.  Not true at all, I told them, it’s fourth and fifth novels that face bigger challenges. By that point, there’s a track record that might not do us any favors, reviewers who’ve loved an author’s work in the past might feel they need to cover that debut novelist instead, the author’s editor and champion may have left the company…well, you get the point and it’s one that’s been made before.

But writers have to keep writing, and publishers have to keep publishing, and what drives any of us but belief? A writer’s belief that he has a story worth telling, and a publisher’s belief in that story, and in our ability to find its audience.  Belief alone doesn’t guarantee success, but without it, why get out of bed in the morning?

My thoughts and ramblings have turned belief-ward because of the happy news that The Believer magazine has selected James Hynes’s fifth book, NEXT, for its Believer Book Award. If I had my way this book would win every award on offer, but I’m especially happy about this one, because I love The Believer, for reasons perfectly captured by their own “About” page:

The Believer is a monthly magazine where length is no object.
There are book reviews that are not necessarily timely,
and that are very often very long.
There are interviews that are also very long.
We will focus on writers and books we like.
We will give people and books the benefit of the doubt.
The working title of this magazine was The Optimist.

 And, of course, I love NEXT, a novel that moves me to unseemly adjectival outpourings: it is challenging, funny, heartbreaking, sexy, daring, and profound. I’m so grateful to James Hynes for writing it, and to The Believer for recognizing it.

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