Have you seen that email circulating about Joshua Bell and the subway experiment? The one conducted a few years back by the Washington Post?
It’s a true story, that in a nutshell, goes something like this: Joshua Bell, acclaimed violinist, played six intricate Bach pieces, lasting about 45 minutes, in the subway. He wasn’t dressed in tails; in fact, he wore street clothes and a stocking cap on his head. About 7 or 8 people stopped for a moment to listen; he earned about 40 bucks from the approximate 2,000 people rushing by. The night before, Joshua Bell had played in a sold out venue where tickets went for $100.
The social experiment asked if people would recognize talent in an unexpected context, and I suppose the answer to that was pretty obvious. The Washington Post piece won a Pulitzer award for its in-depth look at the arts and perspective. Fascinating reporting, but the whole story made me think of writing.
It’s a fact that more than the occasional big-name author hasn’t exactly found the direct route to publication. Sometimes, the big-name author masterpeice lingered in the slushpile, unrecognized for its worth, because an editor overlooked it. Perhaps because editors don’t really expect to find a lot of talent in that context.
Of course, happily, writers sometimes get lucky, and talent wins out, even in a slushpile. Sometimes, talent gets plucked out of a conference meet-up, or shines through in a mega-contest. But it seems to me that the odds of finding talent in the occasional, happenstance hook-up, are diminishing. I’ve reached the conclusion that context is integral in getting published. Mostly, I’ve concluded that an agent is necessary. An agent provides a better context to get your talent out there.
I could keep going the slushpile subway route, or hoping for serendipity to give me a shout-out, but I’d like to earn more than 40 bucks for all my hard work and hard-earned talent. So I’m leaving the station (and taking Joshua Bell and lots of agent research with me).