Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Let’s all write bestsellers!

Boy, wouldn’t that be nice: a fat bank account*, the luxury of only having to put pen to paper in order to financially survive, the opportunity of being on Oprah (or even better, on Michael Enright’s Sunday Edition), being able to travel, having a bigger house, a fancier car, fame… Believe me, I could go on.

However, no one has yet figured out what constitutes a sure-fire bestseller. If someone actually has, they’re not telling the general public. I know I wouldn’t — except for my Type M buddies.

On the other hand, publishers, editors, agents, critics, booksellers have all seemingly figured out what constitutes a book that won’t be a bestseller. I’m not talking about mss that continue to see the light of day and are poorly written, poorly conceived, poorly researched, poorly whatevered. There are people who just don’t have the skill or who just shouldn’t write, and they continue to be as hopeful as the rest of us author-types.

What I’m talking about are professionally authored novels that deserve to see the kiss of ink on paper. “This will never sell.” “Not for us, thank you.” “I don’t see a market for this in this country.” I’ll bet we could go on with these quotes for the next year and not reach the end.

It all boils down to this: personal taste. Editor X reads a submission. Maybe it has a plot line similar to something he’s already seen, or he doesn’t like the locale where it’s set, or whatever. The bottom line is that personal taste and judgement dictates what people like, and so the book is rejected. Too often we’ve heard of worthy novels that are rejected over and over, ones that eventually find a publisher, and when the book hits the shelves, they’re immediately grabbed by a hungry reading public. I could mention J.K. Rowling and Tom Clancy as poster children for this sort of occurrence.

How can so many publishing pundits have been so completely wrong in their assessment of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or The Hunt for Red October? What hope do we have to get by all these human barriers in order to achieve literary nirvana if these novels were rejected up to 35 times before some brave soul said, “Yes!”?

I turn to the flip side of the coin for hope. You’ve all seen them: books that are just plain no good and they’ve actually been put out by major publishers. I’ll bet these works went the round of publisher after publisher and eventually found a home. With that in mind, there must be a good home for all good books, my books, your books.

You just have to find them.**

*Why are bank accounts always referred to as fat if they’re big?
**Unless your name is Sarah Palin.


Susan D said...

I'd like to find the mythical sliver of space between "This is too similar to something we've just published" and "This is too different from everything that's being publishing right now."

Rick Blechta said...

Here's a story I didn't put in my posting...

Back in the day when I was a long-haired (sigh) rock and roll musician playing in what was then called the best band in Canada (by musicians), Devotion, we produced a demo album of 7 original songs. Then came time to find a record company.

I remember being in the office of an exec at A&M records along with our manager and the band's singer. This man listened to our offering very carefully and then pronounced on it: "It doesn't sound like anything I've ever heard. Do you think you might make your material sound more like Steely Dan? (They were big at them time.)

When we pointed out that we thought "originality is good", he said that he didn't see it that way. "You have to give people something they're familiar with." Then he suggested we take our demo across the hall to play for the other VP.

We did that. His response was, "This is just way too derivative. I don't hear your voice in this at all. You should try to sound less like other people."

Needless to say, neither of them bit on signing us. It was a very surreal experience to listen to these two industry heavies who couldn't have been so diametrically opposed, and realize they were sitting barely 20 feet from each other.

Hope you find "your space", Susan!