Friday, April 16, 2004

Akme and everyone who's anyone

Every so often, writers - and particularly the as-yet-unpublished writers - just completely lose it.

Typically, what happens is that a manuscript is returned to a writer by a publisher. Eventually. Let us say that this happens after six months, and after repeated letters of enquiry and telephone calls. Half of the manuscript has been lost somewhere, and the rest is covered in marmalade. Or worse. And the accompanying letter goes something like this. 'Thank you for sending us you (sic) biogriphy (sic) about Napoleon [when it was actually a chick-lit novel]. We sugest (sic) you approach a litry (sic) agent.' I have read such letters. Believe me. They are often written by the office cleaner, who doubles as a reader during her coffee break. ('I don’t reckon much to this one, Amanda. The ’eroine’s got red ’air. I can’t be doin’ with an ’eroine wot as got red ’air.’)

At which point a red mist descends over the writer’s eyes. (A phenomenon once described rather vividly by Harold Wilson, when he heard some cretinous white Rhodesian telling an off-colour story about his African workers.)

The writer goes rapidly and irreversibly into what is not just a hissy fit but a blood-pressure raising, tooth-grinding rage which lasts for a week or more. And during that week the writer plans his revenge. Oh yes.

Beware, o ye publishers. You can push a chap too far, you know. And even a lady, though they tend to be more stoical. With the possible exception of Beryl Kingston.

What happens then can take a variety of forms, but if the publisher is lucky the revenge will be taken in words rather than via a visit with a sawn-off shotgun. All of which leads me to two web sites which feature revenge of this sweet kind. And I don’t know about you, but I find them richly amusing.

The first revenge site is called Akme, and it is the work of Andrew Malcolm. Briefly, Malcolm once submitted a book on philosophy to Oxford University Press. He was sent a letter which appeared to be an offer of publication, but later the offer was withdrawn. Or OUP decided it had never been made. Or whatever. A court case followed.

But you can read all about it on Akme. Once offended, Mr Malcolm is a hard man to shake off. He began his site, some years ago, by recounting the events surrounding the (non) publication of his book, but he has by now gone a long way from there. He now exposes the grandiose follies of Oxford University itself, and a few other universities as well, come to that. And along the way, if you burrow deep enough, you will find an archive of court cases concerning publishers and writers (the Akme Literary Law Library) which is a useful resource. Exploring this site fully will take you a considerable amount of time.

The other outstanding revenge site is Everyone who’s Anyone. This is American and was set up a few years ago by Gerard Jones. Mr Jones, like many another ambitious and unpublished writer, attempted to kick-start his career by submitting stuff (how else?) to publishers and agents. After a while it occurred to him that the letters he was getting back were - how shall we put it? - full of shit. So he decided to publish them on the web, illiteracies, contradictions, absurdities and all. This did not make him popular. People wrote and asked him to desist. So he published those letters as well.

Mr Jones’s site has changed a bit over the years and I have the distinct impression that it is not as much fun as it used to be. No doubt some of those fine people in publishing - awfully nice, but they do tend to be self-important and lack a sensayuma - maybe they’ve hit him with a writ or two, because they are a frightfully litigious lot over there. Some of the fun stuff seems to have been deleted.

I note that Mr Jones says on his latest front page that he has added a new section called Advice to Writers. ‘But,’ he adds, ‘I wouldn’t take it if I were you.’

God, don’t you just love the world of books?

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