Monday, July 23, 2007

Why do I love Mondays?

Further to the Jane Austen nonsense, referred to at the end of last Thursday's post, the Times reports the comments of two seasoned publishers. These two have been in publishing for a total of thirty years. They receive 1,000 unsolicited submissions every month. Each. Between the two of them, over the whole of their careers, they have only published four or five unsolicited manuscripts.

Moral: don't waste your time and money by sending unsolicited books to big-time publishers. You have to find some other way to gain their attention. Preferably, you need to get into the position where they approach you, rather than vice versa.

If the above doesn't put you off sending in mss to unsuspecting and uninterested publishers, here's a story that just might. It was passed to me by translator Viktor Janis, and it comes from another translator, Anna Feruglio Dal Dan.

Once I was called upon by the fiction editor of the publisher I worked at to write a vitriolic rejection letter for a particularly egregiously offensive manuscript.

I duly went and composed six dense pages of shattering deconstruction of the manuscript, starting with its poor spelling and uncertain grammar and ending by taking issues with its theory of homosexuality.

Then I presented it to the fiction editor who frowned and said: “You know, I appreciate this, but I gotta tell you, it’s not cruel enough.”

I said. “Oh, come on, have some heart. One of those poor girls is a depressive, says so in the cover letter. What if she gets the letter and kills herself?”

The fiction editor hesitated a little, then she said firmly: “No. Some people have got to be stopped.”

(We didn’t do this to everybody: this manuscript really managed to offend my fiction editor deeply. Mostly she wrote kind encouragement critique letters - which usually earned her the emailed wrath and never-ending hatred of the people she responded to, such being the ego of your average would-be writer.)

Good, eh? Anna, by the way, has a blog. She also has some Daily Observances in the form of podcasts.

Frank Beddor's second book in the Looking Glass Wars trilogy is out soon: 21 August to be precise. Intended for younger readers, age 12 and up, and based on Alice in Wonderland, part 1 of the trilogy attracted quite a lot of attention. More on the trilogy's own web site.

I kind of like odd addresses. I just noticed that the UK small press Tindal Street is located not in Tindal Street but in 217 Custard Factory. And Duckworth, once upon a time, used to be in The Old Piano Factory.

Oh I say. Bit much this. One of my most faithful correspondents, Jibby Collins (whom the goddesses preserve) tells me that Mitzi Szereto is at it again. Or still, probably. She is compiling material for The New Black Lace Book of Women's Sexual Fantasies. So you are invited to submit. But they gotta be genuine, OK? And no, sir, you can't send one in. Not even if you do wear a dress while you're writing it. Go to the Black Lace web site and click on the shoe. No, I don't know why it has to be the shoe. I expect somebody has a kink for those things.

If you live in London, or within reasonable reach, take note that Martin Wagner's play The Agent will be staged at the Trafalgar Studios (Whitehall) from 25 July to 18 August. This play was well received at earlier performances. It's a two-hander, the two characters being a writer and an agent. Here's the blurb:
It’s just another day at the office for high-flying literary agent Alexander; manuscripts to read, deals to be done, celebrity clients to be taken out to lunch… and just one quick meeting to get through with an author whose latest book the agent thinks is, frankly, not up to scratch. This gripping and often bitingly funny two-hander about a writer’s struggle for proper representation perfectly reveals the subtle shifts in power in the relationship between artist and agent. The only thing we can be sure of is that there can only be one winner.
This might be a bit too much like real life for some, but for those who have never had an awkward discussion with an agent it could be a lot of fun. Details here.

Miss Bellasis -- you remember her, surely? If not, see the end of my post of 6 June 2007 -- tells me that she has been frightfully busy recently (the nipple tassel business being absolutely hectic, my dears), but she has acquired a new friend; one who makes gorgeous knickers.

The knicker firm goes by the name of Buttress and Snatch, and the garments in question are made in Hackney by honest, hard-working girls who never fail to attend church on Sunday.

No, I know that doesn't have much to do with books, but this bit does. Miss Bellasis herself is threatening to write her memoirs. These, if completed and published, will doubtless cause many a heart to beat faster.

If you're interested in satirical/humorous writing plus some hard-edged criticism of our saintly politicians and leaders (mostly in a UK context, but with some excursions into the US), then do remember that the author of the Not Born Yesterday site turns out some good stuff at alarmingly frequent intervals. The site takes a bit of exploring, but you could try Life in the Wrong Lane for topical material. And for UK readers I recommend this bit.

The Daily Telegraph, a week or so ago, published a brief obituary of the American romantic novelist Kathleen Woodiwiss. Her novels, they say, were 'absurdly overdramatic, overwritten, overlong, and filled with ludicrous sex scenes'. And then a paragraph or two later we get this: 'Altogether Kathleen Woodiwiss's 13 novels sold 36 million copies.'

Let me see if I've got this straight. Romantic novelist, writes 13 novels, and does the job well enough to get 36 million people to pay hard cash for them, not to mention the millions of other readers who borrowed the books from a library or a friend -- and these books are absurd, too long, too dramatic, ludicrous?

I hardly think so. Wouldn't it be more accurate, not to mention more gracious, to say that Kathleen Woodiwiss was an immensely talented novelist with an unusual ability to generate emotion in many millions of grateful readers.


Writer, Rejected said...

Boy, you really don't want to offend a fiction editor, do you? Funny story about the mean, mean rejection, but even the nice ones sometimes go awry. If interested, check out more thoughts on rejections at

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, I had a rejection letter in which the 'writer' (of the rejection) felt it her mission to instruct me as to the nastiness of my characters. She was quite hurtful and seemed to suggest I was 'evil' for having thought them up. Her letter seemed designed to discourage me from any further literary procreation.

I (innocently) thought that nasty characters existed in real life as well as fiction, and I believe an actual person who takes the time to tell a writer his characters are nasty, and 'therefore unpublishable', is rather nastier than any fictional nasty could manage (given that they do not exist). I do recollect reading, in my time, quite a few very entertaining nasties within published literature. Had she taken issue with the actual words, rather than her reaction to them, I might have believed she understood what fiction is for.

I used to think that drawing interesting characters was what writing was about until I read letter after letter telling me that my characters were wonderful but the market just wasn't there, or my characters were beautifully wrought, but verisimilitude was not enough, or that my characters were all horrible, vile creatures who did not deserve to live.

Now, if I go bugger a famous person (or animal, or editor) will my characters (that attract so much comment); will they get to live?

Why do people in publishing seem to hate writers and writing so?

I understand they have to wade through great avalanches of dung but they don't wade very far, do they?

I remember a girl who worked at an agency telling me that my novel wasn't what she expected, and if only she could get people to actually read it 'they'd see as well'. Even more interestingly, the agent she worked for actually offered to take me on as a client without reading the novel. (I turned him down.)

Maybe the mistake they're making is in the idea that they have to read anything at all? Doesn't that just get in the way?

I tire of hearing how these poor folks have read three billion manuscripts apiece and only ever published one or two. What, exactly, are they trying to tell us?

I've owned dogs with more intelligence than that.

It is a strange world indeed when the people charged with finding and publishing fiction seem to hate everything about writing and writers.

Always writers are 'would-be' until some upper-middle class schoolgirl decides they are proper writers?

The only people who ever read my first novel were readers. Every single correspondence from a publisher or agent I ever had was filled with enough evidence to prove that they had not read the damned thing.

Even the agent I eventually went with had not read it. (But it got him a good few intros to publishers who had skimmed the first two pages.)

I disagree with Michael on one important point. I believe it is indeed possible to rise from the slush but to do so one must write exactly that book which everyone in the chain would have written themselves, if they could write. (But blowjobs do help, apparently.)

Anonymous said...

I was quite touched by your comments regarding the late Kathleen Woodiwiss. And I'm offended by the shoddy treatment she was given at the hands of the Telegraph. Here's a lady "swept off her feet by...a dashing and rugged lieutenant in the US Air Force" who then went on to write that very sort of thing--for 36 million readers. A shameful comment by the Telegraph.

May she continue to get the credit she deserves by millions more readers.

Anonymous said...

36 million readers?

Anyone think she'd give a rat's arse about what some twit on the Telegraph thinks?

This woman's story is the story of someone delivering pleasure to millions.

It's simply bad reporting.

savannah said...

You are always an insight into the literay world, sugar!
Thanks for the blog links...made a Monday afternoon most tolerable.

Peter L. Winkler said...

Woodiwiss's popularity can just as easily prove that there are many readers who enjoy novels that are "absurdly overdramatic, overwritten, overlong, and filled with ludicrous sex scenes."

Anonymous said...

God, how interesting! I mean, the comment that people in publishing "seem to hate writers and writing." I sometimes wonder whether it's broader than that, that it books they somehow hate. Or is it the old saw about editorial types being frustrated writers?

On the other hand, I like to think that one thing that makes me a good book designer and page layout artist is that I really like books and good writing.

Funny (to me, at least), that I remember to this day the first rejection notice I ever got. When I was 13 years old, I sent a short, short story to a magazine that--in my estimation, published "nice" stories, which my story pretty much was. I received the standard rejection slip, with an additon: a really kind, encouraging note had been handwritten on it. I lived of that slip for 10 years, while I turned that "well written, but too short" story into a bad, unpublishable novel.

Martin said...

I misread "I kind of like odd addresses" as "I kind of like odd dresses". GOB, would you like me to call you Loretta?

Anonymous said...

Despite the power they wield over writers, as the gatekeepers of very minor fame & very little money, publishers & agents are just people who live in the right place (London, if they're UK), went through the right hoops (Oxbridge or similar), sucked the right cocks, and then find themselves not earning much money - in one of the world's most expensive cities - to read what must be mainly crap; they are understandably not at their best, and their judgements are notoriously suspect.

Anonymous said...

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Peter L. Winkler said...

As regards the Writers Literary Agency, beware. Details here: