11.01.2005

You Stink...now pay me.

A Snarkling confesses:


Yesterday, I did something I've never done before: I returned a book. Usually, even if the book is horrible, I don't bother because on my little island the petrol needed to return the book would cost more than what I would get back. However, this particular book disgusted me so much that I had to bring it back on principal. It was the newest book in a series that I had been following religiously (never again) and it was so bad that I donned my ugg boots (stilettos give me
blisters) and trekked over to Ottakers. To come to the point, my question is, what do agents do if a client has signed a three, four, five-book deal with a publisher, but when the client delivers the
newest manuscript, it's crap? Do you still send it, assuming that the author's popularity will sell the book? Or do you tell a long-standing client that the book isn't up to scratch and you can't sell it?


Was it Robert Parker by any chance?
I took him to task for a lousy book a few posts back.

Agents and editors have no, zero, zippo, zilcho motivation to tell a best-selling author that the new book sux. Doing so just means the author fires us, buys back the rights from the editor and hightails it over to another house who is GLAD to get him/her. Miss Snark has gin to buy yanno...she needs the dough.

The only person who can stop the madness is you the reader. Quit buying books of authors who are skating on past success. Return them! Tell your librarian the books suck and to quit buying them on automatic order. (Librarians have certain authors on automatic order-they don't read the reviews they just buy them).

Remember though, as the comments trail on my post about Robert Parker showed: one reader's "this is skating" is another's "this is comfort food".

So, when you find a series has disappointed you beyond redemption, strap on your skis, and return the book. Tell your friends not to buy it. That's one great thing about the web: real readers can connect and discover great new writers...and help those old hacks hang up their skates. Of course, you'll all have to chip in for Miss Snark's gin. Perhaps she'll establish a paypal account for your convenience.

26 comments:

THRILL said...

"Agents and editors have no, zero, zippo, zilcho motivation to tell a best-selling author that the new book sux."

Miss Snark, this is fascinating! What about editors? Do they face the same dilemma? I've read successive books of best-selling authors where I find myself thinking, "This is rambling. Cut." Makes me wonder about the extent of editorial input in the earlier works where the prose is incisive, polished--a joy to read. Would the editor risk the author heading for the hills by giving revisions for a stronger book?

Christine said...

Or, they could do what they did to... oh who was it - Jackie Collins? And try to make her pay back her advance.

I think Jackie won that one, though.

Mr. Breese said...

Actually, Robert Parker's most recent novel (School Days) is really good. The best Spenser novel I've read in over ten years.

However, I'm one of the few people who will admit to enjoying his Sunny Randall novels, so what do I know?

Sherryl said...

Patricia Cornwell is a good example of someone whose books took a huge nosedive. I could not believe how bad "Blowfly" was, and it put me off buying her books ever again. "Trace" got good reviews, with critics saying she'd got her old pizazz back, but I haven't been able to bring myself to buy it, or the latest either.
In fact, I haven't even chased them down at the library.
One of Sue Grafton's (the I one, I think) was poor but at least she acknowledged it and said she wrote it too quickly under publisher pressure, and promised not to do that again!

Maya said...

About five years ago, I picked up a hardbook novel by James Patterson. I'd read his Alex Cross series and, therefore, purchased "When the Wind Blows," expecting another mystery. The cover jacket did nothing to disillusion me.

Imagine my amazement to find that I'd just purchased a scifi novel--and not a very well written one at that. I was seriously torqued.

I read a fair amount of scifi, but when I purchase one, that's what I want to read. I felt that Patterson and his publisher had pulled a bait-and-switch on me. I returned the book to the bookstore, wrote a really scathing critique on Amazon and have not purchased a Patterson book since.

That was the first time I really gave serious thought to an author's "brand." Since then, of course, I've seen Nora Roberts produce her futuristic novels under the J.D. Robb pseudonym to keep from doing exactly what Patterson had done to his readers. I read the Robb books although I've never read a Nora Roberts' novel :)

Miss Snark said...

Joan Collins was the one who didn't have to give back the advance despite the book not "meeting editorial standards".

I can't remember if they published it or it went elsewhere. Before my time!

Simon Haynes said...

Authors should swallow their pride and demand genuine feedback from their editors, no matter how big their sales are. Word gets around, and after a stinker or two their big sales could easily turn to small sales.
Editors should be able to tell authors exactly why their latest opus sucks without worrying whether the author will pick up their toys and find another playpen. But that comes down to the author letting them know clearly and regularly that they will NOT walk just because the editor wants the book cut by 10% to get rid of verbiage.
Hey, listen to the n00b...one book in print and I'm an expert already! Well, even if I end up with ten or fifteen books in print I will still expect feedback and I'll still let the editor know I expect it. My toys are super-glued to the pram.

Christine said...

You would think even the most popular writer would have a trusted friend/agent/editor who they know will give them the straight poop about their writing.

And if they don't, they should get one.

Angelle Trieste said...

Actually I heard from someone who's a great fan of Asimov (I don't know if the story's true or not) that Asimov thought he wasn't getting any honest editorical feedback from his editors. So he decided to send his manuscript under another unknown name just to see what happens. The ms was rejected (a form letter). Then he called his editor and said that if the manuscript wasn't good enough to be published without his famous name on it, it wasn't good enough to be published, period. But I think it's rare. From what I read and heard, Asimov genuinely loved writing and wanted to write well.

As for Patterson, he doesn't write his own books. He has ghostwriters or "collaborators". The NYT published an article about it. NYT Article here

lady t said...

Some authors just don't wanna hear the bad news-remember the Anne Rice/Amazon feud? Some of her actual readers dared to give her last book a bad write-up and she blew up like the Godfather:) Also,she did offer to accept any returns and
refund the price of the book but I heard she welshed on that-bad Goth girl,bad!

Her new Jesus novel should be laughs aplenty:D

Bonnie Calhoun said...

If she has truly turned to the Lord, I don't see what there would be to laugh about??? Please enlighten me.

Maya said...

Angelle: Thanks for the link to the Patterson article. Very interesting.

Ric said...

Bonnie,
Those of us who enjoyed Anne Rice's unique take on vampire legends are all extremely curious to see what the "Jesus" book is all about. And, at the same time, apprehensive because the dark, brooding writing was so impressive. It will be interesting to see how she does it - and how her fans will react. It is likely they will not react positively, but I'm holding out hope.

Stephen King, whose work takes up three running feet on my bookcase, nearly lost me as a reader with the last installment of the Gunslinger. I simply hate it when authors insert themselves into books. (especially when the device doesn't work....)

William Goldman did the same thing with Control.

Someone should have told them.... Editor, Agent, Somebody. Miss Snark would have.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Believe me, there's a lot of people holding their breath on this one. I'm sure you've heard the old adage, "You loose some, you gain some!" I think she's beyond needing the money as a writer anymore, and it looks like she's chosen a new direction to get her validation.

And I agree with you about Steven King. He's got more than three running feet of space on my bookshelves. I even have his book as Richard Bachman...Thinner! And He lost me a few books back. I don't think his writing is the same since the accident.

kitty said...

Angelle Trieste ... I had heard that Joyce Carol Oates did the same thing, that she submitted her work under a pseudonym and it was rejected.

lady t said...

Bonnie,I fully support anyone who has a spiritual belief system that gives them guidance-my jest is mainly targeted
towards Anne Rice(who lost me as a reader with Violin,a horrible book that,thankfully,I borrowed from someone and
didn't have to give up my hard earned money for). She loves to wade in her sorrows abit too much-I know all about her past and present troubles but the woman also seems like a major egotist who has no sense of humor about herself and
therefore,can't take any criticism.

I have read parts of the new Christ the Lord novel and while she commands her usual strengths in terms of word style(I used to wish she and Clive Barker would team up to do a book together,they both have beautiful phrasing),alot of it seems very rambling and silly to me. But then again,I haven't read it in full.

Maxwell said...

This might be a hair off-topic, but I've read a lot of great raves about John Sandford. Instead of going back to the beginning of the Prey series, I picked up Naked Prey. Not only did he do nothing to try and bring me into the series mid-stream, I got no feel for the characters at all. The sidekick is named DEL CapsLock for Pete's sake?!?

After about 100 pages Davenport says, "This is starting to get interesting." It wasn't, so I dropped the book cold.

As a polar opposite, I read the seventh Lee Child book and immediately got into the story and knew who Reacher was. I didn't feel like a late arrival to the party, I felt like I was as welcome as anybody to the greater plot as well as the lesser one.

Both books were festooned with raves. There's no way to tell by looking at them on the shelf that one is dog slow and lazy about describing characters while the other has a rocket pace and gives you all you need to know without delay. I guess once the praise starts flowing freely, it's really up to the author alone to deliver the goods to the reader.

Stacy said...

Taste and appreciation of literature vary widely - I know I don't need to tell anybody this, but the comments on this post slamming individual writers makes it necessary. I personally never made it through an entire Ann Rice novel because, in my opinion as an experienced reader, she is a terrible writer. Absolutely the worst, I don't know how she makes a penny. But I am also well aware that it is my personal opinion. I will never own an Ann Rice novel, even if it is about Jesus.

Interesting tidbit I read yesterday - "Reviewers have said that my work is more balanced and judicious," explains Robert Dallek, author of a two-volume LBJ biography, "but Caro [who has written a 3-volume biography of LBJ] is clearly a brilliant writer. He engages his reader in a way that I don't have the talent or the inclination to do."
Why would an author admit - out loud - to having no inclination to engage his readers? I don't get that.

harridan said...

Bonnie,

The thing for me about Anne Rice is I can't simply take what she says at face value. Why? Well she's never done anything to me, but she seems to be a very savvy business person. That's not a bad thing at all but...

Take her lashing out at the bad reviews. That book probably sold like hotcakes just because of the controversy. Sometimes a horrid review can sell as many books as a good one.

And way way back when, Anne wrote a series of three books under the pen name A.N. Roquelaure. I searched for them because there was a big hoopla about the content compared to her vampire works. And I beleive they sold verra verra well.

Whatever you do, Bonnie, don't buy this series. I doubt you can find anywhere--even erotic and romantica ebooks--more lurid and graphic than these books.

She covers the entire realm of kink, even bestiality.

So when it comes to Anne, I always question her motives. She's played more than one hand of cards with the skill of a cutthroat business person.

Just my two cents

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Harridan...I tend to agree with your point of view. But I like to understand what makes people tick...Why they say the things that they say...I'm a writer. Knowing these motivations helps to build character bases.

As for Ann Rice, personally I've never read any of her books...vampires just aren't my thing, but I am interested in her conversion. Is is real or is it memorex, type thing.

I think it's an interesting timely thing, that she comes out with this new direction at the same time that the Chronicles of Narnia are having a debue. C.S. Lewis was an atheist turned apologists and these seven books turned out to be some of his best work!

I also agree with stacy....I don't think I'll be running out to buy this book quite yet!

Harry Connolly said...

Damn! The board just ate my post.

Trying again:

Take her lashing out at the bad reviews. That book probably sold like hotcakes just because of the controversy.

Did anyone else read those bad reviews? They weren't just negative comments about the book. They were brutal, cruel personal attacks on her, too. Many of the comments made nasty remarks about her then-recently-deceased husband.

Her angry comments may have been, as James D. Macdonald says, the ABM (Author's Big Mistake), I can't blame her for feeling attacked and lashing out injudiciously.

Not that I'll read any more of her books.

A lot of this conversation reminds me of the people who complain about the dialog tags in J. K. Rowling's books. I sometimes wonder if people think that, if only she'd make those changes, she would have a book that really sells well.

I think the important point about best-sellers that don't write well is that most readers just don't care about good writing.

Stephanie Rowe said...

I have to say, that if I had an agent or an editor who wouldn't tell me that my book was crappy, that's when I would find a new house/agent. What good does it do any of us to have a subpar book out in circulation? It hurts all three of us. I'll be loyal to someone who believes in me, but who also has the courage to point out my flaws, which will enable me to become a better writer with each book.

countessolenska said...

Chiming in on the importance of contracts.

Joan Collins won that lawsuit because her powerful agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar negotiated all references to editorial standards out of her contract. He was so powerful and Random House wanted to publish Collins so badly, that the contract stipulated only that she had to deliver a "complete" manuscript -- not a manuscript "satisfactory to the publisher in form and content" -- in order to keep the advance. Completely contrary to industry standards. The stinkeroo manuscripts weren't published by Random House.

So, in that case, the editor was asking for it. She was willing to sacrifice a guarantee of quality writing in exchange for Collins's celebrity. Bum gamble.

Stacy said...

Editors don't negotiate contracts. Crappy manuscripts are simply handed to you. And at my company, they frown on you telling the writers things like "Your manuscript is crappy."

Bethany said...

Speaking of author's whose writing takes a nose dive... did anyone read "Incubus Dreams" by Laurell K. Hamilton? ^_^

countessolenska said...

Sorry, I think this horse is probably dead but the editor in question was Joni Evans who definitely had purchasing and negotiating power at that time. As you know, some ubereditors do get final say on certain terms of their contracts.

I feel for editors who have to take on manuscripts (or "inherit" authors) that they don't absolutely love. It's gotta be a downer.