1.04.2006

Why The Sunday Times is Nitwit of the New Year-update

Several Snarklings have commented on this:

New York Times January 4, 2006
Rejected by the Publishers
By LAWRENCE VAN GELDER

Submitted to 20 publishers and agents, the typed manuscripts of the opening chapters of two books were assumed to be the work of aspiring novelists. Of 21 replies, all but one were rejections. Sent by The Sunday Times of London, the manuscripts were the opening chapters of novels that won Booker Prizes in the 1970's. One was "Holiday," by Stanley Middleton; the other was "In a Free State," by Sir V. S. Naipaul, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Mr. Middleton said he wasn't surprised. "People don't seem to know what a good novel is nowadays," he said. Mr. Naipaul said: "To see something is well written and appetizingly written takes a lot of talent, and there is not a great deal of that around. With all the other forms of entertainment today, there are very few people around who would understand what a good paragraph is."





First of all, let's just point out the obvious. No one thinks agents and publishers are infallible. Not even agents and publishers. We KNOW we miss good stuff. We miss it once a day, every day and twice on Sunday. It's one of the reasons every agent in the known universe (a universe clearly ignored by those flaming bags of dog poop at the Sunday Times) says "query other agents. What's not right for us can be just what the other guy is looking for."

So, we miss stuff. So fucking what.

And now that we know this is one of those specious exercises set up to tut tut about the abject state of letters in the cold cruel modern world, let's look at what they actually did.

They sent two typed chapters from novels written in the early 1970s. They sent them "written by aspiring novelists". Now, what's the one thing I've been howling about since the inception of this blog, if not the inception of the universe? All together now: "fresh and new".

Sending dated writing is pretty much guaranteed a no.

Next, cover letter. I bet they didn't try too hard to make it sound enticing. All of the press reports I've seen on this don't even mention the cover letters. If this work is from aspiring novelists, did they invent publication credits? Did they invent anything to make it sound like this writer was anything but someone writing like it was 1971?

Next, let's just step right over the fact that if any of the folks reading this recognized it, they are going to pass. Even if they don't recognize the actual words as "oh this is from that novel that won the Booker -before I was born!" if it sounds derivative...you BET your ass it's a no. Can anyone say Bear Bryant's Funeral Train? Rejection letters are not the place anyone says "you sound like you're channeling Booker Prize winners from 1971". "not for us" is the only thing anyone says then. If the Sunday Times doesn't know that..well, of course they know that. That's one of the reasons they're flaming bags of dog poop for this stunt.

Next, the idea that they just send it over the transom to publishers is insane. Particularly in big publishing houses, it won't get looked at. If anything, this just underscores why you DO need an agent if you want to be published by a big publisher.

Next, I pass on really good stuff all the time, with a form letter even, if my list is full. They sent this to ten agents. I'm going to guess, cause I don't know who they sent it to, that they chose well known ones. Yup, the very folks LEAST likely to take on "aspiring writers"...cause they are busy representing VS Naipaul.

And last: to assume that this proves agents don't recognize quality is bunk. If anything it proves exactly what I've been saying: agents are interested in what SELLS. Now, I don't have sales figures for these books....given they were published 35 years ago it would be very difficult to get them. But I'll tell you this: pick a literary novel, any literary novel even from a Nobel Prize winner, and "respectable sales" over the course of YEARS is the height of achievement. Most of them sink like rocks. Rocks similar to the ones in the heads of the Sunday Times editor who let this article run.

Of COURSE these books didn't fly. The news would have been if they had, cause pigs would have been next.

And furthermore: from the comments trail comes this excellent point--the people who are going to suck up this article and spew it out in their marketing pitches are those scam artists at the vanity mills. Thanks a lot Sunday Times...you've just made the problem worse.

61 comments:

Bernita said...

Specious superficial bullshit - as you say.
Proves one thing only: they think we're all stupid.
The Vanity Pressers will love that article.

lady t said...

I read about this at Grumpy Old Bookman(who thought it was just as
ridiculous as Miss Snark did)and the idea that"if it won a major award,it
must be good" never holds up well. Look back at some of the films that have won Best Picture(Dances With Wolves,for one)and you'll be shaking your head in wonderment.

Also,Middleton sounds like an elitist bozo with his little comment about good novels not being appreciated-I've never heard of any of his books and it sounds like I'm not missing much there:)

Anonymous said...

Everything Miss Snark said, plus:

Should I ever be so lucky as to win a huge prize with one of my novels, if anyone decades hence ever tries this nasty, results-skewing trick with it, and I were approached for a quote, I would NEVER respond as arrogantly as those two authors did. (Honestly. The nerve of them.)

Brian said...

I discovered Miss Snark only yesterday and already I'm truly, madly, deeply, undeniably in LOVE.

Is there a Snarkling oath I must take? A secret handshake? A secret milkshake?

Thanks for today's daily dose of literary whoop-ass.

Anonymous said...

"Of COURSE these books didn't fly. The news would have been if they had, cause pigs would have been next."

Now THAT's an original!

RRBrklyn

archer said...

Haters of the piano (there are many) once supposedly blindfolded some music critic and had a single note played twice on a Steinway grand, first by some artist of renown and then by a local auto parts man who used an umbrella to depress the key. The critic, so the story goes, couldn't tell the difference. Nobody could agree whether this proved that critics are dumb or that the piano isn't a musical instrument.

Anonymous said...

As a newspaperman for 35 years, I'm astonished at what some respectable publications will allow in their pages. It's usually a matter of a seasoned editor being on vacation when drivel like this gets in. Maybe the holidays had something to do with it. We can only hope.

Mary Akers said...

Yes! Thanks for putting into words what I've been thinking ever since I read this nonsense article!

Anonymous said...

One of the agents they sent to was JK Rowling's. Because, you know, I bet he's really hungry for work. From adult writers.

Rich A said...

I agree, ridiculous. 'Unknowns' in the music industry can spend years perfecting their work, doing demos and playing live for peanuts in the hope that someone might just notice them.

For those who stick at it and have talent this notice may eventually come, perhaps from a groundswell of local support or somesuch, and they'll get a chance at the 'big time' from there.

Why aspiring authors should be any different I don't know. (So if I ever get my slapstick noir novel finished it's off to lulu.com for me, and I'll see what I can do from there... )

Rhonda Stapleton said...

I just LOVE how snobby the authors sound about their own writing.

I mean, who really has the balls to insult readers and publishers in such a sweeping fashion? Gee, aren't we all idiots for not realizing their work TRANSCENDS time?

Seriously, could these two possibly blow any more sunshine up their own asses? Pompous, elitist douchebags.

Someone please shoot me if I ever get this arrogant about myself and what I write.

/end rant

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I've noticed that prizewinning books aren't necessarily the books I want to read.

I'm guessing it wasn't all that interesting. I want to read the chapters now!

Harry Connolly said...

As James D. Macdonald said: This experiment only proves the system works: Editors don't buy plagiarized writing.

Alex said...

Also, as someone who has done an internship at a literary agency, and a very high-profile one at that, I can tell you that a large portion of the unsolicited submissions an agency receives are read not by agents, or even their assistants, but by unpaid interns whose eyes are exhausted from hours upon hours of filing and whose patience has been tried to its limit by a finicky photocopy machine.

Here is the original article:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0%2C%2C2087-1965623%2C00.html

makoiyi said...

I agree one hundred percent there, Miss S, that is total bulldoodoo, and it certainly does not state all the facts.

One can quote JK Rowling - not sure of exact numbers but something over a hundred subs before she was accepted. Stephen Donaldson, something like forty nine, and so on and so forth.

I listened to Robert Sawyer at a con once. He always gets the question: 'How did you get published?'. Answer: Try try and try again. Do not give up, and also, to believe in yourself.

So I hope that any budding novelist will not be put off by the Times and listen to what you are saying.

I can quote myself. I sent a short story off. I got a letter back in two hours (via e-mail) been there, done that, got the t-shirt, basically was their answer. I checked the sub over, sent it out again. Within a day I had an acceptance, and I've had decent reviews of the story. It simply didn't suit one editor but the next one loved it. With a fantasy novel I wrote, I've had three e-mails in the same day - a request for a partial, a request for the whole work, and a 'not for us' (that was a synop I did write well :)). The point is, Miss S is dead right. That article is not evocative of the true state of affairs.

Rhonda Stapleton said...

Errr, I just want to say sorry about ranting in the comment I submitted to you, Miss Snark...I understand if you don't post my previous message. haha. I tend to be a bit hot-headed sometimes, and this totally ticked me off.

I feel very insulted by the arrogance of these authors. I hope I never become so self-congratulatory like that. A little humility goes a long way...

Existential Man said...

Your Snarkiness, in passing you say, "I pass on really good stuff all the time, with a form letter even, if my list is full. They sent this to ten agents. I'm going to guess, cause I don't know who they sent it to, that they chose well known ones. Yup, the very folks LEAST likely to take on "aspiring writers"...cause they are busy representing VS Naipaul."

Is it not true that no matter who you represent, how full your list may be or how high you are on the agent status pecking order, if you think you can sell it and you like it enough, there is always room for one more author?

My experience and thinking have been that even the biggest big-shots have room when they really like what is in front of them...they don't think, "I can sell this but oy! my list is oh so full so I better pass on it."

But, if it doesn't sell well enough (either to an editor or after publication), big-shots are quicker to dump the author than an agent of lesser status, who may be more interested in nurturing the author along.

Could you comment on all this?

kathie said...

Jeez I thought this would be comforting to me as I've just been made aware my novel has garnered a slew of rejections. I've allowed myself 30 hours of soothing moping to mark the news. Lucky I have an agent who believes in me. Thanks for the emphatic pissed off rant. Love the passion. It's a great way to work my way to the end of my thirty hour whine.

Maxwell said...

Even if they supplied current, award-worthy, literary fiction for this experiment, there's a obvious problem. It's that age-old gap between critical acclaim and actual sales. Ian Rankin has been making this point for quite a while:

http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk
/books/news/article333936.ece


Like everybody else, publishers and agents want to make money. Of course, the NYT can double it's price for home delivery and nobody bats an eyelash. Maybe they ARE immune to normal economic forces. They certainly have the attitude that we all should be.

Leslea said...

Wow. Exactly right about what self-publishing folks will do w/ this.

Brady Westwater said...

Two points. First, sending excerpts of literary novels to publishers and and agents who do not recognize the book or the author's style is always a good story to run during a slow news period, i.e., after the first of the year. It is as much an evergreen as Virgina's letter to Santa Claus and is it is an easy, low blow in many ways.

My other point though is that it is sad when not one person after reading two chapters of first rate Naipaul asked to see anything else this writer had written. Granted this particular novel might not be what a publisher is looking for today, but it did amaze me that no one felt the quality of the writing was high enough to want to see if there was anything else this writer had written.

Feisty said...

Why does everyone have such a problem with books that have won prizes? Do we only think about commercial fiction anymore?

It truly boggles my mind.

I understand that commercial stuff sells but it seems that we've become a society that cares only about what has commerical exploitability because money is so important, you understand. (Yeah, so don't lecture me on the big media and world-devouring companies. I know how they are.)

What about the "lesser" works of literary writers? Should we just throw them all out? Not allow them to publish? Maybe we should tell them that we just don't want them around anymore.

Or better yet, let's stone them because they won those prizes and they have the audacity to write something so damnably uncommercial. That'll teach 'em!

Anonymous said...

I went to look at the original story at the ST online, and found that the Ads by Google are all from vanity publishers. No surprises there, then.

AzGhostWriter said...

Well if I recall, sometime ago, didn't some major newspapers get spoofed? Maybe these guys are just using tricks they learned the hard way to get a rush?

Anonymous said...

I read The Sunday Times of London story on Monday morning in GalleyCat. NYT didn't run it on its site until Wednesday. Did it take the NYT editors that long to recover from the shock? Or did they figure the story was as ho-hum as most of the books they review?

Emelle

Rhonda Stapleton said...

feisty - you make some good points about the value of literary fiction and how it is often overlooked because it isn't as salable as commercial fiction.

However, my problem isn't that they're writing literary fiction, or even with the genre of literary fiction. Actually, I enjoy literary fiction as much as commercial fiction, and sometimes more, depending on the author. A book is a book is a book, and if it hooks me, I don't care about genre, popularity, or supposed commercial value.

For me, the problem is the sheer snobbery that accompanied what seemed to me to be a "sour grapes" type of response from those two authors. I thought it was unprofessional and in poor taste.

My opinion of the authors is not based on their work (which I have not read), nor on the genre of literary fiction as a whole.

I simply think they were derogatory and insulting to readers, and as a modern reader, I was offended.

I.J.Parker said...

I beg to differ. You cannot equate popularity (bestseller status) with quality writing. Or vice versa. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Justin R. Buchbinder said...

POD HELP!

Miss Snark, me and my boss are caught in an entanglement of wits over POD companies. He's all about "democritization" and "DOWN WITH THE PUBLISHING MAN!" and "The end of (traditional) publishing is at hand!"

I, on the other hand, am the opposite (by reading your Blog alone this is evident).

In my latest attack I showed him POD forecasts that show how less than 1% of their books sell more than 500 copies... and his questions back to me (in a stinging email) were:

How many books from traditional publishers sell less that 500 copies?

How many of these authors that leverage POD are serious authors looking to publish more than 500 copies?

What positives did the NYT article state for self publishing?

What about the Publishers Weekly article?

My first question is do you have any answers to these questions he's thrown back at me?

My second question is can you point me to publishing numbers to prove the answers?

Please help! I'm sinking here!

AzGhostWriter said...

Maybe we can get the Times to run this story, since they like fiction so much.

Humanitarian award to be announced
Vladimir Putin to present Stalin award for humanitarian service
Cheney to attend presentation
Moscow News
January 3, 2006 02:00 AM

Moscow, Russia – President
Vladimir Putin announced
today the first ever Stalin
Humanitarian award for public
service. Reminisce of previous
Soviet era awards the medal is to
be presented for continuous public
service to the citizen who most
represents the values of Stalin.

In a private ceremony to be
announce, President Putin is
expected to honor Boris Letinsky
for exceptional public service in
the tradition of Stalin. Mr.
Letinsky is credited with the
successful allocation of housing
and relocation assistance to over
one thousand Chechnya civilians
during the separatist conflict.

“It is an honor to present this
high award to Mr. Letinsky for his
dedication to preserving the
Russian way of life.” said a
foreign ministry spokesman.

Russia’s last notable ceremony was
May 9th when President Bush
attended the ceremonial laying of
the reef on Stalin’s grave.

Sandra Ruttan said...

There's no telling whether they did their proper market research either. Maybe they sent the material to venues that don't represent that genre, that style.

Yes, they did make the problem much much worse. And by being flooded by "test" junk that isn't even a valid submission, it just means more work for these publishers and agents.

Perhaps someone should sue the people who did this for falsely misrepresenting what I would certainly presume to be work with a COPYRIGHT and for wasting worker's time.

And potentially keeping other authors from having their work reviewed in a timely fashion because the publishers and agents have been inundated with scam submissions.

Anonymous said...

I wonder about the presentation standard of this 'experiment'. Those "typed manuscripts" sound very 1970's. Perhaps the pages curled nicely, too!

Carla said...

I don't suppose the Sunday Times could have been doing it for the free publicity, could they?

Anonymous: to be fair, I think Google Ads are placed by some automatic process that picks keywords from the content on the page. Torgo got so many PublishAmerica ads that he posted telling his readers to ignore them. When his blog said he was 'full of beans' after a holiday, Google Ads helpfully provided ads for companies selling kidney beans and vegetable seeds.
http://honestcritiques.blogspot.com/2005/12/im-back.html
It doesn't mean anything.

Elektra said...

I'm just waiting for Mr. Bookner to get a hold of this--he'll have a field day

Anonymous said...

This is so typical and representative of today's publishing world. They don't want manuscripts from real people anymore! They will only publish books by celebrities(look at the gems Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, and Pamela Anderson have blessed us with!), political figures and pundits, prominent people concerned with major world disasters(Katrina, the war in Iraq-but note the word prominent), established writers (most of whom would not get published in today's market if they were forced to start from scratch), and lastly, people who create their own hype. Ie., The Runaway Bride, Jayson Blair. The 16 year-old who went to Iraq will probably get a book deal.
These days you are forced to create your audience in order to get published. In excellent example being Stephanie Klein (her blog at http://stephanieklein.blogs.com/ ). This chick gets 20 to 40 comments a post! So publishers thought, hey, lets give her a bunch of money to create a book from her blog! The girl's a genius. Course, I'm sure my blog would get a lot more traffic too if I discussed the flavor of come at length and debated the various merits of swallowing versus not (mistletoe moment post, December 30, 2005).
Manuscripts from real people are the ticket. Just look at the domination of reality television! People love being entertained by other people as much if not more than they like the antics of "public figures". I imagine the same would apply to reading.
But all of us "real people" writers out there better get a degree in PR before embarking on a publication quest.

Anita said...

Thank you for debunking this little blurb (which I also posted on my blog today, but without the insightful analysis).

Frankly, I sure the hell don't write like anyone who won the Booker prize so I'm quite relieved to hear that I still have a slightest chance of finding representation some day.

Zac Kincaid said...

As you all have pointed out this experiment could never be scientifically valid. But the point the article was trying to make still rings true. It accused the publishing industry of not recognizing good literature. Miss Snark said that she is looking for fresh, marketable material i.e.: she knows good literature when she sees it but does not want it. (This is pretty much what they were trying to say in the first place).

The bestseller list used to included the likes of Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer, now it's Stephen King and Daniel Steele year after year. Yuck!

If you don't sympathise at least a little with Middleton and Naipaul, that goes a long way in explaining why you don't have a Bookner or a Nobel prize.

Anonymous said...

My point about the Google Ads was too obscure. I blame...er...the cat!

Well, she looks so darn smug.

Only vanities feel this need to advertise, which means, unfortunately, that their ads are the only ones people reading this kind of story will see.

Anonymous said...

You tell 'em, Snarky! Rock on!

Anonymous said...

As a business source to NYT Times reporters who has, on three separate occasions, provided extensive technical background information only to find my words incorporated in the body of the story as if coming from the reporter, with no attribution, nothing that publication would do could surprise me.

Anonymous said...

I was confused on one point... Did they send the two chapters together as if it were the FIRST TWO CHAPTERS of one book? Then the editor or agent(if they actually read it) would say, WTF?

Miss Snark said...

Zac, this blog DOES have a BookNer prize.

You're responding as though this "test" was something to be taken seriously, when it's clear to me at least that it was nothing but a way for the Times to sneer.

We can all disagree with the merit of what gets published, but I hope we all agree that this test was pure malarky, and the responses of the two writers was arrogant in the extreme.

Perhaps not..but what the heck.

I'll just take my BookNer statue for "Bubble Burster" and retire to the Bark O'Lounger saloon and dog run.

AnneM said...

To anonymous whiner:

Really? Only celebrities and politicians are getting thir books published today?

Wow, so...all thsoe NEW authors on the shelves, they're what, chopped liver?

Please. You're spouting vanity publisher puff. New authors are being published all the time. How do I know? I GO TO BOOKSTORES. They're on the shelves, for crying out loud. Are you blind? New books, new authors, all the time!

Some recent examples;

Tamara Siler Jones
Simon Haynes
Cecilia Dart Thornton
David Forbes
Justine Larbeister (sp?)

And that's only in the fantasy genre, and only the authors I can remember off the top of my head.

You sound like a lot of aspiring authors I know; because the publishing industry won't publish YOUR book, your WONDERFUL, AMAZING book, the system is broken.

Wake up. Write something good, and it will sell. It may not sell to the first agent, or the second, or the 20th, but it will sell. The evidence is all around you.

Zac Kincaid said...

Actually, I was not putting any stock in the "test". Myths, legends, and apocrypha are often factually untrue, but illistrate a greater truth. The article accuses the publish industry of being...the publishing industry.

As for the comments being arrogant, well, if Michael Jordan says "I am one of the best basketball players ever", that is not arrogant, it is just realistic. A nobel prize winner gets a little leway.

I could never be a literary agent, because to me the bestseller list is a slushpile. Where is the Steinbeck or Shirley Jackson of today? I know the article seems unfair to those of you work in publishing, but it was intended for the other 99.99% of the readers. To me it seems right on. As you pointed out, even if these queries had a nice cover letter with pub creds most agents would pass on it.

Harry Connolly said...

This is so typical and representative of today's publishing world. They don't want manuscripts from real people anymore! They will only publish books by celebrities(look at the gems Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, and Pamela Anderson have blessed us with!), political figures and pundits, prominent people concerned with major world disasters(Katrina, the war in Iraq-but note the word prominent), established writers (most of whom would not get published in today's market if they were forced to start from scratch), and lastly, people who create their own hype. Ie., The Runaway Bride, Jayson Blair

Yep. I was just in Borders the other day, and the only books I could see on the shelves were by Nicole Ritchie and Jayson Blair.

Oh wait, that's the exact opposite of the truth.

Justin, I hear you about your boss. If he's writing a novel, he's going to shoot himself in the foot. And you know what? Maybe that's exactly what he needs.

From my own research, tell him that first-time novelists should expect average sales of four to ten times greater than that 500 figure you quoted him, depending on the type of book and the genre.

Also tell him that there are certain types of books that are traditionally and profitably self-published, and certain other books that are a waste of time to self-pub.

Tell him there are legions of writers just like him--determined to do well outside the publishing industry. Seriously, legions. You can't throw a rock on the internet without hitting one on the head.

Then ask him to tell you how many self-pubbed POD novels he already owns. How many of these books has he bought for his own reading pleasure?

Now tell him this: This is his book, why is he asking you for all this information? If he wants to know which books are best self-published, why doesn't he do a little research? It's not hard to find out how many books a first timer sells in his genre. This is information he should be seeking out so he can make his own best decision.

Tell him to google "Slushkiller" "Writer Beware" and, naturally, "Miss Snark," Send him to the Absolute Write forums and ask the folks there to rec books about publishing and self-publishing.

It's his book. He should care enough to do a little business-oriented research.

If he won't, wash your hands of him. Some folks have an "on" switch for their ears where their faces are supposed to be, and the switch only triggers when they fall on it.

Harry Connolly said...

Dang! I forgot this:

How Real Publishing Works.

Justin, your boss should still google those other websites and articles.

Anonymous said...

and in case anyone needs a fact or two: Jayson Blair (the ex Times reporter) could NOT get a publishing deal. He ended up with some outfit out in LA. No one here would touch him.

I'm not saying that proves publishing is all well and fine, but if you're going to use examples of "celebrities" getting books, you might want to not use the guy who couldn't get in the door here.

Anonymous said...

This is hardly the first time someone has tried this experiment in order to make themselves feel better about the fact that people don't want to read their books. Hell, I once rejected Moby Dick. Truth of the matter is, I always hated Melville. Sue me.

Anonymous said...

"This is so typical and representative of today's publishing world. They don't want manuscripts from real people anymore!"

I think that Anon is definitely suffering from sour grapes syndrome. Dozens and dozens, if not hundreds and hundreds of unknown/first-time writers are published every year! I agree with Annem, suck it up and write something of quality, that's the only way to get published.
I don't entirely disagree with the other Anon though. I don't think the problem is publishers who won't publish "real people". Rather, I think the publishers spend too much money in six and seven figure advances and splashy publicity for splashy people. The problem here is that very few of these celebrity novels ever earn back their advance, or justify the publicity dollars. The publishing houses take huge losses. The domino effect comes into play, and there isn't very much money left for advances and publicity for these lesser known writers. Without the publicity dollars behind them, their books go unnoticed, and quality literature written by quality new voices fails to be seen by the masses. I'm not saying this happens to all "unknowns", but the trend is there.

One thing is obvious to me about that other Anon, she's a girl! You can tell by the comments about Miss Klein's blog. I checked it out, and the mistletoe post is a must read. I don't know about the other guys out there, but I would definitely read a book about women who swallow, and I think it's great they gave the woman a book deal.

Tribe said...

I'll betcha anything that the Naipul book had the line "Ejaculations aside, that's one hell of a package to swallow!" Then he had the good sense to edit it out before somebody bought it.

AnneM said...

To Anonymous-guy-who-is-a-fan-of-Miss-Klein:

I hear what you are saying about publishers blowing money on celebrity books. I'd love to see some statistics about how well they DO sell. They must sell reasonably well because they have been flavour of the month for, well, years :)

In general:

And all this guff that agents don't recognise a "good" book; a lot of people seem to equate "literature" with "good". Balls. As far as I'm concerned James Joyce is a blight on the face of the earth. Yes, some literary fiction is good, grip-you-by-the-heartstrings AWESOME (catcher in the rye, brave new world, clockwork orange, wide sargasso sea, bleak house) but how much of it is self-satisfied claptrap?

Lets define good - when you buy a book, what do you look for?

- a rollicking tale of a feisty herione who triumphs over the odds, including her deluusional mother in law?

- a gin-soaked thriller with fast cars, sexy women and a scruffy-but-hot spy who triumphs over the odds (soon to be made into a movie, starring George Clooney)?

- 120 pages of some twit beamoaning the fate of his belly button fluff?

If you chose option three you are a minority group; those who read literary fiction. Think about it. Readers buy books because they sound interesting. They come back and read other books in that genre IF THEY LIKE IT. Agents and publishers are here to do one thing; to try and sell books to the majority of consumers and make money.

They're no worse than any other retailer; if tank tops and bellbottoms are "in", that's what you'll find in the stores. Thankfully in the world of books, the choice is so much more varied.

Just Me said...

Miss Snark is right all the way: this whole 'experiment' proved nothing except that some reporter was bored (or, possibly, having trouble finding an agent).

Just one thing, though: it's possible that those authors weren't actually being as ridiculously snotty as the article made them sound. Their comments were taken out of context. We don't know whether they were responding to 'What do you think of the people who rejected your book?' or to 'Do you think breaking into the publishing industry is more difficult for first-timers these days?'

Anonymous said...

Well if Naipaul sounds snooty, it won't be the first time he is being called that. That said, he is a genius writer and can show some snootiness if he wishes!

Sponge Girl said...

Now, just to contrast with Mr nobody-recognises-what-a-literary-genius-I-am-anymore, let's see why Stephen King belives books are the best entertainment:

"Even a hardcover is cheaper than two tickets to the local multiplex, especially once you throw in gas, parking, and babysitting. Also, a book lasts longer and there are no ads. Need more? No tiresome ratings system to keep you out if you're under 17, the special effects are always primo (because you make 'em up yourself), and although I read nearly 80 books this year, I never ran across the Olsen twins a single time."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/arts/articulate/200512/s1540136.htm

Funny how he doesn't seem to despair...

Anonymous said...

annem, I don't fancy reading any of those books :).

I'm reading Thud!, which stars Sam Vimes. I don't ask for much more than that, although less Carrot would be nice.

M said...

I agree with every one else about sour grapes Anon. I'm an aspiring writer as well, and you could say I'm a bit frustrated by the fact that I am not yet published. But you keep trying. Time spent in jealousy of published writers is time taken away from your own writing career.

Hey, Miss Snark! If that Stephanie Klien got a deal because she gets a ton of blog comments, you should get a deal, too! This post alone has over 50 comments. You go girl!

Anonymous said...

I had the same reaction when I read this article. They didn't even say which agents they sent it to. For all we know they sent it to people who focus on children's lit. Or people who aren't taking new authors.

Idiots!

Emily

Sal said...

Justin sez In my latest attack I showed him POD forecasts that show how less than 1% of their books sell more than 500 copies... and his questions back to me (in a stinging email) were:

How many books from traditional publishers sell less that 500 copies?

How many of these authors that leverage POD are serious authors looking to publish more than 500 copies?


Some answers here. Some here, where Paula Span claims that average sales at PublishAmerica are 125. This article sez Xlibris claims the same 125 sales/title average.

A marketing solutions vendor claims that, according to the Book Industry Study Group and RR Bowker, the average 'traditionally published' book sells about 11,800 copies.

No figures given for first time authors, and granted you have Ian Rankin pushing that average up, but still, we're talking one hundred times the number of books that Xlibris claims.

AnneM said...

Yes, but Pratchett is his own genre :)

Vimes is the thinking man's (and woman's) Clint Eastwood.

serenity said...

While I agree and disagree with differing parts of this discussion, I'll say the one thing which most disgusts me about this "experiment" is the fact the good folks at the Times, who are ever so considerately trying to help out us poor, downtrodden, aspiring authors, have now just wasted a bunch of publishers' and agents' time when they could've been reviewing submissions from us poor, downtrodden, aspiring authors.

Duh!

Anonymous said...

If you can't see the humor in this article you're hopeless. If you work in the publishing business and you're not just a little bit ashamed about the number of absolutely shitty books the industry puts out you're not paying attention.

Anonymous said...

As an editor, I was insulted by the experiment, and I'm insulted by the comments saying the publishing industry isn't looking to publish good writing. What an absurd generalization. I agree 100% that there's a lot of borderline illiterate, LCD crap on the bestseller lists, and that while there's certainly a place for light, entertaining reading, the popularity of these books is disheartening. But it's not the whole picture by a long stretch, and no, I'm not one bit ashamed about the books I publish, thanks. To say we should all be collectively ashamed as an industry because, say, Nicole Richie got published, is wildly unfair.

That said, I agree with Miss Snark completely--unless they sent exclusively to adult agents and publishing imprints that do deal in literary novels, the data is garbage to begin with. And there are so many other factors involved--the freshness of the writing, the story's appeal to the specific individual to whom it was sent, etc. Contrary to some writers' beliefs, we agents and editors are not in this solely to serve them and their work--we want to find projects that we are personally interested in working on and think/hope we can be successful in bringing to the market. I try to take the time to write an encouraging note when something crosses my desk that's really outstanding but doesn't suit my tastes or my list, but yeah, we're not perfect, time is sometimes short, and so on. We're creative people, too, with minds of our own--not blind half-wits as implied by the Sunday Times. A ridiculous article, and I agree, the sort of thing that only makes things worse for the industry.