11.07.2006

Auto-no

Dear Miss Snark,

I was interested in your comment this morning that a manuscript containing dead kids would be a no-no for you and I hope this isn't a completely nitwitted question but I was wondering why. Is it simply that you wouldn't want to read anything so harrowing or is there more to it - is the death of a child is something that people tend to use in a sensationalist way, perhaps, or is it something that people tend to write badly about? Are there any other subjects (apart from cruelty to dogs, obviously) that you feel similarly about?

I hope I won't sound really callous for asking this. In my defence, I've got two young kids and I know that I'll never be able to watch "Don't look now" or "Sophie's Choice" again, but I'd definitely re-read "We need to talk about Kevin" because I think it's a brilliantly written book.



There are several things I will not read in any form. Every agent has at least one. Mostly they aren't on the websites. You just have to take your chances.

The reason I don't post an "ewww" list is because I think it will give other queriers the wrong idea about what I'm looking for.

For example: I will not take on fiction of any sort that features a pedophile priest, not as a hero, not as a villain. Never. I'll make this choice without reading the pages. I don't care how good it is, it's literally not right for my list.

Is that on my website? No.

Why? First, I don't want to seem disrespectful to people who've written those kinds of novels from their own pain.

Second, I don't want people to conclude I'm a prissy agent, ie don't send me your lewd fuck-filled vulgarity strewn fiction!

Third, I have shake hands with Father Santo every Sunday after Mass and I don't want to hurt his feelings by having a book like that on my list.

(Please don't write anti Catholic screed to me in the comments section)

A couple auto-no's for most agents: dead kids, torture, child abuse, sex abuse. They are auto-no's for as many reasons as there are agents.

It's one of the few places where "good writing trumps all" doesn't apply.

In this case you just have to query until you find the agents for whom these topics are not an automatic no. That's one of the ways I justify my prejudice to myself: there are a LOT of other agents in this biz and if you write well, there is someone for whom these issues aren't a problem. You just have to find them.

52 comments:

December Quinn said...

Good for you for having courage in your convictions.

Those topics are auto-no-buys for me as a reader (with the exception of Andrew Vachss, who is an autobuy). If a book centers on a missing kid and looks really good, I read the end to make sure the kid's found safely before I buy.

I have an issue with this anyway, because it feels like so many authors (not thinking of anyone in particular) use the death of a child as a shortcut to elicit an emotional response from the reader. They can't be bothered to really make us care about the characters or the story, so they resort to cliche.

Not all of them do, of course. But I've noticed it often enough that I refuse to buy the book if a child dies in it.

Anonymous said...

But you liked The Lovely Bones, didn't you? I could swear I read it on your recommendation. I found it heartbreaking, but in a good way.

I guess reading is different than representing, eh?

kitty said...

As a reader, these are strict NO-NOs for me, too.

Anonymous said...

So you'd have declined to represent Nabokov if he'd submitted Lolita to you?

whitemouse said...

So you'd have declined to represent Nabokov if he'd submitted Lolita to you?

Why not? There were publishers who refused to touch Lolita. Nabokov famously had trouble getting the book to print.

If a person is "squicked" (revolted/horrified/creeped out) by something, they simply can't view it objectively, and they cannot like it.

Given that an agent needs to love a book to represent it enthusiastically, it's completely reasonable for agents to refuse to take on books that squick them. That falls into the category of "not right for me", except in a more personal sense than usual.

Bill said...

Would you have turned down Jude the Obscure? And what if it's not a first novel and the author is already signed with you? Would you say 'Sorry, time to get yourself another agent'?

Anonymous said...

I can name you a half a dozen of Mary Higgins Clarke's books that have dead kids in them...One of Kay Hooper's mysteries involve dead kids. There has to be an agent/publisher out there that it doesn't bother.
CJ

Don said...

In the novel I'm writing at the moment, one of the central characters is an archbishop who allegedly seduced my protagonist's mother (and is his father). It's a bit frustrating that members of my reading group kept making references to pedophile priests when referring to this incidence, because it's not in any way what the book is about, nor, for that matter, is there even a hint of pedophilia. I guess I'll have to make a point of making it clear that the mother was over 18 when this allegedly happened (it turns out in the end that she was lying about this).

Anonymous said...

Let her be. Just accept that there are some topics people -- yes, agents are people - don't ever want to read.

Unfortunately, even though I hate reading anything that involves hurting children, I've written just such a book. I don't know why, it just came out that way.

But I do know not to query Jeff Kleinman, I know not to query Kristin Nelson, either. More important I know the agents who are open to this type of book.

Accept it and move on.

dirty dingus said...

Just wondering where the definition of "child" lies. Pre-teens seem pretty clear but is 14 still a child? 16? anything up to 18? Or is it more child as treated by society at the time and/or in the book?

Kim said...

The Lovely Bones was wonderful and I think it had to do with the fact that it was told from Susie's POV. It wasn't just using her death as a plot device, but rather giving a hint as to what it might be like to BE her. The part that really got me was when her dog came bounding into her heaven to join her. I really choked up then (a total wuss am I, I suppose).

For me, it's all relative to my own kids - they're both under 6 so anything with infants to little kids would be out because it touches a nerve that's just a little too close to home. But in ten years, it might be sad, it might be poignant, but I might be able to read it. But for now, I'll take a pass if a young child or baby dies. I don't care how good it is, or how many awards it might have won. It's just not for me.

angrylil'asiangirl said...

i'm no auto-no. the best works i've ever read are those that are twisted and that contain depictions and ideas that do not conform to society's traditional notions of propriety and morality. it's not because i buy into the particular brand of deviant behavior that i read about, but because, underneath the grotesqueness, such works still make an important statement about the human condition, which is what i'm all for trying to understand.

such works that, in my opinion, are rather deviant (meaning most members of society would prefer not to read 'em), include venus in furs by louis von sacher-masoch, bastard out of carolina by dorothy allison, dracula by bram stoker, times square red, times square blue by oh-what's-his-name, and lolita by nabokov. these are not great works of literature merely because they are deviant but because the deviance portrayed bespeaks to something much greater than the deviance in and of itself.

if that makes sense.

so no, i ain't no auto-no.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Torture is an auto-no???

Blast it! Why didn't someone tell me this before?!

Miss Snark, you've saved the day again. Thank you!

jimmy the hyena said...

I think it's nice that a good catholic girl with a streak of sexual sadism like yourself miss Snark has found her way into publishing. All those frigid episcopalian females are gonna hafta watch out fer demselves.

angrylil'asiangirl said...

samuel delaney! samuel delaney wrote times square red, times square blue!

that book is great, by the way.

Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you're talking about. I got stuck part way through Stones in the River, which is absolutely fantastic writing, because it was painfully obvious that the central character, a girl who's a dwarf, was going to be gang-raped. It's too well written. You really get into this girl's skin and I don't want to be there at a time like that. I've had enough pain (although not THAT, thank goodness) to deal with in real life and I just don't want to undergo anything quite that intense, thank you very much.

I wouldn't automatically boycott a book where horrendous things happen, but I just am not going to go through that kind of suffering voluntarily. So if it's in the book, I don't want to be plunged into the middle of it. I made the mistake of reading something like that once and it was years before I could shake it. This is the power of well-written fiction, I suppose, it puts you in the character's skin and you experience it for yourself. It is more immediate and overwhelming in many ways than talking to real-life victims. They don't usually tell the story well enough to make you feel like it's happening to you.

Janet

Dave said...

William Styron, author of Sophie's Choice, died a few days ago. And since the letter mentioned Sophie's Choice, it was pertinent.

Sophie's Choice and indeed all Holocaust literature (Schindler's List comes to mind immediately) bring us face-to-face with the most evil period of the last century. What we see isn't pretty but what we see makes us understand the evil and lets us commit ourselves to good. Reading that book is a matter of being psychologically able to handle the evil and to place it in its proper place. I can gurantee that most of you are unprepared to talk to holocaust survivors in depth about WWII. I thought I was until a woman sat next to me at the symphony. And I was equally unprepared a few years ago when a well educated professinal friend told me that she lost 8 family members in one bombing during the Iran/Iraq war a few years ago. Those situations are topics that you must be prepared to live with, and that is hard. I'm not asking for sympathy from anyone here. I'm merely discussing why certain topics are hard to deal with.

Remember that you don't have to do anything beyond read to enjoy a book with a hard theme, but, but, but...

Being an agent requires that you sell the book and idea. Not only must you believe that the writing is good but you must be able to sell the characters, the situations, and the outcomes. That's not the same as mere reading. The message of the book may be good, however, the agent has to live with that theme and sell it convincingly. Selling is so much easier with certain topics.

When an agent says - I don't represent that or I'm sorry that's not my thing - take them at their word.

Grendel's Dam said...

What about Little Women (Beth dies) or Harry Potter (all that terrible abuse by his Muggle relatives!) And what about Oliver Twist? All automatic rejects?

Anonymous said...

What about Dennis Lehane's Mystic River? Dead kid AND sexual abuse!

angrylil'asiangirl said...

you know, call me dense, but i just realized just how much agents and publishing houses really do act as the floodgates in the circulation of published ideas. sue me for not realizing this before, but i'm a government employee and have been more concerned about keeping the higher-ups from breathing down my neck.

but really, it does explain a lot why most of the literature that is mass produced and stuff are just so poor in content and writing and just utterly so redundant. how many works of romance fiction do we really need out there? and stephen king novels? and all that other horrendous shit? the floodgates will probably say, hey, we're only giving the masses what they want. but perhaps it might be better if they just take responsibility for how they influence the opinions of the people at large by what they choose to print.

ya think??

it's also made me have an "a-ha!" moment in regard to asian-american literature. now, i'm an avidly HUGE cultural studies, post-colonial, race-relations fanatic. and it gets my goat that i can never really find good asian-american lit. at the mass-production level. all that's available is, of course, the de facto asian-american writer, amy tan, and amy tan wannabes, like kim wong keltner, who wrote the terrible dim sum of all things which i thought i would like but didn't. why? because tan and keltner wrote their novels for a white audience. sure, they use asian-american protagonists. but in the end, these characters find salvation and glorious happiness in the arms of white men while submersing themselves in the commodities of the dominant white culture. before now, i reduced these works as just being totally white-washed as i yearned to read literature that questioned white cultural hegemony more and its impact on diasporic asian-americans. but now i see that the authors themselves are not to blame for the lack of diversity in asian-american lit. -- it might also be the publishing houses themselves. they don't want to be selling these things only to asian-americans; they want a white audience to buy amy tan books, too. so how do they work it? make the white guy get the girl in the end after all.

hmmm. . . . i might make this topic of my ph.d dissertation.

A said...

I have a novel which features two of the things on your "auto no's for most agents"-list... Uhm, should I perhaps be -warning- agents about the fact that there are such things in the novel in my query letter, then...? Gah.

Craig Steffen said...

Folks,

She's not saying that she wouldn't read this stuff, ever. She's saying that she wouldn't take it on from a client, because she can't get into it, consistently, enthusiastically, well enough to sell an editor on it.

Robin L. said...

I loved Sophie's Choice pre-kids, but couldn't possibly get through it today. I think Miss Snark has a great point - if it's good writing, some other agent who loves it will pick it up. If your agent squints and can't read key passages of your novel without becoming ill, that's not the agent you want. You want an agent who loves your book enough to sell it really well - not one that doesn't want to read it, right?

frustratedanon said...

"More important, I know the agents who are open to this type of book."

Anonymous, I wish I knew who they were so I could stop wasting my queries.

Because agents like Miss Snark don't list their "eew" topics, we writers have no way of knowing who they are. When we get the form rejection, it doesn't help us.

And to everyone who feels as Miss Snark does about not reading about abuse: the pedophiles love you guys because your refusal to learn more about the subject and bring it out into the open helps to assure that their trade secrets will remain safe within their sick inner circle.

It's catch 22: you can't help protect the kids unless you understand how these guys operate. Myths abound in the media and these myths do nothing but contribute to the abuse and devastation of a whole new crop of kids.

Anonymous said...

But to what degree are these things problems, is what I want to know? If a side character admits in Chapter 8 that she was abused as a child, without significant details included, is that an auto-no? What about a character or characters who lost a child previously if the book isn't about that? I can understand passing on anything that centers on these issues, but is their mention in the context of another story still an auto-no?

shelby said...

Nabakov had extensively published before Lolita, as had many of the other authors sited as the "you would have rejected [name]?!?!11!!!??" I'm going to go ahead and venture a guess here that if Thomas Hardy queried Miss Snark with Jude, she might consider giving it a read-through based on his previous works,despite the normal auto-no.

However, I am not Nabakov or Hardy or Joyce or whoever. I am not published yet. If I'm going to take on a very sensitive issue, I think I need to be prepared for many rejections before finding an agent who is simpatico. As Miss Snark said, they are out there. But it's hardly reasonable to say, "Well you would have represented Jude the Obscure, why won't you consider mine?"

michaelgav said...

Dead kids, predator priests -- these strike me as Great Big literary weapons. Are you writer enough to wield them effectively?

You say Dennis Lehane is writer enough, fine. I won't argue with you. But his book is already out there, and it wasn't his first.

I think the bar for this stuff is almost insanely high. I'm not convinced I'm writer enough to scale it. And it's not as if I don't have stories to tell about people who weren't victimized by their clergyman.

One more thing, and I make no apologies if it makes me sound like I'd rather watch wrestling than worship in the temples of High Literature: You couldn't pay me enough to read a book in which a girl dwarf gets gang raped.

But hey, that's just me.

lizzie26 said...

Ya mean, I can't kill off a few under-18 characters?? I can't send you anything about a nun running off with a priest? (Big headlines in the late '60s. Made the cover of Time magazine.) Aw, geez. You're no fun, Miss Snark! And I was all ready to send a query to uranitwit@wtf.comma

michaelgav said...

frustratedanon,

Come on, I have read extensively on both child abuse and the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. For me to choose not to wade through heavy-handed novels about it (including a LOT in which the victims grow up to become avengers or psychotics) is not the same as remaining willingly ignorant.

You said, "When we get the form rejection, it doesn't help us."

How is that different from any of us who get form rejections? You can find novels that deal with the subject matter you have chosen to write about, and you can find out who represents those authors (acknowledgements pages, Google, etc.) and if you think your piece is really good enough to stand on its own, submit to them. You can also write to the authors of those books and see if you can score an intro / recommendation that way. But both approaches require your stuff to be stellar. Making a whiny catch-22 argument probably won't be enough.

UrsulaV said...

Oh, for pity's sake, not wanting to read books about pedophiles doesn't help them stay safe. I don't particularly want to read books about the Civil War, but that doesn't mean I'm secretly supporting slavery--it's just Not My Thing. I have no interest in the era. I also don't read true crime novels because they bore me, but that doesn't make me a bad person who lets the scary criminals win, and I've got no interest in war stories, but that doesn't make me all for war, and my failure to embrace the Regency romance doesn't mean that I support British occupation of India. Sheesh. Get a GRIP.

It's a BOOK, not a statement of life philosophy on the part of the reader. Reading is what I do for entertainment. I don't believe for a second that it's my civic duty to read about pedophiles so that I somehow "bring them into the open." Heck, I read almost exclusively genre fantasy, and I'd dearly love to hear how books about magical medival priesthoods boffing the pages is somehow going to bring modern pedophiles to their knees.

Not wanting to read a book does not equal condoning the behavior, any more than reading a book DOES condone the behavior. If my not reading books somehow glorifies pedophilia, then what--anybody who doesn't read Thomas Harris is letting the cannibals win?

Let's keep some smidge of perspective here.

Pismo Clam said...

Let's hope our Miss S was talking about gratuituous violence/abuse in genre fiction--stories that mimic those increasingly icky police/forensic procedural TV dramas--the ones that always seem to feature torture and/or serial pedophile/murderers. They often make me turn to a nice English cozy where the violence happens bloodlessly and offstage. Usually to someone who deserves it.

docbrite said...

angryli'lasiangirl, have you actually read any of Stephen King's novels? I have no problem with people who have read him and don't like his work, but I find that a lot of people just assume he's crap because he's a mega-bestseller, which seems incredibly wrongheaded to me -- as foolish as assuming something must be bad because it's obscure/underground. And I don't see how even someone who disliked his work could characterize it as homogenous; he's worked in multiple genres and forms, and over the years he has changed (and, IMO, grown) as a writer enough to piss off those "fans" who'd just like him to keep repeating himself.

So, to answer your question, I'd say we need as many Stephen King novels as he wants to write, and I hope that will be a lot more.

frustratedanon said...

to ursualav - I know I used some big words in my comment, but go ahead, try and figure out what it says. Be brave: put that fantasy novel down and give thinking a shot.

angrylil'asiangirl said...

i was an avid stephen king reader from the ages of 12 to approximately 19. i haven't read his non-fiction because his non-fiction style of writing is actually a bore to me. i probably read his novels up through at least gerald's game twice. and after it a while, things got to be ho-hum. there was that one novel that came out that was about a car that i tried to read. couldn't get into it because it reminded me of a prior novel he'd written about -- what was that called again? so yeah, i got bored. it's still on my shelf in perfect condition.

so that's my honest opinion.

i'd say more but i'm off to vote.

anyhoo, thanks for asking.

docbrite said...

That's cool -- thanks for the thoughtful response. Being an admirer myself, I just get tired of seeing King slammed by people who haven't bothered to read him but know he must be crap anyway because he sells a lot of books.

Thanks for voting, as well. People who do so seem to be the exception rather than the rule these days, at least in my neck of the woods.

Termagant 2 said...

Angryli'lasiangirl, since you don't like what Tan & Wong write, I assume you're writing your own fiction with Asian heroes/heroines etc. If you get honked off enough, you get inspired to do better.

And just FYI, you might want to consider story instead of political statement. If you asked Tan and the other Asian writers, I think they might tell you that the story you seem to want isn't the one they had to tell.

T2

michaelgav said...

It would strike me as a good thing to see "Send me your lewd fuck-filled vulgarity strewn fiction!" on an agent's website.

Make the slush more interesting anyway.

McKoala said...

I can't watch ER if there's an injured child in it. Yet I have just killed off a child in my most recent project. That was the hardest scene to write. I cried while I was doing it. I liked that kid. I knew from the start what was going to happen to him and it was all my fault.

I may not mention it in my query, though.

stoopiditymeter said...

frustratedanon said "And to everyone who feels as Miss Snark does about not reading about abuse: the pedophiles love you guys because your refusal to learn more about the subject and bring it out into the open helps to assure that their trade secrets will remain safe within their sick inner circle."

The pedophiles couldn't give a rat's arse about literary agents or the publishing industry or its readers (sheesh!). And what makes you think a fiction author knows the first thing about pedophiles' "trade secrets"? It's FICTION, ergo, one cannot reliably learn anything about the subject (unless one is the type who failed to read the disclaimer in The Da Vinci Code and thinks they just learned something). One still has to go elsewhere to check the facts.

frustratedanon said...

Dear "Stoopid" -- One can learn a great deal from intelligent, well-researched fiction. Historical novels, roman a clefs and thrillers, to name a few, often have woven into them the results of many years of research and/or reflect the expertise of the writer.

Some novels come with "Teaching Guides" that are used by book clubs and discussion groups because the author's intention was to ignite dialogue on the topic explored in the story.

The writer can adhere to the tenets of fiction by avoiding implausible scenes while incorporating a large dose of fact-based reality.

Stacy said...

I've figured it all out. Sit quietly, listen carefully and I'll explain.

There are three kinds of readers/viewers/audiences out there for imaginative work.

One set wants to be entertained somehow, taken out of their regular humdrum lives by a dashing romance, a swashbuckling tale, a horrifying or wrenching drama. These people will sit through/read LOADS of crap because the elements they need to be swept away are there - beautiful heroine, handsome and brave hero, et cetera. And that's ok.

Another set just wants a good story, well-told. These people don't pay much attention to genre, but there is no room for pure escapist pleasure in their world view. Why read/watch it if it isn't the highest quality? Of course, these people will completely miss the pint of Ong Bak: Thai Warrior, but that's ok.

The third set believes that everything must have a POINT, a PURPOSE, if you will. You've written a novel? Well, what social ill are you addressing? What political issue are you exploring? Does the relationship between the Asian woman and the White man symbolize the battle for power between the East and the West? If they get married in the end, who conquered who? Et cetera, et cetera. And that's ok.

I'm ok, you're ok, everyone's ok. Can't we all just get along?

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

What about UNdead kids? A story where the protagonists are children vampires?

Would that be a no-no for you?

UrsulaV said...

Personal insults, my dear frustrated friend, are the refuge of someone who doesn't have a leg to stand on. I can only assume that if you actually had a refutation of my point, you'd have used it--since you simply decided to insult me, I'll take that as proof that you don't.

Feel free to prove me wrong with an actual refutation, of course. I'll wait with bated breath.

HawkOwl said...

michaelgav said...
Dead kids, predator priests -- these strike me as Great Big literary weapons. Are you writer enough to wield them effectively?


I think that's the problem right there. People thinking that dead kids is something out of the ordinary. Kids die. Lots. Avoiding it and making a big production out of it are both rather unrealistic. The same is probably true of the other "ew" topics, though I've forgotten the list by now.

Anonymous said...

It's a BOOK, not a statement of life philosophy on the part of the reader.

Well said, ursulav.

Kids die. Lots. Avoiding it and making a big production out of it are both rather unrealistic.

People shit every day too, but I don't necessarily want to read about it.

HawkOwl said...

People shit every day too, but I don't necessarily want to read about it.

What a strange repartie. So true, yet so completely beside the point. Kinda like this statement: studies show that most people don't understand the meaning of what they're reading, they just form a vague idea based on their state of mind.

Anonymous said...

Dang, this discussion set off some fireworks .... We do realize, don't we, that all these controversial authors being flaunted at Miss Snark *were* rejected before ever seeing print.

I think some of us are missing the point. Miss Snark said she will not represent stories involving child deaths and so forth. Why? What do you think? Because she can't *like* such a story well enough to approach prospective publishers with that bright-eyed, glowy air of enthusiasm.

That's the end game for agents. They sell books to publishers. And there's nothing less convincing than a salesman who isn't %100 behind his/her product. Personally, I'd rather be rejected outright than end up with an agent who can only stand my story after a dose of Rolaids! ;-)
Best regards,

G. Atwater

ex-ed said...

G. Atwater's completely right. The reason why *anyone* takes on a book is that they like it. It takes a lot of work to sell a book, and no one should have to put that much work into something that makes them uncomfortable.

Not wanting to agent pedophile priest books is like everything else: it might be frustrating for the rejected writer, but the agent doesn't *have* to take on your book just because you want her to, and if she doesn't like it, she isn't the right agent for it anyway.

Guys, you need to keep a grip on that frustration: it bleeds into an attitude that'll put *all* agents off you. Nobody wants to represent an argumentative crosspatch.

angrylil'asiangirl said...

ex-ed and g. atwater --

for my part, i really was responding at a theoretical level. my peeve about people in general is that they don't often go beyond their comfort-zones into unchartered, uncomfortable territory. most -- and myself, too, sometimes, choose to remain safe and comfortable, and in the grand scheme of thing, it just leaves society pretty stagnant. and this is an opinion i have pertaining to most people's attitudes toward everything, not just in the books they choose to read.

for example, i lived in utah for a while. my biggest peeve was that everything on the surface of society there was a bit stagnant. sure, counter-culture life sizzles on the down low, but there's no ignoring that the lds church is in control politically, socially, and morally. i met lots of people there who knew only church teachings and little else, and they often at best had patronizing respect for non-mormons and sometimes non-whites. the anti-mormons were just as bad. all they really knew how to do was bash the mormon church and its disciples. for either side to take a step back away and educate themselves about opposing or in-between viewpoints would be too much to ask. my experience there has just nurtured in me a conviction to never settle into opinions and to continue to learn about things i don't understand and even things i think i disagree with. seriously, life's more fun when you give everything a critical eye and take nothing at face value.

so really, all's i was saying was that maybe i shouldn't blame individuals themselves for their choice to pursue only comfortable topics that don't disrupt their rigid world-views. i'm still young enough, i guess, to believe that we all have a say in society's continuing evolution and that we're not all insignificant automatons. my tentative view, nurtured by this thread, is maybe individuals themselves are not only to blame -- that perhaps publishing houses and their intermediaries have a role in how comfortable american society is in being lazy, comfortable, and stagnant by merely giving the masses what they want instead of presenting and marketing new and challenging ideas. i was merely musing that perhaps they should imbue more importance to their roles as distributors of ideas . . . .

my humble opinion, in the grand scheme of things, is that people have a responsibility to continually find the courage to think outside the box with challenging texts that they may otherwise find too disturbing to read. you have to understand my background -- i've been lucky to have surrounded myself throughout my entire life with people who prize the written word so much. their enthusiasm for reading authors like dante, fowles, bataille, deleuze, spenser, miller, plath has really biased me about the ability of the written word to convey really invigorating insights into the human condition in all its joys and miseries. sometimes this insight can only be conveyed in texts that disturb our sensibilities, that leave us skeptical, that sometimes make us feel nauseous, or yes, that even shoves shit down our throats. sometimes we just gotta get dirty in order to appreciate the feeling of cleanliness. the whole world views the bible as holy. frankly, i've never read the bible. but that doesn't mean i still haven't found a similar sense of holiness from reading other books.

do i still sound bitter or offensive? that really isn't my intent. i sometimes don't have a tactful way of expressing my ideas, so i do apologize if i've offended anyone. miss snark, take me to task if i'm being offensive, please.

(also please feel free to edit, if you think i could've gotten to the point more quickly.)

ex-ed said...

Publishing houses are made up of individuals, girl. They're distributors of books that they like and think they can sell, not ideas; their responsibility is to market authors they think deserve it. If an idea is both challenging and well-done, you know what? Somebody will probably publish it.

Really, don't go into your theoretical principles if you want to get published. No agent is going to respond well to having a stranger tell them how to do their job.

angrylil'asiangirl said...

that's angrylil'asiangirl, if you please. not "girl." i earned a jd and an ma in english lit. by the time i was 24, so i'll damn well get theoretical if i want. and i should be able to do so without others trying to insult or belittle me by calling me "girl."

we'll agree to disagree. i agree with the last half of your first paragraph, despite your seemingly derogatory use of the word "girl." where we differ is in the definition of terms.

for instance, on its face, i would agree with the sentence "[publishing houses'] responsibility is to market authors they think deserve it." where we differ is in how we would define which writers are more deserving. without having read all of your prior comments, it seems that you define "deserving" in terms of the here and now and that you are fine with giving pub. houses full discretion to define what the masses will find appealing, even if it means taking the gluttonous, slovenly route a la william thackeray's vanity fair rather than that of plato's the republic.

that's cool, and i might agree from a financial view-point, but i'm looking to the ultimate grand scheme of things (and notice i can disagree with you without calling you "boy" or "girl"). who's to tell me that it's better to merely consider the here-and-now and not global implications? you? thanks, but, um, no. i'm too much of a scholar first and foremost.

believe me, i'm all for immediate gratification sometimes -- dirty grey goose martinis, a clove cig now and then, excess slothful snoozing, that one-night stand who picked me up at a pub last weekend. . . . but in other areas, i take personal cultivation very seriously. perhaps it's because, unlike most, i don't have religion to fall back on to reassure me of my existence and of my role in the world. what i do have are my books and my ideas. and my martinis.

hmmph.

ex-ed said...

I just typed 'girl' for short, because it was part of your handle. Sorry if that offended you, but it wasn't intended to, I was just shortening a long name to make it clear who I was speaking to, in case other posts appeared between ours. Evidently not as clear as I thought, unfortunately.

When I say 'deserve', I'm talking about artistic merit, nothing more. My point was that a controversial that's badly executed will not get published, an uncontroversial book that's well executed probably will, and a controversial book that's well executed will probably also get published. After all, controversy makes for free publicity; look how big Iain Banks got by beginning with an eye-catchingly icky book ('The Wasp Factory' - publishers printed both the good and bad reviews in its opening pages, to show off how controversial it was). In my experience, controversy isn't the issue: it always comes down to quality.

The 'masses' aren't a stupid herd of cattle. We're talking about the reading public, who are always going to read books because they enjoy them. Some people enjoy controversy, if it's well rendered. Give the public a bit of credit.

And please don't swear.