Mark Terry

Friday, June 20, 2008

There's So Much Wrong Here

June 20, 2008
The Wall Street Journal has decided to shill for a new author (not me). If you follow this link, there's a big story about:

There are a couple things I want to point out about this that strike this particular author as being worth noting.

1. He did everything wrong and still got an agent and a publishing deal. His manuscript was almost 200,000 words. Note to aspiring novelists: despite his success, this is still probably not the way to approach things.

2. He wrote a clever, gimmicky query letter to the agent, rather than a business letter. This has such a huge potential to backfire. Note to aspiring novelists: despite his success, this is still probably not the way to approach things.

3. He actually went and printed up a copy of the book when he took care of revisions that the agent suggested. Note to aspiring novelists: despite his success, this is still probably not the way to approach things.

Now, a few other things of note.

4. There was a more than usual bit of good luck in that the first editor to see the manuscript showed up in the agent's office a short time after the agent agreed to market it. Note to aspiring authors: this is wildly unlikely to happen to you.

5. The publisher has printed up 10,000 advanced copies and sent it out to be reviewed and create buzz. Just for comparison, my print runs for The Devil's Pitchfork and The Serpent's Kiss were about 20% of that, and as I noted in yesterday's post, Midnight Ink printed up 4--count them, 4!--advanced copies for The Serpent's Kiss in their dynamic efforts to promote my work. Note to aspiring authors: this is wildly unlikely to happen to you. You'll have been struck by the Lucky Stick Big Time if you even get a 10,000 copy print run.

6. The Wall Street Journal has written a big freakin' article about this guy along with a color author photo, which will become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that he's already received bigger, splashier promotion off the book page to more people than any of my or my publisher's promotion efforts were able to reach.  Note to aspiring authors: this is wildly unlikely to happen to you.

7. Really, don't you just see luck in all of this, no matter how brilliant the book may or may not be?

8. Okay, yeah, I'm a little jealous here.

Mark Terry


Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Definitely. A LOT of luck. Because anyone who had a bloated book of whatever word count, clearly also had a lot of delusions about how good he was (read: arrogance) . . . and as such . . . yeah, it was a lightning strike for getting a deal, but it does sound imaginative and fascinating.

I have an editor friend who got 11 roses delivered, one at a time, to his office along with a manuscript. Then the author herself showed up to deliver the 12th (it made some sense in the context of her manuscript/title). He bought the book but commented to me many times that he loathed her teachnique and it could have big-time backfired, and he was almost tempted to just throw it in the trash on principle. Sometimes you get lucky . . .


6:16 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

Poor agents and editors are probably going to be inundated with ruses, now.

Sometimes arrogance works, if it's really, really, really backed up. I kind of like arrogant, in-your-face writing that's confident in itself. Don't much like the person that acts that way, but what can you do?

Goethe wrote The Novella. ROFLMAO. The Novella. That kills me.

Maybe you'll get published to fanfare if you write The Novel.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

The article doesn't say how many agents rejected him flat before Simonoff signed him. I wonder about that.

I like these kinds of stories, though. Good for him.

7:36 AM  
Blogger Karen Duvall said...

Read the article, then read the excerpt. Eh, I don't see it happening for this guy. Flash in the pan. Random House is going to lose big bucks on this one.

It will do modestly well just because of the promotional efforts, obviously. But realistically, the book will be too expensive for frugal readers in a depressed economy.

I didn't care for the excerpt, but then I'm not into pedestrian writing and inflated exposition. However, the concept itself is terrific, IMO. Just enough magical realism to lift some eyebrows and have readers make a double-take.

It will be interesting to see where this goes. And I'm real curious about the title. My book is about gargoyles, but not in a figurative sense. 8^)

7:43 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...


Michener wrote "The Novel." Actually, I liked it, although I think Michener had reached a level of success that he no longer had a clue what actually went on in the day-to-day publishing world at the time.

I think stories like these give us hope, although they're sort of similar to the pretty-blonde-gets-discovered-in-the-malt-shop stories from Hollywood. Sure, they happen. So do Lotto winners and getting struck by lightning.

Always the question isn't it? He's got a lot riding on this novel, because if it croaks, they won't follow-up. Of course, that can happen at any level, but I'd kind of suggest he invest his earnings from this novel wisely and don't hold his breath for any future novels. But that's good advice to any writer at any level.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Maria Zannini said...

Business is business and I don't begrudge these authors. But it irritates me that some of the best books I've read were found with no help from New York.

Maybe it's the radical in me, but I hate being manipulated by 'popular' opinion. I have never bought a book just because it's the latest craze.

I make my reading decisions based on two things: the blurb on the back cover and the first couple of pages of the book. If the writing crackles, it should be evident right away. How well I like it will depend on how the story unfolds.

After reading the excerpt I have to admit, it's not my thing. But I wish him well. I hope he puts the money in the bank in case this is another instance of NY making bad business decisions.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

The phrase that comes to mind for me is "Flavor of the Month" but sometimes those work out just fine in the long-run.

There's a part of me that reads stories like this, and of course, as a journalist, you understand that this is a great story, that's why the WSJ is running it. From the novelist in me understands that this is also sort of similar to stories about two-headed goats Siamese twins.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Amie Stuart said...

>>but I hate being manipulated by 'popular' opinion.

Maria me too! (Mark followd your comment from bookends!)

But I have to say, I read the review in PW (the cover is VERY eye-catching) and *despite* the WSJ article I might pick it up--I actually liked the excerpt and found it lyrical and compelling (yet raw). Gosh that sounds...cheesy *g*

8:15 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

With all due respect to Karen her denouncement of this writer was strong, and I think her response illustrates part of the problem when these big hits happen, like The Historian, like any of these "lottery"-type author first-book sale tales. If there was no hype, if you didn't know how much money the guy got, you might (might . . .) read the excerpt and say "not my thing." I actually thought . . . "Hmm . . . I'd read on. I'd give it a shot." BUT, given the hype, I think there is a portion of the population, a big portion of writers, and so on, who will go in either with such HIGH expectations that the book cannot POSSIBLY live up to the hype. Or with such an irritation or a jealousy (you were honest about feeling jealous, hell what writer WOULDN'T want 1.2 million), that they will bend over backwards to just trash the book as if to say, "THIS piece of crap was worth 1.2 million?" So the book doesn't get a completely unbiased read. People bring this hype to the book, this expectation. Karen may be right . . . a lot of people may be lukewarm. He may be a flash in the pan. They may lose money. But there will be, mark my words, a venom when it comes out that is probably not fair--judging him by some bar that he himself didn't set but was the result of an auction or whatever.


9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting idea but I tend to prefer short, quiet and thoughtful books. Wild ideas are kind of like good looks -- they can get your attention but don't necessarily make for a good relationship/read. Obviously, if the publisher is giving away more copies than our publisher prints to sell, the book is going to have significant sales. Doesn't affect what I write.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Granted, I probably won't read it, although who knows. I can remember the title--The Gargoyle--but not the author's name. The subject matter didn't float my boat much, which isn't to say I wouldn't like it, just that I didn't read the bit and say, "Oh yeah, gotta read that."

I wish him luck in my own way. Because, ya know, this business is fickle and brutal and as a lot of us discover, can turn and bite you in the ass with very little provocation.

10:34 AM  
Blogger kitty said...

The agent Jessica Faust did a post today on this subject: An Interesting Thought on "Rules"

I wish the writer well, but his book sounds way too literary for my tastes.


10:42 AM  
Blogger Merry Monteleone said...

I have to go back and read the exerpt, but I have to agree with Erica here, I think it's probably liable to get a lot more criticism (from writers, at least) than the average release. Normally, we're such a helpful lot when we openly talk about other writers work, but when it's a largely touted author, the writer claws come out... and, yeah, I'm a bit jealous myself... but then, big risks can go either way - big payoff or big loss...

I'm still stuck on the fact that he resubmitted a bound book with quotes from rejection letters on the cover... holy crap - he didn't break one or two rules, he broke them all and with a vigor.

But at the end of the day, I have to figure that the writing spoke, and loudly, to both the agent and the editor... otherwise, what publisher wouldn't relish tossing someone this unprofessional in the trash?

12:11 PM  
Blogger Merry Monteleone said...

Okay, I just read the exerpt... I really like it, actually... I tend to like literary and some naval gazing, so take that for what it's worth...

I especially love this line:

Yes that's exactly what love is: a tiny, jittery primate with eyes that are permanently peeled open in fear.

But then I also like the visual of Don Knotts or Steve Buscemi in an overlarge fur coat....

ah well, just my two cents.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Okay. I actually went back and read the excerpt, having missed it my first go-round.

Here's my take. He's a good writer.

But it's the type of writing, dare I say it, the "Jodi Picoult" type of writing, that drives me crazy. The kind where, you know, somebody takes four or five paragraphs to describe what LOVE is like, hammering the damned thing home like a carpenter trying to jam a nail through a knot of oak, no, not like a carpenter trying to jam a nail through a knot of oak, but Harrison Ford, if he hadn't become a superstar actor but had remained a carpenter, working as a carpenter on the set of the Return of the Jedi, hammering a nail, a four-penny nail, with a Sears Ball-Peen hammer, into a two-by-four made of treated lumber bought by the ton at the local Home Depot, building a set for a tree house for the house of the Ewoks, scratching the scar on his chin, thinking, "If only, if only, if only..." in counterpoint to the resonant ringing of the hammer--the Sears Ball-Peen hammer--on the four-penny nail.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Karen Duvall said...

It's definitely a matter of personal taste. Like Mark, I'm not a fan of that type of writing, but I know a lot of readers who are! If I wrote like that, my agent would send me packing, but that's because a) it's not my style; b) it's not my genre.

There are some authors I'm compelled to read no matter what they write because their voice resonates for me. They can write a grocery list and describe the mustard and I'm all over it, totally drawn in. Though I found individual lines in the posted excerpt of Gargoyle beautifully written, it was how they were strung together that didn't work for me. And again, that's personal taste. Reading would be awfully boring if everyone wrote the same way.

12:38 PM  
Blogger kitty said...

karen wrote: There are some authors I'm compelled to read no matter what they write because their voice resonates for me.

I'know what you mean. Nora Ephron is the writer who does it for me.


3:45 PM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

I love her work, too,


6:25 PM  
Blogger MissWrite said...

Mark, I don't know about this guy's story, but your Harrison Ford skit detailing the style had me rolling.

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I generally don't like writing that seems to focus too much attention on the author's writing ability, but, of course, whether a reader senses that or not is probably largely subjective.

10:32 AM  
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