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January 2, 2006

The Thousand Injuries of Fortunato
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:30 PM * 154 comments

It must have been a slow news day at the London Times. They brought out the old standard “test,” where someone retypes a published book and sends it around to various publishers and agents. To what should be no one’s surprise, it’s rejected all over town. “Hah!” say the intrepid reporters who try this stunt. “Editors can’t recognize good writing!”

Publishers toss Booker winners into the reject pile

Jonathan Calvert and Will Iredale

They can’t judge a book without its cover. Publishers and agents have rejected two Booker Prize-winning novels submitted as works by aspiring authors.

One of the books considered unworthy by the publishing industry was by V. S. Naipaul, one of Britain’s greatest living writers, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The exercise by The Sunday Times draws attention to concerns that the industry has become incapable of spotting genuine literary talent.

Typed manuscripts of the opening chapters of Naipaul’s In a Free State and a second novel, Holiday, by Stanley Middleton, were sent to 20 publishers and agents.

And so on.

This isn’t the first time such a thing’s been done. As Grumpy Old Bookman reports when commenting on this foolishness:

A similar scheme was carried out in 1996 by one Kevin Banks, of Colchester, who was actually a journalist on the Sunday Mirror. He sent a chapter of a novel to 10 publishers and asked if they were interested in seeing the rest with a view to publishing it. None were.

“Kevin Banks” then revealed that the chapter in question was a “lightly amended” version of Chapter 1 of Popcorn, which was a current bestseller by the comedian Ben Elton.

Yet another similar exercise was undertaken in France, in the summer of 2000. A famous French television presenter had written a novel which was published by a leading firm called Plon; the book was a great “success”, in that the author was interviewed widely, made lots of personal appearances, and the public was persuaded to buy a large number of copies.

The magazine Voici decided, however, that this novel was less than interesting, and that it would never have been published at all had it come from an unknown author. Voici typed out the first chapter of the book and offered it, under a pseudonym, to every leading publisher in France. None of them accepted it, and none recognised it as the season’s hit—including Plon, which had published the book in the first place.

Then there’s this one from 1975, concerning the Jerzy Kosinski novel Steps (widely mis-reported as concerning The Painted Bird):

In 1969, the well-known writer Jerzy Kosinski published a novel, Steps, which won the National Book Award. In 1975, a freelance writer named Chuck Ross was convinced that unknown writers just didn’t have a chance to have a novel accepted. To test his theory, Ross typed out the first twenty-one pages of Steps and sent them out to four publishers, using the pseudonym “Erik Demos.” All four rejected the sample. In 1977, Ross typed out the entire book and, again using the name “Erik Demos,” sent it to ten publishers and thirteen literary agents. One of the publishers was Random House, which had originally published Steps in 1969. The manuscript was neither recognized nor accepted by any publishers or literary agents, including Random House, which used a form rejection letter. That made twenty-seven rejections for a book that had won an important literary prize!

The film world isn’t immune from this sort of experiment either:

In the 1980s, [Casablanca’s] script was sent to readers at a number of major studios and production companies under its original title, Everybody Comes To Rick’s. Some readers recognized the script but most did not. Many complained that the script was “not good enough” to make a decent movie.

So, why is it that published works are routinely rejected when intrepid reporters submit them?

Books are rejected all the time, and “poorly written” is only one (though one of the most common) of them. See, for example, the list the lovely and talented Miss Teresa posted at Slushkiller:

2. Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.

10. The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.

(You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)

11. Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.

13. It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.

Yet other reasons include “We’re already publishing a similar book/we’ve run out of money to acquire more books/we’ve filled our schedule for the rest of the decade.”

Over at Scrivener’s Error, Charlie Petit finds numerous formal problems with the experiment, including sample size and failure to conform to submission guidelines. In brief, it’s poor science.

Our Genial Host, Mister Patrick, in commenting on this experiment, says (in another place):

I’ve seen some variation on this chestnut every year or two for the entire twenty years I’ve been working in the industry. Granted, this is a particularly thorough version, culminating as it does in a fine kids-today-don’t-know-what’s-good rant from Stanley Middleton. (And their music! It’s just noise!)

It’s not my job as an editor to decide what’s “worthy” of publication. It’s my job to find and acquire books that Tor can do a good job of publishing. I’ve passed on some very good books for which I felt we weren’t the right house.

I also haven’t read every well-regarded novel in the English language, and some of those which I have read I would certainly have rejected if they’d been submitted as new work to Tor in 2006. So the gotcha! aspect of this stunt also fails to impress.

But that isn’t the biggest problem with this experiment. The problem is that what’s a positive result isn’t defined.

Suppose one of four possible reactions from the editor:

  1. This book sucks; I wouldn’t buy it in a million years.
  2. I love this book! Alas, we’ve already filled our inventory.
  3. I love this book! Alas, it’s a literary slice-of-life story and we only publish splatterpunk horror.
  4. You son of a bitch! That’s In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul and you totally plagiarized it!

What’s the editor do in all four of those cases? He or she reaches over and grabs a pre-printed “Dear contributor: Your work does not suit our current needs” note, shoves it in the SASE, and sends it back.

The reporter seeing the response that meant “You son of a bitch! That’s In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul and you totally plagiarized it!” writes his story to imply the editor said “This book sucks; I wouldn’t buy it in a million years.”

Suppose you are an editor trying to fill an anthology. One day, reading slush, you find a story that you instantly recognize as “A Cask of Amontillado,” from “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could,” straight through to “In pace requiescat!” Do you really want to get into a lengthy correspondence with someone who may be a nutjob, a guy who thinks he’s E. A. Poe’s reincarnation? Who might sue you for mental cruelty for suggesting the work wasn’t his? Do you want this guy to start stalking you? Do you want to get Legal involved? Or do you just reach for that pre-printed form? I don’t know about you, bucko, but I know what I’d do.

Alas, I fear that Charlie Petit’s predictions will come true:

  • On or before 15 February 2006, one of the recognized “self-publishing gurus” not otherwise affiliated with a publisher will cite this work as “further proof” that self-publishing a novel is a viable alternative.
  • On or before 15 February 2006, a branch of a major vanity publisher (more than 5,000 titles in print this century) will do the same, probably while mislabeling its service as “self-publishing” and using a name different from its recognized vanity-press parent.
  • On or before 15 February 2006, a major writers’ conference will cite this “experiment” as part of a program or panel purporting to tell authors how to do better themselves.

Google

Comments on The Thousand Injuries of Fortunato:
#1 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2006, 10:55 PM:

What the experiment really is, is a meditation on the notion that submitting manuscripts for publication isn't for wimps. :)


-l.

#2 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2006, 11:06 PM:

Far from "concerns that the industry has become incapable of spotting genuine literary talent," what the experiment proves is that the system works as designed: Plagiarized books aren't bought.

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2006, 11:10 PM:

A more useful exercise would have been submitting the manuscript to a literary agent and seeing how and where the agent placed it (if he or she didn't rumble the trick first, which is likely).

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2006, 11:15 PM:

Okay, so the opening chapters of Free State and Holiday aren't engaging enough to escape rejection. V.S. Naipaul and Stanley Middleton might reasonably feel chagrined about this news, but I don't see why the British publishing industry should feel embarrassed.

I have a great idea. Let's typeset and retitle the texts of some terribly worthy novels, have them made up into fake bound galleys, and send them round as review copies to the same publications that have pulled the "submit a book by a well-known author" stunt. When they fail to review these books, or review them unenthusiastically, we'll do a round of finger-pointing and sneering at them for being such undiscerning clods.

Whoops, forgot. We're not in the business of generating lightweight thumb-sucking feature stories about the scandalous state of literacy today. We just do the best job we can of publishing the best books we can find. The Fourth Estate is safe for now.

Since we also don't have the time or resources to find out how many of the journalists who pull these stunts are frustrated at having had books rejected by publishing houses, the Fourth Estate is doubly safe.

Yoo-hoo, London Times? Fishwrap. That's all I've got to say to you: fishwrap.

Anyway.

At a Tor slushkill a couple of years ago, I spotted a manuscript submission as a retyped version of E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros. That's a swell book, but it's not for everyone. It was reissued as a paperback in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line during that post-Tolkien period when there was a tremendous appetite for epic fantasy, but very little epic fantasy was being written. These days, if it were published as a first novel in a fantasy series by an unknown author, it'd go down in the scrum.

I sent back a note saying "Swell book, but it's in print from [another publisher]." They never wrote back.

Buncha doofuses. How dumb do you have to be to use E.R. Eddison for a stunt like that? Do they think we don't know our own genre? Eddison has one of the most recognizable styles in fantasy.

#5 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 12:24 AM:

I've been seeing various statements about the necessity of an agent to get a manuscript read at all. Most of the comments I remember seeing here suggest getting an agent after a publisher makes an offer, on the grounds that it's a lot easier to get an agent to pay attention to real money; Petit quotes the Times as saying most large publishers don't accept unagented manuscripts from unpublished authors. Is the genre market different? (Or does the Times consider genre publishers not-large, or ...?)

#6 ::: Wim ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 03:48 AM:

It's my understanding that most books, even books that turn out to be best sellers, aren't accepted by the first publisher that they're submitted to. If that's true, and if you approximate publishers as stationary (that is, they don't recognize old works, they don't respond to changing marketability of different things), then of course an already-published book would often be rejected if re-submitted to publishers. Nothing surprising there.

#7 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 04:42 AM:

I don't know. Every publisher says the same thing: that they spend their days slogging through vast piles of cr*p in a despairing search for the occasional glint of true gold. That they'd give anything for more nuggets, and that of course they'd know one if they saw it.

Vast piles of cr*p there may be, but for the rest, I remain unconvinced.

#8 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 07:20 AM:

They were right about Steps the second time.

#9 ::: Per C. Jorgensen ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 07:49 AM:

I believe someone did that a little while ago here as well, with two short stories by Knut Hamsun. Most publishers rejected the short stories, a few pointed out that this is Hamsun, and a few pointed out some literary tics and suggested stylistic changes. This last reaction caused some mirth amongst the journalists reporting this. Well, it could always be that Hamsun, while often a gread read, is not that great a role model in all aspects.

There is another stunt that has been done by different writers times in several European countries (I do not know if anybody has done something like this in the US), which is to write deliberately cranky or silly letters to political parties, big firms, branches of government, etc. etc. I read the Norwegian version, and it was singularly unfunny. Except for a few slips where the person responding was a trifle too enthusiastic, the vast majority of the responses were just polite but reserved form letters of the kind big firms and the goverment send to unsolicited offers and advice. It seemed to me that the letter writers thought it hilarious just to get an answer at all.

When it comes to slush piles, I had a friend who worked for a Norwegian SF magazine in the 70s, and who once commented that some of the most boring stuff he had to read was written by people who thought that they would sell simply by writing "soft" or "literary" SF (as that was the kind of SF usually translated and anthologised by the larger publishing companies). He claimed to still shudder when he thought about how bad bad "Bradbury" or bad "new wave" could be...

#10 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 08:34 AM:

One also wonders what the magazine writer(s) intended to do if their submissions were accepted. I just can't come up with any way to phrase "Oh, sorry, I was using someone else's work without permission to trick you!" that isn't going to cause some...issue.

#11 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 09:45 AM:

I've read The Worm Ouroboros., and the opening chapters were a monumental work of drudgery to get through.

#12 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 10:21 AM:

I'm with Arthur D. Hlavaty ... the 27 editors who rejected Steps showed excellent taste.

Steps got published because it could have the words "By the author of The Painted Bird" on the cover. That's why Steps won the National Book Award too: That was the folks who vote on such things saying "Oops! Sorry we missed the good one...."

#13 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 10:47 AM:

Doris Lessing did a harder core version of the experiment--she published two novels under the pseudonym of Jane Somers. They went pretty much unnoticed until they were republished under her own name.

This may suggest that the reading public either isn't any better at recognizing good writing than the editors are, or that both are equally hypnotized by big names.

#14 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 11:18 AM:

The number one reason anyone buys a book is that they read and enjoyed a previous book by the same author.

It's quite understandable that Doris Lessing found that folks didn't buy as many Jane Somers books as they would if the same words had come out under her own name.

#15 ::: RiceVermicelli ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 12:18 PM:

I have a lot of respect for the Doris Lessing version of this experiment, and none for the retype and resubmit version. Lessing discussed the purpose of her experiment in the intro to the edition of "The Diaries of Jane Somers" with her own name on the cover. The idea wasn't to prove that publishers are dumb, it was to prove that publishing is difficult, and that it really is phenomenally difficult for a new writer to be either published or noticed. Those things are true, and it was nice of Lessing to take her lumps as a newb for a second time to make the point.

At least, I think it was nice. I don't know how her agent felt about it.

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 01:38 PM:

Look at this from the perspective of an aspiring novelist (or other writer): You *know* you've written a masterpiece, and all you're getting are rejections from boneheaded editors who couldn't tell their arses from their elbows. You're going to see a story of this kind as a vindication -- the bozos who read manuscripts really are bozos, and therefore you really are an unsung genius.

(I should note that the only book I've had published so far garnered quite a few rejections before I found a publisher who'd take it. That's not unusual in academic publishing. I ended up with three potential publishers and went with the one who answered first.)

#17 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 03:46 PM:

I am biting my tongue (and whimpering slightly from the pain) because this very week I've received my first "just what were they thinking?" rejection of the year.

The book is number two in a series of a supernatural spy thriller pastiches, written in the style of various famous authors of spy thrillers. The non-Anglophone publisher who bounced it had already published the first in the series. It has sold to American and other publishers, so it can't be that awful. It was explicitly pitched to the publisher in question as doing for Ian Fleming what the previous book did for Len Deighton. The book was rejected. The cited reason for turning the book down: "this reads like a James Bond movie."

Yes: most of the time, editors know what they're doing when they turn a book down. But then, just when you think the publishing industry is a safe, sane place to work, they reject your Ian Fleming pastiche for being too like James Bond, or your SF novel for having talking squids in space in it.

#18 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 04:14 PM:

So how does one explain the opposite of the Doris Lessing experiment? One of my favorite mystery writers published a sf novel under a pseudonym, which I picked up and put back down again, not being a big fan of postapocalypses. Then the bookstore owner told me who the author was. Lo and behold, she'd copyrighted it in her own name. I was told that her (editor? agent?) wouldn't let her put her own name on the cover, since of course she's a mystery writer, and by branching out she'd alienate both mystery and sf fans. Was the bookstore owner pulling my leg? If not, how can any publishing professional be so stupid?

#19 ::: Shalanna Collins ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 04:37 PM:

Don't worry too much about this experiment. People will put the interpretation they prefer on the results. They may have "read somewhere" that Bestseller A was rejected 20 times, but the idea of taste and likes/dislikes doesn't really register. They don't understand that part of getting your book published is being lucky enough to connect with that agent/editor who does "get" your book. They think that the work itself "is good if it gets published, and must be crappy if it never does." I believe there are other factors, but the people reading those articles, for the most part, don't. They feel that a book is crap, or it's not. It follows that the writer is either a no-talent, or is a "real" one who has sold a book. (I speak here of non-industry people.) Conversely, they think that any book that got published must be what a book is supposed to be.

I wish the industry still *could* use different rejection letters. It used to be that I constantly got "not right for us" letters or letters saying that the schedule was filled through the next two years. For the past couple of years, though, I've gotten "we simply did not love this enough" or "in this competitive market, it did not have that extra spark." So perhaps there *are* different form letters (possibly all meaning the same thing--"BORing.") But rejectomancy COULD become a real discipline if rejection letters noted which condition holds. Maybe the crazies and newbies wouldn't know the diff between the "we don't publish fantasy" and "our list is full" letters and the "this is not ready for prime time" letter, but everyone else could figure it out, and that'd be helpful. You might not need a rewrite, a workshop, a blowtorch to correct a novel that came back with an authentic "our list is full" rejection. Out here on this end, one never really knows whether it's a waste of postage to keep sending the novel out.

O'course, that would take too much time and would mean that some percentage of recipients would write back to argue with editors. You're not in the business of telling me anything about my work, and you don't have time to do it, so that probably won't happen. It used to happen as late as the mid-1970s when my cousin had an editor basically working with him through two drafts SANS promises or contracts (he'd get letters with advice about revisions, and he'd revise, or he'd send a new book, and another letter with more advice came back.) But the world was different then. That editor wasn't working under the pressure of the bottom line all the time. I suppose the important thing is not to encourage the crazies and the hopefuls who will read all kinds of promises into other kinds of rejection letters.

>>The number one reason anyone buys a book is that they read and enjoyed a previous book by the same author.

This is true for me. On the other hand, often I pick up books by writers whose names I don't recognize. And my husband is notorious for never remembering authors' names; he can't even remember J. K. Rowling. He says he has just as much luck finding books he likes when he goes out and randomly grabs one that he hasn't read that is out from a fantasy imprint, so he doesn't bother to remember authors' names (this leads to many "discussions" in our household, but to no avail--I can't bring him around to the author's POV that it's the most important thing on the cover.) So if that number one reason isn't there--Connie Willis hasn't published anything in a while--I have to go and find something based on reading a few snippets from the middle of the book and getting a feel for what it's about. I usually check to see whether the author knows when to use the subjunctive, and I make sure there are a few semicolons--properly used, of course. Because style affects my ability to continue hearing the author's voice in my mind (I can't stand clunky prose, but I'll stick with a great voice and wait for the bang-boom-action to begin--if it does--so long as there are clever turns of phrase and interesting sentences), this works for me. *grin* I don't read for plot/story so much as I do for the vicarious experience, the feeling of being in someone else's life/thoughts. But then I am not typical.

#20 ::: Shalanna Collins ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 04:44 PM:

TexAnne, that's part of "branding." The thinking now among marketing people is that you will encounter readers who won't read a "grown-up book" by "a YA author," even if the books are quite different. You'll see readers who won't pick up a mystery or even a mainstream novel if it's by "a romance author." This leads to lots of pseudonym use, it seems. The "plus" of having a known name is made into a "minus" when you are writing something that's not like the last thing you wrote (and thus it may not appeal to the same readership.)

Much credence is given to the idea of "branding"--meaning if you pick up a Janet Evanovich novel, it's going to be a Stephanie Plum or another chick crime novel that's a humorous/hardboiled cross. I tried using the argument that Carole Nelson Douglas writes both mystery and fantasy, but she's already written the "breakout novel" that made her a NYT bestseller, and that means she's a brand unto herself and doesn't have to worry so much. Though if she did a legal thriller, her fans who picked it up might be upset and disappointed, having expected the tone to be similar to that in her other books.

I don't think like marketing gurus. But they know how to make a lotta cash, so we defer to them. No one ever went broke underestimating the capacity of the public for being manipulated and actually "getting into" being manipulated, after all.

#21 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 04:48 PM:

OK, Shalanna, I suppose I can blame marketing morons, who from all I've heard have never read a book in their lives. But don't they take into account people like me? I'd buy that author's grocery list--but if that bookseller hadn't drawn my attention to her Sekrit Identity, I'd never have bought the book.

#22 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 04:50 PM:

TexAnne: your mystery writer using a pseudonym for SF was just being cautious about their sales. Consider: they've probably got a good following in their home turf, but on the SF shelves nobody knows them. It follows that their first SF novel is therefore not going to sell anything like as well as their n'th mystery. If they use the same name on both streams, it will therefore look (to a brainless wholesale ordering database) as if their last book bombed, and when it's time for their next mystery, the advance orders will be adjusted downwards to take account of the poor sales of the previous book. Using a pseudonym sidesteps this problem.

Shalanna: if I remember correctly, one of the big SF mags (Amazing? Back in the day? Under George Scithers?) used to have checkbox rejection sheets, with the commonest causes for rejection ready for the editor's pen to tick. (Getting a scribbled sentence at the bottom of the form letter was good -- it meant you'd gotten past the routine filters.)

#23 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 05:31 PM:

On the other hand, it is possible for a good writer in conventional areas to be terrible at SF. I seem to remember Agatha Christie writing a mystery where the crucial point hinged on, err, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide being the same thing.

And I seem to remember Walter Mosely being much worse at SF than at mysteries, although I could be wrong. .. and that sets the bar pretty high. (Curse you, Amazon, and your capitalistic cunning! He has a sequel to Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned!)

#24 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 05:36 PM:

"Dear Writer: You spend an awful lot of time talking about the minuteae of your not-too-eventful life. A little of that goes a long way, and you say you have three novels worth. Thanks, but you need more editing than we have time to give you. Best regards..."

"Dear Writer: Is this a joke? It starts in the middle of a sentence, and just about every word in it is spelled wrong. Some of it looks like it might be puns, but it's so unrelenting, any humorous effect is lost in the shuffle. We handed this from one editor to another until everyone here had had a turn at it, and decided it doesn't mean anything. You may wish to self publish in the future. Best regards..."

"Dear Writer: You need to work on consistency of style. The book starts out atrociously, full of misspellings and with no punctuation to speak of, yet by the middle it reads like a college treatise before inexplicably once again sinking into grammatic hopelessness. Perhaps showing your manuscript to an English teacher before sending it out would be beneficial to you. Best regards..."

#25 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 05:58 PM:

Kip, I've got the second and third, but can't figure out the first. Proust, maybe?

#26 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 06:41 PM:

My guesses (for Kip):

1) Erzrzoenapr bs Guvatf Cnfg
2) Svaartna'f Jnxr
3) Sybjref sbe Nytreaba

ISTR that even a world-famous author had substantial difficulty getting #2 published, and I'm somewhat dubious that #1 would be profitable to publish today - or much-read - if it weren't already considered a "classic".

#27 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 06:45 PM:

#2 is difficult reading for most people - I've met that one. Wordplay in several uncommon languages --!

#28 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 09:04 PM:

I know what #1 would be if it were seven novels (they're sitting behind me as I type). But three?

#29 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 09:40 PM:

On a subject related to the Lessing experiment...

I had thought Jack McKinney had a familiar voice when I read Kaduna Memories, but I didn't realize why until much later: McKinney was a pseudonym for the partnership of two other writers I had already come to like, Brian Daley and Jim Luceno. They later went on to write a huge pile of franchise fiction under that pseudonym, none of which I've bothered to read (I don't like the specific franchise, and I have little interest in franchise fiction generally).

I understand it's common for successful writers to adopt pseudonyms when they're hired into teams for development of a franchise. Under the name Jack McKinney, I suspect those two guys sold a lot more books than they did writing separately under their own names. On the other hand, the books they wrote under their own names were a lot "better" in my view (simply by virtue of not being tied to the lame conventions of a lame and lamer franchise).

A publisher, of course, would naturally have a different opinion about "better" than me. That's as it should be. I think that's basically the nut of this discussion. Everything else is just whinging.

#30 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 09:47 PM:

Pope Clifton writes: "2) Svaartna'f Jnxr"

Nope. That's #3. #2 is Hylffef.

#31 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 09:52 PM:

And, of course, #1 is N Cbegenvg bs gur Negvfg nf n Lbhat Zna.

#32 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 10:06 PM:

Don't you mean Hylffrf? And I got that one wrong; I thought it was Qunytera.

Oh well, one out of three ain't bad.

Except it is.

#33 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 10:20 PM:

Damn, you're right. I misremembered which was which. #2 is Svaartna'f Jnxr.

#34 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 11:49 PM:

Though if she did a legal thriller, her fans who picked it up might be upset and disappointed, having expected the tone to be similar to that in her other books.

This is the problem that John Grisham had, isn't it? The risk in his publishing A Painted House under his own name was that fans of the legal thrillers would pick it up and then be disappointed - and presumably would then be less inclined to pick up his next book. So goodbye to bestseller status. I was just reading the Varieties of Insanity thread, and presumably "I won't use a pseudonym: my fans will go on forever buying anything with my name on it" qualifies there too.

There are people like TexAnne, and me, of course, but we don't tend to be the market that makes bestsellers. On the other hand, I suspect Grisham was fed up with writing legal thrillers anyway.

#35 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 01:42 AM:

Xopher writes: Don't you mean Hylffrf?

Yes. That will teach me to take the shortcut and transcode manually rather take the extra time look up how to do "echo $1 | tr 'A-Za-z' 'N-ZA-Mn-za-m'" Yes, I suck.

#36 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 02:03 AM:

I do almost all my non-technical/professional writing under pseudonyms of various sorts. It started because an editor wanted me to have a less "ethnic" name. I kind of liked it, because it gave me a way of branding myself -- at the time I was writing for a wedding rag, a travel magazine, a fashion magazine, and a computer industry weekly, and life felt very fragmented.

Some time later, I discovered that it gave me a way to write articles speaking in not so polite terms about people near to me without any obvious connection to be made between my nom de plume and myself. Sometimes, that's worth a lot to me, especially now that those articles are all indexed online.

Also, I like my name, but nobody seems to be able to say it right, and I always figured that if I got nominated for something or had a death sentence placed on me by some middle eastern despot, I'd like to not cringe in my secret bunker every time the news anchor mangled my name. Authors have to think of these things, you know.

#37 ::: Jenny K ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 03:32 AM:

"The thinking now among marketing people is that you will encounter readers who won't read a "grown-up book" by "a YA author," even if the books are quite different"

Which is why I find it interesting that not only does Carl Hiaasan have multiple adult and young readers novels all published under the same name, but that the look of the books are fairly similar: sparse with bright pastels (is that an oxymoron?)

Although I suppose in some ways crossover between adult and kid books is easier - less risk of fans thinking they are getting something they aren't.

#38 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 06:26 AM:

Block those apostrophes, people. James Joyce didn't put an apostrophe in the title, and neither should you.

(Neil Gaiman did put an apostrophe in the title of Worlds' End but he put it in a different place than most people expected.)

#39 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 07:45 AM:

j h --

In vim, type the string; go to the start of the string; g?G will rot-13 the whole thing. (Well, any movement command. w for words, ) for sentences, } for paragraphs, and G for 'end of document'.)

Simpler than fighting with tr. :)

#40 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 08:53 AM:

I find myself in a very confused state of mind over this. I can't believe that any modern publisher in hir right mind would agree to take the aforementioned Irish romance, if it were presented as an unknown manuscript by an unknown author today.

The trouble is, I think that decision would be perfectly correct, on the level I live on where I revile that book. But then I have to accept that, however much I would like to reach into its pages and throttle its author with my bare hands, chortling to myself as I enjoy his risible little gurglings and squeakings, I must acknowledge that many people consider that book to be a great work, and that a publisher's decision to reject it would therefore be wrong.

But I think that would be the decision. Do I hear rebuttal?

#41 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 09:05 AM:

The rebuttal is that that book wasn't published as a first book by an unknown Irish writer the first time around.

Nor would those who laud it today as a great book do so absent the corpus of other works by that same Irish writer.

#42 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 09:31 AM:

Anyone who has the Dec. '05 issue of Locus can see Megan Lindholm/Robin Hobb's take on the pseudonym thing. As a reviewer, I've been fooled by it a few times (not always happily), but Those in the Know enlightened me before anything got into print.

Brief moment of horn-tooting for the mag's collective review staff: while all tastes are personal (and can vary extremely in the Recommended Reading stage), we do try to give some sense of what a book is like, as a potential help for readers who have never heard of/ wonder if they should catch up with the writers and books we review. [End of horn-tooting.]

As for that Irish guy, I had no problem with the previous "controversial" book, but have tried and failed to get more than a few pages into his most radical experiment. The French guy (in English) was much easier to take.

#43 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 09:31 AM:

I am of the opinion that greatest of a work must be judged without connection to the author's corpus, unless such a connection is explicitly made in the book.

#44 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 10:18 AM:

Charlie, thank you. That makes the most sense, especially since I know a very talented fantasy writer whose fourth book came out the week of 9/11 and tanked. She's still struggling with the aftermath.

I've not tried the Irish guy recently, but I love the French guy (in French, anyway). I like him especially because there's no plot;* I can just float along on his prose.

*Bu, nyy evtug, gur jvaare bs gur Nyy-Ratynaq Fhzznevmr Cebhfg Pbzcrgvgvba vf: "Znepry orpbzrf n jevgre." Juvpu vf gur bayl hfrshy guvat V yrnearq va zl tenq yvg-pevg pbhefr.

#45 ::: Dan R. ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 12:07 PM:

An old meme,indeed.
I remember an Umberto Eco piece (in either "How to Travel with a Salmon" or "Misreadings" [aside: I don't have the Google-fu to search on Eco's works]) where several classic works, (including two of Kip's I'm pretty sure) are rejected. Much merriment.

#46 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 12:33 PM:

There are tons of Rot-13 en/decoders available online. I like this one because it Rot-13s as you go. It uses Javascript, though.

I just Googled "Rot-13" and chose from among the many.

#47 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 12:53 PM:

So, Casablanca's script wasn't good enough? I guess it goes to show that who speaks the lines does make a difference. Would the movie have been one of my favorites (and funniest) if they had stuck with Reagan instead of Bogart?

#48 ::: Elisa ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 02:41 PM:

James, only three of the seven were accepted for publication in her lifetime; I think that's why only "three" in the rejection letter.

#49 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 02:43 PM:

Elisa: "Her" lifetime?

#50 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 02:51 PM:

Graydon: And emacs has M-x rot13-other-window.

#51 ::: Elisa ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 03:44 PM:

TexAnne, forgive a newbie to these shores--I believe we are speaking of a beloved female English novelist born 1775. I have not penetrated the secret of why her name (or any of the others to whom Kip wrote rejection letters) cannot appear plainly here so I won't write it, which means I may still be mistaking who it is. But it seems that James and I, at least, are thinking of the same person, and thus my reply about three of her seven works. If that's who Kip meant, that's the reason for "three."

#52 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 03:54 PM:

Elisa: aha! We're talking about two different novelists here. The reason we're being coy about naming names is that we don't want to spoil the fun for people who haven't figured it out yet. The odd-looking remarks are ciphered in rot13 (which may be cut-and-pasted into http://www.rot13.com).

#53 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 04:04 PM:

In my case, I'm thinking of a male; but I may also note that my casual check of the shelves put me off by one "novel": one of the novels is split across two volumes. So six novels; or six formal volumes in one novel; or seven actual volumes in one novel.

A completely different answer, also male, would follow from "twelve" as the number of novels.

#54 ::: Elisa ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 04:22 PM:

Live and learn! Thank you both.

#55 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 04:55 PM:

The "controversial" book by that Irish guy was first published by a friend of his who set up a publisher just to do it. Probably something similar would happen today. People who revile it might never even hear of it. (I used to like it better than I do now -- now I don't have the patience to stop every three sentences and look in the dictionary. Maybe that's a symptom of aging -- life's too short.)

#56 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 06:55 PM:

James: OK, I'll bite...who's your pick?

#57 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 08:38 PM:

"Dear Writer: No reader is ever going to buy a novel which concludes that human beings are really embryo gods, protected from an alien threat by the adult divinities that emerge when we die."

"Dear Writer: No one is going to read an adult sequel to a children's book, much less one that's got two more volumes."


"Dear Writer: We have better things to do than publish a work that draws its plot from an 18th century historian."

#58 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 09:30 PM:

On looking into this in more detail, I find that the volumes/novels vary even more than I had thought.

The author, major work is (obviously, given the general length)

Cebhfg, N Yn Erpurepur qr Grzcf Creqh.

It looks as though two volumes (Nyoregvar qvfcnehr and Yn Cevfbaavrer) are sometimes treated as one volume; contrariwise, Yr Pbgr qr Threznagrf is sometimes split into two for publication purposes: all of which means that a count can run from eight to six novels/volumes. My shelves have the volumes broken up into eight; the site I used for quick research this afternoon refers to six; I did accurately remember that the one volume was divided into two by the publisher of my edition (Folio).

The work in twelve volumes is Cbjryy, N Qnapr gb gur Zhfvp bs Gvzr.

#59 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 09:45 PM:

Whoops! Sorry not to poke back in sooner. I used three instead of seven because it's in three volumes on my shelf. I guess they had to buddy up a little bit. Sort of like the two books in each book of the Lord of the Rings, only different.

It didn't occur to me they weren't dead obvious from the get-go. I hope nobody was really in much suspense because of mistakes I made that made them less clear-cut.

Fragano: That's actually what I had in mind. Everybody write some! Even if Umberto Eco did it in an anthology somewhere (and probably wasn't the first, anyway). If we limit ourselves to things nobody has ever done before, well, we won't succeed and we won't have any fun. (Note: I can't figure out any of these, but when somebody spills the beans, I'll say "oh yeah...)

I miss having Rot-13 built in. Calling up a website and copying into windows alwys seems like it's going to be work (but isn't, really, so there ya go), though I could see that Clifton Royston got them off the bat just by counting the letters (and that naughty apostrophe) in his answer.

#60 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 09:46 PM:

...and if we retyped 2001 and submitted it. "Dear Writer: The market for "alternate past" novels is a tiny one. Sorry..."

#61 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2006, 09:49 PM:

Thanks, Kip. I'll leave one hint, they're all from the 40s or 50s.

#62 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 09:01 AM:

Dear Writer: We regret to inform you that we do not feel that your novel meets our needs at this time. While the protagonist is appealing, the American market for a story about a British private school is miniscule, and the fact that this volume is clearly only the first of a many-part series further dampens its appeal.

#63 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 09:09 AM:

Dear Writer: Nobody will buy a book in which the narrator is a lying bastard. Also, what's with the recipes?

#64 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 12:09 PM:

I seem to remember Agatha Christie writing a mystery where the crucial point hinged on, err, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide being the same thing.

Wasn't that John Dickson Carr? The one in which the impossible crime was achieved with a quantity of lethally toxic, quick-acting, dry ice?

#65 ::: Niall ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 12:17 PM:

A quick Google suggests it was the Dickson Carr mystery _The Case of the Constant Suicides_.

#66 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 12:20 PM:

Well, carbon dioxide will displace oxygen.

#67 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 12:51 PM:

In my childhood, I'd buy a box of books [well, my parents paid] from the book fair in August and consume them at a rate of about five a day.

I read this book during the summer, so it is possible that what I remember as Agatha Christie may have been something else entirely.

#68 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 01:29 PM:

Fragano, #2 rang in while I was doing something else just now. I got Carrie's. TexAnne's has me stumped. Maybe I don't get out enough.

#69 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 02:28 PM:

Dear Writer: Nobody will buy a book in which the narrator is a lying bastard. Also, what's with the recipes?

Huh. If it weren't for the recipe part, I'd think it was Gur Zheqre bs Ebtre Npxeblq...

#70 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 02:44 PM:

Carrie: Nope. More recent and not British.

#71 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 05:48 PM:

Carrie: All I can say is that the publisher in that case would be potty; if I were that publisher the position I'd be in would be truly hairy.

TexAnne: It happens that there's a 'novel', if that is what it is, by the German author of potboilers, Johannes Mario Simmel that fits that description.

Kip: I expect you have. :)

#72 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 06:21 PM:

Fragano: no, I wasn't thinking of a German book either, though it sounds like fun. My choice is a modern work of fantasy, or possibly sf if you read (between the lines of) later installments.

I'm still stumped by your first and third. The third in particular sounds like it would be right up my alley. More hints?

#73 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 06:24 PM:

"I just Googled "Rot-13" and chose from among the many."

I am not that old yet. Gotta keep telling myself that. I am not that old.

(I can't believe I didn't think to Google for that. Kill. Me. Now.)

#74 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 06:24 PM:

TexAnne: Fragano's #3 has (historically speaking) two written versions of different length and was done as a movie under a different title.

#75 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 06:37 PM:

There's a novel based on Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire? No, surely not, but that's the only 18th-century history I can think of. I know I'm going to *facepalm* when you tell me. Oh no...there isn't a movie based on Sbhaqngvba, is there? If so I shall run screaming into the night.

#76 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 07:44 PM:

TexAnne: Looks like you got that one. Unfortunately, I can't think of yours. The Simmel book (and I can't remember the title for the life of me) was pretty awful (among other things, a benign, indeed avuncular, J. Edgar Hoover, was one of the characters), but it had recipes interspersed in it, all related to different stages of the action.

PJ: I second TexAnne's point!

#77 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 07:49 PM:

Carrie: Vs vg jrer Gur Zheqre bs Ebtre Npxeblq, gura gur erwrpgvba yrggre jbhyq unir fnvq "Qrne Jevgre: Jub'f tbvat gb ernq n abiry jurer gur aneengbe gheaf bhg gb or gur ivyynva."

#78 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 09:24 PM:

CHip, there's an amazing amount of misinformation out there about literary agents. There's even more misinformation about the likelihood of an unknown writer getting published.

Wim, I think that if you totted it up, the largest single category of "who publishes books" would be "the same publisher as the previous book by that author."

Dave Luckett, Patrick found Maureen McHugh's first novel, China Mountain Zhang, in the slushpile. I did the same with Stephan Zielinski's Bad Magic. Have we occasionally seen books we've rejected get published by other houses, and on a few occasions be nominated for or win major awards? Sure. Any editor who doesn't isn't being nearly picky enough. And you know what? When they won awards, we still didn't like them.

Per Jorgensen, New Wave and Bradbury knockoffs have intolerant failure modes. They're fine when they work. When they don't, nothing saves them.

A general comment: Okay, here's the deal. The packaging of an author's books -- and I don't just mean the covers, I mean the entire idea and presentation of what this author is about, as embodied in the physical packaging -- is something we construct. It's an expert piece of work. So is the process of acquainting the public with this author and his-or-her work.

Do books fare less well when they're tossed out into the world with no protective cocooning of explanation and presentation? You betcha they do. And what does this prove? It proves that my industry isn't a scam from top to bottom. It proves that we're doing something real for our authors and books.

Let me invoke your reader-minds. Imagine you're standing in front of the Great Wall of Paperback Slots, literally hundreds of books on display in front of you. This is reader-mind territory.

Now imagine that there are a couple of rather awkward and recondite books right in front of you. One's by no one in particular. The other's by an author whose vivid and memorable earlier books you read and enjoyed, for certain values of "enjoyed."

Wouldn't you give the book by an author you know a lot more leeway than a similar book by an unknown? (The answer is "yes," by the way. We know this because statistically, that's what you do.) What this means is that Steps by nobody in particular is in fact less saleable than Steps by Jerzy Kosinski, author of The Painted Bird.

#79 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 10:00 PM:

Fragano et al.: I goofed. I tend to read series all in one gulp, which made it difficult to remember when the recipes started showing up. I'll amend my entry thus: "Dear Writer, Nobody is going to want to read about the adventures of an ex-restaurateur who is also a lying bastard, and whose sidekick is funnier than he is."

#80 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 10:06 PM:

TexAnne: You've got me; I don't recognize that one. But there are a lot of books I've never read.

#81 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 06:34 AM:

And those who use Firefox can get an inline extension called Leet Key. Highlight, right-click, select rot13.

#82 ::: Paul Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 07:10 AM:

TexAnne's tale of recipes and lying bastards is Oehfg'f Iynq Gnygbf frevrf.

Dear Sir, Thank you for submitting your murder mystery for our consideration. While we are interested in publishing your work, we feel that two changes are vital:

1) The murderer's identity should be concealed until much later in the novel.
2) A madman with a Napoleon complex is something of a cliche; this needs to be replaced with something more original.

Please let us know if you feel you can make these changes.

#83 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 08:30 AM:

Fragano: Good point.

Paul: That would explain it; I've never read those. Would someone care to suggest where to start, if "publication order" is not optimal? (And if it is, what's the publication order? :)

Dear Writer, While we're delighted to see you writing for us again, only the first few chapters of your latest offering appear to meet our needs. We are also mildly puzzled by the metamorphosis of a harmless trinket into an evil artifact, and by the way that the last book's useful but limited mentor-figure suddenly becomes almost superhuman.

Dear Sir: We are not in the habit of being so blunt, but you need to tone down the MarySueness of your main character--for Heaven's sake, her only flaw is a lack of aptitude for higher math, and she has a cute furry pet! Also, the attention paid to superfluous details such as number of missiles fired borders on the pornographic.

#84 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 08:59 AM:

OG: I confess to my ineptitude. I can see where they talk about Leet Key, but I can't see any way of downloading it. What do I do now? The download link just takes me back to the page with the download link on it, and so on. I'd like to use it!

#85 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 09:24 AM:

Paul: Bingo!

Carrie: Ooh, you lucky girl, you get to read them for the first time! Publication order is best. And I like your #1. Is #2 Ubabe Uneevatgba?

PJ: Seriously, were you kidding about that movie? Please announce the title so that I may avoid it like the plague.

#86 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 09:32 AM:

Kip: Try the extension download area at Mozilla itself. But be careful; it's easy to lose large chunks of time there sifting through the toys. :)

#87 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 09:34 AM:

Omigosh, a couple I know! Carrie S.'s first one is Oehfg'f Iynq Gnygbf frevrf, and her second is Qnivq Jrore'f Ubabe Uneevatgba obbxf.

--Mary Aileen

#88 ::: Paul Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 10:37 AM:

Publication order is best (Vlad Taltos)

I agree, though chronological order (or as near to it as you can get) makes an interesting way to reread them. Carrie: the first book in publication order is Jhereg, also available in the omnibus Book of Jhereg along with Yendi and Teckla.

#89 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 10:51 AM:

OG: Vg jbexf, gunaxf!

#90 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 11:09 AM:

Am I the only one who's tempted to write a series of parody novels with a main character called Ubabe Uneevatgba? The first one would be called Ubabe, U. But I can't write a novel even WITH my Cylert...

Dear Author, thank you for your submission. I'm afraid that even with the warning at the beginning, your cookbook is too unconventional for us. Moreover you seem likely to end up in prison, given some of the activities you describe between recipes.

#91 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 11:11 AM:

Carrie's first one is Gur Ybeq bs gur Evatf. No one appears to have mentioned that yet.

#92 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 11:39 AM:

"Dear Sir: We are not in the habit of being so blunt, but you need to tone down the MarySueness of your main character--for Heaven's sake, her only flaw is a lack of aptitude for higher math, and she has a cute furry pet! Also, the attention paid to superfluous details such as number of missiles fired borders on the pornographic."

I love the series, but. . .you're not wrong.

(You left out "She can eat as much as she wants and not gain weight.")

#93 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 12:30 PM:

TexAnne: Yup, that's her.

Paul: I'll look. I'll bet the library has 'em.

Xopher: Yep. I think someone else did that earlier, but I wanted to expand a bit.

Sandy: You left out "She can eat as much as she wants and not gain weight." Actually, I think I blocked that bit from my memory. :) Tried to build Ubabe as a GURPS character once. I think I gave up when she hit 300 points. (ST+2 DX+2 IQ+2 HT+2. Unaging. Ally: Avzvgm. Ally Group: a whole bunch of people who're reasonably powerful in their own rights. Patron: The Queen. Two different kinds of Military Rank, two different kinds of Social Status. Charisma +4. Strong Will, at least 3 levels. Beautiful. Catfall. Voice. 4 or 5 Talents I can't remember right now. Some implanted cyberware. Skills out the wazoo, including a number of lower-than-TL skills. Versus Minor Secret (Genie), a fairly restrictive Code of Honor, Hazardous Duty, and a couple of Enemies. And apparently a Dependent in the latest book which I haven't yet read.)

Does anyone else think that Ubabe Uneevatgba would make a wonderful alien name? Very StarWarsy.

#94 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 12:34 PM:

"Dear Writer: It is hard to imagine that anyone other than elderly natives of Florida would be interested in this book, and even for them it might be too controversial. Also, you seem to be attempting to conceal the fact that nothing important happens, by introducing a large number of extraneous digressions and unnecessary details. Didn't anybody ever teach you not to mention a detail unless it conveys some significance? Finally, the ending is especially vague and unsatisfactory."

(I feel like I'm cheating, because people have reviewed this book in pretty much exactly those terms.)

#95 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 01:08 PM:

Carrie S. You forgot Incredible (or do they call it Unbelievable?) Luck. And I must have stopped reading before Ubabe became a Genie. Or acquired one. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

#96 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 01:09 PM:

Oh wait, Genie is the name of the cute furry pet she's not allowed to have. I forgot that part. That's to make the books sell to 13-year-old girls.

#97 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 01:15 PM:

When I joined Sams around 1990, I was digging through the office supply cabinets, which were mostly full of the detritus of the old-school engineering editors who'd recently retired or been laid off. In a box full of half-used gum erasers and broken binder clips, I found a self-inking stamper that printed the single word REJECTED in blood-red ink. Kah-chunk!

As a young copyeditor, this struck me as so psychopathically coldhearted that it sat on my desk as a kind of macabre talisman, like displaying a human skull or a knife that once belonged to Jack the Ripper.

#98 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 01:37 PM:

...and after reading slush for a year, you inked it up...with poison! Right? :-)

My dad once satirized the members of an academic organization to which he belonged by writing a limerick about each one. I can't remember the entire poem about the editor of a journal, but the middle two lines were

As papers collect,
I stamp them 'REJECT',
It was in the middle of a money-laundering scandal, so he did the whole thing as a Senate "data-laundering" investigation...whatever else I may think of him, he's one clever and witty man, me da.

#99 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 03:25 PM:

Xopher: You're right, I did. She probably has several flavors of luck, at that.

And, oh yeah, Resistant to Disease and whatever it's called when you're familiar with a number of different gravities.

And "genie" is Ubabeverse slang for "person whose genes have been modified"--hence the +2 ST, +2 DX, etc etc. :)

#100 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 04:34 PM:

Dear Writer:
Please make up your mind. Is the secondary character male or female? Our readers like to form gender-based bonds with the characters, so please. And what's with all the cold? That's just too drear.

Back to the beginning:
Dear Writer:
Your "stories" don't seem to have much plot? What's the point? And couldn't you pick happier people to write about? And maybe have at least two stories connected by one or more charatcers?

#101 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 04:41 PM:

jhlipton: and 'How about some winter sports and apres-ski parties to hold the reader's interest?'

#102 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 04:54 PM:

Forgot to mention to Per C. Jorgensen
There is another stunt that has been done by different writers times in several European countries (I do not know if anybody has done something like this in the US), which is to write deliberately cranky or silly letters to political parties, big firms, branches of government, etc. etc.

There's a fellow who does this in the US (printed in Funny Times mag -- well worth the cost). At first, it appeared that the responders had no idea what he was doing, but now most go along with the joke, showing there is at least a marginal sense of humor in the largest companies and organization.

#103 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 06:21 PM:

Am I the only one who hasn't read the Ubabe Uneevatgba and Iynq Gnygbf series? Surely I can't be the only person who hangs out here who has read Revp Senax Ehffryy'f novel Fragvaryf sebz Fcnpr. Hmm.

#104 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 09:11 PM:

Teresa, we shall not quarrel over whether the publishing industry is (your words) 'a scam from top to bottom'. I take the word 'scam' to mean 'a conscious fraud on the public undertaken for profit'. Of course it isn't that.

And we shall not quarrel over whether editors, from time to time, find gems in the slushpile. Of course they do. That they more often (far more often) reject other gems - that being defined as "books that could be successfully marketed to their organisation's profit and the enhancement of their own, the writer's and their organisation's reputation" - is, however, also a fact, as you admit. No quarrel there.

Nor shall we quarrel over whether a book that is actively and expertly marketed will usually do better than a book that isn't. Of course it will - usually, barring those prodigies that somehow or other strike a chord with public taste and, once out there, couldn't be stopped. (You are of course well aware that this effect doesn't necessarily have much to do with the intrinsic worth of the book, and when it occurs, often does so to the astonishment of all concerned. Except possibly the authors, but what would they know?)

But I suspect we are going to have to disagree on the interpretations of these admitted facts. I would interpret them to imply that a selecting editor with access to adequate marketing skills has the power to make or break nearly any marketable book (barring the prodigies above) and hence, any author whose work is marketable. And that this power is essentially used capriciously, based purely on the personal likes, dislikes, tastes and mental habits of the editor. And that these likes, dislikes, tastes and mental habits are intensely fallible guides to the actual marketability of books.

But the industry is based securely on one undeniable fact: that there are many more marketable books submitted than could actually be published. This makes the rejection of marketable books inevitable. Does that necessarily imply that only the most marketable books get published? With respect, and subject to further data of which I am not aware, I beg leave to doubt it.

#105 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2006, 09:35 PM:

And that this power is essentially used capriciously, based purely on the personal likes, dislikes, tastes and mental habits of the editor.

If so, then whether a marketable book gets accepted is random, which in turn means that a book rejected by a sufficiently large number of editors has a virtually zero chance of being marketable.

Sounds like a good system to me.

#106 ::: Benja Fallenstein ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2006, 06:00 AM:

Especially because using the editor's likes and dislikes rather than some abstract criteria keeps the editors sane...

#107 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2006, 08:53 AM:

The number of marketable books, whether expressed as an absolute number or as a percentage of all manuscripts, however, is low.

I'd contend that there are more publishing slots open in a given year in the legitimate press than there are good books written in that same year.

#108 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2006, 09:06 AM:

People talk about marketable books being published - or not. But what IS a marketable book?

#109 ::: Malcolm Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2006, 09:36 AM:

Dave Langford wrote:
>Wasn't that John Dickson Carr? The one in which the impossible crime was achieved with a quantity of lethally toxic, quick-acting, dry ice?

James D. Macdonald wrote:
>Well, carbon dioxide will displace oxygen.

Of course CO2 is toxic; the CO2-O2 exchange in the lungs doesn't work if the partial pressure of CO2 is too high. Bad things start happening around 5%, with unconsciousness and death from around 7-10%. This is not a displacement effect, it works by affecting the chemical equilibrium.

That's why CO2 scrubbers are needed e.g. in spaceships.

Perhaps JDC did exaggerate the speed of action slightly, but ... it doesn't take very long without working oxygen intake for people to die.

#110 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2006, 11:59 AM:

"If so, then whether a marketable book gets accepted is random" emphasis added.

I'd suggest haphazard, though some publisher's office may be chaotic.

#111 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2006, 12:07 PM:

Well, the conclusion I have drawn from the various discussions about writing and publishing in this blog over the years is that attempting to get published is not worth it, and it seems that this is the same conclusion these faulty experiments were designed to elicit.
I think the sweetest rightness in the world must be being right when one is wrong. Them newspaper folks sure got it good.

#112 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2006, 03:21 PM:

bryan:
attempting to get published is not worth it

For some folks, writing is their love, their life, their passion. They must write, or die. For them, attempting to be published will always be "worth it", no matter what cost "it" is.

Whether these folks should be published is a totally separate matter.

#113 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2006, 09:55 PM:

It occurred to me belatedly that one of the interesting things about this "test" is that it gets used by different journalists, writers, and righters of wrongs to prove two more or less opposite theories, viz:

  1. The books which get published nowadays and win literary prizes are a bunch of crap which should never have been published at all, because their publishers were so eager they just published some random tripe; and
  2. Not even great, brilliant, prizewinning books can get published nowadays, because publishers are so tight-fisted now they won't publish anything no matter how brilliant you are.
It all depends on which axe that particular individual has to grind - are they inclined towards the aggrieved would-be critic's stance or the aggrieved would-be writer's stance?

Any test which allows one to simultaneously "prove" two opposite theories can reliably be assumed to have something a bit wrong with it.

#114 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2006, 10:54 PM:

However, if you put those phenomena in other terms, you would expect both of them to occur if the selection process were very unreliable. One would expect to see many errors of both types.

Books would be published that die off the press. Books would be refused that end up selling well for other publishers of the same type of book. Books would be published that every discerning reader would decry as utter garbage. Great books would languish unread. At least the first three effects are often seen. The last is by its nature far more difficult to observe, but that is just as one would expect.

In fact, I don't think anyone disputes that the selection process is unreliable. But how unreliable?

There are statistical methods for determining whether a test for some quality is better than random, and how much better it is. Surely someone, somewhere, has applied these methods to the selection of books for publication. Surely?

#115 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 12:21 AM:

The foremost error in reasoning which my analysis should have suggested, which I believe you are falling into as well, is the belief that there is any such a thing as a single objective standard of Greatness or Goodness in books.

If there isn't some objective standard, and if each individual is forced to rely on his or her own best judgement of what he likes and dislikes, then might it not be that the whole hunt to determine whether potential great books are being mischieviously persecuted by inadequate editors is a bit misguided?

By the way, I hold that properly prepared asparagus is the greatest vegetable of all time, and any restaurant's failure to serve asparagus (prepared to suit my objective standards) should immediately bring them under the harshest scrutiny. Ditto for dark chocolate desserts.

Sounds a bit strange when you express similar sentiments about food instead of books, doesn't it?

#116 ::: elizabeth bear ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 01:53 AM:

Sandy--

The sequel to Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned is the _other_ half of Les Mis retold in South Central.

And yes, it is also good.

Socrates Fortlow 4evah!

#117 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 02:02 AM:

Clifton: I believe that you have exactly inverted my argument. I want to steer well clear of any question of anyone's personal taste when it comes to assessing books: mine, yours, or the tastes of acquisitions editors. All of these I regard as capricious, and I am perfectly well aware that my tastes are quirky and downright sentimental, however fiercely I own them. In fact I have no great respect for anyone's opinion of what constitutes a great book, including my own. But all that is irrelevant.

The only taste that matters is the collective taste of a given segment of the paying customers. It follows that the function of an aquisitions editor for a publishing house is to predict that taste.

The question is, how effectively is that predictive function performed, by the industry as a whole? What data I have seen leads me to suspect that over the whole industry, the predictive ability of acquisitions editors is better than chance, but I continue to entertain a certain pessimism as to how much better it is.

#118 ::: elizabeth bear ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 02:10 AM:

Laura--

That's not Wbua Q. ZnpQbanyq'f Genivf ZpTrr obbxf, is it?

jhlipton--

Number one is Hefhyn X. YrThva'f Gur Yrsg Unaq bs Qnexarff. *g* Only saved from being Znel Tragyr Tbyqra Jvgpuoerrq by the snow.

Number two is everything I read for class in junior year of college.

***

Dear Writer--

May I note that your prose clunks, your narrative doesn't, your plot is improbably, and your characters aren't? Also, people in 16th century London didn't generally swill single malt Scotch from pocket flasks. Just saying.

#119 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 04:05 AM:

The only taste that matters is the collective taste of a given segment of the paying customers.

I can't see why that would matter to anyone who doesn't own a publishing company. Nor do I think it's necessarily the most important factor even if you do. If all you want to do is make money, there are surely far easier ways than publishing. Many publishers seem to have as their goal something more like "let's put out great books and try not to go broke," and I doubt that even more commercially-minded publishers get that excited about putting out books they don't like.

What's more, you're assuming that publishers are equally adept at marketing books whether they're excited about them or not, which seems unlikely to me.

I think Clifton Royston's restaurant comparison is quite apt. Who'd want to open a restaurant where the chef didn't like his own cooking, and who'd want to eat at such a restaurant?

The question is, how effectively is that predictive function performed, by the industry as a whole?

I don't know, but: I've read a fair amount of unpublished and self-published books, and while some of them were worthwhile for one reason or another, I can't think of a single case where I was surprised that it didn't find a publisher, nor of one that became a personal favorite. At this point I'm willing to believe that if a book can't find an editor to champion it, it probably needs work.

On the other hand, many of my favorite albums are self-published. I can only conclude that the book industry is doing a better job of finding stuff that I like than the music industry.


#120 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 06:59 AM:

"For some folks, writing is their love, their life, their passion. They must write, or die. For them, attempting to be published will always be "worth it", no matter what cost "it" is."

See, I had not realized that published was a synonym for writing.

#121 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 07:03 AM:

'By the way, I hold that properly prepared asparagus is the greatest vegetable of all time, and any restaurant's failure to serve asparagus (prepared to suit my objective standards) should immediately bring them under the harshest scrutiny.'

hmm, but you're not so great a fool that you would suggest improperly prepared asparagus is the greatest vegetable of all time. There may in fact be some standard for judging the preparation of asparagus that you are not willing to contravene.

#122 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 07:09 AM:

Now I hold that improperly prepared asparagus is just fine, improper preparation includes leaving out to rot like witch's food.

#123 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 09:06 AM:

Tim, you seem to be saying that editors do not and should not consider "the collective tastes...of the paying customers" when selecting books for publication. Anyway, you appear to believe that publishers in general are not much interested in making profits and that professionals engaged in sales and marketing must be excited before they'll do their jobs at maximum efficiency.

If those are your insights, I am most unhappily compelled to state that they are not consistent with my own experience.

#124 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 12:32 PM:

Dave, it's not that "the collective taste of a given segment of the paying customers" is irrelevant: no publisher wants to publish a book and not sell any copies. It's that (a) that isn't the only thing that's relevant--the taste of the editor is also relevant, for example and (b) it leaves too many open questions, including what the "given segment" is and whether the set {people who will sometimes pay for books} can be usefully divided into consistent or predictable subsets. If person A buys a book because they liked the author's previous book, B buys it because the cover art caught their eye, C buys it because it's sitting on the front of a stack at the airport and their flight has been delayed by three hours, and D buys it because they have to get their mother-in-law something for their birthday and mistakenly think that she likes fantasy, you'd go crazy trying to figure out what book to publish next to get those four people to buy it. B might move into category A, if they like the book--or they might buy a completely different book with a similar style of cover. C is completely unpredictable, or at least hopes not to have their flights delayed that often, and D's mother-in-law may actually tell him that he guessed wrong and it went to the library book sale. Or just mention her fondness for something else, and get tea cozies with hippos on them for her next seven birthdays, give up, and quietly donate everything to the nearest charity shop before running off to be a missionary in Ghana.

Yes, there are groups of people who buy kinds of books, but it's almost a recursive definition: the only way to identify, say, Sue Grafton fans is if you see them reading her books. That probably goes double for John McPhee, because it's true that readers who like one series detective may like others, but it's harder to identify or promote "writers like McPhee."

#125 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 01:02 PM:

Tim, you seem to be saying that editors do not and should not consider "the collective tastes...of the paying customers" when selecting books for publication.

No, I don't seem to be saying that. "Not necessarily the most important factor" doesn't come close to meaning "do not and should not consider."

And if sales and marketing professionals don't need to be excited to do their jobs with maximum efficiency, then sales and marketing are unlike every other human activity. I'll allow as they probably have techniques for psyching themselves up in the absence of unforced excitement.

At this point I've lost track of what you want. First you complain that the book purchase process is driven by caprice. Now you say that, "most unhappily," it's driven by profit.

What would your editorial policy be? How would you do better? I've already mentioned what I would do if I ran the zoo--put out books I liked while trying not to go broke. This would almost certainly mean that I couldn't put out everything I liked, and probably that I would need to put out some things I thought were just pretty good, but I'd probably do better financially, and certainly do better emotionally, than if I based my decisions purely on my undoubtedly lame estimates of what other people would like. It's actually quite difficult to guess which generic piece of art is going to excite lovers of that genre, and removing one's own gut feeling from consideration doesn't make it any easier. The only technique I'm aware of is to copy what's currently selling--but while people will sometimes go for that, what they really want is something new that they didn't know they liked. You can make a living selling Terry Brooks, but it's much better to find the next Tolkien. And when The Lord of the Rings was published, the senior editor gave permission thus: "if it's a masterpiece, go ahead and lose #1000." Words to live by.

#126 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 01:03 PM:

Vicki:
C needs to get and carry a copy of Le Guin's Changing Planes. They need never be bored in an airport after reading said book.

#127 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 01:53 PM:

You can make a living selling Terry Brooks, but it's much better to find the next Tolkien.

I should qualify this by saying that the only Brooks I've read is The Sword of Shannara, which is an unabashed Tolkien clone. I don't know if this is typical of his work. For all I know he's doing underwater Oulipo poetry these days.

#128 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 02:02 PM:

The only technique I'm aware of is to copy what's currently selling--but while people will sometimes go for that, what they really want is something new that they didn't know they liked.

True also for computer games and TV - what tends to be produced is clones of what has been selling. Then the powers-that-be wonder why the clones don't do as well as the original did. (Maybe in their universe people never get tired of the clones.)

#129 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 06:42 PM:

Dave Luckett, in this comment:
Anyway, you appear to believe that publishers in general are not much interested in making profits ... I am most unhappily compelled to state that [this is] not consistent with my own experience.

you seem to be making the same mistake one writer made, when he tried to insist to other writers that they had to be in it for the money. if they weren't in it for the money, he claimed, they would self-publish, or not publish at all, or be happy to give away their stories to small free magazines.

Of course writers and publishers *Want* profits. It's not the same thing as being in the job to make profit.

Anyhow: Teresa had one comment at VP9 that seems deeply relevant: IIRC,t he commentary goes roughly like so. Whenever the company is bought by another corporation, the new people in marketing look at their profits, and say, "You know, it looks like most of your money is made by this tiny handful of bestsellers, and the rest barely scrape by. Is there any way to sell only the bestsellers?" This tends to get the editorial staff laughing, as the obvious answer is, "If we could, believe me, we would."

The key question has been asked, however. What cirteria would you like editors to use in choosing books that is better than their own combination of personal taste, knowledge of the market within their genre (which tends to include at least a vague idea what other readers might get behind), knowledge of their own publishing company's quirks regarding marketing, and knowledge of writing in general? What can you use?

And I'm with the people who say "Chaotic, not random." The difference may be subtle if seen from outside.

#130 ::: Archibald McTrent Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 10:20 PM:

Oh come on. You editors wouldn't know a work of genius when comes across your desk. Why, just last year I mailed you my 1456 page m.s. (Remember REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS LOST? Think that only brighter, flashier, more tea cups that reminds the narrator of things lost) called ZOMBIES 2: LOST IN SPACE.

Of course, you foolishly rejected ZOMBIES 1: WOKEN FROM THEIR GRAVES AND THEY DON'T HAVE THEIR HAPPY FACES ON THIS MORNING, which every one of my friends heartily recommended to you. Its genius was charting how free enterprise would one day beat the undead pinko commies in putting a man on the moon! You rejected that?!? When it wins every major, I bet you'll come begging for the next magnum opus!

(By the way, ZOMBIES 3: ALL IN A DAY'S WORK AT THE WAYSTATION is wending your way in its very own UPS truck.)

#131 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 10:51 PM:

Tim Walters:
For all I know [Terry Brooks is] doing underwater Oulipo poetry these days.

I believe his next title is Sodomy for Dinosaurs!

#132 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 11:27 PM:

Writers always want publishers to use some sort of objective measure to choose books -- so the writers can write to that measure and get published. Unfortunately, the world of creative ventures is rather unlike math class. You can get the answer dead-on right and still be all wrong.

#133 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2006, 11:37 PM:

Of course, you foolishly rejected ZOMBIES 1: WOKEN FROM THEIR GRAVES AND THEY DON'T HAVE THEIR HAPPY FACES ON THIS MORNING,

That'll be news to Stephan Zielinski.

#134 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 01:02 AM:

Tim: You said: "I can't see why (customer's tastes) would matter to anyone who doesn't own a publishing company."

I took that to mean that you thought that it shouldn't matter to selecting editors (who are employees, not owners, of publishing companies). I beg your pardon for this misunderstanding.

I'm saying that publishing is a commercial enterprise, and the taste of a given segment of the paying customers should be far and away the single most important consideration but it often doesn't seem to be, and that editorial taste is, instead. You seem to be saying that's fine. I regret that I disagree, in principle. I am prepared to entertain arguments that it's the best available criterion, but would do so reluctantly, and not without asking questions like "exactly how good is it?", "by how much does its prediction rate differ from chance?", and "has anyone tried anything else?"

Vicki: Why do you think that "the taste of the editor is also relevant"? Why should it be?

The origin of the purchasing decision in the mind of an individual customer is imponderable, true. But what is unpredictable in the mind of the individual is predictable for a large group. It becomes a matter of statistical analysis. I have no doubt that this is applied to books, or else they would be unique among all goods offered for sale. But I wonder to what effect, because I do not know.

I have heard of that managerial response to the decision to publish "Lord of the Rings". It happened fifty years ago or more, when most British publishers were, like that particular one, small family companies. Their owners were from a class and set socialised from the cradle with a particular attitude to business, money and trade, viz that one's business was one's vocation, because merely making money was vulgar, and therefore that one's business decisions were not made with that criterion uppermost in mind.

That situation had its deleterious effects, certainly, and the very existence of such a class was no doubt deplorable. But two facts: it could and did throw up effects like that; and it is now gone forever.

Lenora Rose: Of course nobody does anything for only one reason. There is no one simple cause, in the mind of the individual, for any action. But publishing companies, bar the smallest of small presses, are (now) nearly invariably corporations. They are usually owned by large numbers of stockholders, and these stockholders are often in turn owned by large numbers of other stockholders, and the only common denominator among all these people is a wish (eventually) to profit by their stake. It is actually illegal, I believe, for the directors of a corporation to act (positing the law, common prudence and a reasonable duty of care) to any other end.

What criteria would I wish to apply? I wish I knew. I know that the ones that actually are applied are very poor predictors of success, either critical or commercial. The point I wish to make is simply that they are very poor predictors, differing no doubt from chance, but to a degree that I do not know. I want to know.

Teresa has acknowledged that the publishing industry survives on a handful of bestsellers, and the rest struggle along, as you say. I have seen a report to the effect that about 55% of fiction titles return a profit (eventually) to publishers. I have looked, but can find little other data. I want to know.

Why do I want to know? Why shouldn't I want to know?

#135 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 05:18 AM:

" should qualify this by saying that the only Brooks I've read is The Sword of Shannara, which is an unabashed Tolkien clone. I don't know if this is typical of his work."
It's not, his other works are Sword of Shannara clones.

#136 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 07:43 AM:

Dave Luckett: Vicki: Why do you think that "the taste of the editor is also relevant"? Why should it be?

Editing's a bit more involved than grammar- and spell-check. If the editor doesn't much like the book, chances are they'll make a good book bad, and a bad book worse. At best, it's unlikely to end up any better than when it arrived in the mail.

None of these outcomes increases the book's chances of paying its way, let alone scooting up the bestseller lists. So if the goal is to publish books that sell, a publisher who pays attention to editorial tastes and opinions has a better shot at staying in business.

#137 ::: Sandy/NJ ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 08:35 AM:

Ubabe does have "20th level character" syndrome. She's got three pet dragons, an' a golf bag full of rods, spells, an' wands, an' a castle, an' another castle, an' a cybereye that shoots real lasers! An' she can kill you with her mind!

But she got most of those things by levelling up over the series. (Some serieses have protagonists who clearly level up, while others do not- it's an oddity. It can't be "caused by RPGs" entirely; Luke Skywalker levels up, for instance.)

As for the starting package, I've met people who are just what a friend of mine referred to as "your basic Better Person." Ubabe is one of those.

#138 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 09:41 AM:

Consider the editor to be a sort of surrogate everyman. Just as public opinion polls ask only a few people but generalize to the population, the editors are but a few who generalize to the population.

Consider too that the statistic about 55% of books earning a profit is a false one. That (and other, similar, statistics) derive from the percentage of books that earn out their advances. In fact, a book will show a profit for the publisher long before it earns out.

#139 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 11:05 AM:

Sandy/NJ: she's "leveled up" to the point that, in my gaming days, we called "unplayable." There's no fun anymore; she just wins. And the worst thing about those books is: she usually doesn't win by DOING something clever; she just wins by BEING a Better Person.

Contrast her with Zvyrf Ibexbfvtna, who is a Better Person too...but who is continually plagued by doubts, makes at least one huge mistake in EVERY book, and is always DOING. Every solution is an action; virtue alone cuts no mustard.

Also, the villains in general are not so clearly evil-for-the-sake-of-evil. In fact, in some of the stories the villain is never onstage at all; it's all about the interactions between the people on the SAME SIDE.

Ubabe can kill you with her mind? Wow. I'm glad I stopped reading that series when I did.

#140 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 11:10 AM:

elizabeth bear said:

That's not Wbua Q. ZnpQbanyq'f Genivf ZpTrr obbxf, is it?

No, although I find the comparison fascinating. They both have a whole lot of Good vs. Evil. Mine is a single book, not a series.

#141 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 12:52 PM:

Consider too that the statistic about 55% of books earning a profit is a false one.

Even if it were correct, that's much better than the music and film industries do, both of which, not coincidentally, have gone a lot further down the path Dave is advocating than publishing has.

#142 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 12:56 PM:

And then there's computer game publishing, where the big publishers keep re-doing the last big hit, and then wonder why sales drop. (To quote an acquaintance: 'Just another first-person shooter', as it gets trashed.)

#143 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 02:15 PM:

OK, slight exaggeration by way of Firefly, there.

The Ubabe point is somewhat mitigated by the fact that she still can't breathe vacuum or survive fusion reactor explosions. But still, do you really expect anyone to drop a Huge Flaming Spaceship on her head at this point?

#144 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 02:43 PM:

And then there's computer game publishing, where the big publishers keep re-doing the last big hit, and then wonder why sales drop. (To quote an acquaintance: 'Just another first-person shooter', as it gets trashed.)

Amen. I had a friend in the industry who was asked to produce "Doom but with a role-playing element." He did. The publisher then looked at it and said, "Hang on! Doom doesn't have a role-playing element!" and sent him back to the keyboards.

#145 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 02:46 PM:

Consider too that the statistic about 55% of books earning a profit is a false one.

Death to the false profit!

#146 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 02:49 PM:

Sandy: Discussing Ubabe has got this horrible old song running through my head. Fbaal naq Pure. Nccrnef cebzvaragyl va gur zbivr Tebhaqubt Qnl.

#147 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 02:49 PM:

Sandy, in re Ubabe: But still, do you really expect anyone to drop a Huge Flaming Spaceship on her head at this point?

Hey, a girl can dream, can't she?

#148 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 05:30 PM:

Xopher: That was not safe to post even in rot13. Fbaal naq Pure, furrfu. "V tbg H..."

Actually not even the words "horrible old song" were safe - I think I've been actively repressing that interpretation throughout this thread.

#149 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 08:31 PM:

Xopher:
Fbaal naq Pure. Nccrnef cebzvaragyl va gur zbivr Tebhaqubt Qnl.
Never has ROT13 resembled an invocation to the Elder Gods so closely (or so appropriately!).

From my post of January 06, 2006, 04:34 PM:
1) Gur Yrsg Unaq bs Qnexarff

2) Gur Qhoyvaref

#150 ::: Don Simpson ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2007, 05:38 PM:

Fragano @103 -- Read it when it first came out in a magazine, recognized it from the description, then wondered if perhaps some other and later work had the same plot.

#151 ::: TexAnne sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2011, 02:17 PM:

Is it just me, or is there much more spam web-wide this week?

#152 ::: fidelio sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2011, 02:20 PM:

Or something very like it.

#154 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2013, 08:56 AM:

Jim Macdonald #153: They neglect to consider that most of the publishers probably see a lot of that, and reflexively reached for a form rejection.

Also, in part because of the prominence of Austen's work, mainstream style has shifted around it, making her style "classic"... but by the same token, cliched or antique. It's another facet of "Hamlet is Derivative". (I'll let you find TV Tropes on your own. ;-) )

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