August 2, 2010


For those of you who might be curious about the book I bought a while back by a writer I didn’t know (See: “One Grain of Sand at a Time,” Blog for Tuesday, July 20), I have my verdict. I regret I can’t recommend it though I don’t consider my experiment a waste. The narrative was well written and the plot interesting, but I didn’t believe one of the central characters, a 31 year-old woman who talked like Holden Caulfield.

As I wrote at the time, I bought the book because I was in sympathy with a woman who was as yet unknown but struggling to succeed as a writer. Today, I’m in even greater sympathy. Today, I received another agent’s rejection.   

Here’s what he wrote about my book:

               I actually enjoyed it.  But I just couldn’t figure out a good hook that would get any editor I know to bite.

                They are really focused on earth shattering concepts right now.

I presume by “earth shattering,” he means werewolves and vampires and things that go bump in the night. I don’t really know.

I have seen similar comments made in books that are written as guides for beginning writers. The authors often warn that a book must not only be well written to succeed, but it must also offer something unique.  

The advice sounds sage. But I’ve grown into a cynic and no longer believe it. Looking at the entertainment field, I’d say the establishment doesn’t much care for the unique. If a book sells or a movie does well at the box office, dozens of copycats spring up like weeds. Since Harry Potter, how many magic stories have been told? Since Twilight, how many vampires have been unleashed on the world? And if I see another version of “Alice in Wonderland,” I’ll go on a hunger strike. No, they don’t want the unique, either. All they want is a book with big sales, but they’re not really certain what that is.

I’m beginning to suspect that agents and publishers tend to be behind the curve when it comes to predicting the public’s taste. If I pulled back the curtain on these geniuses, the way Dorothy did on the Wizard in the Oz book, I imagine I’d discover a group of men and women who suffer from ulcers and spend their time hovering over ouija boards in their attempt to predict the future. Life would be simpler if they’d stop asking, “What sells?” and ask, “Is the book good?”

As a consumer, I pledge to do my part to assist the industry. I’ll continue to support the unknown writers whom I suspect have as much talent as the heavy hitters.