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Preview: Comments on Grumpy Old Bookman: The Sunday Times 'tests' publishers and agents

Comments on Grumpy Old Bookman: The Sunday Times 'tests' publishers and agents

Updated: 2018-01-17T05:56:38.258+00:00


May I add another angle from someone who is both i...


May I add another angle from someone who is both in PR and published my a major publishing house?

I suspect the hand of a clever PR person in this. Some sites (including Penguin and the BBC) report that Mr Lassmann is director of the Jane Austen centre/festival Others that it is a David Baldock). Can it be entirely coincidental that this story 'breaks' just as tickets are booking for that very festival which takes place in September 2007?

What really is good literary fiction these days?I'...


What really is good literary fiction these days?
I've just read The Possibility of an Island and, seriously, in addition to the previous novels by the same author, I don't think I'll remember the way they end a year from now. I can forgive this I suppose, but what I do remember, from (by the same author) from Platform, which I didn't mind (and prefer above all), concerns a largely innaccurate description of fellatio or an 'alleged' technique that is pure fallacy. This I remember and I remember it (even though it presents a 'superficial example') because I feel that the intellect gets in the way of many things where some authors are concerned.

Today's literary fiction story elements can be summed up as follows: 'I'm so depressed I want to die'. The characters are so pathetic, it's a wonder they bloody laugh. Which is why I don't blame the millions who've bought the DaVinci Code. Everyday humans have so many things to be depressed about, the last thing they need is yet another dreary novel concerning a characters ego.

I've gone back to reading distant classics, they're more colourful than the dreary descriptions of things we see in our everyday lives, they're worded in first person (most of the time), like a diary so they may as well be upgraded to 'voyeur fiction'. This isn't so bad, but when an authors catalogue of novels are in 'first person' it makes one wonder whether one is reading, what could possibly be, the literary equivalent of psychoanalysis.

As for what's 'considered' good work these days, according to all the 'tips' that are given by self help guides, publishers themselves and others, if these rules were adhered to (even editors don't follow the rules they flaunt) works that are considered classics today, would be rejected if they were submitted today.

Seriously, if Belle de Jour can be considered and published, then I guess rules do not apply. If I had to pick I'd opt for Coelho's 11 Minutes.

Mad Max Perkins,You are so inside.Herman Wouk qual...


Mad Max Perkins,
You are so inside.
Herman Wouk quality versus Jonathan Franzen. Tough choice.
And then Jonathan Livingston Seagulls flying in between.
Never leave a tern unstoned, I say.

Max, you are very bad.But why restrict it to roman...


Max, you are very bad.
But why restrict it to romance novels?
Wouldn't any genre do?

I would agree that this 'test' proves little or no...


I would agree that this 'test' proves little or nothing. I believe it's the escalating cost of doing business that is the culprit.

As was pointed out in the post, the publishing industry is there to publish books and make a profit by doing so. To that end, they attempt to determine what the reading market wants, not always an easy thing. The problem, I think, is that the reading market knows about as much of what they want as the marketing departments of most publishers and rarely are the two of them on the same page. In short, it's a crap shoot. Toss in the risk factor of the cost to the publisher of producing a book, coupled with the cost to the consumer of buying it, and you add one loaded die to the mix.

Example in point. You have 25 USD to spend. Up on the shelf are two books, one by Mediocre-But-Big-Name, the other by Brilliant-But-Unknown. You've read MBBN in the past. Okay, so you forgot everything about it 10 seconds after closing the book. You do remember that it entertained you while reading it. Maybe you've heard of BBU but you've never read him/her. Would you like the book? Would it entertain? You have no idea and, at 25 USD, you ain't in the mood to risk. It becomes a circle that even death can't stop (i.e. Robert Ludlum): readers buy MBBN, publisher makes a profit, publishes more MBBN, readers buy more MBBN, BBU falls off the mid-list because he/she can't hit the sales figures set by the marketing department of the publisher, a new BBU comes along and the whole circle starts again.

I think if there is anything to fear in this scenario, it's the seeming death of the mid-list.


"People don’t seem to know what a good novel is no...


"People don’t seem to know what a good novel is nowadays" says Stanley. As opposed to the good old days when Proust was rejected and had to self-publish; when Moby-Dick was a financial and critical failure; when Confederacy of Dunces was rejected and not published until after the author committed suicide; when Joyce spent several years trying to find a publisher for Ulysses and Dubliners. Literary history is full of classics that were rejected dozens of times before seeing the light of day. In any case, when did publishers accrue the moral responsibility to publish "good books". If your book is so great what's wrong with self-publishing it? If it was good enough for Virginia Woolf why isn't it good enough for you?

I find it interesting to note that these chapters ...


I find it interesting to note that these chapters were submitted to publishers despite the fact that publishers don't accept unsolicited materials anymore--so should we be surprised that none expressed interest? Were Calvert & Iredale? More likely, they proceeded as they did to ensure that their data would support their startlingly original thesis. I imagine that the sentence that appears in one of their first paragraphs--"The-industry-has-become-incapable-of-spotting-genuine- literary-talent"--is also the name of a file on one of their computers, the first notes for this exercise in "investigative" journalism. Nothing like seeing the potent results of journalistic objectivity in action!

Your post reflects my views so completely as to render any further commentary on my part superfluous. But I had an idea for those intrepid journalists' NEXT project:

How about typing out the first chapters for piece-of-shit romance novels, and/or from manuscripts that a staff of ten uniformly agree are horrible, unpublishable, and show not even a whiff of writerly talent. Then submit those same "samples" to MFA writing programs throughout the USA--be sure to mention that financial aid won't be a concern--and see how many fail to gain admittance to some allegedly-serious writing program.

Publishers suck relative to the good ol' days? Maybe so. On the other hand--given the quantity of mediocre talent being cranked through Universities' #1 money-laundering scheme--one might have a hard time defending the notion that there's any corrolation between the size of the pool of people calling themselves writers these days and the overall quality of the manuscripts being produced.

First it is Steve Clackson, not steven clarkson, s...


First it is Steve Clackson, not steven clarkson, second I asked if you would suggest "Light over Newmarket" as an alternative read.
I believe it was you who tried to get "a little action under the auspices of the excellent Grumpy Old Bookman" when you posted
"but has anybody tried to read another book by a distant cousin (very distant) The English Patient? Unreadable, movie or no."

well it worked

Sand storm.Thank you very much for noticing old Iv...


Sand storm.
Thank you very much for noticing old Ivan.
I was about to write the standard
entreaty, "I am an obscure writer out of Armpit, Ontario who is going absolutely nowhere with his four crappy novels and wishes someone would attack him viciously in print just to get a little reader interest up."
Well, a little action under the auspices of the excellent Grumpy Old Bookman doesn't hurt at all.
Then there is the fact that philistines everywhere should be severely slapped. You can register a gotcha.
So many famous Steven Clarksons in the world. I guess you join the lineup.
Light Over Newmarket also unreadable?
Funny, since I ran off a chapter in a local magazine, got an Ontario
Arts Council grant for it, along with an Ontario Weekly Newspapers award. My original book, The Black Icon is probably a zippier read, though it is only available in libraries now.
I am only now having a look at your site. Slick, and you are obviously a professional. I will have to read your thriller as soon as I can get my hands on it.
Thanks for the zen slap. I probably needed it.

The English Patient is unreadable?What would you s...


The English Patient is unreadable?
What would you suggest Light over Newmarket?

PS Merle Haggard is dead.

I know that V.S. Naipaul can hold his own anywhere...


I know that V.S. Naipaul can hold his own anywhere, but has anybody tried to read another book by a distant cousin (very distant) The English Patient? Unreadable, movie or no.
I have a friend who boasts he read Finnegan's Wake all the way through.
Watching paint dry.
I know I'll probably be slain with the jawbone of an ass for this comment.
And soon.

Dear GOB:I'm rather surprised at your reaction. Yo...


Dear GOB:

I'm rather surprised at your reaction. You once wrote an essay about slushy rats or some such which I took the time to read. This article seems congruent with said essay. Now you seem to be disagreeing with yourself.

Some clarification on your part would be interesting to read.

I'm just a Yank who recently discovered this blog ...


I'm just a Yank who recently discovered this blog but I wholeheartedly agree with this test being silly. Just because a book won a top prize doesn't make that book one
of the best. Ask any die-hard film fan about who deserved to win Best Film at the Oscars last(or any other year)and see how agreeable the conversation comes.

Art is in the eye of the beholder and many times,it is persistence that wins the day. If someone is truly determined to be published and their work has any merit,their time will come.

Haters of the pianoforte (there are many) once sup...


Haters of the pianoforte (there are many) once supposedly blindfolded some music critic and had a single note played twice on a Steinway grand, first by some artist of renown and then by a local auto parts man who used an umbrella to depress the key. The critic, so the story goes, couldn't tell the difference. This is supposed to prove the piano isn't really a musical instrument. All it proves is that people are really weird, a point nobody ever doubted in the first place.

Okay, what would be a better test?


Okay, what would be a better test?