Thanks for nothin’
You know, I think we’d all benefit if fewer people were convinced they had a book in them, and more importantly, that said book needed to get out. Heck, my puppy has a book in her—my copy of The Complete Novels of Flann O’Brien, in fact—and that book is bound to come out sooner or later. But trust me, you won’t want to read it when it does.
The firm belief that we all have a book in us is responsible for a similar product. So you’d expect, with that attitude, that I’d applaud Geoff Pevere’s wake-up call to would be authors in The Toronto Star. But I won’t, for two reasons.
First, articles of this sort achieve nothing good. Would-be writers of sensitive disposition, people who actually can write, read this sort of thing, look at what they’ve written, and burn their manuscripts in frustration. And these are the writers most likely to succeed. Those with an ironclad and unjustified faith in their own brilliance, on the other hand, carry on without heed.
So what’s the point?
Second, the rather bleak picture that Pevere paints is, thanks to it’s large-house, agent-driven perspective, incomplete.
“Critical response to a book could once make a big difference to a book,” he says. “Now it’s great to get terrific reviews —where it’s possible to still get a review, and that’s harder and harder all the time — but that’s not what a retailer or a publisher looks at first. It’s the sales you racked … it’s sometimes easier to get something that is fresh and new — a first novel by someone that no one has heard of—published than it is to get the third or fourth novel published by someone who has written in the past but whose book sales haven’t been record-setting.”
But Doug Pepper says:
“In some cases, agents are very important. We rely on them, because that’s all they do.” says Pepper. “They go out there and find stuff, and they cut a lot of the dross out. There’s agents I know, they have fabulous taste and they’ve backed it up with success. When they tell me to read a book, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to agree with them, but I’ll read it. It will mean a lot to me that that agent says that.”
Before the fact, agents are held to be superb arbiters of merit, and increasingly take on the role of front-line editors, whipping manuscripts into commercial shape—often at the author’s risk, with no guarantee of representation.
After the fact, shit slides off their Teflon suits and sticks to the author; instead of holding him responsible for the one thing he really controls—the quality of his own work—we’re gonna hold him responsible for all the decisions made through the entire production chain, from agent to bookseller, and cut that bastard loose.
This is a case of trying to have your Complete Novels of Flann O’Brien and eat it too, something that my puppy has demonstrated to be impossible.