Re: RARA-AVIS: Are unpublished novels best left unpublished? YES!

From: Kevin Burton Smith (
Date: 16 May 2007

On May 16, 2007, at 9:22 AM, George the Librarian wrote:

> Is it true that a good book will always find a publisher?


> If it is
> true, are unpublished novels best left unpublished, like for example
> Jim Thompson's The Rip-Off? I liked this posthumously-published novel.
> It had the quirkiness of The Golden Gizmo, but a tighter, stronger
> plot.

How can it be unpublished if it was published? Was it rejected in his lifetime?

> I am a believer that the literary marketplace is not that fair, but I
> am curious how others feel.

What's "fair"?

Everyone -- regardless of talent or commercial viability -- gets published?

Is it "fair" that libraries don't stock every book in the world?

Publishers are in business to sell books -- and always were. If they think they can't sell a book, should they publish it anyway?

It's their money, after all.

Yes, a few good books don't find a publisher, or otherwise slip through the cracks. That's nothing new. And the oft-repeated stories of this "masterpiece" or that "classic" that almost wasn't published will be -- predictably -- trotted out again and again and again in this thread.

Yada yada yada.

But those exceptions are few and far between (which is why the same old examples get trotted out again and again and again). It may be a poor business decision or a glaring lack of judgement on the publisher's part, but it's not "unfair."

For every alleged "classic" that finally makes it to print, there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of books that sink without a trace. Usually with good reason.

And, coincidentally, hundreds of great books -- real classics -- that do make it to print. Chandler, Hammett, Cain, Leonard, Block, Westlake, Bruen, Pelecanos, Mosley, Parker, Macdonald, MacDonald, etc., etc. They all survived and thrived in the literary marketplace.

Is that fair?

Having worked as an editor in the tiny corner of the literary marketplace that is THRILLING DETECTIVE, and having read a slew of self-published books for reviews over the last nine years, as well as hearing horror stories from other editors and slush pile readers, I've come to the conclusion that must books are rejected by traditional presses for one simple reason, and one simple reason alone.

They're not very good.

They may be preposterous or inept, hackneyed or incomprehensible gibberish, clumsy or poorly structured or any of a multitude of other sins, but most rejected works share one thing in common. They're not what the publisher is looking for, or not good enough to put in the editorial time to make better.

There's no big conspiracy.

The clarion call of "unfairness" is just a balm to soothe untalented, frustrated writers looking to blame someone -- anyone -- for their lack of literary of success. Anyone but themselves.

Talk about pathetic. Boo hoo hoo.

If you think the literary marketplace is unfair, put your own money where your mouth is. Publish your own damn novel. There's no law against it. The vanity presses are waiting for you, licking their chops.

But the literary marketplace is unfair?

To who?

When was the last time you went out to buy -- with your own money -- a book you knew would be poorly written? Is it "fair" that you only buy books you think you will like?

One final point: the rise of relatively cheap POD vanity presses has, for the first time in history, given us a clear look at what traditional publishers have rejected. As a reviewer, I've probably read at least a hundred of these things over the years. The picture is not pretty. There are a lot of people out there who think they're writers.

They're not. They're typists.

And often not even very good ones.



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