Re: RARA-AVIS: Are unpublished novels best left unpublished?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

From: Allan Guthrie (
Date: 16 May 2007

My experience is that there's a lot of truth in what Dave Zeltserman said in his very succinct post. A lot of exceptionally good novels are getting passed on, and the lack of 'platform' -- previously a term only applied to non-fiction -- is becoming an increasingly popular reason for rejection.

That's by no means across the board, but I do hear it a lot.

As Kevin says, "publishers are in business to sell books, and they always were." No argument there. But what I've observed since becoming a literary agent is that many publishers are looking for a much more certain and immediate return on their investment than perhaps was once the case. Literary agents are increasingly turning to non-fiction to make a buck. You can sell on an outline and sample chapters, there's more of it being bought, and the money's generally about twice what you'd get for fiction. So why wouldn't you? Of course by doing so it then becomes harder for new writers to find agents, and without an agent it's very difficult to find a publisher.

Whether it's fair or not is irrelevant. It does mean that it's harder for good novels to get published. Harder for bad novels to get published too, of course.

That's how it looks from where I'm sitting, anyway.

On the topic of posthumous novels, Stark House Press are bringing out a previously unpublished Gil Brewer novel soon. And I believe James Cain left a couple of unpublished works. As did Ralph Dennis. And both Hard Case and Harcourt are bringing out unpublished Mickey Spillanes. As for existing novelists: I know several who have orphans. The Edgar-winning THE CONFESSION was languishing in a drawer till Charles Ardai bought it.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Kevin Burton Smith
  Sent: Wednesday, May 16, 2007 9:28 PM
  Subject: Re: RARA-AVIS: Are unpublished novels best left unpublished? YES!

  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 true, are unpublished novels best left unpublished, like for example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  How can it be unpublished if it was published?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

> 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

  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

  They're not. They're typists.

  And often not even very good ones.




[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 16 May 2007 EDT