A Gent's Outlook

A Literary Agent Divulges the TRUTH about Publishing

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Slim Pickins

Someone wrote and asked me to contribute what I thought was the "single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years," as she is compiling a list. Perhaps it is too late to weigh in on this, but I am going to anyway because I am a stubborn bastard. So let me just say this…

No, it is NOT The da Vinci Code.

Have you heard the screams of protest about this book? About the movie? About Tom Hanks hair in the movie? It attacks Christianity’s very core, say the naysayers. It challenges the faith of the faithful, say the faithful. But, worst of all, it offers an opinion that is not the status quo and that pisses off a lot of guys who wear funny-looking dresses and, on special occasions, hats, too.

Why the fuck does anyone care about this crap?

I care because the book was so poorly written and made its fame on a concept or idea that had been written about before, just in a less glossy format. I think that sends a signal to publishers that readers in general are idiots and suckers for packaged glop, and as you can see, they listened. I give you Viswanathan and Frey and all the other hacks out there as examples. The sad thing is that most new writers today think that all you have to do is produce a book that looks like what sells; they have no idea what the hell that means. Viswanathan probably really thought she was “writing” a book. Frey probably thought it wouldn’t matter that he “embellished” because it was a good story, the truth be damned. That’s what readers want, isn’t it?

No, that’s what johns who patronize hookers want—the illusion that they are getting something a little more interesting than what the old spouse-a-roo at home can provide. Readers and lovably promiscuous agents like me don’t want to pay for what we know is available. So we find others ways to connect to the individuals who have the talents we want.

This is why publishing is going to hell. Publishers, like the literary whores they are, keep offering the same supposedly wicked decadence, packaged and re-packaged and then re-packaged again. Frey is an example. Why the hell did the reading public need yet another book about an addict? How original. Or why do we need another chick-lit novel with that oh-so-catchy fish-out-of-water plot? Publishers justify this crap because idiots keep buying it. And who are these idiots? Not just the lost souls in Oprah’s crowd. No, mostly wannabe writers stupid enough to buy this crap so they can see what they need to do to get published.

Has this rotten intrusion of the wannabe come full circle for you yet?

That’s right. They drive everything. Wannabes not only flood the market with their shit, but they also buy the shit that sustains the market. This is why there is an onsite bookstore at every writers’ conference and book exhibition in the universe. Real readers are left in the dust, while desperate nudges drive the markets by buying the sludge produced in an effort to copy it and make a million.

Speaking of sludge, back to Dan Brown’s contribution—it is making quite a splash with all this controversy and everyone screaming about its attack on Christianity because of some of the fictional (?) dirty little secrets it exposes about the history of Catholicism. Church clergy are up in arms that people might get the idea that religion isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, participating in boycotts, food strikes, calls to the director for more tickets, er, I mean for a disclaimer put on the film, etc.

Here’s a thought…maybe it isn’t. Maybe there are some people in this world who do not need religion—any religion—to have faith. Maybe these people don’t need a book to tell them how to treat others or a list of tenets specifying how not to be an asshole. Maybe there are people who live contented lives set within a spiritual confines that they feel suits them, without forcing everyone else on the planet to go along with their ideas.

Religion is like the publishing industry. There are always groups at the top—bookstores, publishers, distributors, watchgroups, etc.—trying to dictate what everyone else has access to and what they should think. The da Vinci Code, as fucked up as it is, was a hit because it addressed a question that was on everyone's minds--do I really need a religion to practice my faith? THAT'S what all the fuss is about, certainly not the writing or the story.

So I will not list Brown's work as my pick for best fiction in the last 25 years. I actually won't pick anything, because my choice would tag me, since it would be one of my client's books.

But, thanks, Mapletree, for asking.


  • At 10:22 AM, Blogger mapletree7 said…

    Youy're welcome.

    Actually, I made voting for The Da Vince Code against the rules.

  • At 7:06 PM, Blogger elaine x said…

    i'm glad you care ... someone has to!
    peace & harmony,
    'freedom must be exercised to stay in shape!'


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