Yesterday Leslie took me to “The Altered Book Show” at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art in Novato, Ca. They are having an exhibit of art made from discarded books. It was really a kick and I’m putting some pictures I took of the works here. All of the works are being auctioned off. Contact the museum for more information.
Archive for the ‘Just for Fun’ Category
Ask The Agent generally tries not to snatch other material from the internet. But this entry will be an exception. It was just irresistible. I stole this from an item in the Huffington Post.
When I became a literary agent three years ago, I simply wasn’t ready for the flood of publisher rejection letters flowing into my office in response to my submissions. It felt a little like my social life in high school. I can only imagine the shame and humiliation that my clients must experience from these letters. Four years of work on a novel reduced to a single line, a formula really: “I just didn’t fall in love with it.” Or: “We all felt it didn’t quite have the right narrative arc.” I decided to engage in a mental exercise of employing the standard rejection templates as they might have been used for some of the great (or notorious) classics of Western Civilization.
Thank you so much for submitting The Republic by Plato. Certainly this book has much to recommend it. It asks some serious questions and it doesn’t get bogged down in “jargon” like some of the philosophy books we see coming over the transom. That said, I am going to have to pass on this book. I’m not sure that the author has anything really new to say about the themes he discusses. The Good, the True, the Beautiful, and the Just have been written about ad nauseum since the time of the ancient Greeks. There is really no new way to slice and dice this material. And although Mr. Plato seems quite adept at dialogue, I can’t help but wonder how he would hold up in the face of tough questioning by the likes of Bill O’Reilly.
I don’t quite know what to make of this book. Six hundred pages of narrative about people in a tuberculosis sanitarium on top of a mountain, and for twenty years? Really! I’m afraid that modern American readers need a little more action and excitement in their lives. They don’t want to come home and read about the over-ripe decadence of Central European culture in the early Twentieth Century. I certainly don’t mean to sound snarky, but in my humble opinion (and I have been known to be wrong before), Herr Mann is nothing but a gas bag.
Thank you for your submission of Mr. Sophocles’ drama, Oedipus Rex. Sophocles is an exceptional dramatist with many fine works to his credit that have been both critical and commercial successes. And we feel privileged that you gave us the chance to consider this work. That said, I’m afraid we are not going to publish this book. Although I am a personal admirer of Mr. Sophocles, I feel that Oedipus is a minor work and, quite frankly, a little derivative. The implicit theme, the idea that “from suffering comes wisdom,” has become a little hackneyed and a little frayed at the edges, as it were. I think that after seeing James Cameron’s Avatar, there really isn’t much left to say on this subject. But we would be delighted to look at anything newer and fresher that Mr. Sophocles might create in the future.
I’m sorry. I just don’t get it.
Thank you for sending us Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Mr. Shakespeare certainly brings a fresh voice to the modern theatre and has a commendable mastery of plot and character. That said, I am not going to make an offer on this book. I think that Mr. Shakespeare has a certain inelegance of style and his language skills could use some refining. I also noticed a number of careless misspellings in this work. The extensive “scholarly” footnoting with its endless references to “folios” and “quartos” was annoying and distracting.
I feel compelled to say, and I hope neither you nor your client take offense at this, that some of his “speeches” are just plain pretentious and not suited to the more casual sensibilities of our upscale readers. For instance: Macbeth says: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Don’t you think this could be stated more clearly and succinctly? How about: “Life is pretty confusing. Sometimes I just want to shake my head and cry.” Furthermore, I could not help but note an obvious unattributed locution from William Faulkner. Your author should try to be more careful.
I am a big fan of Mr. Twain’s work. In fact, his novel, Huckleberry Finn, was one of the best books I read last season. So I approached your submission with considerable excitement. I’m sorry to say that I was not thrilled with Tom Sawyer. Compared to Mr. Twain’s other works, I felt that this was merely a bagatelle and perhaps a little (shall we say) jejune. Still I sent it around for some more reads and I took it to the editorial meeting. The sales director pointed out that all of Twain’s novels since Huckleberry Finn have shown steadily declining Bookscan numbers. He felt, and the committee agreed, that it was unlikely that the chains would take a position on this book. But I encourage you to show us any new projects the author might develop in the future.
Thank you for your submission of Count Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I found it to be a very well researched and polished novel. And I can certainly see how it would appeal to the same readers who enjoy the works of Herman Wouk. But I am afraid that I won’t be making an offer. As you know, our imprint is always looking for quality genre fiction. And certainly War and Peace falls squarely within the conventions of the historical novel. But, just between you and me, this manuscript just isn’t ready for prime time. For starters, it is a real door-stopper. 1500 pages plus change! I think the author needs to face the facts that he could do with some judicious freelance editing. Our readers lead busy lives and are looking for a more, shall I say, intimate reading experience. If the author could cut the plot by, say, 900 pages; if, for example, he could take out the sub-plot of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, we would be happy to review this submission again.
I have to tell you that this one came pretty close. Personally, I loved this book. I took it to the editorial board. We almost had consensus. But the committee reluctantly decided to pass. There is much to admire in this book. We were impressed by the author’s passion, his strong sense of purpose, and his robust voice.. Some of us were moved to tears by the Youtube clips from the Nürnberg Parteitag rallys. Herr Hitler’s platform is most impressive, indeed. One of the editors said, only half jokingly, that it was too bad we couldn’t bottle Herr Hitler’s charisma and give it to some of our more pedestrian authors. And our marketing director was inspired by the book proposal that offered so many innovative marketing strategies. The concept of summarily executing any citizen of the Third Reich who didn’t purchase this book was refreshing and indicates that your client is a very savvy marketer.
At the end of the day though, there was no agreement on how we could position this book in the marketplace. Some of us wanted to treat it as a kind of how-to book for people who were seeking to improve their public speaking and, at the same time, pick up some useful tips for world conquest. Others felt that the ideas were just a little too “weighty” for a trade house like ours. After some brain storming about possible merchandise spin-offs, we decided that we were the wrong home for this remarkable book.
We wish Herr Hitler the best of luck in his career as a writer and as a public figure and expect to see great things from him in the future.
This blog is called “Ask the Agent”. But I haven’t been dispensing much agently advice yet. There are some excellent books out on how to write book proposals, how to find an agent and how to get published. But I am here to give some tips as well. It is a tough world out there. And if you aren’t a disgraced ex-governor of Alaska, it is pretty hard to get a book contract. So here are some tips and examples of weak and strong pitches to make in your book proposal.
Weak: I am willing to go on an 8 city tour (they probably won’t send you, and this indicates that you might have unrealistic expectations. They used to let you travel first class and stay at the Ritz Carlton. They’re hard up now, so expect to go by Greyhound.)
Strong: I am willing to schedule an 8 city tour at my expense (or any other ideas that include: “at my expense” are always popular with publishers)
Weak: This would be a great story on Oprah (uh-huh. It’s also the oldest story in the book. Similarly unrealistic)
Strong: I am sleeping with Oprah’s hairdresser. ( If you are going to pitch media connections, they should be concrete and have reasonable expectations of results. But don’t oversell yourself. They can smell bull shit.)
Weak: I am willing to go to book signings at my local bookstore (They know that anyway. And this won’t sell books).
Strong: I have arranged presentations with the staff at Google. Steve Jobs loves my book and has agreed to purchase 5000 copies to give to the key employees at Christmas time. They are also interested in purchasing non-verbatim electronic multi-media rights as an app for the I-pod. (This is too good to be true, so you better get Steve to write a letter to that effect. Publishers love sales outside of bookstores. It is like extra money.)
Weak: I will reluctantly agree to be on Fresh Air, schedule permitting. (If you are not going to aggressively flog the product, this will not be well received. )
Weak: This will make a great movie (see Oprah above).
Strong: Film rights for this product have been optioned to Stephen Spielberg (there might be a possibility here, but there are many options out with few movies ever made).
Very Strong: Film Rights have been sold to Stephen Spielberg. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are signed up. Currently being filmed on location in Montana. (This pitch doesn’t happen very often).
Strong: I am the extremely charismatic and controversial governor of Alaska and vice-presidential candidate. (Don’t worry that she is inarticulate, has nothing to say, and can’t write).
Almost as strong: I am the extremely charismatic and controversial governor of Alaska who has quit with disgrace and lack of dignity. (Hey, it’s all about celebrity).
Weak: My neighbor will host a publication party. (See booksigning above)
Strong: My neighbor is Barack Obama, and he will give a publication party at the White House (nuff said)
Weak: My friends loved this book. (Your friends won’t tell you the truth).
Strong: My friend, Bill O’Reilly (Rachel Maddow) loved this book. (Connections, connections connections).
Weak: My mother and spouse loved this book. (Oh, come on!)
Strong: My mother is the disgraced former governor of Alaska and she loved this book. My former boyfriend hated this book and will go public and tell tawdry and salacious tales about me. (In this business, there is no such thing as bad publicity.)
Weak: I’ll set up a blog and a website (whoopee!)
Very Weak: I have a blog that gets 50,000 hits a day and will promote my new biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein. My blog is called GO.NASCAR.com. (All blogs are not equal. All successful blogs are not equal).
Strong: I have a blog that gets 50,000 hits a day and will promote my new biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein. My blog is called LudwigRocks.com.
Weak: Your readers are going to love this book. It is like Petrarch meets Robespierre. (Although publishers are infatuated with pitches premised on dubious and glib equivalencies, the pitch must be based on subjects that are readily recognized – usually in the Safeway checkout line.)
Strong: Your readers are going to love this book. It is like the Bronte sisters meet the Olson Twins.
We welcome examples of Good pitch / Bad pitch from our readers
Below is a very personal and idiosyncratic list of books that are best left to seasons other than Summer if at all. If you have other recommendations for this list, Ask the Agent invites your participation.
Jokes Cracked by Lord Aberdeen. This book is perhaps the greatest oddity in the history of the printed page. It was originally published in 1925 and has been long out of print. The author of the book is either the 4th or 5th Earl of Aberdeen. It is not entirely clear. From the appearance of the dour visage on the cover, one questions whether His Lordship made any significant contribution to the world of tomfoolery of the late Victorian Period. Indeed, one must ask whether the concept of “crack a joke” would even enter the same universe of discourse occupied by Lord Aberdeen.
Foundations of a Complete Science of Knowledge. (Grundlage der Gesammten Wissenschaftslehre.) Johan Gottlieb Fichte. Once a towering figure in German Idealist philosophy, now happily forgotten. Unfortunately for me, when I was 25 and a graduate student in German history, I picked Herr Fichte’s thought as the subject for my master’s thesis. This was an error in judgment on my part. I was required to read the entire 660 page work in its original German. The number of expressions in German that I knew at the time was limited. I believe I could give a pretty good rendition in Hochdeutsch of: “Wanna go back to my place?” and also “Shut up, you Nazi”.
I will never forget the impact of the first majestic words from the Grundlage on my emotional and intellectual development. (Roughly translated): “X is in the Ego, and posited through the Ego, for it is the Ego which asserts the above proposition, and so asserts it by virtue of X as a law, and must therefore, be given to the Ego;…”
At the time I was doing a considerable amount of experimentation with certain (how shall we say) mind altering drugs and attempting at the same time to win my girlfriend back from a free love commune. Fichte’s immortal words restored my hope and gave a new sense of purpose to my life.
The Collected Works of Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Several years ago, I had a quintessential Berkeley experience. I was having dinner at my local hamburger place and was informing my companion that I was to introduce Salman Rushdie who was giving a reading later that evening at Cody’s. A stranger at the next table turned around and said “Salman Rushdie will be remembered as the Edward Bulwer- Lytton of the twentieth century.”
This audacious and entirely uninvited judgment peaked my interest in this great, but forgotten Victorian novelist. He is most remembered now for the first sentence of his novel Paul Clifford, “It was a dark and stormy night.” There is a general consensus amongst critics that this is the worst first sentence penned in all of English literature. He is also remembered for the hackneyed and ponderous expression: “The Pen is Mightier than the sword.” I would not begin reading these collected works this summer or any other season for that matter. For those who will not read Bulwer-Lytton’s works, I also recommend that you not read: The Letters of the Late Edward Bulwer-Lytton to his Wife.
Canterbury Tales. Geoffrey Chaucer. I recommend not reading this masterpiece. Unlike the first sentence penned by Bulwer-Lytton above, Chaucer has written one of the most memorable first sentences in all of literature.
“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote, /The droughte, perced to the roote, /And bathed every vein in swich licour / Of which vertu engendred is the flour,…”
It is doubly remarkable in that it appears to be utterly meaningless and with numerous misspelled words to wit (or should I say to witte?). Not unlike my daughter’s first grade homework assignment: “My Daddy and I at the Zoo”.
The Book of Numbers. There have been periods of my life when I have felt doubt and despair come over me as the darkness upon the face of the waters. And in these times, I have turned to scripture for consolation and spiritual renewal. In particular, the unforgettable words of Numbers 2:16 have restored my faith:
” And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.”
Gentle Reader, I humbly present for your consideration – The Book of Numbers.
Several months ago, I conceived of a plan to restore the world economy through generous support of our beloved book industry. I sent this proposal to the President’s economic advisor, Lawrence Summers. I am optimistic that he will implement this plan. He signaled his agreement with the general principles by sending me an autographed picture of himself with his dog. I hope you all will see the wisdom of this plan.
A Modest Proposal: or What’s Good for Houghton-Mifflin is Good for the USA
Like many of you, I am becoming distressed by the fact that the nation’s treasure is being squandered on the leaches and parasites of Wall Street who have brought us to this sorry state, and the knaves and fools of the auto industry who continue to reinvent the Edsel.
I believe that these trillions are not only attenuating the moral fiber of America, but will fail to bring us out of our current economic malaise. As I sat down to carve my 20 pound hunk of roast Spam on Father’s Day, I realized that there was a better way. For a mere 1% of the cost envisioned by Washington, we can not only restore America’s economic vitality, we can create a cultural resurgence that will make America the greatest intellectual super-power since the Golden Age of Athens.
I offer you, dear reader, a modest 3 point proposal. We will channel a mere nine billion dollars into the book publishing industry which will (in classic Keynesian fashion) restore America.
1) Grants to book publishers: Giving $50,000,000,000 to the auto industry is like fighting fire with gasoline. Rather, I propose that the government grant a much smaller amount to trade publishers large and small with no strings attached. Unlike the hapless and bumbling auto executives, the titans of publishing are known for their wisdom, their courage, and their commitment to the great values of Western Civilization. It is undoubtedly true that some of these funds will be used for more bottom-feeding memoirs of depraved, drug-addled Hollywood starlets which chronicle their struggles against alcoholism and cellulite. This is an unfortunate side effect (collateral damage, if you will) that should not distract us from the larger social benefit.
There will certainly be a “trickle down” effect on the more literary titles. A subsidy of these worthy books will have the residual benefit of bolstering our “intellectual system”. It will allow publishers the luxury of making decisions based on reason and merit rather than on dubious and demeaning sales pitches such as: “This book is like Immanuel Kant meets Danielle Steel.”
2) Grants to booksellers. As an independent bookseller for 35 years, I must say that I have a soft spot in my heart for these beleaguered merchants. It is true that publishers continue to publicly express their sentimental affection for the small merchants . But in the paneled suites of multi-media conglomerates, the word “Indie” is invariably whispered accompanied by the word, “whining”. How can this be? Think of the specter of the pathetic automobile titans being chauffeured in their hybrid jalopies to Washington. Their appearance before Congress surely raised “whining” to an apotheosis never before witnessed in the history of the West.
I take my inspiration from the first efforts of the Treasury department to buy worthless mortgages at face value and sell them later at a debased price of whatever the market will offer for these worthless pieces of paper. Similarly we will use this inverted economic paradigm, “to buy high and sell low”. We will buy up the leases on Main Street and rent to the faltering but virtuous Independents for $1 per year.
For the mass merchants, the great chains, we will offer them billions for saturation advertising that will shift the emphasis on day after Thanksgiving sales away from 56 inch flat screen TV’s to something more culturally productive. Imagine the unruly crowd of buyers breaking down the doors of Barnes and Noble at 4 AM and cracking the knee caps of fragile grandmothers to snatch the last copy of The Oresteia by Aeschylus (Lattimore translation).
3) Writers. Let us not forget the toiling and not-so- silent proletariat of culture, the oppressed workers who labor in the “dark satanic mills” of the book business. We applaud the vision of President Obama to pump prime the economy by investing in infrastructural upgrades. But realistically, can we expect Philip Roth and Malcolm Gladwell to engage in building bridges and dams? Do we really want Salman Rushdie to design the next generation of plug –in hybrids? Would America be a greater civilization if David Sedaris was fixing pot holes? I believe we know the answer to these questions. Our modest proposal would direct taxpayer funds to support the continuing fatuous scriblings of these economically worthless drones.
We must be vigilant, though, that this money not fall into the hands of the unproductive forces of the culture industry. We cannot afford to subsidize the intellectual fellow-travelers: freelancers, ghost writers, and amanuenses. (I will not mention agents for risk of damaging my own credibility).
And so, publishers, booksellers, authors. Let us march together and become the engine of our nation’s salvation. And we shall build the New Jerusalem on the ashes of Wall Street and Wal-Mart.
© Andy Ross