Dear Mr. Hughes:
Thanks for submitting your novel Vengeance Is the Patriot: A Skip Abernathy Adventure, which I now return to you. The 42-cent SASE enclosed with your manuscript was insufficient to the task, so I am sending it back in the same heavy-duty Mayflower cartons in which it arrived, with an invoice for postage due.
I'm sorry to report that, after careful deliberation, we have decided to pass on your book. I hope you won't let this discourage you! Most successful novelists have an unpublished first effort stashed in the attic, unless they live in an apartment. Your manuscript is unique in many respects. It is certainly the only submission in my experience to come with its own theme song. Unfortunately, a theme song is not the first thing an editor looks for; that's usually fourth or fifth. Still, it is clear that your blood, sweat and tears went into this manuscript, and possibly other bodily fluids as well. Ordinarily, I might dismiss you with the boilerplate language of a standard rejection letter—“not something we could publish with enthusiasm,” “not a good fit for our list,” “too similar to The Big-Ass Cookbook”—but your effort and zeal are impressive. I think you deserve some specific and, I hope, constructive criticism.
First, your book is too long. I suppose a publisher could devise some radical new method of binding in order to contain it between two covers, but they'd still run the risk of having pages explode all over the room should anyone dare to open it. Moreover, the sheer length of the book will discourage potential readers. Even David Blaine would hesitate to immerse himself in your story—the odds against emerging alive and intact are just too great. It is true that such authors as James Michener and James Clavell enjoyed enormous success writing very long books, but as we both know, you are not named James.
Next, your title is cumbersome. Short, high-impact titles work best—think Peter Benchley's Jaws or Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea. Fussy titles, like The Unbearable Lightness of Being, always flop. A good title should be appealing and have positive associations for the reader. This holds true for any consumer product, by the way, and explains why sour cream failed so miserably in the marketplace.
Your narrative lacks any trace of literary merit. I thought I detected some on page 2,039, but this turned out to be grape jelly. Your writing could best be described as pedestrian, if “pedestrian” meant “execrable.” Ordinarily, a dearth of literary quality combined with an inept prose style would be a sure-fire formula for commercial success. The problem lies with your thin plot—little more than loosely linked vignettes in which your hero (a) beds voluptuous large-breasted women, (b) blasts evil enemy agents or (c) beds and then blasts voluptuous large-breasted women who turn out to be evil enemy agents. While these episodes suggest convincingly that Skip is a sensitive sadist with an eye for the skirts, other characters remain underdeveloped, particularly Skip's sidekick, Zimmer. It is still unclear to me whether he led the team that mapped the genome or has a map that will lead him to gnomes. Readers care about such details.
We must also consider the question of your platform. In the old days of publishing, a platform was what you and Hemingway sat on, elephant guns across your laps, waiting for the herds to come down to the watering hole. These days it refers to a forum, or “bully pulpit,” an author uses to develop and maintain a fan base. Until you have an extensive lecture schedule, attain high public office, star in your own TV series or appear regularly as the lead in major Hollywood feature films, I'm afraid you'll never be taken seriously as a writer.
I'm sorry I can't be more enthusiastic. Remember that mine is only one opinion—another editor may feel differently. (Not anyone who does it professionally, though.) Good luck placing your book elsewhere. You might consider your attic.
|Laurence Hughes works for a big publishing company. His writing is featured in The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes.|