Monday, November 18, 2013

A fine line between rejection and acceptance

a few final proof copies

Publishers are promiscuous and fickle. They sometimes say things like, "We only publish literary fiction. No genre fiction for us." These kinds of declarations can be found in the form of Statements of Purpose on their websites. They are clear, well defined and easy to understand. But inevitablly, a hot looking piece of detective fiction or steampunk catches thier eye, and they are willing to make exceptions. It seems to happen most often if the fresh fiction bares some resemblence to a book that is out there, making a lot of money, winning awards, setting sales records.  

It happens all the time: a monogamous, loyal, one-genre-kind-of-publisher stray with an unfamiliar narrative. In these cases they describe their curatorial decisions in terms of the complex emotional relationships they form with the unpublished work. "I fell in love with this manuscript," they say. Or "It spoke to me." 

They also use the same tactic when explaining a It's-not-you-it's-me rationale for rejecting a manuscript that fits within thier oeuvre. They say, "I really liked the writting so much, but I just didn't love it." It is very human. Perhaps too human and subjective, sometimes overly personal and not professional enough. But, it is also very understandable. Honestly, how else would one decide what book to publish and what book to pass up? Publishing comes down to a form of literary speed dating with a skoosh of high school pecking order peppered in. 

Have I tortured the metaphor enough? 

Below are some quotes about my book. Some of them are likely to appear on the dust jacket of the UK version of my novel. Others will not. Read a few and then I'll explain more. 

“Graham has a knack for physical description and for developing absurd, humorous mishaps in a scene. Bumbling Flip is as repulsive as he is pathetic, a refreshingly unsympathetic protagonist with recognizable, human flaws.”
“Flip is a big, wasted, Oblomov of a man who makes for fine company as he lurches, lazily, from one wonderfully calibrated moment of self- inflicted peril to the next. When he punches Kev, I mentally cheered – Flip really does earn, painfully, tragically, amusingly, his under-dog- hero credentials and he really does have a spike of Ignatius J. Reilly to his soul.”
"Graham is a talented writer."

“Graham takes so many risks here and I greatly admire his brave and unflinching look at Flip’s demons.”

"Brandon Graham is a very funny, painfully observant, no-holds-barred American writer. In Good for Nothing he shows us America now: out of work, out of shape, slightly suicidal but retaining a sharp sense of the absurd. This is a brilliant book. When times are really horrible it's good to be able to laugh (especially at ourselves)."

Only the last of these, from the novelist Audrey Niffenegger, is an actual quote intended to be used as a printed endorsement. The others are each from different publishers who rejected my manuscript. I particularly love the second one. But they are all good in their way. 

Compass Points is a blog distributed to five hundred booksellers in the UK. This is what they had to say last week:

Here’s a little heads-up for a terrific debut novel, containing humour with a bite, published in January from Skyscraper publications. Good for Nothing by Brandon Graham is about a week when Flip Mellis tries to rid himself of excess weight and solve the problems of his life. This is a novel in which peaks of humour and troughs of tragedy intermingle as the hero tries to get his life together, after a suicide attempt – like much else in his life – fails to achieve its goal. Overweight, weak-willed, and quick to criticise others, Flip has a self-fulfilling fatalism, which leads him to stumble through each day, hoping against hope that he can get a job, mend his marriage and rebuild his life. Perceptively observed characters from American small-town life populate the book in hilarious cameos and get in the way of Flip’s well-meaning attempts to reform himself. One of our hawk-eared team heard none other than Andrew Marr mention that he was thoroughly enjoying it a couple of weeks ago! He happened to say (during a publication dinner for his own book!) that the book he was really loving at the moment was Good for Nothing and thought it was brilliant and a marvelously sustained comic voice! This could be the beginning of another Compass word of mouth success story!

As far as the book progress goes, the typesetting is complete and I expect the hardbound edition to be available in January 2014. I'll keep you posted. 

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