• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Darkness Visible

It was easy to get responses to my first three surveys, so maybe I should stick with lighter fare: what publishers nosh, bad lunch dates, etc. This time, I surveyed a bunch of industry insiders and asked: how do you know if your book is going to tank and when do you know it. I got one response. Being me, rather than drop it, I kept asking, and here I present you with some darker fare. Warning:  if you like to avert your eyes when you see an accident, skip this post.

One editor confides: I’ve been the victim of the “we’ve got to make budget and this book has got to ship this year” syndrome. These authors had previously published an enormous bestseller. I knew when I got the first draft of the new book that it wasn’t going to work. But I had to keep going and force myself to believe that the new book was as funny as the first. It wasn’t. And guess what? It didn’t work. AT ALL.  But the company got to count the initial ship into their budget for that year. I’m sure the returns were brutal…but by then I didn’t work there anymore.


From an agent:  The book  was selected as a Minnesota Talking Books pick and there were no books in the stores and Amazon said out of stock, because the book had been published several months before to little fanfare, and it was around the Christmas holidays. I spent hours calling bookstores in the Minneapolis area asking why they didn’t have the book in stock, and no one had told them!  The Talking Books promoter had delayed sending out a press release because they wanted to announce the subsequent selection as well!  The publisher said they couldn’t help it because the bookstores had to order the books!  I think the author has never recovered, although I’m not sure because she’s still in a fetal crouch.


Another agent: Well, I had a book on ( major publisher, highly prestigious, you fill in the blank) children’s list and it turned out that the publicist never sent the book out. To anyone. We kept calling and asking and they kept reassuring us that books had gone out, reviews would come in…when in fact they hadn’t, and they didn’t. The book — gorgeous and accomplished — never really got on its feet after that.  And I’m still mad.

A senior editor: I knew the book was going to tank minutes after we acquired it. We had a new editor in chief and she was frantic and bullheaded. She heard about a book project I had in and told me to bid six figures. It had a great title, but I hadn’t  even finished reading it.  We “won” the auction. When I asked the agent who the underbidders were, she said she didn’t have to disclose that. Excuse me. I told her my boss would want to know.  And again she declined. Obviously, there were no other bidders.  The book, as it turns out, was horrible. It tanked in every way. The author had no expertise and couldn’t write.   Worse, she still sends me Christmas cards.

Best for last: I hardly even hope for a book to succeed these days, because inside I am assuming that it is going to tank, since most of them do.  This is sad but true.  I can hardly bring myself to ask the first printings anymore…and if, after a few weeks or months, no reprint—well, then you know.  It is the end. I guess I am pretty jaded, huh???

 Tomorrow on this blog: sunshine and kittens.

27 Responses

  1. This happened to me! Six-figure advance. Train wreck sales.

    The only thing I can say in my defense: I don’t send Christmas cards.

  2. That’s why we read you–for the truth.

  3. My heart goes out to the writers and all who helped to create their books.

    Remember what you do and do not have control over.

  4. How heartbreaking. But it’s good to know, good to prepare ourselves for the worst case.

    And I have an inkling about the very first, the “not as funny” one. If it’s what I think it is, I bought it at a library book sale and donated it back to them a week later.

  5. Now these are stories to scare the beejeezus out of any writer.

  6. Jesus, I knew I shouldn’t have sworn off vodka.

    I wonder how much of this applies to genre fiction, where the advances suck donkey balls, but people actually buy the books. And read them. And email to express their joy and delight.
    I gave up on the Rich and Famous Author fantasy a long, long time ago. Like 2007. The random fan emails and just enough royalty cash for cigarettes has to be enough. I pay the light bill via the CPA gig. That’s not depressing.


    But I suppose it’s better than watching train wrecks and mushroom clouds. I’m looking forward to sunshine and kittens.

  7. Yow. I was eager to hear those answers–because I wonder that very question–and thought there was zero chance I’d want to avert my eyes. I had no idea.

    I think my biggest fear is that first one: that I’ll turn in something crappy and no one will tell me, just so they can churn something out for the short run.

    (But I’m pretty sure Betsy will tell me when I suck. Hahaha. She usually does. Seriously, though, where was the agent on that one? Oh, wait: the agent probably told the writer the truth and he didn’t want to hear it.)

  8. I woke up this morning full of hope and then an agent turned me down and with the most glowing words you would’ve thought I was Fauklner incarnate. This has happened to me time and time again….they love the book, they chase me via email, I wait and wait and then they say no thanks fiction is too hard to sell.
    Well, decision made, our time on this earth is limited so I am moving on to another way in life. Any suggestions? Cheese making? Consulting on how to survive rejection? I’d get down and write a memoir because raised in Louisiana in the depths of racism, civil rights, Vietnam and living with a family who could make stinky Gov Wallace look liberal, well….would that sell?
    Should I embellish? Are there too many books like that….plenty of fiction ones, Mudbound, etc. ? So we are now seeing the demise of fiction. The only good thing is the that publishing companies can keep re-issuing the classics and all works in the public domain and not pay the writer shit. The speeches of Cicero anyone?

  9. Well, believe it or not besides the book that was turned down, I am working on a series where vampires bring the great writers like Whitman, Poe, etc back to life so that they can bring back great works of fiction….maybe that will sell…I mean the vampire Whitman books!

  10. Oh God. Should not have looked.

    • This comment made me laugh my ass off. So true. Betsy, what the hell? Are you trying to get us all to kill ourselves?

  11. Cougar vampire that’s the way to go. Untapped demographic and all.

    Yikes. You know it’s a sad day when Nietzsche is ringing in your ears–“the three obsessions of an exhausted society-brutality, artificiality, and sentimentality.”

    Call me dark, but that just about says it all.

  12. CW or Syfy (really, they changed from Sci-fi) Whatever happened to Wolf Lake? In reruns. I loved it.

  13. YES! That’s one of the things about vampires that bugs me the most: why don’t they recruit geniuses??Like Poe, or Lincoln, or Jim Henson — why do they let people like that die, and instead resurrect some middling-ly cute nobody soldier from WWI (yes, I saw the Twilight movie)?? Why didn’t they get that guy who wrote A Brief History of Time before he lost his voice to ACL or ALC or whatever? But noooooo, they’re all “He’s too cute to die”.

    I’ll read a vampire novel when they get serious and explain why they are dumbing-down the species.

    Note to Betsy: This is what happens when your Thursday post is late.

  14. From Bookseller.com:
    “Author anger as stars stampede to write a novel just like Jordan,” is a headline in today’s Daily Mail. “The trend [for celebrity written fiction books] has caused outrage among more traditional authors, who accuse publishers of accepting poor-quality manuscripts because they have a famous name attached,” reports the celeb-heavy newspaper.

    Successful author Deborah Moggach dismissed the celeb-lit trend as “deeply dispiriting” and described many of the novels involved as “rubbish”. PD James said: “What surprises me is that people are prepared to buy them because there’s a celebrity on the cover.” Publisher Nick Perren said he feared the rise of the celebrity novel could even put people off reading.

  15. I think my favorite part of this post is the photos. Hilarious.

    I tweeted this blog post, Betsy. I think it’s a must-read for writers.

  16. What an awful post to read, from a writer’s position — but such an important one too. That fetal crouch is sounding good about now…. LOL


  17. I guess I’m too ignorant of the business to be depressed by this; I just thought it was funny. Perhaps I’ve read too many self-publishing guides, having assumed that getting gainfully published was a long shot. I’ve also heard that some authors really hustle their own promotions, that that’s what it takes nowadays. I couldn’t stand to wait for things to happen. I’d be making a pest of myself, buying wholesale copies, setting up readings, or whatever. Am I being naive?

    I’ve been internet-restricted the last two weeks, Betsy, but I’m still faithfully reading. I just have less opportunity to comment.

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