People primarily picked pickles that packed a more powerful punch than predicted.
|Now THAT's a spicy pickle!|
"That people in the pickle business should not know what pickle consumers prefer is a reminder of just how difficult it is to tease out the vagaries of why we like what we like," Vanderbilt writes -- a statement as applicable to publishing as it is to pickles.
A friend once worked as a sub-agent for a respected boutique literary agency. She has a good eye for what makes a great story (I'm not just saying that because she loves my stuff), and can critique a blue streak. Her job as sub-agent was to mine the slush pile, searching for the gold nuggets in a cesspool of dross.
While at the agency, she discovered three manuscripts with writing she loved. Two of them told stories she loved as well. The story of the third was darker and at odds with her personal beliefs, though there was no denying the author's skill.
She took her three recommendations to the agency owner, who rejected the two favorites for all the reasons the newbie sub-agent was crazy for them. The third, however, the agency owner adored. Everything in the story that my friend disliked, the agency owner raved about. The difference of opinion was so great that when the agency made an offer of representation, my friend left because she couldn't in good conscience build a career promoting that book.
The coda to the story? The manuscript in question went on to be a huge hit. But the two writers whose work resonated with the then-sub-agent remain unpublished. My friend follows their social media personas, hoping they stick things out till they have publishing success.
|This seems like a good place to wait for the bus.|
Not long ago, a writer friend shared with me a rejection she received from a publisher of genre fiction. Though full of raves about her voice, her story, and her style, it's devastating because it's still a "NO." It's such a close no that it's the publishing equivalent of being left at the altar.
The rejection (which was very kind, as far as soul-crushing "no's" go) detailed a list of "shoulds" for any book the publisher acquired.
- The protagonist should have this experience by page 10...
- By page 25, this plot point should occur...
- The protagonist and antagonist should explore their different philosophies in this manner...
Now, don't get me wrong: the publisher knows its audience. And the publisher will only stay in business as long as it provides what the audience wants.
I wonder, however, how many "taste tests" are conducted to ascertain that what publishers think should happen must happen in order for a book to be palatable to the public.
Perhaps -- just perhaps -- people would be willing to try something different, but are served a steady diet of same old, same old.
See, I've read the draft of the rejected manuscript and while not a fan of this particular genre of fiction, I've read enough of it to be familiar with the "rules." The manuscript in question bends the rules a bit, but doesn't mangle them beyond recognition. I found it refreshing, enjoying it far more than the fare that adheres slavishly to What Should Be. Is it not possible that such books might attract a whole new legion of fans to the genre? But since printing *any* book by a new author is risky business, few publishers have the luxury of adding to their risk by taking extra chances. Far safer to eschew Zesty for Tried and True.
A writer's first book has to be *AWESOME* in order to just get some poor schlub to pluck it from the pile o' slush. The sixth book, however, rarely measures up to the first book's kneecaps, let alone raising the bar to a new level.
I recently read Will Schwalbe's The End of Your Life Book Club, a warm and charming ode to great family relationships as well as to great books. At one point, Schwalbe, a long-time editor for major publishing houses, and his mother discuss what titles to jointly read next:
"Did you know this author has a new book? What do you think?" Mom might ask.You see the briny problem?
"I didn't love his last four or five," I might answer.
"Well then, why did you keep reading him?"
"I edited them."
In order to break in to the well-barricaded world of traditional publishing, one must write something so wonderful that someone forgets to say "no" to it.
But then there comes a time when all the zesty bits that first sold people on one's writing have had the flavor wrung from them. Words that once cracked and popped, igniting the reader's literary palate, now swim limp and vinegary on the page. If a writer is not encouraged to take chances, to branch out, to bend rules, or to try tasty new combinations, soon the creative stream is dammed to clear the way for cash flow.
The pickle people were once surprised to discover their customers were not only willing to try something new, but were also eager to make it a bestseller. Imagine how similar daring could re-zestify the books we read!