We really enjoy reading the responses we get to our blog posts and finding out what our readers have to say about our ruminations and rambling on everything from book cover design to the state of the current market. These comments can also be excellent jumping-off points or topics that might be of interest the rest of our readers.
For instance, a couple of weeks ago, Miriam waxed romantic about the lack of sweeping, escapist fare in today’s book market; books that would allow us to get our collective minds off an awful economy and other goings-on in the world.
One of our readers responded, making the point that in today’s market a novel the length of Gone with the Wind or The Thorn Birds would get rejected immediately for being too long. The truth is we do consider submissions of various lengths including those that have a heftier word count, because, at the end of the day, a compelling novel is a compelling novel. Witness the most buzzed about debut this fall, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. At upwards of 560 pages, this doorstop of a book surpasses your average page count. Despite that, it has been an enormous success, and as Stacey pointed out last week, it was a bestseller way before Oprah got her hands on it. People were moved by the story and bought the book in droves. Another example that instantly comes to mind is Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, a 624 page tome which came out last year and shot up the bestseller lists. Our own Jacqueline Carey’s first novel Kushiel’s Dart comes in at 695 pages. Her most recent book in the series, Kushiels’ Mercy, is no slouch at 650 pages.
We absolutely crave the sorts of stories that grab hold of us whether they take 250 or 500 pages to tell. We would be remiss in tossing something aside simply because of its length. One of my own personal favorite books, Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True comes in at a staggering 928 pages. I’ve read this one a few times and still get that sad feeling as I near the end.
Along similar lines, another reader pointed out an interesting practice – mock submissions, in which cheeky authors take the first ten pages of a classic and send it off to an agent and then wait for their form rejection to come in the mail. The implication here is that a) agents are idiots who often don’t know that what they are looking at is a classic piece of literature and b) agents wouldn’t know a good piece of fiction even if it was staring them in the face.
We aren’t going to lie. A couple of years ago one of our agents rejected Moby Dick (yup, you heard me). The agent admitted this to me freely. Thing about that is, this agent also pointed out that he hated Melville and absolutely loathed Moby Dick. So, just because the book is a classic, does not mean we are going to change our minds about liking it or not. And just because a form rejection comes in the mail, doesn’t necessarily mean that the agent does not know what is being rejected. Often the agent does recognize the work and sees it for what it is, a prank, and sends a form rejection as a courtesy response.
Yes, ultimately agents are business people. We have to take on what we think will sell, and something that sold in 1851 probably isn’t going to top the charts in 2008. Let’s face it, the whaling industry is not really booming in this day and age, and one must take into consideration that classics are born of a specific age and place. In order to be successful, we do need to address what contemporary readers want to read. And perhaps if we’re very, very lucky, we can have the opportunity to represent a modern day classic.