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Book Reviews, Criticism, Publishing, Ruminations, The Writer's Life, Writings

If They Can Be Published …

After you’ve written a novel there is a long period of waiting to see if it will be published. You wait to learn if an agent will represent it. You wait to see if a publisher will print it. And if it is published you then wait to see if an audience will read and enjoy it. And while you’re waiting, there is always the nagging doubt and frustration about whether the novel was good enough.

I’m still at that first waiting point, so I often take notice of other books that are just coming out, and wonder about the decisions made in the publishing process, such as: Who will read this? Is the audience big enough to justify a print run? Why did the publisher choose this one?

To be honest, there are some books* I see whose allure for readers escapes me. Really, how many people are going to rush out to pick up a copy of Whose Fair?, the history of the St. Louis Exposition of 1904? Whoever those folks are, they may have to wait in line behind people clamoring for The North American Porcupine—second edition. Second edition? Are you telling me the first edition sold out?

I begin to have serious doubts. If this is what the public wants to read, what chance do I have with a novel about three American entertainers stranded in Paris on the eve of World War I who become involved in romantic and political intrigues?

Better I should go back to the keyboard and write something like Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World. I can see it now—first you take a 500-year-old onion… Or maybe I should try sports. Spartak Moscow, A History of the People’s Team in the Workers’ State made it to print; how about I take a couple of weeks and bang out a sports tome on…I’ve got it…The History of Hackeysack.

I suppose these titles should give me hope. If these volumes got published, perhaps there’s room on a bookstore shelf somewhere for mine.

*These are all actual books advertised in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books.

About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


9 thoughts on “If They Can Be Published …

  1. I must need help. If I saw a book about Medieval Cuisine or The History of Hackeysack, I would definitely pick it up and have a look.

    Jennifer, on this season of Top Chef, could have used that cookbook. She just received a lashing from the judges regarding her poor medieval cuisine.

    I wouldn’t have picked up the porcupine or fair book, though. Those sound like snooze fests.

    Perhaps you just have a knack for making up clever titles. Maybe you should try making up some ridiculous ones for your novel. It might just make those agents look twice.

    It’s mostly about the title anyway, right?

    Hang in there. Your book’s going to get picked up. I just know it!

    Posted by cpurcel1 | November 15, 2009, 11:37 PM
  2. Nonfiction outsells fiction approximately a gazillion to one.
    Thirty years ago I wrote a history of what would have been the fourteenth US colony. I got the outline and a few sample chapters done. I was rejected by a publisher so I gave up writing for a few decades. Maybe I should dust it off again. History never goes out of date.
    Hey, when did Top Chef do medeival???

    Posted by jonzech | November 16, 2009, 1:19 AM
  3. I got such a laugh out of this, Joe! (I have to say, as a foodie, I’d totally buy Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World, sorry.) Hang in there–as you say, you’re only at the first stage of waiting. :)

    Posted by Kelly Davio | November 16, 2009, 2:13 AM
  4. Christine and Kelly, I had no idea Medieval cuisine was so popular. I just assumed everyone ate gruel back then.

    A ridiculous title for my novel? You should see my reject list. But I’ll work on it.

    Jon, the 14th colony sounds like a great story. I know an agent you might want to pitch it to.

    Posted by jpon | November 16, 2009, 2:42 AM
  5. Write the hackey sack book. It will sell.

    Posted by John Gilmore | November 16, 2009, 3:19 AM
  6. Based on the titles, I’d guess that these books are written for academic audiences. This is a completely different game from publishing a serious novel or an enduring piece of fiction. Depending on the topic area, a contract for a book like this can be quite easy to get; it’s relatively easy to get published in the natural or social sciences, more difficult in the humanities. There is a ready-made market for these in the acquisition budgets of thousands of university and college libraries across the US and across the world.

    Posted by kansasjohn | November 16, 2009, 4:26 AM
    • John, you are right about the academic nature of these books. But I just couldn’t help having a little fun with the names.

      Posted by jpon | November 20, 2009, 5:53 PM
  7. Joe, you might consider an academic interpretation of “Going Rogue” by Sarah Palin. I would take a modernist approach and carefully review her policy statements, looking for her careful and deliberate arguments regarding national security and personal liberty. She’s obviously a constitutional scholar and a student of history, so I would give some consideration to reviewing the current and tested interpretations and scholarly reflections on the topic.

    Posted by ssternberg | November 20, 2009, 4:58 PM
    • Stewart, I’m not sure if I could make it through that one. I checked it out on Amazon, where they have the first few pages available. Interestingly, it almost reads as though Palin is a closet Democrat the way she reports her taking on the corrupt GOP in Alaska in the 1990s. But I have a suspicion that tone changes soon and dramatically.

      Posted by jpon | November 20, 2009, 5:56 PM

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