(definitely not to be read by prospective agents/publishers)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …”
A Tale of Two Cities ………. Charles Dickens
“Call me Ishmael.”
Moby Dick ………. Herman Melville
“I’m pretty much fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked.”
The Martian ………. Andy Weir
Three of the best opening lines in literature. In my opinion. Certainly, considering the first two, the most famous.
Considering the third, I read THE MARTIAN only a few days after its initial publication. This is important – I hadn’t read or heard anything about it. Reading the cover notes however, I thought I’d give it a go. I laughed out loud at that very first line. After 50 pages or so I knew, I absolutely knew, it was destined to be a best-seller. After maybe 200 pages, I knew there would be a film.
My question is, if I knew, why hadn’t there been any agents or publishers out there that knew? Why did Andy Weir have to serialize this book on his website and then self-publish it on Amazon before, a not inconsiderable length of time later, it was finally picked up by a publisher?
What I’m just starting to notice as I try to attract interest in DELYRIUM is that really, there aren’t too many agents that specialize in, or even entertain, sci-fi/fantasy manuscripts. Given the burgeoning nature of the sci-fi/fantasy sections in all major bookshops, given the unprecedented success of GAME OF THRONES on television, given the constant stream of sci-fi/fantasy blockbusters in the film world and given the relentless production of sci-fi/fantasy titles in the gaming world, I find this somewhat puzzling.
So now, let’s follow THE MARTIAN through to the other end of the literary process, the reviews. And I’m talking about major publications here. “Surprise best-seller” was an oft quoted phrase. Well no, I’m sorry, it wasn’t a surprise best-seller for a lot of us out here. And then we had to suffer words like “geek” and “geekery”. Who actually uses words like that, other than literary critics. What part of the space-time continuum do these people inhabit and is it possible to consign it to another dimension?
These attitudes seem all-pervasive throughout the literary world and, let’s face it, that world is in trouble. It seems unwilling to embrace the new millennium. Let me give you a typical early remark from a critical essay (regarding science fiction) by Kingsley Amis:-
“But I think it better to say straight out that I do not like fantasy, whether from BEOWULF to Kafka, rather than take the trouble of devising reasons for my dislike, though I think I could do so if pressed.”
Nothing like a well-reasoned argument, Kingsley. Has much changed over the intervening years? Let me take you to a literary convention, just a few years ago, in the beautiful Mexican city of San Miguel de Allende. I didn’t actually go there for the convention, it just happened to be on at the time. I was well through my own book at this point and thought one of the talks, specifically targeted at first time authors, might be worth a closer look. It certainly was, at least from the standpoint of writing this blog.
Introductory sentence (maybe not word for word, but you get the gist): –
“First of all, let me welcome you all here. Can I perhaps begin by saying that this talk will be about serious literature? I do not, by way of example, include fantasy writing within that definition.”
This followed by a pause for laughter (there was none) and a winning smile. A good start then. Had he really said that? Could he read my mind? Recovering from my initial surprise, I quickly realized that this was a thinly veiled reference to the HARRY POTTER books, which were sweeping all before them at the time. Of course! Why would anyone be interested in publishing a worldwide best-seller or coming up with a series of stories so good that even teenagers read them? And all that arguing over film rights.
His audience dwindled appreciably as I got up to leave. I think he was droning on about memoirs. At which point I’d better stop. You see, I’ve got this thing about memoirs … they’re just not serious literature.