Review: The Bestseller Code

I mentioned The Best Seller Code in my recent post of August 4th, where I commented on a review by Sandra Elliot for The Florida Writer.  Now, having read the book, I can give you my own reactions.

First, let me say that it is a ‘must read’ for aspiring novelists, not because it reveals all the secrets of creating a bestseller (which it doesn’t), but because it will give you insights into your own writing’s weaker points.  (Assuming that there are a few.)

One aspect of the book that I found frustrating at the outset was that there was no discussion about how the ‘almost five thousand ‘ novels which were read by computer were selected.  Five hundred to these (10%) were best sellers.  Presumably all genres were represented, but in what sort of distribution?  Equal balance of male and female writers?  How about the age and background of the authors?  (There are comments on the back grounds of best-selling authors.)  What about the authors’ nationalities?  (Although all are presumably English-speaking.)  There was no mention of the age distribution of the novels, although all of the bestsellers mentioned are recent novels.  To what extent do readers’ tastes change over time?  How about the type of publisher (traditional vs indie) and the marketing budget?

There are a number of examples of the characteristics of books which tend to make them best sellers, or not, and these, of course are helpful.  But the authors admit that their computer model is only 80% accurate in predicting whether a novel will be a bestseller.  The methodology of the authors’ research used three different mapping algorithms to compare hundreds of dimensions in ‘space’.  One dimension, for example, is the use of the word ‘very’.  It turns our that authors who use ‘very’ frequently in their text are less likely to produce bestsellers.  Particular dimensions may be quite influential in predicting bestsellers.  An example is ‘human closeness’.  The computer reads the text looking for words and arrangement of words which mean that the author is writing about human closeness.  It turns out that Fifty Shades of Grey was not a best seller because of its sexual content, but because of its human closeness.

The computer was 71% accurate in identifying the gender of the author.  Three genres that have difficulty achieving bestseller status are romance, science fiction and fantasy.

Some of the dimensions which contribute to good public acceptance include: emotional cycles; active, rather than passive characters; characters who need rather than wish for; author’s distinctive style (J K Rowling’s first incognito novel was recognised not by its subject but by her style).

Topics that readers like include: marriage, death, taxes (really), modern technology, funerals, guns, school, work, doctors, presidents, kids, moms, and the media.  Less popular subjects are: sex (except in a small erotic genre), big emotions, wheeling and dealing, existential or philosophical sojourns, dinner parties.

For me, the chapter on style was particularly interesting as it included a number of specific examples and commentary on why a particular style is effective.  I also believe that I need to work harder at bringing life to what my characters are feeling in subtle but effective ways.

Having said all this, I think it’s important to keep one vital point in perspective.  There are many award-winning novels which are clearly labours of love by their authors, memorable for their readers, and which never make the bestseller list.

 

Publishing Industry Standard

Angela Bole, CEO of the Independent Book Publishing Association, has introduced an Industry Standard for a Professionally Published Book in the July issue of  IBPA Independent magazine.

Angela Bole

In the article, she says: “IBPA has been championing independent publishers, big and small, self and otherwise, since 1983.  That’s over 30 years of advocating for indie voices in the traditional publishing industry.  Over this time, we’ve seen a thing or two.

“Recent changes in the publishing industry have created enormous opportunities for self-published authors.  It’s now possible to produce a professional-quality book outside of the Big Five conglomerates.  Unfortunately, this opportunity has come at the cost of a deepening divide between how traditionally-published and self-published authors are treated.  Too often, IBPA has noticed a bias against self-published authors, independent publishers and hybrid presses when it comes to choosing titles or authors for review consideration, book award contests, association memberships, and inclusion of independent bookstore shelves.

“There is no reason for this bias.  While it is true that not all books are created equal, when they are, it’s important that the industry treats them as such.  That’s why the IBPA’s Advocacy Committee recently published an Industry Standard for a Professionally Published Book – a two-page document developed to support independent publishers and self-published authors, but also to urge an industry in flux to acknowledge that books ought to be judged on their substance ranter than their business model.  If used appropriately, the checklist gives both authors and book industry professionals an at-a-glance method by which to gauge the professional presentation of a book.  The goal is that the checklist becomes a future guide that reviewers, contests, membership associations and bookstores turn to when deciding which authors merit consideration.

“You can download the checklist at: ibpa-online.org/standardschecklist .

“During BookExpo last June, I had the privilege of discussing the checklist with other industry organisations.  I met with the American Booksellers Association, the Authors Guild, Publishers Weekly, Foreword Reviews and many more.  I’m glad to say that the reception was warm.  Those industry professionals paying attention know they’re missing quality books be using gatekeeping tactics attached to business models; they just haven’t figured out how to consider books without opening the floodgate to unprofessionally produced content, as well.  They seemed to appreciate that the checklist is a needed first step toward figuring this all out.

“Today’s independent publishers and self-published authors represent a diverse array of voices and backgrounds, often speaking about specialised issues that are marginalised by larger presses, often because their books are being judged on the business model and not on what matters, which is the content of the books.  Just as publishers, self, or otherwise, are responsible for producing books that adhere to industry standards, the book industry as a whole is responsible for creating an environment that allows for equal evaluation of all published works.”

Amen!

Is Amazon Helping Pirates ?

Angela Bole, chief executive officer, Independent Book Publisher’s Association, implies as much in the lead article of the June issue of the IBPA Independent magazine.  She takes issue with Amazon’s change in policy on its book buy box.

Amazon’s Buy Box

This is the method which Amazon has used in the past to say that the book in question is new and is supplied by the publisher.  Now, Amazon is offering a priority spot in the buy box the third party suppliers who offer the same book as new, but at a price significantly below the publisher’s list and Amazon’s Prime price.

For example, a hard cover version of The Bestseller Code has a publishers list of $25.99.  Amazon is offering it at $14.29 Prime.  There are eight third-party sellers offering the book at prices lower than Amazon’s.  The worry, of course, is that publishers and authors are not receiving their due compensation on these cheap books.

In the article, Ms Bole asks: “Where might these third-party sellers be getting the books that they sell that don’t result in any author compensation?  Any number of ways, including donated books, closeout sales, sidewalk sellers, remainder and overstock dealers, ‘hurts’ from distributor stock, promo copies and ARC’s” (advanced reader copies –  f0r reviewers).  An Amazon spokesperson wrote to Publishers Weekly to say that books obtained in one of the preceding ways wouldn’t qualify, because the books must be ‘new”.  Amazon defines ‘new’ as ‘brand-new, unused, unread copy in perfect condition.  The dust cover and original protective wrapping, if any, is intact’.

“The problem is that Amazon does nothing to enforce the ‘new’ policy.”  The third-party seller gets to declare that the book is ‘new’ by simply choosing the ‘new’ option. . . . .

“Karla Olson, director of Pantagonia Books, said, ‘We received a comment on one of our books that it was riddled with typos, and the captions were all the same for the second half of the book.  It took us a few reads to figure out that the customer had bought an ARC, from Amazon. . . .

“And Cynthia Frank, president at Cypress House pointed out another problem. ‘We’ve learned that some of the third-party sellers who have won our Buy Boxes are actually fly-by-night sellers who have only been in the business a few months.  Some likely don’t have even a single copy.  On various listservs and forums, including LinkedIn, I’ve read that some customers pay for a book, but it never arrives.  Amazon, because they take good care of their customers (as opposed to their vendors), ends up holding the bag and has to pay a refund.”

“According to Ian Lamont, founder at 130 Media, in a written statement, ‘Even before the policy change, there were several recent cases of counterfeit paperbacks being co-mingled with legitimate inventory at an Amazon warehouse (as reported by No Starch Press) and taking over the Buy Box (which happened to Author Dave Burgess).  Knock-offs taking over the Buy Box has been a massive issue for manufacturers for several years (as reported by Forbes).  And it’s clear that Amazon can’t control this new policy if they can’t solve the counterfeit problem.'”

Why would Amazon want to introduce a policy like this?  I don’t know, but I suspect that it is driven by Amazon’s commitment to offering goods at the lowest possible price.  What Amazon has apparently failed to consider is that the goods are different at the lowest price from the ‘same’ goods at the more reasonable price.  They have also failed to consider the interests of the people who try to earn a living from the goods Amazon sells.

If you would like to reach a wider audience with your comments, you may want to add a comment on the IPBA website:

http://www.ibpa-online.org/news/349854/An-Amazon-Buy-Button-Call-to-Action.htm

 

 

Backwards Books

Qualifying for an obscure facts about books award, is an article in The Daily Telegraph with the title ‘How Book Lovers Turned Things Around’ by Anita Singh.  Appearing on 19/4/17, it said:

“If you want to display books on shelves the traditional way, try turning your books back to front.  Placing books on shelves with the spines facing outwards is a relatively recent phenomenon, according to Mark Purcell, former libraries curator for the National Trust who now oversees the research collections at Cambridge University Library.

Mark Purcell

“‘Until fashions changed in the 18th century, book titles and authors were not printed on the spine but written in ink on the edge of pages.  The turnaround happened when the wealthy decided having titles embossed in gold leaf would add a certain cachet.  If you’d gone to almost any library in England, Wales or Scotland until 300 years ago the books were kept backwards,’ Purcell said at the Hay Festival.  ‘In those days the cultural supposition was that books had the title printed on the edges of the pages in ink.’

“The first known English book with a title gilded on the spine was printed in 1604, he said, and that was considered ‘cutting edge’.  Then followed, in the 17th and 18th centuries, what historians call ‘the great turnaround’, where the method of display was reversed.”

I suspect that a change in binding technology may also have been partially responsible for this change.  It may have simply been more difficult to print the author’s name and the title of the book on spine of the book.  But, judging by the picture above, it is easy to see why book owners preferred to display their possessions with the title and author’s name on the spine.

 

National Book Foundation

There was an interview in Time magazine a couple of months ago with the first black female to be named executive director of the National Book Foundation.

By way of background, the National Book Foundation website says:

“The mission of the National Book Foundation and the National Book Awards is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.

“History: On March 16, 1950, publishers, editors, writers, and critics gathered at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City to celebrate the first annual National Book Awards, an award given to writers by writers. The American Book Publisher’s Council, The Book Manufacturers’ Institute, and The American Booksellers’ Association jointly sponsored the Awards, bringing together the American literary community for the first time to honor the year’s best work in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

“In 1986, the publishing community established The National Book Foundation, a not-for-profit organization to oversee the Awards, diversify their base of philanthropic support and expand their mission. The Foundation board then hired Neil Baldwin—an author, and Manager of The Annual Fund at The New York Public Library—to become the Founding Executive Director of The National Book Foundation and help determine its agenda for the future. ”

Wikipedia says this about Lisa Lucas: “Lucas was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey.  Lucas attended the University of Chicago, where she studied English.  Reporting on Lucas’s 2016 appointment to executive director of the National Book Foundation, NBC said: ‘With Lucas at the forefront of the National Book Foundation and Awards, the future of publishing looks very bright.’  The Los Angeles Times said Lucas ‘is clearly poised to bring the organization to a new level…ideally suited’ to promote the foundation. She is the third director in the history of the foundation, ‘one of America’s key literary institutions,’ and the first woman and the first African-American to lead the organization.”

Lisa Lucas

In the Time interview, Lucas was asked: “What’s going to be the role of American literature in the new political era?”

Lucas: “People keep saying we’re postfact, and I think that books are the special place where we can go to understand the world we live in.”

Time: “In 2014, 27% of Americans didn’t read a single book.  How can we change that?”

Lucas: “People who make and market books probably assume that 27% of people aren’t going to bother with our product.  That’s the place where you first start correcting.  Assume everyone reads.  Lately, people have been talking a lot about book deserts, places where there isn’t access – how do we encourage people to open bookstores in these communities?”

Time: “What book would you recommend to our President?”

Lucas: “We were so lucky to have such a wonderful reader in President Obama, who said that reading novels helped make him a better citizen.  I can only hope that President Trump is as interested in our stories, lives and literature.  I’d recommend some books that have recently been celebrated by the foundation: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen; John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell’s March; Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land; and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning.

The full interview is on page 48 of the January 30, 2017 issue.

Promotion

Now that I have a new novel out, it’s time to think about promoting it, right?

Actually, one has to think about promoting a novel before one starts writing it.  Probably, the first question to ask is: who’s going to read it?

Let me give you a summary of my experience using various promotion channels.  And I should confess that while I have a marketing background, I would much rather write than promote (because I think I’m better at writing than at selling and I enjoy writing more)

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Press Release: My publisher writes a draft press release which I edit and it goes out to ‘thousands of libraries, book shops, media outlets’.  Fortunately, it’s in an electronic form, so that no trees are actually killed (not even from recipients printing it out, which, as far as I know, has never happened).

Website:  I have a website (www.williampeace.net), which I share with the publisher.  At the moment, I’m waiting for the publisher’s IT guru to add Seeking Father Khaliq.  Then, I’ll ask my IT handyman to add some real content.  Essential?  Yes.  Has it sold any books?  Doubtful.

Blog:  Here we are!  For me the main value of a blog is the work I have to do each week – other than writing – to prepare something which might be stimulating.  And, I very much enjoy it when someone responds!

Twitter:  Pass.  Unless you’re a big name author and people want to know what you had for breakfast, I doubt that 140 characters per day sells many books.

Goodreads & Amazon Author Pages:  Yes.  They even run my blog down the side – as does my website.

Facebook Pages:  Yes.  I have a personal page, an author’s page and there’s a page for each of my books.

Advertising:  Yes.  Five of my books have regular advertisements on Goodreads.  What I’ve got to do now is to revisit the advertising copy on some of the ads because the click-through-rate is too low.  There have been quite a few books added to readers’ lists.  Currently, I’m running a Facebook ad which covers the commuter homebase north of Manhattan.  Lots and lots of ‘Likes’.  Sales?  Hard to say.  The Facebook ads are expensive.

Giveaways:  I ran a giveaway on Goodreads last year.  Over one hundred people applied for ten books.  After I sent the books out, I got one semi-literate review, instead of the ten I should have received.  Don’t they do book reports in school any more?

Brick & Mortar Bookshops:  Bookshops will carry books only if they are bought on a sale or return basis.  That way, they get left with zero unsold stock.  My publisher offers a ‘deal’ where the author underwrites the cost of returns from bookshops.  When I pointed out that since they had something to gain from sales to bookshops, they ought to participate in the underwriting.  Their response was to put a cap on my potential exposure.  I signed up to that for a while, but there was no evidence that any bookshops bought copies.  I’ve offered to carry the stock for several independent bookshops in London, but there was no interest in even a sample book. I approached Barnes & Noble about carrying one or two of my books in selected stores.  No interest.  With (very) rare exceptions brick and mortar bookshops buy from traditional publishers.  Period.

Book Signings: A few years ago, my publisher would arrange book signings.  In fact I was offered a signing at a rural bookshop in Maine, but I had to buy and carry 50 books with me.  This service has since been discontinued.  In fact, I have the impression that book signings work only for non-fiction accounts of a juicy scandal written by one of the perpetrators.

Awards:  This is a semi-major project area for me. I’ve stopped submitting to the outfits that run multiple contests with unidentified judges.  That still leaves about one contest per month, and I’m getting recognition about half the time.  (No serious money yet.)

Reviews:  You may know that Amazon has cracked down on pay-for-review outfits: they won’t let them post reviews.  This makes some sense in that the money might be trying to buy a good review.  The problem is that there isn’t enough review capacity in the industry.  Willing and educated reviewers tend to flock to the best sellers.  Bloggers who offer  reviews typically have a very long waiting list.  Reciprocal reviewing services are an option, but, to be fair, one has to reading some marginally interesting stuff to win a hasty review.  Recently, I tried a different approach to the literary editors of large newspapers.  I had previously sent a few of them samples of my latest book.  No response.  I identified about fifteen literary editors of major newspapers in the UK, US and Canada, and I sent them carefully crafted messages about Seeking Father Khaliq, inviting them to review it.  There were two polite ‘no thank you’s.

So let me end with a fantastic offer!  If any of my readers would like to receive a free copy of Seeking Father Khaliq with an obligation to publish a brief, learned review, please email me at  bill(at)williampeace(dot)net!

Designing a Cover

I probably wrote about this subject quite a while ago, but it’s close enough to my heart that it warrants a re-exploration.

My publisher will produce two cover designs, and the author can have his/her choice.  To facilitate the process, there is a questionnaire for the author to fill out.  It includes such questions as:

  • what is the book about?
  • what ideas do you have for the cover?

I usually respond with a fairly detailed cover idea.  In the case of my second novel, Sin & Contrition, I didn’t have an idea, and I probably told the cover designer that the cover should reflect sin and repentance.  What came back was amazing, and I liked it immediately:

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But with the five novels that have followed since, I have had to make more of a personal effort.

My latest novel, Seeking Father Khaliq, is a modern allegory about one man’s search for spiritual fulfillment.  It is set almost entirely in the Middle East, and many of the issues involve Islam.  As the title implies a difficult search, I told the designer that I wanted a Middle Eastern maze with the Dome of the Rock (the famous mosque in Jerusalem) positioned at the end of the maze.  What came back was a modern, three-dimensional maze with the Dome of the Rock floating on the horizon.  It just didn’t work.  Next, I found two, antique two-dimensional mazes to choose from, and I suggested that the Dome of the Rock (in miniature) be positioned at the success point in the center.  This also didn’t work; I gave up on the maze.

While browsing dreamstimes.com’s collection of mosque photos, I came across a single photo of some people ascending a long flight of stairs toward the Dome of the Rock.  That’s it.  But meanwhile, my wife, who has a much better eye for things artistic than I, had objected to the font proposed by the designer for the cover: “It’s a dated Western font; there’s nothing Arabic about it!”  So, on a page offering ‘free Arabic fonts’, we found one we liked.

What came back from the designer was a lot better, but I asked that the photo be enlarged and positioned at the top of the cover, and that the white highlights be eliminated from the font.  We’ll see what comes back, and I expect to introduce the book and its cover to you when it goes to press within a month.

It is true that one can’t judge a book by its cover, but the cover can play an important role in introducing the book to the reader!

Amazon’s First Bookstore

Amazon opened its first physical bookstore in Seattle, Washington on 2 November last year.  At first glance it looks like any other bookstore, but there are important differences.  All the books are priced at the same prices as on amazon.com.  The books are shown cover-out, rather than spine-out.   The books are arranged by genre and by the number of stars received on Amazon.com.  Included by each book is a review that a customer has placed on the Amazon website.  The photos below are from Time Magazine.

Customers shop inside Amazon Books in Seattle, Washington, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. The online retailer Amazon.com Inc. opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Seattle's upscale University Village mall. Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

General View of Amazon’s First Bookshop

A customer shops at Amazon Books in Seattle, Washington, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. The online retailer Amazon.com Inc. opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Seattle's upscale University Village mall. Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

Reminder about price policy

A customer shops at Amazon Books in Seattle, Washington, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. The online retailer Amazon.com Inc. opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Seattle's upscale University Village mall. Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

Notice the reviews below each book

Customers shop at Amazon Books in Seattle, Washington, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. The online retailer Amazon.com Inc. opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Seattle's upscale University Village mall. Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

There is also a Kindle station

Inside The First Amazon.com Inc. Brick And Mortar Bookstore

There is a Most-Wished-For section reflecting habits on amazon.com

Inside The First Amazon.com Inc. Brick And Mortar Bookstore

Behind the checkout counter, Amazon displays books that are popular that week.

In the store, customers can try out Amazon’s electronic gadgets: including the Fire TV streaming device, Fire tablet and Kindle electronic reader.

The prices, the cover-out displays, the star ratings and the customer reviews will certainly be attractive to many customers.  Will other book sellers move to copy Amazon?  I doubt it.  The prices, star ratings and customer reviews are unique to Amazon, as are its electronic gadgets.  Over the weekend, I visited a Waterstone’s bookstore near home, and a found that selected books have a small card below them on which were hand-written comments by store employees.  While the cover-out display is attractive, I doubt that it is a feature which will be widely copied, because it results in a dramatic reduction in the number of titles which can be displayed is a store of a given size.

Still the store format does an excellent job promoting the Amazon brand, even it, at the prices charged, the staff employed, and the brick and mortar rental, it will probably lose money – unless the store sells a lot more than a conventional bookstore of the same size.

Book Piracy

There was an article in last Sunday’s Telegraph by author Robert Colville explaining how the electronic black market threatens authors’ livelihoods:

“There are two things you do when your book first gets published.  First, bookmark your Amazon page, for obsessive checking of sales rankings.  Second, set up a Google Alert, in case anyone is talking about it.  Or, as it turns out, stealing it.  A couple of weeks after I became an author, I got an automated email: a free version of my book had popped up on a site called DailyUploads.net.  A few hours later, my inbox pinged again: I’d been pirated.

“The reaction came in several stages.  First, outrage: they’re pirating my book!.  Next, a curious kind of pride: they’re pirating my book.  Finally, pure bafflement: why are they pirating my book?  At the time, the American edition – the one that had been copied – was 309,607th on Amazon.  This wasn’t giving the public what they wanted: it was giving them what they didn’t even know existed.

“My mistake, it turned out, was to imagine the pirates as anglers, plucking the juiciest titles.  In fact, they’re trawler-men, sweeping their nets across the publishing schedules. . . .

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“If you buy an eBook on line, it will come in a format that can’t be shared.  But there are free software tools that strip those protections away.   The resulting files are distributed across the internet – not for profit, but out of a conviction that people should be able to read what they want without paying for it, just as they should be able to watch films or listen to music.  And, like everything else, it’s speeding up.  In 2008/9, titles took 19 weeks to hit the electronic black market.  This year, Lloyd Shepherd, a British author of historical thrillers, published his fourth novel – and found a ‘boxed set’ of all four available for download within 72 hours.

“So who are these pirates? When Shepherd received the dreaded Google Alert, he went onto the forums to find out what motivated them.  ‘The people who are doing this systematically have got some very odd justifications for it’, he explains.  ‘Many insist that the information should be free.  Others have a sense that writers are wealthy and publishers are wealthy, and therefore they’re entitled to steal from them.’  In fact, as Philip Pullman, president of the Society of Authors, has pointed out, they’re poor and getting poorer – something that Pullman links directly to piracy.

“. . . according to government research, only 1% of UK internet users are reading eBooks illegally, compared to 9% for music or 6% for films.  But, says Stephen Lotinga, CEO of the Publishers Association, this still amounts to 7.2 million titles per year or 10% of eBook sales.

“Publishers need to play a constant game or Whac-a-Mole with the illegal sites, because the more convenient it is to download illegally, the more people will be tempted.”

I just completed a troll through the Google search of the titles of my six published books.  I found seventeen suspected pirate sites dealing in at least one of the six, with a maximum of five sites for one of my published novels.  This count doesn’t include foreign sites which were selling my novels at near market prices (my publisher has a substantial foreign rights network).  It also doesn’t include sites to which I sent a DMCA (Digital Material Copyright Association) infringement notice.  In the past, I have had a good response from these notices: to ignore them is illegal, and usually my title will magically disappear.  But many sites do not have a link to a DMCA notice, and some that do have a link over complicate the process.  I’ve sent my publisher the list of the seventeen for them to work on.  After all, they have may more books than my six at risk!

Famous Books Turned Down by Publishers

There was a column in The Daily Telegraph last month by Charlotte Runcie, who, as far as I can tell, is a poet and freelance journalist.  Her column includes five egregious examples of famous authors whose books were turned down by publishers.

Charlotte_Runcie-small

Charlotte Runcie

Carrie

Stephen King received so many rejection letters for Carrie that he kept them all on a spike in his bedroom.  When it was first published in 1974, it was a runaway success, and the paperback sold more than a million copies in its first year.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

J K Rowling’s first Harry Potter manuscript was snubbed by 12 different publishers.  Eventually, Bloomsbury took a chance on the debut novelist: they offered an advance of £1500 and suggested she get a day job, just in case.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

John le Carré’s Cold War classic was brutally rejected by a publisher whose dismissive verdict was that the writer hadn’t ‘got any future’.  Still, it fared better than William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which was turned down 20 times.

Lolita

This daring novel was rejected by so many American publishers, including one who recommended ‘it be buried under a stone for a thousand years’, that Vladimir Nabokov eventually published it in France – a more enlightened market.

Moby Dick

Herman Melville’s manuscript was dismissed with a despairing note from a publisher who said, ‘First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?  While this is rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers.  For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous maidens?’  The book was eventually published, whale and all, but Melville had to fund the typesetting himself.”

As Andrew Michael Hurley said about the frustrations of writers finding a willing publisher, in a previous post: “So many times you feel like giving up and thinking, this isn’t going to happen.  But it does. It absolutely does.”