Wednesday, October 17, 2007

From the Community: The Good and the Kinda Odd

Early advance reading copies have been circulating for a few weeks now for Varian Johnson's My Life as a Rhombus and last night I got an email from one of those readers, reknowned author Ellen Wittlinger, most recently author of Parrotfish (which is near the top of my to-be-read pile). Ms. Wittlinger writes:

"Without a bit of preaching, Varian Johnson gives us a story of two teenage girls who are faced with the consequences of unplanned pregnancies. Teens will love the emotional peaks and valleys of the tale and be gratified by the conclusion."
Needless to say, we're all very pleased for Varian. This is hopefully only the beginning of well deserved recognition from his peers.

On the other hand, in the kinda-odd column from the community, I came across some very advance criticism of a novel we'll likely publish in early 2009 by absurdly talented debut novelist Emily Wing Smith. It's called Sunday's Child at the moment and whatever it's called when it's a book, it will be stunning and completely original.

When all the negotiations were done, I posted a note about the deal on Publishers Marketplace, as I always do when there's no agent to do it. For those who are unfamiliar, Publishers Marketplace hosts a newsletter with, among other things, a sort of bulletin board for deals between publishers and authors and between publishing houses for rights (and if you want to get the free version--and you should--click here). It's a good place to get news and to see who is buying what from whom, and, if you're in the market for sub rights, to see what's available. All the postings contain a very short descriptions of the book's contents in a from that's probably unique to Publishers Marketplace. You get "one phrase" to describe the book. I generally try to work in interesting details, but I don't spend hours composing a phrase that captures the whole book--if that's even possible. My entry for Emily's book read:

"Emily Wing Smith’s [debut novel,] SUNDAY’S CHILD, in six voices about a Utah Mormon community reeling after the death of a popular teen boy who was probably gay, to Andrew Karre at Flux, in a nice deal, for publication in spring 2009 (World)."
It's not poetry, but it's good enough for what it's for. What I didn't anticipate (but should have, since it's happened before) was that this would serve as a kind of advance read for the earliest critics. The popular Dear Author blog posted "Epic story sales that may or may not put me to sleep," wherein, among other thoughts on a number of deal posts, the author suggests that six voices might be "too many."

I said this has happened before, and it has--to the very first deal I ever did, in fact (and it was much more troubling then). Two years ago, a blogger posted this about my notice for the sale of Christine Kole MacLean's How It's Done, which was posted under its working title, "Pulling Out." In his post, the blogger wrote:

"That 'swept off her feet' is pretty strange coming in between 'high school senior from a fundamentalist Christian home' and 'college professor.' Explain to me how this isn’t a novel about something close to statutory rape? The age difference and power imbalance are compounded by the perception that the young woman has a sheltered background."
At the time, it took all my will power not to post a long comment explaining all the ways he had it wrong (though it occurs to me that it may seem like I'm doing something like that now--hope not). Now, though, I'm inclined to be intrigued and even a little encouraged by this. Yes, I think it's a little unfair for someone to write something negative about a book based on something the editor wrote about it in haste , but I just spent a weekend at an SCBWI conference saying over and over that publishing is not fair, so I'll take my own advice. More than that, though, I think it's at least interesting and maybe even encouraging that readers, writers, and critics are so interested in what's coming. It betrays a certain kind of enthusiasm and hope for the future of books, and I think, practically speaking, some conversation is preferable to no conversation. (I just wish they'd promise to follow through and blog about the book when it comes out. )


Brian Mandabach said...

The too many voices comment reminds me of what the court composer told the Emperor to say in criticism of Mozart in Amedeus: "Too many notes."

And while reading How it's Done , I kept internally screaming, "NOOOOOOO! Don't you see the way this guy is trying to control you?" The way Maclean shows you the imbalance in the relationship, even as her protagonist is swept away, is one of the triumphs of the novel. It's just silly to criticise a premise.

But nice job keeping your perspective, here, Andrew. And I just have to laugh.

Anonymous said...

they always say, 'there's no such thing as bad publicity,' if he hadn't blogged about you, you probably wouldn't have written about it so soon. now i'm thinking, 'wow, that sounds like an interesting premise!'

btw, summing up a novel in one sentence IS hard. i helped my agent and editor do mine. yikes.


Fred Z said...

Hi -- I finally stumbled across this comment. I can't blame you for your outrage. Sorry!

But I disagree with the first commenter -- it is perfectly reasonable to criticize a premise. That's Hollywood in a nutshell, right?

I'm glad you worked your way around to a balanced position. For better or for worse, potential readers *do* react to premises.