Monday, 2 February 2009


As another round of writers pass the authonomy 'top five' test, one of the books that passed out last month received an unusually harsh spanking from Harper Collins' editor.

Remember one of my points was 'respect'? That I was annoyed at HC's 'one way' communication and its faceless editors? Well, imagine how you'd feel having put your work in front of 4,000 people so that an anonymous jerk with the backing of a major corporation could write:

"...stands out from the crowd of Authonomy proposals; not necessarily through its content or writing, however, but through the high status its author is held in within the Authonomy community."

So it only got there through the writer's popularity? That starts the girl off well, doesn't it? And then we go on:

"I don’t honestly believe that Seeing Red is a great work of science fiction."

At least that's honest, if a tad brutal. But then you can't really get into the writing thing unless you're up for a bit of brutality. I mean, all editors are brutes, no?

"Seeing Red’s take on science fiction is na├»ve and simplistic..."

Oh hang on. Aren't we being a bit, well, unnecessary here?

"The world of SF...has moved far on from cheesy concepts expressed in this book"

Note the missing definite article. The editor can't spell 'found', either.

"...the settings are straight from central casting."

Our hero goes on to have a right old go. Get this - and do imagine this was your hard work, voted to the top by something like 500 people on the site who have said, essentially, that they would buy it if it were on sale:

"Of course, there is nothing wrong at all with referencing the styles of older pulp novels – they may be the equivalent of B-movies but at their best can have a tremendous joi de vivre and embrace some truly mind-boggling concepts. But I do not believe that the intention here was to deliberately pastiche that sort of science fiction to make a particular point or create a specific effect."

And this from a patronising, condescending goon that can't even spell 'Joie de vivre'!

But the real kick in the head comes last. Remember, this is supposedly from an editor at one of the world's largest and most powerful publishing houses, so carries unusual weight:

"I cannot see any science fiction imprint picking this one up for publication."

This is Patty's reaction to it. I don't think she's gone far enough, but there you go: Patty’s blog


Seabee said...

Those who can, write. Those who can't...

Pete said...

"Scene" from "central casting?"

Mockingbird said...

okay... the theory is that someone asked the Editor's cat, Mittens, to knock up something quickly... Mittens being a cat found writing quite hard, and was unable to comment sensibly upon the book in question because she hadn't read it properly (being a cat, she can't read either... but doesn't let this unfortunate happenstance stop her...) so she was forced to fall back on something (anything) else to toe the party line. Which is, if the people like it, we bury it.

Anonymous said...

You have to admit that the editor has a point in their first paragraph. Authonomy is one big popularity contest, not so much in terms of who likes who the best (or their writing) but he who reviews gets reviewed in return and moves up.

That's what the site is intended for, and Patty worked the system. Her blog says it all - she devoted weeks to reviewing people on Authonomy and was pleased when her comments reached the 500's. Nevermind that half of those comments weren't reviews, but thank yous for her reviews. She worked the system and is disappointed by what she won.

Just because that's the way Authonomy is designed to work doesn't mean the editor has to sugar-coat a review meant to discuss whether or not the book will find a publisher, especially with HC.

Yes, the review was blunt and you found things to nit-pick in the writing, but this is also an editor being forced to review something that would have been weened from the slush pile and never seen their desk via the normal route. Keep in mind that HC may have volunteered to review books that make the top five, but individual editors may not have had a choice.

I also noticed many of the reviews HC editors gave to books they actually enjoyed still said the book would need to find a home somewhere else. There's no explanation why the editors at HC won't pick the book up if it's so great. At least with their review of Seeing Red they gave a detailed reason why they wouldn't publish it. I think honestly is being confused with brutality.

the real nick said...

this book (by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark
Penguin £9.99 pp262)How NOT to Write a Novel

got very good reviews.

It's not a hint or anything...

alexander... said...

You're a bad man, Nick. And one day the pixies are going to get you.

Now I am going to buy that book.

"Unpublished authors often cite the case of John Kennedy Toole, who, unable to find a publisher for his novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, took his own life. Thereafter, his mother relentlessly championed the book, which was eventually published to great acclaim and earned him a posthumous Pulitzer prize for fiction.
Yes, we say, that is a strategy, but it is a strategy that demands a remarkable level of commitment from the author's mother, and an even greater commitment from the author. And, of course, it puts a serious crimp in the book tour. But even more to the point, it will work only if you have in fact written a masterpiece that awaits only the further enlightenment of the publishing industry and the reading public to receive the treatment it deserves."

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