Months ago I wrote about Ugresic’s great book Thank You For Not Reading. Over the past week, I graced this screen with a few extracts from Snoopy’s Guide. One in particular, this one, has prompted a few people to drop me a line after they picked themselves up from the floor. But you know something? Ugresic has even better examples in her book and today I am going to share them with you.
" A successful book proposal must also answer the question of what type of readership the book is intended for. I can sort of understand the hook business, but I just can't imagine my readership in advance.
'Imagine that you are writing for Harrison Ford, maybe it'll go better,' suggests Ellen.
Ellen does not realise how right she is. For a book proposal is nothing other than a screenplay, an effective account of an imagined film.
The nineteenth century, France, a young woman married to a provincial doctor dreams of love. Torn between a tedious husband and one lover, then another, burdened with debts accumulating daily, the woman commits suicide. The book is intended for a wide female readership.
'Good,' says the editor. 'Just change the nineteenth century to the twentieth, and add another lover or two. Give the husband a bit of fun as well, let him turn out to be gay. And forget the suicide at the end! No one would believe that!'
The nineteenth century, Russia, a married woman belonging to high society falls in love, leaves her husband and son, lives as a social outcast with her adored lover, and when he leaves her to go to war, she throws herself under a train. The book is intended for a wide female readership.
'Great!' says the editor. 'Two sisters, one lives in Soviet Russia married to an KGB officer, she falls in love with a dissident. The other emigrates and marries a boring French doctor. In 1990, the sisters meet. Flashbacks, two different lives, two female destinies. The illusions and disillusions of East and West after the fall of communism. Title: Two Sisters. Start writing!'
My first success encouraged me. I even became obsessive. Recently I have done nothing but write book proposals. I took the trouble to write a book proposal for Remembrances of Things Past. It was turned down, Boring, too long, change the title...
Now I'm testing the market. Camouflaged Shakespeare works great. Ulysses got nowhere. Despite my having told it as a soap opera, The Man Without Qualities ended up int he trash. Memoirs of Hadrian too, and The Death of Virgil. All right, I agree, the great European writers were always a bit tedious. But even Hemingway didn't do any better, although I did manage to sell The Old Man and the Sea. I disguised it a bit. I stressed the ecological aspect of the whole thing. And I changed the old man into a good-looking young Cuban exile, gay. The proposal was immediately accepted.
I'm not complaining. Except I haven't written a line for ages. I mean, a literary line of my own. I'm completely absorbed in these book proposals. I'm becoming increasingly impudent. I camouflage less and less. I've just sent an editor the proposal for One Hundred Years of Solitude.
'Forget the contents!' said the editor. 'No one could possibly follow that story. But there's no reason not to use that great title.' "
Now dear reader I ask you this: what chances does the new novelist stand when even Flaubert (first proposal above, Madame Bovary) and Tolstoj (second above, Anna Karenina) get rejections? And of course I am not sharing this great essay in order to discourage you but... just to make you aware that you will find some ignorant editors in your way. Proceed at your own peril.