It should be no surprise to you that my writing career has had highlights nearly too numerous to count. The one of which I’m proudest? Being shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize the year I wrote those liner notes for whatever that Kinks album was called. What will surprise many is that there’s been some awful humiliation among all the glory, like that time in approximately 1979 when I was desperate to get into Oui, Playboy’s younger, hipper offshoot, and a smug little dickhead editor, ?Ed Dwyer, invited me in to discuss possible assignments, but when I got there I discovered that he and his fellow little dickhead editors had decided to go to lunch early. If I so chose, I could go over to the restaurant where they were dining.
They’d apparently smoked a great deal of pot on the way to the restaurant, and found it terribly amusing to ridicule me for wanting to write for their magazine, for which they found it hilarious to profess great disdain. And I, hoping to appear a good sport, wanting desperately to get my freelance writing career moving again, didn’t pee all over their appetizers.
Thirty-five years later, I’m feeling nearly the same. You’ll recall that I recently invited 186 literary agents to read my latest novel, Who Is Keri Fetherwaite?, and that a grand total of one agreed. She didn’t like it, or my novel Insects On Fire, about the sadism of children, but agreed to pass the latter along to some decision-makers at a publishing house that had recently published one of her authors. Forty-eight hours ago, I received this email from one of them.
My name is Harris K—. I'm an acquisitions editor for Koehler Books. Recently [literary agent] forwarded me your work Insects on Fire. I forwarded to our Executive Editor Mr. Joe Coccaro for consideration. I'm happy to report that after having spent time with your manuscript, Mr. Coccaro strongly believes it is worthy of publication through our Emerging Author (EA) program. Please consider what he had to say about your work:
[Said Mr. Joe Coccaro:]
John Mendelssohn's novel, Insects of [sic] Fire, is a gritty tale of life on the edges of society. It's a portal into a world most of us hope to avoid for ourselves and kids. Drugs, whores, bikers, violence, abuse, racism and shattered innocence. It's raw but real.
I read the first few chapters, skimmed the mid-section, and studied the end. I'm convinced there is a compelling story here that would appeal to a YA crowd and lovers of darker side. The book is intense, as is its language and characters. The writer needs to better harness that intensity by extracting it through the characters, rather than a narrator's voice. I honestly think Mr. Mendelssohn's book would benefit if he worked closely with one of our line editors. The book could be tightened and focused and brought up to top-notch professional standards. As it now sits, there are words missing, verb tense confusion and stylistic inconsistency. That sounds worse than it is. The point here being that this could be a compelling novel if reworked and buffed.
The best course for this work would be to pair Mr. Mendelssohn with one of our editors and then after a line-by-line treatment, have a copy editor scrub the manuscript for grammar, style, spelling....Once professionally edited and formatted, the novel could be prepped and designed by Koehler Studios for publication. At that point, Mr. Mendelssohn could pursue a couple publishing options. Koehler Books emerging authors program is certainly one option, or the work could be released through IngramSpark.
Under either option, I strongly recommend that Insects of Fire release as an e-book first. My gut tells me that's where the primary market for this work resides. The ebook option would also be much less expensive for Mr. Mendelssohn than a full print distribution deal.
Less expensive, but still pretty expensive. Koehler believes I should pay them $5000 to rework and, uh, buff (but not actually print!) my novel, of which I will admit I’m actually pretty proud. (I might not be the best person to ask, but I think I’m around 100 times better a novelist than I ever was a music critic, as which I was internationally lauded, rather than patronized by slimeball hucksters such as Harris and Mr. Joe Corraro.)
Long story short, as they used to say on The Sopranos: my gut told me to invite Harris to take his Emerging Authors program and insert it, vigorously, in his southernmost bodily orifice.