I received an e-mail from Gotham Writers about an event in the Upper East side yesterday. The authors of "The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published" teamed up with a pair of literary agents to hold an American-idol style contest in which people had one minute to pitch their book proposal before them, the crowd, and the rolling cameras.
I attended, for I've recently had the idea to edit a collection of thematically related short stories--Bride of the Golem--an anthology of humorous Jewish horror. However, after standing in line and entering the room it was explained that only those who just purchased the book were eligible to pitch, and not wanting to feel pressured into buying a book I might not need, I declined to do so, and instead watched the procedings with amused detachment.
Twenty-two people pitched their books. Some sounded absolutely dreadful, others, intriguing. First I'll cover the dreck, then the dazzling, the swine before the pearls.
Of the 22, three had already self-published their books. Do they really think a different publisher will republish their works?
Also, three of the 22 were novels involving presidential assassination attempts, though, thankfully, not of our current president. One monotone mumbler described his scenario--a female is elected president, then women's suffrage is repealed, then a civil war of sorts, and in his words, the book becomes like Orwell's 1984 meets Cormack McCarthy's The Road. One of the three assassination novels might actually work, depending on the quality of the writing--it is about a Puerto Rican man who attempts to bump off President Truman.
One of the self-published geniuses is a caucasian who works as a school counselor. He's compiled quotes and pearls of wisdom from African-Americans from Frederick Douglass to President Obama, in a collection titled African-American Core Values. While I don't think his project is republishable in its current format, I have to laud his efforts to reach our city's youth and inspire them.
Self-help and enlightenment books made up three of the 22 proposals. One is a 19-volume Path to Peace by a space cadet who was not ready to take the microphone when her turn arrived, so she went later. Another proposal is "Goddess Entrepreneur", a guide to nonaggressive success using your feminine essence. The author is a transformational life coach. The third of this type was "Coincidentally Charmed" an inspirational autobiography, a mystical journey of discovery of her blessed life, which has been filled with good fortune. Good for her. Maybe her lucky streak will continue and she'll find a publisher.
A few of the proposals were memoirs of persons not so spiritually blessed, and these sounded intriguing. "The Act" is about a child of a mixed race couple (one a Swede, the other, African) growing up in northern Sweden, then moving to the U.S. where he ended up a male prostitute. He says it's a true story, and it was quite unusual and unexpected to hear a black man speaking with a Swedish accent. "Correspondence Unauthorized" is about an African-American woman convicted of a white collar crime, sent to prison, then later going homeless.
The idea which "won" the event was Verne Hoyt's "Parties Unknown", the fruit of 20 years research into his grandparents' involvement in a lynching in southern Georgia in 1930, which culminates with him visiting the victim's widow, and later serving as a pall-bearer in her funeral.
Novel ideas: 1) Voodoo Town a slipstream novel about a detective who must consult the seven African Voodoo Deities to solve a mystery. He described it as Elmore Leonard meets Anne Rice. He should add Neil Gaiman's American Gods to his "similar" list.
2) A novel about a new astrologer who solves problems. Her speech is very polished and perhaps her writing is, as well. Although the concept of pseudo-science in novels causes a knee-jerk revulsion in me, I've seen two writers use Tarot well in their stories--Jeanette Winterson in Gut Symmetries and my colleague Michelle Byington in her novel-in-progress. Michelle's character Tina uses tarot to force/reinforce her interpretation of the world both to herself and to her girlfriend, to tragi-comic effect.
3) 13 Minutes. A novel about a hedonist artist who achieves limited success and ends up on reality television.
4) A Doll House. About a late life marriage to a husband with Alzheimer's, using the construction of doll houses to keep him focused.
5) Kwame Nkrumah (not the former President of Ghana) has an African folk story about a wily hyena.
I think all of these are fine ideas if the writers have the talent to make them shine.
There was one poetry book proposal "For the Godesses", poems about women who have nurtured and inspired him. The author has never had a poem published before. And his recited sample contained nothing novel or gripping in it.
One of the best proposals, and I really hope this gets published is "A Girl's Guide to College Sports Scholarships" by one of ESPN's editors. The panel suggested that she draft a famous female athlete to write an introduction. If my spouse and I are blessed with a daughter, I hope this book is updated and reprinted frequently.