Farewell Women, children, the warm soup of family life and everything that has been called the source of happiness, the good taste of life!!! I became nothing but a punished fool. I had taken my flight in winter.
Oh seeds of men! It's Cain, your legitimate brother who is speaking to you today. Listen to the wisdom of his guilt . . . short is our day and eternal is our light. We're the children of death!
(From "The Thousand Gates to Hell," by Nagueh Abdou)
NAGUEH ABDOU has high hopes that his latest novel, "The Thousand Gates to Hell," will finally land him that elusive Nobel Prize he has been after.
First, though, there is a small hurdle that needs clearing. He will have to get the book published - something he has failed to do with any of his 17 previous works.
Several publishing houses have read "The Thousand Gates to Hell," or have, at any rate, had it in their custody. But Doubleday, McGraw Hill, E.P. Dutton, Crown, and Harper and Row have all turned thumbs down at the chance to publish this epic 712-page saga of one man's unending war with his own sinfulness.
"The editors, they say it is a great novel, a masterpiece, but we do not expect a big sale," explains Abdou, a native of Egypt and resident of Brooklyn.
Now 37, Abdou has been writing - in Arabic, French and English - since he was 16. He writes from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. every morning, then heads off to gain-ful employment as a substitute teacher in the New York City public schools. His afternoons and evenings are committed to the pursuit of a Ph.D. in philosophy at the New School for Social Research. Sleep is accomplished, as a rule, between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. In his dealings with publishers to date, he has been received about as warmly as someone passing out religious tracts at a massage parior. But Abdou to himself is no less a literary man than Jorge Luis Borges or Norman Mailer or Saul Bellow to themselves.
His books are love stories, and "from love I analyze the human nature in all its different aspects," says Abdou. "They tend mostly to be autobiographical. I don't know anybody as I know myself." Unfortunately, he adds, "Americans, they like mechanic things. They don't like to go in depth into emotions."
As he recalls the long, monotonously gloomy history of his dealings with publishers, the tone of Abdou's voice veers wildly between distress and disdain.
"I'm more interested in writing for myself than for publication," he says calmly. But a moment later he is berating one publisher that "didn't even open the box. The should be ashemed of themselves. I mean it's a business but they should take care of the human relationship.
"Sooner or later," says Abdou, "I am shooting for a Nobel Prize. I will still be a candidate 100 years after my death.
Alexander's steel grey eyes twinkled mischievously under heavy but perfectly arched black eyebrows. His thick black hair glistened in the sunstreaked room as the light rays entered and darted past his head.Alexander bent down and rubbed his smooth-shaven but still prickly face across Isabel's tender peach-blown cheek and touded her silky plat-down hair.
"Ouch, Daddy - that hurts! You stop bearding me!" Alexander's booming laughter roared throughout the house.
"I'll swan, Alexander! What're you doing to that child?"
(From "The Pregnant Hills" by Ethel Jean Goss)
Ethel Jean Goss of Chattanooga, Tenn, began her novel. "The Pregnant hill," in 1959, and hopes to finish it next winter. "Time gets away, doesn't it?" She observes.
At first she had hoped to enlist a collaborator in the work of fictionalizing her father's life. She wrote to John Gunther, who wrote back:
"Of course, the story of your father is well worth writing. He must have been a very fine man, and you sound like a remarkable family. But I cannot possibly take on the job I have commitments to write books and magazine articles that will several years to finish.
"I must say I think your own writing is very good indeed - you told the story in an extremely vivid and moving way."
"Mr. Gunther's letter spurred me on to renewed effort," says Goss. So did the A-minus she received after nine years of on-and-off correspondence study with the Famous Writers School of Westport, Conn. "You have a mass of rich, highly interesting, down to earth material," her instructor wrote her." And properly organized, it can be an excellent book - earthy and extremely moving."
Over the last 20 years, Goss has endured perils worthy of a Joan Crawfod movie. But through the deaths of her father and mother, her husband's heart attack, the flood that destroyed her apartment building, the financial trials of the clothing store she opened with her sister, and her own chronic angina, she has continued writing.
Last winter shw submitted 11 chapters and an outline of the balance to Harper and Row, where her manuscript, stamped "D" and assigned a four-digit identification number, took up a prolonged residence in the company's manuscript room. There, buried deep among hundreds of similarly opened boxes and envelopes - bearing the ecstasy and heartache of a generation of unrewarded authors - "The Pregnant Hills" awaited its fate.
(At Harper and Row, an "A" manuscript is a top priority submission from a prestigious author or agent; a "B" merely comes through an agent or someone known to the house; a "C" is unsolicited and unagented but addressed to a particular editor; and everything else is "D." Harper's, like other publishers, tries to avoid the term "slush pile," but that, nevertheless, is how this category of manuscript is generally referred to.)
Four months later, Goss' manuscript was returned with a fairly brisk letter of rejection (". . . given careful consideration . . . regret to inform you . . . judgment reflects only our own editorial needs . . . appreciate your thought of us . . ."). But in the lower left-hand corner, Goss spotted two sets of initials (an editor's and a typist's) that led her to conclude "it wasn't just a form letter - and that encourage me."
She was mistaken. It was a form letter. But rejected authors have a remarkable facility for finding encouraging nuances that would be lost on the rest of us.
"The Pregnant Hills" may never be published, Goss confides. "It's a story I thought should be told . . . Perhaps someday someone else will pick it up, rewrite it, and do a better job than I did with it."
The sun blazed like a torch black limousine as it sped along Interstate 80, heading west toward Ely. Nevada. Mirages played in the edge of sight, melting the distant mountains into a nebulous penaplain. Inside the air-conditioned vihicle, a chauffeur slouched vagrantly behind the wheel. A sound-proof partition separated him from his two distinguished passengers: Cardinal Simon O'Leary of the Roman Catholic Church and Nathan Farnsworth, chief administrative accountant for the Pope."
(From "Is Nothing Sacred?" by John W. Patterson.)
"I wouldn't call myself a totally dedicated writer," says John W. Patterson of Manhattan Beach, Calif., author of "O'Leary's Panacea" and "Is Nothing Sacred?" and co-author of "The Letters of Ira Still." Patterson is an electro-mechanical designer - right now for Hughes Aircraft - and has dabbled in acting, jewlry-making, woodcarving, furniture building, and, of course, writing.
Doubleday took an interest in "The Letters of Ira Still," an epistolary novel about a young man who enlists in an SLA-type band of revolutionaries. But "everybody sat on their haunches," Patterson recalls. "I learned a lesson. It's very difficult to sell a contemporary type of work unless you're an author who is known and established. By the time you do your footwork and contact the right people, your subject is dated."
A second manuscript attracted less interest when it was submitted to a slew of major publishers. Then Anthelion House, a northern California firm, made Patterson an offer he could have refused - but, alas, didn't. Anthelion would pay half the cost of publication and Patterson the other half.
"They wined me and dined me and the president of the company seemed like a very genuine person," says Patterson.
His novel had progressed as far as galley-proof when the troubles commenced. Anthelion's presses began malfunctioning. An earthquake struck the printing plant. The landlords, in a rent dispute, seized the premises. Finally, Anthelion filed for reorganization under chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Act.
Patterson's novel, of course remains unpublished. All he has to show for his $1,850 investment is a place in line with Anthelion's other anxious creditors. "You win a few, you lose a few," he says.
To his surprise, Patterson recently received an invitation to take an active part in the campaign to get Anthelion back on its feet. He could become a members of the company's board of directors, he was told, for a small cash investment. After mulling it over, he decided to say no.
I can never do justice to the disappointment and agony I let myself in for over the last 30 years. In retrospect it has been one of the most dragged-out, rip-snorting Donnybrooks a man has ever been confronted with. Many a night I have lain awake musing over the frustrations and futility that have dogged my footsteps all the way. Often I have asked myself, was all this real?
. . . Was the Free Enterprise system actually negating all my efforts-no one could be this misfortunate without good cause. . . America you are killing us inventors and yourself a little more every day . . . .
(From "To Reach a Star," the memoirs of freelance inventor Robert A. Houle:)
Robert A. Houle has submitted his memoir of 30 frenetic years as a free-lance inventor to 15 publishers. All but one have rejected it. "Vantage Press wanted to print the thing," says Houle, "but they also wanted to clip me $9,280 for it so I threw the kibosh on that idea."
Houle attributes his lack of success to the fact that the science he writes about is real. Americans, he says, are on a "fantasy kick that will lead to nothing but straight destruction for the country and possibly for the world.
"I'm not the very best writer," he concedes. "What I have to say, I've said. I'm going to send it to a few more publishing houses, but I think the result is going to be the same, unless I can find a real red-hot percentage man (an agent) . . . I don't know what hope there is unless you're one of those fantasy writers that's got a lot of pizzazz with what they have to say." Publishing is a "closed racket," declares Houle.
A compliment is a POSITIVE STATEMENT ABOUT ANOTHER PERSON' BEHAVIOR, APPEARANCE OR POSSESSIONS . . .
Complimenting others may be especially helpful in easing uncomfortable social situations. For example, if you ran into someone who generally mads' you uncomfortable, you might get the conversation off to a good start with a compliment: "Gee, that's a nice ring. Is that your birthstone?"
. . . An agreement is simply ANY STATEMENT WHICH INDICATES A SIMILAR POSITION OF FEELING. (Examples) Other. "I think living on the West Coast is much nicer than living on the East Coast." Reply. "I know what you mean. I got so sick of the congestion, crime and pollution living back there."
. . . SOME PRACTICE WRITING AGREEMENT STATEMENTS . . . 1. "Moving is a pain." YOUR STATEMENT: --. 2. "I like Mexican food." YOUR STATEMENT: --. 3. "The Democrats have certainly made a mess of Washington." YOUR STATEMENT: --.
(From "Increase Your Confidence and Skill in Interpersonal Situations," by Susan R. Glaser and Anthony Biglan.)
Communications teacher Susan R. Glaser and psychoterapist Tony Biglan have written what they say is the first empirically pre-tested self-help manual. Glaser has used the manual (inexpensively duplicated by the University of Oregon Press) with her students, and Biglan with his patients. Both say they have observed a startling boost in self-confidence among those who have followed the manual's program of practical exercises.
But one publishing house after another his cast an indifferent eye on Glaser's and Biglan's manuscript, entitled "Increased Your Confidence and Skill in Interpersonal Situations."
"More often than not,it came back unread," says Glaser, who concludes in retrospect that they should have addressed their package to specific editors, not blindly to huge corporations.
"We were very naive," Glaser adds. "We thought, boy, this is the only self-help manual that has been tested and worked. It was a real shock to us that people weren't just running all over each other to publish this book."
Biglan feels the manual might not be as effective without the "direct working relationship" he and Glaser enjoy with their students and patients. "This is also the tail end of the self-help market," he notes.
"Your Friends Say You Write Well . . . But you're not sure whether you have the skill necessary to publish in today's marketplace . . . If that's your situation, why not take advantage of the services of our professional writer-critics? Why not write for publishers' checks as well as your own satisfaction?"
Thus begins an ad for the Writer's Digest Criticism Service in Writer's Digest, the would-be writer's Bible. Other advetisers include the Writer's Institute, The Writer's Digest School, the Literary Discovery Association, Writers Press, The National Writers Club, the Hollywood School of Comedy Writing, and innumerable vanity presses, vanity editors and vanity agents.
According to the 1970 census, the U.S. population then included 26,004 "authors." But anyone who has ever worked in the publishing world will confirm that authors, like flies at a picnic, are not so easily lined up and counted.
"This is a game where the minor leadgues are all over the place," says John Brady, editor of Writer's Digest."Everybody's trying to make it into the majors." Brady's own circulation figures, up from 110,000 to 150,000 in the last year, make the point eloquently. Harper and Row reports it is receiving slush or "over the transom" manuscripts at the rate of about 3,000 a year. Clearly, the writing bug has assumed epidemic proportions.
At Harper's and other leading publishers, the sheer volume of submissions is such that few manuscripts are - in the generally accepted dictionary sense of the word - read. The readers and editiorial assistants to whom the task falls soon learn that the typical manuscript or book proposal can be tossed aside in a matter of minutes. The process would probably take even less time if publishers did not, as a rule, demand a brief written account of every manuscript's contents as well as an assessment of its worth.
As he recalls in his upcoming novel "Sophie's Choice," William Styron briefly worked as an editorial assistant for McGraw-Hill in 1947, "forced to plow my way daily through fiction and nonfiction of the humblest possible quality - coffee-stained and thumb-smeared stacks of Hammermill bond whose used, ravaged appearance proclaimed at once their authors' (or agents) terrible desperation and McGraw-Hill's function as publisher of last resort . . . I treated these forlorn offspring of a thousand strangers' lonely and fragile desire with the magisterial, abstract loathing of an ape plucking vermin from his pelt. . .
Among the manuscropts fortunate enough to enjoy a Styron perusal and refusal where (he claims) "Tall Grows the Eelgrass" by Edmonia Kraus Bier-sticker ("love and death among the sand dunes and cranberry bogs of southern New Jersey . . . may be the worst novel ever penned by woman or beast"). "The Plumber's Wench" by Audrey Wainwright Smile ("straining for laughs on ever page . . . absolutely imperative that this manuscript be declined"); "Harld Haarfager, a Saga" by Gundar Firkin ("3,850 typewritten pages . . . must be the longest literary work ever set down by human hand . . . one would think it was written by Dryden in mock imitation of Spenser") - and "Kon-Tiki" by Thor Heyerdahl.
"The idea of men adrift on a raft does have a certain appeal," his reader's report conceded. "But for the most part this is a long, solemn and tedious Pacific voyage."
Months later, "watching this book remain first on the best-seller list for unbelievable week after week, I was able to rationalize my blindness by saying to myself that if McGraw-Hill had paid me more than ninety cents an hour I might have been more sensitive to the nexus between good books and filthy lucre."
Styron was fired after five months at McGraw-Hill - not for rejecting "Kon-Tiki" but, as he explains it, for reading the New York Post on lunch-breaks and for a persistent failure to wear a hat. But other readers and other publishers have also, on occasion, let quality work slip by. "Everybody's always looking for that nugget of gold," says an editorial assistant at William Morrow, "but not with the expectation of finding it."
As an experiment, Gene Bragdon of Oklahoma City sent a portion of William Faulkner's "The Reivers" (retitled "The Thieves") to 11 prestigious New York publishers. Only E.P. Dutton recognized the submission (writing back politely that "The Reivers' by William Faulkner has already been published"). The other 10 firms sent rejection slips. Three referred the manuscript to their children's book departments.
With equal malice of forethought, aspiring novelist Chuck Ross sent a fragment of Jerry Kosinski's "Steps (winner of the 1969 National Book Award for fiction) to an assortment of publishers. Once again, the submission was turned down by one and all. None of the publishers recognized the work, and none bothered to draft a fresh letter of rejection for the occasion.
One of Ross's - or Kosinski'r - rejections came from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. "Unfortunately, we are no longer able to evaluate unsolicited material," the firm advised Ross. "We regret that the cost of reading unsolicited manuscripts, which has become increasingly great, has caused us to deal only with manuscripts submitted to us by advisers to our house or by agents. We wish you the best of luck."
Under the circumstances, few aspiring writers have that sort of luck, and after a rejection or two it begins to dawn on them that a certain amount of pluck as well as luck may be required. "I have recently completed a manuscript which I sense to be of unique substance," one author wrote Harper and Row. "I am presently transforming this story into a screen-play as I have several producers intrigued about its film possibilities. Meanwhile, I hope to find a reputable publisher such as yourself to undertake publication." Across the top of the title page, the author had written "BOOK RIGHTS ONLY."
Another author bemoaned the impossibility of describing his novel - but proceeded to compare it to "Love Story," "To An Athlete Dying young," "The Secret Sharer," "Of Mice and Men," "The Old Man And The Sea," "A Separate Peace," and "Catcher in the Rye."
Sometimes authors add a poignant reference to their personal circumstances: "I live in northern Maine in a chicken shed with a dog, two cats, 6 chickens 17 fieldmice and assorted snakes. I've been writing for 29 years and haven't made a nickle. Thanks to a poor diet I'm down to 63 pounds dripping wet, and losing ground rapidly. If you decide to publish "The Sweat of My Brow," I'll eat my way back to 185 pounds inside two weeks, and will be you humble servant forever after."
The cover letters that accompany slush-pile submissions frequently exude this sort of desperation. Some authors threaten suicide. Worse yet, from a publisher's perspective, some authors travel vast distances in order to personally visit the premises where their creations are languishing. The local constabulary is sometimes invited in to assist with the removal of such rabble.
By every available measure, Americans seem to be writing more than ever before. But publishers, for their part, are showing less and less interest in new work, concentrating their energies instead on a few pre-selected blockbusters. Only four of the major houses - Harper and Row, Alfred A. Knopf, W.W. Norton, and Viking - stand willing to read unsolicited works of fiction without a prior query and consent.
"Publishers are playing Russian roulette with established writers and not developing new writers," laments James Michener. "I think it's improvident. It's always been difficult for a first novelist to be published, but this adds another dimension to the problem . . . It's like an ivy vine climbing a host tree, clasping it so tightly that the tree dies."
Why, do so many unpublished writers go right on writing?
Jim Grady has the answer - indeed, is the answer.
Although he had scarcely ever left his home state of Montana, six years ago Grady wrote a suspense novel about a CIA wmploye on the lam from a mysterious cadre of double agents. Now knowing a soul in the publishing field, or a published novelist, he dispatched a letter describing his book (and "conveying the impression that I perhaps knew a lot more than I did about the intelligence world") to 30 publishers.
Six of them wrote back that they would be willing to examine the manuscript, and Grady, agentless, 23, and employed as a juvenile delinquency counselor, shipped it off to Doubleday, the first name on the list.
Doubleday held onto the manuscript for six months. "The editor who was reading it got sick - had appendicitis or something," says Grady, "so it sat on his desk for like four months." Then they rejected it.
Norton was the next firm to have a crack at Grady's book. Three months went by, and then he got a phone call.
"I'll bet you thought we forgot you," said the caller.
Grady, of course, denied the charged.
"You know, we like your book, we think it's got great possibilities," the caller informed him. "Would you accept a $1,000 advance?"
He accepted. "I would have accepted no advance," Grady confides. Around the time of that phone call, he adds, "I was debating whether I could afford a 47-cent shower part." Two weeks later, Norton had arranged a movie deal.
Grady may not have made as much money from "Three Days of the Condor" as Robert Redford or Faye Dunaway, but he has fared nicely. Two and three-quarters novels later, he lives in Washington, has a townhouse on Capitol Hill, "and I don't have any financial worries for about two years.
"The reason I got picked out of the slush pile," he concludes in retrospect, "was because I was from Montana. They thought, "Oh my God, he must be a genius! He's from Montana and he can write!"