I’ve decided that the time has come to dispel a few myths that, for some reason, have taken a firm hold within the minds of my fellow writers. Since most of these myths involve the writer’s incorrect assessment of the intellectual capacity of the American book-buying public, once these misconceptions are dispelled the writer will be free to create his or her version of the “Great American Novel.”
So, in the immortal words of W. C. Fields, “Let us take the bull by the tail and face the situation.”
You must never, ever, underestimate the gullibility of the book-buying public.
That should go without saying, but authors invariably buy into the fantasy that the average book-reading Americans are intelligent, sophisticated, and passionate readers. You must get that line of nonsense out of your head right now!
Always remember that the average American reader grew up watching Beverly Hills 90210, is still is a rabid follower of the World Wrestling Federation, and thinks that Spiderman comics are the epitome of American literature.
As to their current reading, television, and movie habits, this is the subgroup of Homo sapiens var. doofus that considers Dr. Phil to be the greatest thing in psychology since Sigmund Freud, thinks that the Jerry Springer Show is an excellent example of investigative journalism, believes that the National Enquirer should be required reading in the public schools, and will believe practically any conspiracy theory mentioned on the Art Bell Show. When Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham using only 50 individual words, he did so in anticipation of the dumbing down of the American reading public.
Always, yesterday; today; and tomorrow, in this life and in the life to come, use a plot line that is so incredibly ludicrous that the public will revere it as nothing less than the revealed word of God.
Let’s use The Da Vinci Code as an example.
In this insult to the western literary tradition, the plot revolves around a “secret” history of events that began after the crucifixion of Jesus when Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea fled Palestine for the Mediterranean Coast of France, where Mary gave birth to Jesus’ daughter. A bunch of Knights Templar got wind of the story, but kept it secret until they passed it on to some organization that resembled a frat house for the intelligentsia. Then an American academic and a really cute French chic figured out what was going on. The lovely couple was then chased around France until they fled to Scotland, where the girl learned that she is a direct descendant of both God and Jesus.
Think you can top that?
A thick, heavy, and practically unreadable book will always outsell a thin, readable book.
If you doubt the wisdom of the above, simply pause to consider the simple fact that 99% of the all-time best selling books are about the same size as the Tokyo Yellow Pages and just as unreadable!
Gone with the Wind? Margaret Mitchell’s story line (Scarlett was a twit and Rhett was an asshole) could have been presented in 100 pages. It was the other 500 pages of moronic dialog and verbose descriptions that made this book into a multi-million seller.
Anything by a Russian author falls in this category! Regardless of its author or subject matter, no book written in Russian has ever been published in less than 700 pages.
You should also make liberal (and frequent) use of words that no one can define, much less understand, in a literary context. Such words must always include:
Pay someone, anyone, to declare your book “a modern classic” or a “bold first novel.”
What is it that makes an ordinary novel into a classic? Find some “critic” or “literary editor” to declare your otherwise worthless manuscript as something worth reading. This is the only sure technique that will raise you from the ranks of nameless hacks to that of at least a temporary literary immortal.
Think of it like this. Had it not been for the art critics, Jackson Pollack would have been an unemployed housepainter.
Let someone else write the best-seller so you can concentrate on writing the spin-offs.
In support of the above, allow me to briefly recount the book store-centered Theater of the Absurd following the release of The Da Vinci Code.
This book was ignored initially, primarily because it was almost as bad as author Dan Brown’s prior books: Digital Fortress, Angels and Demons, and Deception Point. But once it found its way into the hands of the public, Brown was raking in the cash quicker than Bill Gates. Care to guess what happened next?
Correct! Within 6 months of its release The Da Vinci Code was on display in every bookstore within 25 light years of the solar system and was surrounded by other “knock-off” titles such as The Da Vinci Code Diet, The Da Vinci Code Sudoku Book, the Find the Da Vinci Code in your Family Tree Guide, Shirley MacLain Channels the Da Vinci Code and the ever-popular Abbott and Costello Meet the Da Vinci Code.
When the next incarnation of The Da Vinci Code arrives, lock you family in the garage with a television and a few DVDs so you can be the first in line with a spin-off title. After you sell a few million copies, you family will forgive you for sending them into exile along with your family cat.
Try to find a desperate movie producer that will turn your book into a movie.
If you think that getting an editor’s attention is hard, try getting your movie or television script read. Honestly, your chances of breaking into this market are right up there with the Atlanta Falcons winning the Super Bowl. But, every so often, these guys will find themselves without a script and in deep caca with their investors. This is the time to strike!
First of all, find the absolute worst story and its most error-ridden draft copy that you have. If you don’t have one lying around, steal some homework from your kids. Trust me, given the quality of movies lately no one will be able to tell the difference between a real script and little Johnny’s letter to Santa Claus.
If that fails, try to get the contract to convert some desperate movie producer’s atrociously bad script into an atrociously bad paperback.
Given the rate at which Hollywood is churning out bad movies, this is probably the most productive technique mentioned so far. Why? Think about it like this. Anyone that paid to see such a stinker of a film is automatically dumb enough to buy the paperback version! If you add in the usual cast of relatives, children, ex-spouses, and the neighborhood cat, you can see how this can be worked to your advantage.
You can never go wrong with a good conspiracy theory.
As I’ve mentioned in several other posts, the American public loves a good conspiracy. Hell, the American public loves a bad conspiracy theory! Remember, this is America! 45% of the population thinks that men walking on the moon was faked but that professional wrestling is real!
Try something along the line of the CIA and the Mafia teaming up to bump off the President (sorry, that one’s already taken). Well, think of it like this: make the CIA the bad guys, thrown in an incompetent president, a love scene or two, and a guest appearance by Leonardo Da Vinci. Do that and I will personally guarantee a million seller.
Always test-market your potential best seller.
This is a step that practically all writers never take, usually because of their fears that someone will “steal their idea” or “pirate their story line.” Given the previously-mentioned abysmally low quality of the more recent additions to American literature, this should be the least of your concerns.
To test-market your book, all you need do is fire up about 10 copies of your manuscript and then pass them around to your friends, particularly friends that you won’t miss after they have read your magnum opus and left town rather than take the chance that you might ask them to read another of your literary disasters.
Follow the above pearls of wisdom and you Nobel Prize is a mere formality.