My queries and proposals for Publish This Book are being returned en masse, waiting for me in our homey Lakeview mailbox.
The letters are the same as all the ones that have come before, and as usual, I’m taking it from all sides. Sometimes I’m surprised I’m not getting rejections from small children, scribbled in crayon on oversized paper, that say, “I have yet to decide on a career path or even which binkie I want right now, but should I choose to become a literary agent in the future, I would just like to let you know that your project does not fit my needs at this time… Poopy.”
I’ll admit up front, much of my failure with this book is probably my own fault. With this project, I’ve taken an approach to querying the same way a duck hunter does—a scattergun, aimed in a general direction, trigger pulled, with the hope a big juicy duck will just fall out of the sky.
Also, I may be on the receiving end of some karma for having, let’s say, “unapologetically tweaked” my original letter and proposal. Let’s take a look at some of the few minor—let’s say—discrepancies between “truth” and “not as much truth.”
Things I Embellished, Obfuscated, or Flat-Out Lied About in My Letter and Proposal
“In addition, I publish my own column at www.stephenmarkley.com, which caters to a network of readers who have been following me since my days as a campus firebrand at a college newspaper.”
“In other words, the entire book is about my endeavor to publish the book. Subsequently, this letter itself is part of the book, as is your response whether you send me a contract (‘Cool!’ I will write in the book) or a form rejection letter (‘Not cool,’ I will write).”
“Of course, I understand what a ridiculous, self-serving concept this is. However, it’s obviously not just a book about publishing a book. It’s a scathing look at a young writer in pursuit of his dream—the travails of taking that road less traveled, the pitfalls and angst of beginning a life from scratch, of dropping into Chicago with no money, no job, and no prospects. It’s about politics and religion and friendship and an unexpected pregnancy and unrequited love.”
“The more well-known authors I’ve secured for interviews include NBA winner Richard Powers, science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson, bestselling mystery writer Phillip Margolin, pop culture critic Chuck Klosterman, and first-time novelist Heather Skyler.”
“In addition to the opening chapter, I’ve included a proposal and an initial chapter outline. However, I encourage you to take a look at my website or even meet with me in person to get an idea of how serious I am about this project. Look at my work with an eye toward opportunity, possibility, or both.
“There are always large audiences for a strong, humorous voice—one which a reader will follow anywhere, no matter the topic.”
“I’m fortunate to have demonstrated such a voice with a core following of readers. My column in the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye has quickly become one of its most popular and the columns that run on my website continue to attract a faithful readership of thousands.”
“Furthermore, aside from some fairly big names I’ve already secured commitments for interviews, this book has opportunities for cross-promotion.”
“Last but not least, I urge you give me and my project serious consideration for this reason alone: I’m ready to explode. With two books under my belt that no one wants to touch because I don’t have a strong enough list of credits to my young name, I’m in a position to come out of nowhere. I’m young, charming, good-looking (enough), and primed to tear a white-hot streak across the face of the country.”
“None of this will convince you, however. Read the sample chapter, peruse my website, and if you have questions or would like to get a better feel for the direction of the book, feel free to contact me by phone or email.”
Following the revisiting of the query and proposal, I actually go back and read the sample chapters I’ve sent to fifty different agents. You have to understand that I’ve been at this for months. Having forgotten what these chapters said almost entirely, I wanted to know what an agent would see with a pair of fresh eyes. To my disbelief and appalling dismay, I realize within the first half-page that I had chosen to open my book with the story of my college roommate, Scott, explaining his shitting/shaving contraption.
No, I thought. Why would I do that? I don’t even admit to people that I know Scott. Scott is an idiot. Why would I choose to start a book with him saying one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard? What have I done?
As if I’m not distraught enough, it has dawned on me that this book may have set me on a path to stark-raving madness. After all, the only way this goddamn book will ever end is if it gets published. That’s the only logical ending. Nothing else works. Therefore, what if it never does get published? What if I’m just collecting anecdotes and unconnected, irreverent thoughts for the next fifty years—my entire life revolving around the absurd narrative of a book that has no narrative other than itself? The problem is that when I began this project, I had more or less envisioned myself publishing it after about a year. Why, you ask, after I have discussed previously just how hard and unlikely it would be that I’d ever actually publish anything, would I still secretly harbor this sentiment?
I begin to have visions of myself, thirty-five years old and living in Naperville, Illinois, with three kids and a fat wife, still writing and editing for a car blog because I have a mortgage, a car payment, and three college tuitions coming up quick. Old friends will come to visit and they’ll ask, “Hey, how’s the book going? The one about publishing the book?” And I’ll forlornly think of the 2,346th page I’ve just written that morning. Likely by this time I’ll be down to cataloguing interesting things I’ve picked out of my teeth after meals for material.
An Excerpt from Future Stephen Markley’s 2,300-plus-page Epic Publish This Book Circa 2023
It was just after lunch and Ted from marketing had given me the second half of his hoagie, claiming he couldn’t eat both halves because that much meat would wreak havoc on his colon. I chomped away at it delightedly, only to realize that it was heavy on the salami. This being the stringy, gristly salami where the threads of meat tend to implant themselves between your molars and canines, exerting some fairly unpleasant pressure on your gums.
After finishing the sandwich, I realized my teeth were now packed with left-over salami gristle. I went looking for a toothpick, but the restaurant didn’t have any. Sweet Jesus, I wondered. How the hell do you not have a toothpick? Then Linda called to say I needed to pick up Elmer’s Glue on my way home for Tiff’s school art project. I asked her why she needed me to pick up the goddamn glue, weren’t there stores all over Naperville with glue? And she said, “My ass might be enormous, but you are the biggest gaping asshole I’ve ever met.” And having had that delightful conversation with the wife, I procured from the coffee room a plastic fork. After freeing it from the plastic, I began needling a single tine into the gaps between my teeth in attempt to get at the salami. One particular bubble of refuse popped out with a satisfying trail of muscle rending out of my gums. I stared at it for a moment, dangling from the single fork tine, a glistening gobule of processed meat that vaguely resembled a single dead spermatozoa. Smiling, I popped it into my mouth and swallowed it down. Then I opened my mail and got more rejection notices for this book…Whoopdi-goddamn-doo isn’t this a great original meta-concept? Blahblahblahblahscatalogicaljokehere.
If this theory plays out then this book could just end up a catalogue of my entire life—the raving commentary of a verbose lunatic. Perhaps one day, my grandchild will unearth it from the attic and show it to his friend in the ebook uploading business, and this young man will leap to publish it as the tragic, bitter study of the twenty-first-century writer at the death of print media.
It would only be read by cretinous twenty-second- century scholars uploading it to their iRead or Kindle9 or whatever moronic contraption people in the future will use because they’re too lazy to separate paper pages with thumb and forefinger.
What a fate.
* * *
Publish This Book is available in bookstores everywhere.
–Stephen Markley is a Chicago-based freelance writer. His work appears regularly in the Chicago Tribune, RedEye, KickingTires.net, and his blog Off the Markley. His work has also appeared in the Chicago Reader, Weber: A Journal of the Contemporary West, and 10,000 Tons of Black Ink. Publish This Book is his first book. You can find him on all the time-sucking social networking sites.
Stephen will be reading at Houndstooth Pub at 520 8th Ave, Tonight, Aug. 31, from 6-9.