Jewel Standards


I’ll begin by reminding you wannabe commercially published writers of something I made a point of mentioning last time out – namely: “The plain fact of the matter is that there are very few commercially published writers who may depend upon it that their next book will definitely be accepted for publication. I say this consequent upon hearing of how one popular writer, Hollis Dryburn (let’s call him), has had his latest submission rejected. As indicated elsewhere, Hollis Dryburn is a veritable million seller with his other book ritles. So it is surely true to say that very few commercially published writers are immune to being so cursorily dismissed.

We will consider, too, exactly how and in what terms “the hard word” was put to Hollis Dryburn, whose most recent submission has been rejected by Ragnhilde Philistia, his publisher of long-standing. Because Hollis first learned of the rejection of his submission via Francine Tourniquet, his literary agent of similarly long-standing, who in the wake of the rejection has effectively given Hollis “the bum’s rush”, too. In retrospect, of course, given the weasel words these two ladies choose to employ, it’s difficult to tell exactly who has taken exception to his new book or why.

Hollis Dryburn (let’s remember) is the best-selling author of 7 ground-breaking thrillers (let’s say), amongst them being the spine chillers Roadkill, Sphincter and The Screaming Room, all published by Philistia. But the problem would appear to be that Hollis Dryburn’s eighth book belongs to a quite different genre. It’s not a thriller, neither is it a mystery story. Rather is it a humorous story about the publishing industry – and pretty sardonic humour it is, too.

Here’s a synopsis of Jewel Standards, the book in question: On April Fools’ Day, in his column in the London Thames, Miles Curran, humorist and son of Allen Curran, humorist deceased, opines that it’s about time the Hooker Book Prize was awarded to a writer of the Jewish persuasion, whereupon the next Hooker Book Prizewinner turns out to be none other than Israeli writer, Solomon Isaacstein . . . Whereupon, come the publication of the next Hooker Book Prize shortlist, Andrew Gutter, editor of the Daily Mess, alternatively opines that it’s about time the Hooker Book Prize was awarded to an Albanian Albigensian . . . Whereupon Theresa Hoxha, of that persuasion, is awarded the next Hooker Book Prize . . .Whereupon riots break out in Oxbridge, the alumni of which together with the Faculty of Creative Writing at the University of East Angular descends upon Trafalgar Square en masse together with the GIMME breakaway group (Give Ian McEuan More Exposure) in order to posit by the light of a fire-ravaged National Gallery the theory that neither the recipient’s nationality nor religious persuasion are relevant to awarding the Hooker Book Prize to him/her . . . [A final dystopic scene sees Rupert Murdoch constrained to eat his own words (literally) when the publishing industry finally grinds to a halt with the exception of Pro Porno Publico, the Murdoch Industries remnant.]

Well, okay, it’s not Hollis Dryburn’s usual Uzi-blasted Mancunian citizenry of a Saturday night subsequent to a Derby match at Old Trafford and prior to a weekly visit to Manchester Royal Infirmary. But here’s what his publisher and literary agent have to say about it:

“I have enjoyed reading Jewel Standards and recognised so many things in your take on the publishing industry and the greedy despotisms of managing directors plus the surreal situations than can arise.

“However, I’m afraid that Ragnhilde Philistia is not going to be able to offer for this. She sent me an e-mail last night and says this:

“I wanted to let you know that I will not be offering for Hollis’s new novel, Jewel Standards. I think you know what a huge fan I am of Hollis and his writing, and you can only imagine how sad I am that I’ll be giving him disappointing news on this occasion. But I just feel that the novel, though it has all Hollis’s charm and humour, and much of the background material is fascinating, is quite different from the books he’s written before, and falls into quite a difficult area at a time where we are having to be more focused and confident in our publishing than ever before. I’m sure many of Hollis’s readers will want to read any book he writes, but I’m not sure that enough of them would do so and that enough new readers would be drawn into the book to make publication viable. And so, very sadly, I will have to pass.

“I am really sorry about this, but the market is very difficult now and as she says it marks a shift from your previous work, and would essentially be a marketing reinvention.

“I also think that selling to other publishers would be difficult in the current climate, especially as they’d know that Philistia hadn’t wanted to take the plunge, despite your brilliant track record there.”

Notice it’s difficult here to tell who is saying what, perhaps deliberately so. But the top and bottom of it is this:

a) the M/D of Philistia is saying this – ‘Not on this occasion, Hollis.’

b) Whilst Hollis Dryburn’s literary agent is saying something completely different – e.g. ‘For the past few years I’ve been sitting on my fat chough, collecting 15% of the retail price of every book of yours that sells. Please leave me to keep on doing just that. Because, now you’ve hit a problem, I’ve absolutely no intention of getting off my aforementioned fat chough and trying to sell your new book to another publisher. In other words: “Don’t bother me, leave me alone!’ to quote Chuck Berry. (Almost Grown)

Which is precisely what Hollis Dryburn intends to do, in the sense of “sack the lazy blighter”.

Please note, though, that this sort of treatment of a best-selling author is by no means unique. The great Elmore Leonard began his writing career as a writer of Westerns, culminating in that masterpiece of the novel form, Hombre. (Get the book and the DVD, please do!) When Elmore Leonard then decided to change genre and write thrillers, publishers were initially very reluctant to take on board his first thriller of many, The Big Bounce. (Not bad, but Hombre is better.)

Witness, too, if you will, the fact that Stan Barstow and John Braine, founder members of the great, bleak “kitchen sink”/”angry young men” school of literature of the late-1950s/early 1960s UK, both appear to have been constrained to self-publish later in life – Stan Barstow with an autobiography, In My Own Good Time, published by Dalesman rather than by his usual publisher, Michael Joseph; John Braine with a biography of J B Priestley, published by Littlehampton, not the normal Eyre Methuen – which at the time of the publication of Braine’s debut novel, Room at the Top (1958) was still known as Eyre & Spottiswoode, who were the publishers of the King James Bible (1611).

May 2011

Bill Keeth’s books, Every Street in Manchester ISBN 1859880649 & Write It Self-Publish It Sell It ISBN 97809558863 are available from Amazon and all good book shops. Bill can also be contacted via his website,

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