Friday, March 02, 2012

Charles Dickens submits the manuscript of 'Bleak House' to a modern publisher...

February 7th 

Dear Mr Dickens,
Thank you for the submission of your manuscript 'Bleak House' to Simian and Shyster, America's Biggest and Best Books™. We are interested in your book, but feel that substantial changes will need to be made to make it fit our house style and to make it marketable. I list these changes below.
1. The title. This is puzzling. I don't think readers will see the relevance of the title to the rest of the text. Also, it is not grammatically correct, as it should be 'The Bleak House'. Popular titles for novels at the moment are rather longer and say a little bit more about the book. Suggestions based on titles which have proved popular might include 'Very Dirty and Terribly Important', or 'The Girl who Wondered Who She Was'. Please think about it.

2. The double narrative. I strongly recommend that you split these into two separate books. It should be quite easy to separate the two narratives, one of our interns could do it. Perhaps the Esther narrative could be published first, and then the other narrative later, as a second book? This would allow us to maximize our investment.

3. The prose style is far too overwrought and will not be popular with readers. To help you understand what I mean, I have notated the opening paragraph with suggestions for changes.


We've got a problem right here, as many of our readers will simply not know who or what or where London is. We suggest changing this to 'Milwaukee', as market research shows that this city is representative of our target audience.

Michaelmas Term lately over

Similarly, our readers will be asking, 'what is Michaelmas?' And 'term' is far too British. We suggest changing this to 'fall semester'.

and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall.

again, simply too British. We suggest changing this to an American position of equivalence. Perhaps City Council Member. Also, many readers will take exception to the association of Lincoln with an inn. Perhaps change this to the name of a President who is a bit more innocuous and likely to have been forgotten by most readers: Carter, perhaps?

Implacable November weather.

Can you change 'implacable'? I'm not sure our readers will know this word. Two syllable words maximum are best, as has been shown by market research many times. (If you hit F6 on your keyboard, you get a really useful thesaurus you can use to choose words more likely to be familiar to readers)

As much mud in the streets as if the waters had

Here at Simian and Shyster we pride ourselves on keeping metaphors out of our writers' work. Now, as this whole passage is one extended metaphor, getting rid of it will mean extensive rewriting. Mmm. In fact, come to think of it, the whole book is an extended metaphor isn't it? I'll check with our marketing department about how to proceed on this, and get back to you.

but newly retired from the face of the earth,

'but newly retired' is not being accepted by my grammar checker, it suggests 'only recently retired'. Are you ok with that?

and it would not be wonderful

Readers will not understand this. Avoid double negatives. Suggest: 'and it would be cool'

 to meet a Megalosaurus,

'Megalosaurus' is simply far too long. Market research shows that the most popular pet in the Milwaukee area is a dog, and this also ties in with our Frequent Word Recognition Program ™, which has been very helpful in keeping more than 50% of our books in the NYT Bestseller list for longer than one week, and which also suggests 'dog' here.

forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard

Oh dear, this is getting into a mixed metaphor isn't it. I suggest scrapping this altogether. Do try to keep your sentences as short as possible. Readers like to read short things.

up Holborn Hill.

'up' is far too strenuous. Market research shows that depictions of exertion or exercise fare badly with the Midwestern market. Readers there apparently feel guilty about their lifestyles if they read about exertion. I suggest 'down' the hill. Easier. Also, please use Google Earth to check if their really is such a street name in Milwaukee.

Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.

This is showing as an 'incomplete fragment' on my grammar checker, so you will need to look at the grammar of this sentence. In fact, most of the manuscript shows up in red on my grammar checker, so you will really need to change your style. Avoid long sentences, and avoid complex sentences, compound ones are better. Here is an example of what I mean:

Smoke was lowering down from chimney-pots. It was making a soft black drizzle, and it had flakes of soot in it. These were as big as full-grown snow-flakes. A person watching (avoid 'one', it's so pretentious) might imagine that it had gone into mourning for the death of the sun.

The rest of the paragraph can simply be cut. You are merely adding more detail to reinforce your point, but actually you are not saying anything new. Readers will not understand it, and they will get tired of all the detail. The story does not move forward. Pace, pace, pace, keep it moving forward all the time, and keep your sentences as short as possible. Market research shows this is best.

I think we have a possible winner on our hands, but as I said above, the novel needs a lot of work before it is ready for publication. If you can agree to our suggested changes, I'll put together a team of staff writers and editors to work on it with you.

Thanks once again for submitting your manuscript, and I look forward to writing your book for you.

Eddie Torr
New Project Manager
Simian and Shyster
America's Biggest and Best Books™

1 comment:

Sam said...

I look forward to Mr. Torr's future projects.