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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Agents Employ Intrigue to Get Books Judged Upon Their Own Merit

Author Patricia O'Brien AND Kate Alcott
Ahh, good ole deception and sleight of hand (or head). I love intrigue in the publishing industry that produces positive results.

In this case, cajoling a supposed literary 'gatekeeper' into accepting a good, worthy work that had been anointed with a reject 'scarlet letter' based on false analytics --- Prejudged on other than it's own stand-alone merits, you might say :)

The intriguing trick employed by many is again highlighted, this time by Julie Bosman / New York Times News Service through BendBulletin.com:

What’s in a name? Publishing deals

The pen name can bring fresh opportunity to struggling authors

Patricia O’Brien had five novels to her name when her agent, Esther Newberg, set out last year to shop her sixth one, a work of historical fiction called “The Dressmaker.”

A cascade of painful rejections began. O’Brien’s longtime editor at Simon & Schuster passed on it, saying that her previous novel, “Harriett and Isabella,” hadn’t sold well enough.

One by one, 12 more publishing houses saw the novel. They all said no.

Just when O’Brien began to fear that “The Dressmaker” would be relegated to a bottom desk drawer like so many rejected novels, Newberg came up with a different proposal: Try to sell it under a pen name.

Written by Kate Alcott, the pseudonym O’Brien dreamed up, it sold in three days.

O’Brien and Newberg had cannily circumvented what many authors see as a modern publishing scourge — Nielsen BookScan, the subscription service that tracks book sales and is at the fingertips of every agent, editor and publisher — with a centuries-old trick, the nom de plume. It has been employed by writers from Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) to Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) to Stephen King (Richard Bachman).

“It meant that the story I had wanted to tell had sold,” said O’Brien, a chatty 70-something who wears her hair in a smooth brown bob, talking over a tray of herbal tea and lemon cookies this week in her spacious apartment in the Wyoming building in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood here. “My book wasn’t getting a fair chance. And choosing a pen name gave it a fair chance.”

The book, a story of a scrappy seamstress who survives the sinking of the Titanic, went on sale this week, ushered in by sparkling reviews — Kirkus said it had “an appealing, soulful freshness” — and with translation rights sold in five countries, something that had never happened to any of O’Brien’s books before.

Doubleday has 35,000 copies in print after two printings, said Todd Doughty, a spokesman for the publisher. That gives “The Dressmaker” a major head start over “Harriet and Isabella,” O’Brien’s previous novel, which was considered a flop. It has sold 4,000 copies, according to BookScan, which tracks about 75 percent of retail sales of print books.

O’Brien, who has also written three nonfiction books, said she did what she had to do to get her book published in a time when publishers are being unusually cautious about which books they can invest in and how much they can pay in advances. The rapid rise of e-books has thrown out the old rules of traditional publishing, and publishers have been more conservative with advances than in the past.

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