Writing: Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa Fashion

Every few years someone comes up with the idea of sending the first chapter of past Booker Prize winners or literary classics to agents and publishers with the hope of generating a story.

The one they hope for, and invariably get, is that all the manuscripts are rejected. Proof they say that… (add theme from the list according to taste)

    1. It’s harder these days to break into publishing.
    2. Agents and publishers can’t recognise talent.
    3. Booker Prize winners are crap.
    4. Agents and publishers don’t bother to read submissions or are so poorly read they can’t even recognise a famous book when they see one.
    5. Agents and publishers are evil gatekeepers in a worldwide conspiracy to only publish their cronies and keep the rest of us out.

Of course there’s another possibility…

Besides the one where the agent recognised the book but didn’t dare reply with anything other than a form reject because they were terrified the submitter was a deranged, serial-killing stalker with a set of sharpened purple crayons … there’s fashion.

Writing styles, subjects, genres, authors – all drop in and out of fashion. Would the young Charles Dickens get Pickwick Papers published in 2010? Or would he receive the following:

Dear Mr Dickens,

You need to make your sentences shorter and snappier if you intend to make a career in writing. I only continued reading to the bottom of your first page because I was overtaken with the notion that you’d written the entire book in a single sentence.

And fashions can come and go very quickly. In 1997 I submitted my true crime memoir, Nous Sommes Anglais, to an agent and was told that no one bought memoirs. A Year in Provence had been a one-off and I’d be better off trunking the memoir and trying something else.

I did. Then, in 2001, I didn’t have anything to send to my SF writer’s group one month so I sent out an extract from the memoir. It was a great hit. Which got me thinking…

Exactly, I gave the memoir a polish, sent it to some agents and…

I was signed up within a week. Yay! But, and here’s where I demonstrate the speed of fashion, we couldn’t sell the book because – you guessed it – all the publishers had an expat memoir in their list that year and didn’t want any more. The expat memoir bubble – which had occurred while mine had been resting in a trunk – had just burst.

Fashion. Don’t you just love it? Beep beep.


Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novel – Resonance (Baen) – can be downloaded for free here. More information about his other work can be found on his  BVC bookshelf .

His true crime memoir, Nous Sommes Anglais,  is scheduled for publication later this year through Book View Press.    

Just released from Book View Press:  Magical Crimes – a fun CSI with Magic and … ‘a little something else’ story.

Also available from Amazon and Smashwords.

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