Death by Committee II

After reading my previous post, someone asked me:

I’m curious — without getting into specifics of which publishing house
and such, what were some of the reasons cited for any potential deal
being killed? Were they just nervous about bringing out a book that’s very
pop culture-oriented?

Here’s the jacket copy, describing what THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE is about:

Harvey Mapes is a twenty-nine-year-old security guard who spends his nights in a guard shack outside a gated community in Southern California, reading detective novels, watching TVLand reruns, and waiting for his life to finally start . . . which happens when Cyril Parkus, one of the wealthy residents, asks Harvey to follow his beautiful wife Lauren.

The lowly security guard jumps at the opportunity to fulfill his private eye fantasies and use everything he’s learned from Spenser, Magnum, and Mannix. But things don’t exactly go according to the books . . . or the reruns.

As  Harvey fumbles and stumbles through his first investigation, he discovers that the differences between fiction and reality can be deadly.
With the help of his mortgage-broker neighbor and occasional lover Carol,  Harvey uncovers a
blackmail plot that takes a sudden and unexpectedly tragic turn . . . plunging him into a world of violence, deception, and murder . . . and forcing him to discover what it really takes to be a private eye.

So many editors liked it and were enthusiastic about it. I can’t tell you
how many times I celebrated, certain we’d just sold it… and then, the
committee would weigh in. The biggest problem the "committees" had with the book was
how to categorize it. Is it a mystery? Is it a satire? Is it too dark? Is it too funny? Is it a PI novel or…what, exactly?

Some found it too funny and not dark enough…and humor doesn’t sell. (Let’s not mention Carl Hiaasen or Janet Evanovich, shall we?) Some found it too  dark and not broad enough for a comedy (I found out the hard way how badly broad, comic novels sell… I refer you to MY GUN HAS BULLETS and BEYOND THE BEYOND). Some found it  too much of a private eye novel…and PI novels aren’t selling.  Some found it not enough of a private eye novel… because PI novels are really selling.  And some didn’t think the story was "big" enough, whatever the hell that means.

But ultimately, I guess it wasn’t an easy book to fit into any pre-set genre or category. We came soooo close at a couple of major houses…but, alas,  it was not to be. But the process ate up two years.

That said, I am very happy to be at Five Star.  As you can see from LITTLE GIRL LOST, MEMORIAL DAY and ASK A DEAD MAN,  they are putting out some terrific books (and finally getting the wider notice they deserve).  And they’re not just doing mysteries, either…they also have  robust romance and western lines as well.

4 thoughts on “Death by Committee II”

  1. To a novice like me, this seems stupid as hell. All the sub-genres are thrown on the shelf together at Borders or wherever under the catch-all “mystery” category anyway. A shopper picks up the book, reads the back, then knows more-or-less what he/she is in for. Reviewers will call it whatever they want in reviews anyway. Letting a good book go because they don’t know how to label it seems lazy and silly.

  2. I’m experiencing much the same thing with my narrative nonfiction history of the Benedict Arnold expedition to Quebec in 1775. At first they thought it was a biography of Major Colburn my ancestor, which it is, but it the context of a great American military event. Translation: a biography of no one they’d heard of.
    The screenplay I wrote before the book met this response fron Zide/Perry: “We’re afraid they won’t know who Bendict Arnold IS.
    I changed the title and included chapters for which Colburn was not involved and sent it out again. Oxford turned it down. Historian David Hackett Fischer said to send it to the New England Genealogical Society. For them it wasn’t genealogy it only had some in the appendix. They didn’t do stories. You get the idea. Local Maine publishers said it wasn’t national. National ones said it was local.
    The historian who oversaw a historic site nomination I wrote about our house and the event decided he might like to write about this story himself, so, with my manuscript in hand as part of the nomination, he fired off a proposal to his agent and two years later I get wind of the sale to St. Martin’s. I’ll be watching what he wrote closely.

  3. I think comic mysteries are a hard sell because they are generally not that funny, not that mysterious. It’s a strange hybrid that seldom works. (It also doesn’t help that most of the ones I’ve read haven’t been very well written.)
    The essential problem is that the two elements work against each other: if you’re laughing, you’re not in suspense; if you’re in suspense, you’re not laughing.
    Now if you *could* make it work, and I think Lee has as good a shot as anyone, I think you’d have something.
    But it’s definitely a tough area to stake out for yourself as a writer.


Leave a Comment