Not one but two book proposals lurk on my computer, waiting to be tweaked and submitted to an (as-yet-to-be-identified) agent. Both books will rock, I believe. But today, leafing through The New York Review of Books, I had a ghastly crisis of confidence--prompted, not by their high-end reviews, but by those numbingly awful vanity press ads. You've seen them: cheesy two-page spreads from Vantage or XLibris "publicizing" their "authors" with blurbs so execrable they call to mind H.L. Mencken's description of the prose of Warren G. Harding:
It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it.
These books, created at their unloved authors' expense, hew to a few recurring themes: Blowhard autobiographies. Manuals for saving the world. Religious conversion stories. Heartwarming tales of a hero cat/dog/ferret who saved the author or his child from the abyss. Romans à clef by angry survivors of modern-day conflicts. Bizarre historical novels, usually with a sci-fi or fantasy twist. It's an ocean of quirky, cranky bilge. Amusing myself, I am suddenly horror-struck: One of my ideas is explicitly Christian, the other is a historical novel.
Oh God! What if my book proposals sound like one of these pitiful vanity blurbs?
Now I can't be stopped; I torment myself with visions of a desperate future self, rejected countless times, convinced that digital really has made self-publishing a whole different world now, and blowing the Child's college savings. Intellectuals leafing through The New York Review of Books will pause, between lapping up a post-mortem appreciation of Christopher Hitchens and sighing over a roundup of tomes on post-Obama America, to guffaw at my opus; I will rot in obscurity, with the cranks, the ferret-biographers, the semi-literate zealots, all the poor sods who had a dollar and a dream.
I had to snap out of it, before I opened folders and trashed the beginnings of one hell of a good novel and an intriguing spiritual memoir. Put anything in the XLibris template, I realized, and it sounds like insane crap. To give this theory a whirl, here are three potential "best-sellers" from XLibris, where you can "write your own success."
The tragically unique story of Stingo and Yetta's big pink house. Who is the mysterious Sophie and what is her secret? How will she make her Choice? Deep in the chasms of history lie the answers, where love and danger are common-place and haunt the lovers of today. You will never forget the psychologicle tension of this unforgettable masterpiece.
A manifesto for eaters! Find the truth behind the ugly rumors and learn how to eat real food, mostly plants, not too much, for health forever! You will find the way to absorb nutrients for a more enlightened era of health and human enlightenment with this scientific revelation of nutritionism gone wild.
Can young Irishman Steven go to encounter for about the one-millionth time the reality of experience, and can he forge within his soul the uncreated consciousness of his race? This very brilliant fictional story will supply the answer, or at least asks the questions.
Top: Edward Gorey, The Unstrung Harp