In the summer of 2012, I decided to read Halliwell’s Film Guide to see which reviews summarized my fifth novel (or parts of it). Originally, my novel was much longer because of a male-driven sub-plot that became its own novel. It took a 2013 erotic novel competition (for Mills & Boon) to remove the less kinky sub-plot (the competition demanded a 50k word-count).
It took a 2014 children’s novel competition to remove the main portion of the first act. My novel was based on an action movie screenplay that I wrote which was to be an amalgamation of a children’s movie, a teen movie and an adult movie. The sub-plot was never intended to be a movie whereas the remaining novel will be the basis for two movies (the first being a college movie).
From a marketing point-of-view, the last novel would seem unmarketable. The positive caveat is that it would be advertised as being a prequel to the children’s novel, a prequel to the adolescent novel and a sequel to the adolescent novel. This makes for a highly inspired variation of the three act structure, and a fitting final novel (a suitable swansong).
I’m reticent about revealing what the plot was given how Fifty Shades of Grey took the wind out of my sails (and thus my sales). The story was different but the genre, theme and setting were the same. In the spring of 2011, I e-mailed dozens of literary agents but I was rejected. In 2012, you can imagine my surprise when I was told that another Seattle-based and abused-themed erotica became popular.
There is a misconception about the Yin-Yang. People are two thirds wrong about it. Yes, Yin is the feminine counterpoint but Yang is meant to be the white and positive side of the symbol. At this point, I would like to point out that Japanese movie posters tend to be more creative than Chinese ones. In some cases, the Japanese posters surpass the American ones.
The way that Leslie Halliwell rates films is different from others i.e. 0 stars = 5/10 or below, 1 star = 6/10 (above-average), 2 stars = 7/10 (good), 3 stars = 8/10 (very good) or great (9/10) and 4 stars =10/10 (excellent). John Walker took over his annual book after he died in 1989. Observant minds will struggle to figure out what my novel was about.
If I had to pick the top three coincidental reviews of my list, it would be #52 (Raise the Red Lantern), #75 (Tristana) and #77 (Valerie and Her Week of Wonders).
Here are the tweet-sized versions of the reviews which reflect my novel…
1) An American Werewolf in London: Curious but oddly endearing mixture of horror and spoof as well as comedy and shock.
2) Apt Pupil: An effective drama about the corruption caused by contact with evil, though it descends into horror towards the end.
3) Belle de Jour (4 stars): Fascinating mixture of fact and fantasy, impeccably woven into a rich fabric.
4) Candyman: Effective horror that manages not only to be scary but also delivers a parable on contemporary attitudes to race and sex.
5) Casablanca (4 stars): Excellent. An outstanding entertainment experience. Romance, intrigue, excitement, suspense and humour are cunningly deployed.
6) Citizen Kane (4 stars): Despite lapses of characterization and narrative gaps, almost every line is utterly absorbing as entertainment and as craft.
7) A Clockwork Orange: A repulsive tale with acres of social and political meaning. The average judgment is that it’s pretentious and nasty.
8) The Crying Game: Complex and brilliantly successful examination regarding matters of identity and gender.
9) Deep Crimson (2 stars): Slick, slightly camp, deeply romantic account of a couple of ruthless serial killers.
10) Deliverance: A vigorous, meaningful and almost apocalyptic vision of man’s inhumanity that is disguised as a thrilling adult adventure.
11) Dreamchild (2 stars): Complex and intriguing drama of a woman coming to terms with her past and present.
12) The Driver: Deft and clever thriller that has been stripped of all redundancies to the extent that it’s reduced to its core.
13) Falling Down: A fascinating tale with a protagonist who is both hero and villain. It remains a slightly queasy but enjoyable experience.
14) Fargo: Deft, witty and original thriller. The violence, when it comes, is properly shocking but it’s the humanity that you will remember.
15) Fresh (3 stars): A tough tale of life lived on the edge. Full of casual slaughter and foul-mouthed. Told with a raw authenticity.
16) From Beyond: Extremely gory horror that comes closer than most to recreating the nauseating nightmares of Lovecraft’s decadent imagination.
17) From Dusk till Dawn: Extraordinarily gory horror that begins as a kinetic thriller. It has a power and energy that put it a cut above.
18) The Godfather: Cutting would help but the duller conversational sections do heighten the cunningly judged moments of suspense and violence.
19) Golden Balls (1 star): Engaging comedy, much concerned with sex, death, food and the limitations of machismo. A satire.
20) GoodFellas (4 stars): Brilliant, unsparing delineation of the sub-culture of crime and the corruption of the spirit that it entails.
21) In Cold Blood: Unnecessarily complicated as narrative and uncompromisingly brutal. This well-meaning tale is hard to take in many ways.
22) The Innocent (3 stars): An elegant account of decadence and sexual politics.
23) Intruder in the Dust (3 stars): Excellent character drama which also offers a murder puzzle and social commentary.
24) Jackie Brown: An absorbing thriller which successfully combines intrigue and character development to create a satisfying mix.
25) Jaws (2 stars): Genuinely suspenseful and frightening. An over-abundance of dialogue.
26) The Killing Fields: Brilliant. Probably too strong for a commercial audience. It leaves one reeling despite its comparatively happy ending.
27) Klute (3 stars): Excellent adult thriller with attention to detail and emphasis on character.
28) The Ladykillers (3 stars): Witty black comedy. One of the few tales where death is both shocking and funny.
29) The Last Picture Show (4 stars): Penetrating nostalgia with over-emphasis on sex; the detail is the attraction.
30) The Lavender Hill Mob (4 stars): Superbly characterized and inventively detailed comedy.
31) Law of Desire (a.k.a. La Ley del Deseo): Delirious, stylish mix of sex and passion. Although many may regard it as too camp and overdone.
32) Leon (2 stars): Tense and involving thriller, dealing in heightened fantasy rather than reality.
33) Little Odessa: Downbeat tale of melancholy lives, in which death and violence loom large; it compels almost as much as it repels.
34) Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels: Clever, intricately plotted black farce. It’s enjoyable if you can surrender to its delight in mayhem.
35) The Long Day Closes: Remarkable, atmospheric, understated, nostalgic tale dealing with emotional repression and the release by the cinema.
36) Love and Death on Long Island: Engaging tale that extracts much amusement from a clash between two cultures and differing sensibilities.
37) Love, Mother: A charmingly quirky comedy of the little mishaps and misbehaviours of everyday life which moves into darker territory.
38) M: Unmistakable classic whose oddities are not worth criticizing. Part social melodrama and part satire. Unforgettable. Brilliantly staged.
39) Man Bites Dog: A black comedy that makes effective points about the relationship between cinema and exploitation. Remarkable yet repellent.
40) The Manchurian Candidate (4 stars): Insanely plotted but brilliantly handled thriller. A mixture of Hitchcock and Welles.
41) Margaret’s Museum (2 stars): Compelling drama of female suffering that comes to an unexpected climax.
42) Memento (3 stars): Exceedingly clever drama about identity, its meaning and the search for a purpose in life.
43) Monsieur Hire (2 stars): Meticulously stylish study of sexual obsession.
44) North by Northwest (4 stars): Delightful chase comedy-thriller with a touch of sex.
45) Once Upon a Time in the West (3 stars): Immensely long and convoluted epic. Beautiful and very violent.
46) The Opposite of Sex: Tough, tart, smart movie, which makes fun of the usual rites-of-passage stories and has enough twists in the plot.
47) Pi (2 stars): Gripping, clever theological and psychological thriller.
48) The Piano: A complex drama of lust, love and a woman emerging from an emotional silence into a self-determined and fulfilled life.
49) Pierrot Le Fou (2 stars): Playful and enjoyably intellectual romp through pop culture.
50) Pulp Fiction: (3 stars): Clever, witty, violent celebration of junk culture.
51) Raging Bull (4 stars): Tough, compelling, powerfully made melodrama.
52) Raise the Red Lantern: Cool study of sexual politics and the subjugation of women.
53) The Seven Samurai (4 stars): Superbly strange, vivid and violent adventure.
54) Shall we Dance? (the Japanese version gained 3 stars): Charming comedy that makes the familiar seem extraordinarily exotic.
55) Shanghai Triad: Skilled account of corruption and betrayal, which mostly avoids violence in order to concentrate on its devastating impact.
56) Silence of the Lambs: Tense, exciting and sometimes gruesome thriller. Suspenseful enough to make you overlook its essential absurdities.
57) Some Like it Hot: A milestone of comedy which keeps its central situation alive with constant invention. Wit and danger is freshly combined.
58) Spetters (3 stars): High energy melodrama, full of sex and violence, but eminently watchable.
59) Stalag 17: High jinks, violence and mystery in a sharply calculated mixture; an atmosphere quite different from the understated British.
60) State of the Union: Brilliant comedy which unfortunately goes soft at the end but offers stimulating entertainment for most of the way.
61) Sullivan’s Travels: Marvellously sustained tragi-comedy which ranges from pratfalls to the chain gang and never loses its grip or balance.
62) Sunday, Bloody Sunday (3 stars): Both adult and absorbing with an overpowering mass of sociological detail about the way we live.
63) Tampopo: Witty, affectionate, episodic celebration of food as pleasure and aid to sex, contained within a parody of film genres.
64) A Taste of Cherry: A teasing meditation on death and the simpler joys of life. Episodic. What matters is the journey, not the destination.
65) Taxi Driver: The epitome of sordidness. This unlovely but brilliant tale haunts the mind and paints a most vivid picture of a Hell on Earth.
66) Thelma and Louise: Exuberant and off-beat feminist story that manages to say something interesting about the relationship between the sexes.
67) The Thin Man (3 stars): Fast-moving, alternatively comic and suspenseful mystery drama developed in brief scenes.
68) The Third Man: Totally memorable and irresistible thriller. Stylish from the start to the end. Full of cynicism but not without humour.
69) To Be or Not to Be (4 stars): Marvellous free-wheeling entertainment which starts as drama and descends through suspense into farce.
70) To Live: An engrossing saga of survival. It celebrates fortitude and humour.
71) Tokyo Drifter: An enjoyably delirious thriller in which virtually anything goes, including a parody. It has an exotic appeal.
72) Tokyo Fist: Curiously cold, hard-hitting work. Its account of violence within a rigid society and between the sexes has a ritualistic power.
73) A Touch of Class (2 stars): Amiable and very physical sex farce with hilarious highlights.
74) Total Recall: An over-violent, paranoid and engrossing fantasy, with more than enough twists of plot to dizzy the mind.
75) Tristana (4 stars): Complex black comedy of obsessive behaviour which also mocks religion and other forms of consolation.
76) True Romance: A clever, very violent and high-energy thriller, providing opportunity for narrative twists that owe much to farce.
77) Valerie and Her Week of Wonders: A mythological vision about the awakening of sexuality, like a Freudian version of Alice in Wonderland.
78) The Vikings: Unpleasant and brutal but extremely well-staged epic in which you can almost feel the harsh climate. Vivid action.
79) Viridiana: Often hilarious surrealist melodrama packed with shades of meaning, most of them are sacrilegious. Fascinating.
80) Welcome to the Dollhouse: A tartly observant account of the damage that people can knowingly do to one another.
Here is a small fraction of the rejections which I received when I submitted a cover letter, synopsis and samples to literary agents in 2011 and 2012:
The 15th agent: “We are afraid that, despite its qualities, we do not feel sufficiently enthusiastic to offer to represent you.”
An Irish agent: “Wow. Certainly unique. I must be too old for it though.”
An English woman: “While this sounds like a strong project, I’m afraid it doesn’t strike me as a likely fit with me and my particular editorial contacts.”
A confused agent who was e-mailing from a shared address: “For one reason or another, your project does not seem right for my list.”
A U.S. agent sending mixed signals: “Thank you for the interesting query. The concept has many worthwhile elements but due to our workload and current areas of expertise, I do not believe we are quite the right agency for this project.”
Ashley: “Too big a concept for us.”
Laney: “While your project certainly has merit, I’m going to pass.”
Olga: “Your idea is fascinating, but after careful consideration, I regret to say that Trident is unable to offer you representation.”
A lukewarm rejection which hints at a potential future: “I’m afraid I’m so swamped with current commitments that I’m unable to give proper consideration to your work, although it sounds interesting.”
A contradictory rejection from a female agent: “I’m sorry to say I wasn’t connecting wholeheartedly with your writing, despite its poise and polish, so I ought to step aside, but I truly appreciate the look, and I wish you the best of luck!”
Ann (another mixed bag): “Although it certainly has potential for success, it does not appear to be right for this Agency. We pass and wish you better luck in placing your work with an agent who will make us look short-sighted.”
Farley: “You have an interesting idea for a book and there’s a lot to like about your approach. But in the end I’m afraid I didn’t come away from this quite fully convinced this was something I think I’d be able to represent successfully.”
Barbara would end up rejecting me in the following year: “Your novel certainly sounds creative. Right now, my client list is full and I won’t be considering any new proposals for representation until early next year.”
Nicole: “While I appreciate the thought and dedication put into your work, unfortunately I am not enthusiastic enough to pursue this further.”
Morris: “We’ve read your material, and I’m sorry to say that we don’t think it is right for the specific talents of the people working at our company at this time. Publishing is a tough business, and the response of any individual agent — or indeed dozens of agents — is not necessarily a comment on the inherent value of the project. Every agent has individual tastes and individual business requirements.”
An anonymous agent: “We currently handle a very limited range of fiction and your work is really beyond our scope.”
Emily: “It sounds like an interesting read, and I admire its very cerebral, creative energy. However, I’m afraid its experimental style and subject matter are not a good fit for our agency.”
Laurie: “I must reject what you have been kind enough to submit. I am very selective about taking on new clients since the publishing industry has become so narrow in its focus and harsh in its treatment of début and mid-list authors.”
Annie (after I sent the first 10 pages): “I really enjoyed its unusual style and humour. Unfortunately, experimental fiction is difficult to sell these days in this increasingly difficult publishing market.”
An agent who either accidentally sent this e-mail to me or wanted to let me know what was typed to somebody else: “This query sparked my interest mostly because he’s attempting to write a book with multiple genres. I think this might be interesting when it comes to understanding the narrator’s inner psyche. However, I have never read a book like this, so I don’t know if it could actually work. Therefore, I was wondering if you have tried to represent or read a book like this before.”
Amy: “While both intriguing and bizarre, I’m sorry to say this manuscript is not for us and we will not be requesting more material at this time.”
Shana: “I’m afraid this doesn’t seem quite like it would work for me – the combination of genres would make it fairly difficult. I wish you the best – it could be very cool!”
Peter: “Sounds amazing, but I’m afraid we can’t help you as we’re not taking on new clients at present.”
Rich: “Unfortunately, your project falls a bit wide of our focus and I’m not familiar enough with the market to feel confident about my ability to evaluate or place it.”
Christy: “Sometimes we must pass on books, even very good books, that we feel are either out of our range or would require an amount of attention we cannot provide at this time. In addition, we can’t afford to take on projects that we’re not absolutely confident we can sell.”
Rejections from agents who did read it…
Evelyn (a translation rights agent who responded on the following day and thus did not read it at a proper pace): “After looking over your manuscript, I’m sorry to say we cannot help you with marketing.”
A Seattle-based agent: “I had to review it twice to get an idea of how I would pitch it and who I would pitch it to. Your narration is hypnotic, and the rhythmic cadence reminds me of what a Wes Anderson film would be like if Diablo Cody did a Mystery Science Theater narration for it.”
“It is very unconventional but therein lies the difficulty for me. I can say that, once started, you just can’t stop reading it, and don’t want to (at least not for the first 100 pages or so). At that point, the spell is broken and (although I’m still loving every bit of it) my own sensibilities need a break from non-convention, to ground myself in the moment, and step off the ride to catch my breath. I also feel that any editor/publisher that I could get this to would feel the same.”
“I feel that your work is important and may even possibly be ground-breaking, but I don’t have the skills to pitch it without the moments of literary convention to ground me. So I’m probably going to regret this someday but I don’t think I could do this project justice in its current form. You may have better luck with another agent. I do believe that your book has merit and will find a proper home with or without some changes to the conventionality of the narrative.”
Reiko: “I very much enjoyed reading it. That said, I’m afraid I just did not fall in love with it enough in the end to represent it.”