Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Frankly My Dear

Every day, literary agents reject manuscripts that they may like, but feel that they cannot sell. Literary agents approach editors at publishing houses with manuscripts, and even they get rejected. Can't have anything that's too different, from an author that hasn't been published, and don't you have something like the blockbuster from last summer? Bring us something that's been done, and proven itself, but it can't be a duplicate. Different but the same.

As if there aren't more than enough good manuscripts out there, St. Martin's has settled on the tried and true. Hasn't Gone With The Wind proven itself? It still sells, it still generates buzz, and the sequel that came out a few years back was a big seller. The critics savaged it, but they're not buying copies of the book anyway so who cares what they think. Please don't publish something that's new and fresh -- go with a rehash of an old story with some comfy and familiar characters.

Margaret Mitchell refused to write her own sequel, but she's dead so who gives a toss what she wanted. Lawyers for Ms. Mitchell's estate turned to a known commodity, the woman who had written a sequel to the very deceased Jane Austen's beloved novel Pride and Prejudice. If anyone could channel Margaret Mitchell, they reasoned, it was Emma Tennant. Got to keep the original voice, tone, etc., and so Ms. Tennant let fly with the words and now she's the proud owner of a manuscript that can never be published. It turns out that her version of Gone With The Wind For A Third Time was a bit too British, wasn't acceptable, and can never see the light of day thanks to the machinations of her contract with Mitchell's people.

But there's money to be made. Why bother rifling through the manuscripts sent over by the literary agents? Find another author to pen the sequel to the sequel. Enter Donald McCaig, a novelist known for his Civil War tales. He was given a contract to produce a book, and he plunged into the necessary research. Coming soon to a book dealer near you: Rhett Butler's People. Haven't you been wondering all these years about the back story to Rhett's character? Now you can have it. Or at least that part of it that arises from Mr. McCaig's imagination.

Some will hate it, some will love it, but the fact remains that Margaret Mitchell didn't write it. There are countless hundreds of good manuscripts out there that may never be published because the big houses are afraid of the unknown. They churn out a repeat in the hope of success, and then ponder over their declining sales figures.

Will Rhett Butler's People maintain Margaret Mitchell's tinge of nostalgia for the good old days of slavery? Will the author take the modern tack and demonstrate the horrifying reality of lifelong servitude, or will he take a page from the Ku Klux Klan, which was lionized in Gone With The Wind? Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

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