The Revised Kama Sutra

The Revised Kama Sutra
The Viking Penguin hardcover first edition

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Reflections on my Scott Meredith Literary Agency experience

These are the afterthoughts to one of the strongest chapters in my book, The Killing of an Author--not surprisingly, a chapter that the Publishers Weekly reviewer chose to remain silent about.



The chapter is titled "The Scott Meredith Literary Agency," and here are my reflections, in 2015.

So there we were, six fee-agents in our cubbyholes, many of whom had not ever written a novel or at least not acquired enough critical experience to pretend to give the detailed critiques that seasoned literary agents with at least two decades of publishing experience could give. We pretended to be such agents; our reports were signed “Scott Meredith,” and they used the first person frequently, as in “my fellow agents” and “as I said to my client Isaac Asimov the other day.” That was the element that was fraudulent—highly fraudulent—that we were pretending to give them what they expected: $200 (in 1981 and 1983 dollars, which the equivalent of at least $300 in 2015) worth of critique.
Or, to put myself in the shoes of the client. Sure, if I as a writer with a novel that I had worked on for four years was willing to pay for a $200, four-page critique by a seasoned agent and take my chances, including my chances of being discovered and represented, it would be what I deserved, and probably more than a fair value—if indeed an agent with twenty years of experience and a list of famous clients wrote it.  But if I had been told that someone just out of university, even with a Master’s Degree in Literature (and a 3.8 Grade Point Average, as I did have), would be lecturing me about writing and the publishing experience, and half of that would consist of canned bullshit—even though at least one-quarter of that might be very perceptive and right on (which, speaking of myself as the faux “agent”, I sometimes was), I would probably not pay at all; or at least, I might be willing to pay $50, and perhaps more for an exceptionally good critique--but it would have to be my decision.

Which—$50—would, at the time, have constituted very fair wages to me, the “agent” (or Scott Meredith’s Mini-Me).  Because I was actually getting paid just $20 per novel, or ten percent of what the client had paid Scott.

So what have I and people like me to say in their defense for what they were doing? First of all, I didn’t even fully understand the system (the financial aspect of it, and the aspect of “pretense,” and the relative absurdity of it all) when I got the job. All I knew was that I had gotten a job in which I would be paid for writing, writing about books, writing at length, in a literary agent’s office ... and possibly with a chance to have my own novel accepted when it was ready. It was also the first job of any kind I was offered in New York, to which I had just moved along with my wife; we had very little money in our pocket, and she, too, had just gotten her first job ... so it was a very tense time for us, and it was a matter of manhood for me to contribute my share to the expenses of starting life in a strange city. (This concept of manhood was something I was to accept, reject, or minimize as time went along—as a somewhat less important value that art, accomplishment, and producing the kind of novel that no one had ever written before.)

So the job was like a life-saver thrown to someone who had, at many employment agencies, been asked to take a typing test ... and sometimes, disqualified or openly refused without any test.

So what is the reality, then, in the publishing industry--at least the reality that existed around fifteen years back? Many would-be writers or would-be editors enter the publishing industry at very low starting salaries, or as unpaid or semi-paid interns, all in the hope that, sometime soon, they will get a promotion, and eventually end up earning six-figure salaries as agents or senior editors in big publishing companies. If those who enter thus have a trust fund or family money to back them up, or come from elite universities, they can afford to leave a job they discover to have unethical components; in any case, they get promoted up the ranks very quickly: class is still a factor in elite circles. When I interviewed for a job at The National Lampoon (the humorous/satirical magazine), I noticed, later, that everyone who worked their came from Harvard or the Harvard Lampoon, and that, probably, they had called me in just out of curiosity.

So, in an unjust system, I had become an instrument, an unwitting tool of injustice and of exploitation. We were exploited, and in turn we exploited or deceived other writers. The only salve to our conscience was this: What is the alternative? Do you have a better job for me? And if I don’t take this job, will not someone else jump at the chance to take my place?

Four months later, I did leave the job—to join my prestigious Indian job, which was at the time a symbol of the manhood that I needed, exercising considerable power. But I didn’t last there for too long, because I missed my wife, who had chosen to stay back in New York, happy with her new job. So I returned nine months later, and finding the search for a new job in New York difficult, returned to the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, which was at least a known devil ... until I found the courage to reject this concept of manhood altogether, leave the job, and start working on my novel (by which time, our financial circumstances had improved considerably; I had also found a part-time teaching position as Adjunct Professor of English).

The question that others must ask is: how was this system possible? How did Norman Mailer, Isaac Asimov, the estate of P.G. Wodehouse, and the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy not discover that their agent was an unethical man who exploited poor or unknown writers (and his weak employees), and choose a different agent? Why did publishing houses not refuse to work with this agency? This is what the System did: it purchased souls, it purchased loyalty, it purchased justification—for whenever people who occupy chairs in publishing houses and agencies pretend to pronounce on your novel or the literary work of your life, often being interns or persons with barely any experience who have hardly glanced at your novel, but have been giving the job of disposing of the slush pile with fake reviews, if need be ... they have to find reasons to justify it to themselves. And then, they start to believe these reasons, as I almost did, getting out just in time, before I was totally corrupted. (Had I been the sole provider in a family with young children, would I have had that luxury? Not really.)

By the way, I am still in possession of photocopies of many of the “reports” that I wrote: around 100 pages, which I photocopied before leaving, knowing that they contained my literary labors, and that I would be telling this story sometime, and knowing that I had been exploited and underpaid by my employer. I am willing to sell these papers to a potential collector, because they belong to some Museum of Injustice or Museum of Western Publishing—which we need to have, because the increasing corporatization of the publishing industry means that there will be fewer and fewer stories to tell. However, I need the airfare, plus expenses, to get to the place where these papers and my other writings are stored; thanks to financial difficulties, I have been separated from them for the last fourteen years. So, the airfare could be set off against the price I am paid for these papers.

Because, as writers, we should never cease to hope ... and never give up, and never be afraid of telling the truth. Or this is what I said to around one dozen members of the audience that decided to spend an evening of Friday the 13th listening to me speak about writing.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Strange World of an Indian Bestselling Author

From The Killing of an Author, published in paper and on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Nook, etc. Selected passages from one of the book's most important chapters. The trouble with any excerpt in a blog is that, I have to restrict the language here, and also that no excerpt can really convey the power of the book as the book itself (particularly later chapters such as "The Taboos" and "The System and the Killing of Subversive Authors").

An Author Is Born

The Strange World of A Bestselling Indian Author




Finally the book ["The Revised Kama Sutra: A Novel"] was finished, and it included a strong, in-your-face Prologue, a political manifesto on behalf of invisible Third World writers, a manifesto demanding equal freedom and incorporating The Invisible Man Press:

“It is true that I, the author, have registered a publishing company in the United States called the Invisible Man Press because I felt that it was time for us Indians (including those of Indian origin — one-sixth of humankind) in this postcolonial age to feel free to say absolutely whatever we wanted to say, without censorship of any kind, real or imagined.”

The Prologue went on to suggest that censorship of Third World voices occurred discreetly in a democracy like the U.S., and that Western publishing was a very effective tool of this censorship. Briefly, the Prologue’s message was: We are equal citizens of Republic Earth, so please, no double standards, no paternalistic rules or prohibitions.

What chutzpah, I think now, looking back on what I did, for a brown writer living a marginal literary existence in the West to start his first novel with an attack on Western publishing, literary colonialism, and apartheid, and his first chapter with a blast at British colonialism! Rather than waiting, as Arundhati Roy later did, to first make her millions and establish her power base in the West, and then to choose causes that would make her the darling of liberals. (How this passage must have reddened the face of Peter Mayer, Penguin’s worldwide head, who received a copy of the novel from David Davidar shortly thereafter, and did nothing about it.) But I was young, green, hopeful, and proud, and didn’t know that there were no prizes set aside and waiting, in the West-dominated literary world, for Indian writers with balls, for unsuitable brown boys. (If there was to be a prize, I would have to institute it myself ... and I actually started planning for it  — “The Invisible Man Press Award for a Courageous Indian Writer” — but could not follow through because of too many commitments and too few resources.)

But my Penguin India editor David Davidar’s enthusiasm, the feeling that fame — or some sort of explosion (David’s prediction of the novel “taking India by storm”) — was around the corner made me decide, with finality, to ask that my on-again, off-again resignation from the Indian Administrative Service, until now my ticket to security and comfort and status for life in India, be made permanent and irrevocable.

....
.. (Please read the rest in The Killing of an Author, available on most e-book platforms and in paperback.)


Monday, January 12, 2015

Rethinking My Blog, Satire, and Brownboys.com

As mentioned in an earlier post, it's a challenge to manage multiple blogs, a website, as well as publish a variety of books on around eight different platforms, complete around ten books in progress ... and survive. My blogs sometimes need 5-10 edits, and more time than I can afford (and they still don't reflect the REAL ME the way my books do). So I will limit my blogging, while also increasingly giving larger excerpts from my books--including full chapters. So that, even if my books are not purchased, someone reads them (and perhaps continues to read them when I am gone).

I might also think of making available, to serious and dedicated readers, a few of my best unpublished blogs in the form of books published on Amazon, Apple, etc., or send them the files in return for a small payment. (Please consider this as your gift to my Independent Writer's Support Fund.)

To my genuine readers and well-wishers: please visit http://www.richardcrasta.com/links for latest information, and also my various e-book platforms and paperback books: You may notice, that due to my current semi-censored status, a few of my paperbacks are not easily available on many platforms; if so, some of them can be directly ordered from here:
http://bit.ly/CrastaCS

Meanwhile, for anyone interested in a satirical or political website, a powerful domain name is currently in my possession: brownboys.com .  As a political or free expression website, it could be used to publish the content of writers who are brown, but whose point of view is not being heard, or heard clearly enough as a group (as I edit this, an Indian grandfather is paralyzed because some white American mistook him for a 30-year-old black man who might hurt his wife, and the policeman had absolutely no clue that this was a harmless old man from a foreign country). As a satirical or humorous website, or even a commercial website addressed to a particular ethnic group, it has many, many possibilities. I would be happy to sell it for the right price to help fund my books in progress. Please contact me at rc@richardcrasta.com