Friday, August 6, 2010

'What if we make it a musical, Mr. Cussler?'

If uber-author Clive Cussler tried to sell his bazillion-selling adventure novel RAISE THE TITANIC today, here's what he likely would find waiting in his mailbox from the publisher ...

Liberty Bell of America Publishing Corporation

Friday, August 6, 2010

Dear Mr. Custard--

Thanks for the ream of paper. A pity you spoiled it with your words.

Ha! Just a little publishing humor ...

Seriously, thanks for sending me RAISE THE TITANIC. A junior editor read it as thoroughly as his coffee break permitted, and forwarded his notes to me. I reviewed them while my feng-shui adviser rearranged my office. (The Flatiron Building here in NYC needs a lot of spiritual tending-to.) I was very pleased with what I found.

Long story short, I want this book! It's different, exciting, refreshing and marvelous. Exactly what I'm looking for in a summer blockbuster. Furthermore, Mr. Crepler, I adore your writing style. It's short, punchy, to the point. Exactly what fiction should be, but so often isn't in this age of sob-sob, boo-hoo, tell me every little stupid thing about everything style of prose. Your book is a marvel of tight-might-right. All it needs is a bit of tweaking.

For that, I'll put you in touch with our editorial services division, at the author's discount of 10 percent. You'll work one-on-one with our man in Sri Lanka. It's a low-cost region, making the fee you'll pay us for the tweaks you'll need to make surprisingly modest. Be assured, Mr. Crimola, there's nothing major involved. Just a few minor fixes--dusting the knickknacks, I like to call it--so TITANIC appeals to everyone in the known world. Which is what we both want for your work, am I right?


As I understand my junior editor's notes, you've written a story about a British ship named TITANIC that sails the ocean blue. (Note: clever reference to HMS PINAFORE, also one of your Brit ships.) It hits an iceberg, breaks apart, sinks to the bottom of the Atlantic. A bunch of passengers, mostly Brits and Irishers, drown, though some are saved, and one turns into a really old wrinkled lady to serve as your "voice of the doomed." Or maybe the old lady's in another book. I forget. Anyway, your protagonist, Dirk Pitt, discovers the ship half a century later, arranges to have it raised because there might be a valuable mineral aboard, finds out there isn't, and winds up giving it to a museum for the whole world to enjoy.

So far, so good. But like I said, gotta dust the knickknacks. Our man in Sri Lanka will guide you on details, but I'll give you the broad strokes now so you're both talking the same language. And I don't mean Sri Lankan.

First, the ocean. There's too much of it. Did you see WATERWORLD? That Kevin Costner stinkbomb my cousin Ernie actually green-lighted, the dumbass? Well, after that fiasco, we in New York Publishing would have a serious problem accepting any novel featuring water and a ship. Unless, of course, it was a warship. Since we're in the War on Terror, we could make that work just dandy. Would you be willing to change the TITANIC--bravo on your name selection, Mr. Cheeseler, it's very rugged and macho--from a passenger ship to a warship?

Next, can the passengers be American? Much bigger hometown numbers, because after 9/11, red-white-and-bluers don't want English heroes. Too dandified. They want John Wayne. Or Bruce Willis, at least; everyone loves those DIE HARD flicks, especially when he makes with the wisecracks. (Humor really leavens tragedy; keep that in mind when reviewing your chapters on the ship breaking apart.) As an aside, it was nice to see no French passengers on TITANIC. American readers don't cotton to hanky-sniffing, cheese-eating, surrender-monkey, beret-snapping Frenchie Pierres. Think: Freedom fries.

You also need to tweak the tone of the story. Your TITANIC is a big downer, frankly--so many people die. Even though they're ethnics, readers might possibly be discomfited by their watery demise. That will hurt sales, particularly in the 18-24 market we covet even though not a damn one of 'em reads.

For ways to rightsize your tone, I'd suggest you watch GILLIGAN'S ISLAND on YouTube. In case you've forgotten, it was a TV show back in the 1960s. (Maybe the '70s; hey, I don't know, I wasn't born yet.) Anyway, there was a boat and water, just like your TITANIC. But the crew was zany! There was a millionaire and his wife. A movie star. A professor and Mary Ann. Plus the Captain and his fumbling-yet-sage mate, Gilligan. Sure, they ran into obstacles, but they overcame them with good cheer and zest and the can-do-it-ness that red-blooded readers admire. I'm sure you could adapt that kind of tone for your TITANIC. Download a few GILLIGAN scripts from eBay and see what I mean.

Then there's the matter of your own name: "Clive Cussler." It won't do. In today's challenging publishing climate, you need to have an upbeat, Net-friendly handle in order to compete. "Clive" is too old-fashioned. And, it reminds me of those green things my wife chops into the sour cream for baked potatoes. So, how about . . . T'Cleesha? Very urban, yet not of the city. Think about it.

Then, "Cussler." It contains the word "cuss," which of course is not allowed in our books. Our work must appeal to any reader in any corner of any world, and frankly, some of those governments are pretty darned repressive. You wouldn't want TITANIC to rot on the heartbroken piers of a Third World banana republic for the sake of a single "damn," would you? Also, the head fiction buyer at Walmart doesn't swear. Offends him so much he had his own mother arrested once for saying "hell" on a public street, can you imagine? Me neither. But we gotta deal with reality, Mr. Crewcut: if The Man From Walmart says no, your future will smell like a tuna fish three weeks dead, even if your book went on to win the Pulitzer and Edgar and Nobel and Dagger. So even though my notes indicate you do not curse in your manuscript--bravo for that lantern in this dark world of ours!--we wouldn't want potential buyers getting even a whiff of a scent of a hint from your name that they might possibly stumble across a stray "dumbass" on Page 279 and feel offended enough to (cringe!) return the book.

So, let's consider changing "Cussler" to something more "aw, shucks." Something like . . . and I'm just spitballing here . . . Nightingale! Everyone loves nightingales. It's a happy word, evocative of cooing and flight and birdsong and Walt Disney movies about the South featuring those happy singing fieldhands who love to pick cotton all day long for their firm but benevolent Massas . . . God, I miss those days, Clive, don't you . . . uh, well, ahem, you know what I mean.

Finally, the book is a skosh too long. In the mass-market paperback format we envision, 135,000 words would make your tome really thick. Today's readers don't like thick. Reminds them of those books from Proust and Shakespeare they hated so much in high school. And, every extra page in your book costs production money. Being a fellow businessman, I'm sure you understand.

So, cut it to 75,000. Easiest way to do that is eliminate every adjective and adverb. (Surely there's an app for that?) Using only verbs and nouns (and the occasional gerund for pacing) will really speed up the action, which practically guarantees you a movie deal. That's why we all write fiction, right? Movie deals?

So, Mr. Clingon, to sum:

--Change your name to T'Cleesha Nightingale.

--Create Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, BookSpace, AuthorSpace, Shelf-fari, Book Beagle and other social network portals, so you can maestro your platforms into the multi-lateral synergy we require. Remember, writing's only half the battle! Well, a quarter, anyway. Maybe an eighth . . .

--Make TITANIC a warship instead of a passenger liner. Make sure to stud it with missiles and guns and bombs and other effects-friendly stuff. I'd love phasers and photon torpedos--good way to map Trekkies into the Nightingale platform--but only if you can make them realistic. Sci-fi's as dead as my Aunt Nellie.

--Turn the passengers into a zany crew of sailors--think MC HALE'S NAVY, also available on YouTube--and make them Americans instead of Brits. Preferably with fun regional accents so we can give them appropriate nicknames, like "Irish" and "Hollywood" and "Farmer Ned." By all means keep TITANIC as the name though; as I mentioned, it's truly inspired.

--Hitting icebergs? Too Jewish; we don't want to preclude the Arabian market. Perhaps you could ram another ship instead? One bristling with Islamo-nazi terrorists, preferably. That's very current, meaning I can sell the movie rights immediate. Think: TITANIC DEATH DANCE! starring Chuck Norris as Dirk Pitt. Action figures from Whammo. Maybe a line of sippy cups for the preschool set.

--Break each chapter into 130-character Tweets. That way we can Tweetdeck your story across all platforms. So what if there are 4,000 chapters--if a reader reads 180 chapters while sitting on the toilet, s/he believes s/he's really accomplished something. Psychology, Mr. Cussler. That's how we sell books today. Psychology is the "Plastics" of the 2010s.

--And finally, we'll need to ashcan the name TITANIC after all. Corporate says we need more female readers to make end-of-quarter targets, and focus groups suggest TITANIC could be perceived as too testosterone-filled. But don't worry, you'll think of something. Could Dirk Pitt be a woman? Could she sing country music to attract the NASCAR segment? Could Lady GaGa play her? Think of the fun you'd have writing about her spangly costumes . . .

And that's it! If you're willing to make these minor tweaks, Mr. Cussler--excuse me, Mr. T'Cleesha Nightingale!--you'll have a blockbuster of a product that we'll be proud to sell to the millions of people dying to read your story. Which, if I didn't mention it earlier, made me weep from the joy--weep, I tell you!--of seeing the first truly perfectly written manuscript in my long career as a platformist.

Take care, and let me know what you think. If this works out as well as I think it will, you'll need to start thinking about writing a series.

Think you can write more than one book?

Synergestically yours,
B.J. Plenty
Executive Vice President of Platforming
Liberty Bell of America Publishing, Beijing

P.S. As your agent undoubtedly mentioned, we pay no advance. Up-front cash only stifles the creative passions of our authors, and we in no way want that to happen. After all, you are the professional writer. You are the one in charge of the words. We're just here to make the magic happen.

Shane Gericke's third thriller, TORN APART, is a runaway hit, even though there isn't an ocean or a ship or an iceberg. There is, however, a river with a rusty metal bridge, and cops and killers and car chases and trigger-gasms. There are some tender moments, sure, but they go by fast to get back to the explosions 'n' stuff. Oh, and there's a deer with antlers as big as a Buick, and a reader contest. Talk about your synergistic platform . . .

Click here to read all about it:


Terry Stonecrop said...

Gilligan's Titanic. Brilliant! So many laughs in this post. Love your Friday Funnies:)

Shane Gericke said...

Thanks, Terry. It sure is fun ending the week this way. It's Gilligan ... the skipper too ... the millionaire, and his wife ...

Kelli Stanley said...

THANK YOU, sweetness!!! That was truly inspired, and I'm still chuckling at all the wrong versions of "Cussler" your platformist came up with!! ;)


Rebecca Cantrell said...

Brilliant, Shane! That was truly inspired! I laughed out loud a couple of times and now the cats are angry.

T'Cleesha Nightingale, my foot!

Sophie Littlefield said...

awww, that was hilarious! loved it all. :)

Shane Gericke said...

Thanks, Kel, Rebecca, Sophie. I had a lot of fun writing it. Sadly, it pokes a little too close to home in these days of cross-pollenating synergistic platforming!

I think I shall be T'Shan'e Nightingale from now on ...

Shane Gericke said...

If Clive sees it, I hope he chuckles, too. Otherwise, I'm doomed :-)

Gabi said...


Now that I think about it, his name does offend my oh so delicate sensibilities.

My mom read this one before I had a chance to and said it was a milk from your nose laugh. Her highest praise.

Shane Gericke said...

Thanks, Gabi. I love your mother already--I live for milk from the nose reactions. Good thing it wasn't coffee or she'd still be smartin' :-)