A dozen years ago, I had a novel under contract. I write my fiction under a pseudonym, of course. I was thrilled because I had never seen the conceit (in the sense of “concept”) anywhere before. For once, I was going to be first in line. But then the editor who’d responded “Loved it!” left the press. After dithering for about a year, the publisher decided not to publish it. This was a small, independent press—I wasn’t anticipating it would be a New York Times bestseller. Then I saw a weekend add in the New York Times—just recently—touting a novel with the exact same concept as mine as “original” and worthy of being read. Ironically, just the day before I had once again submitted my novel to an independent publisher. I can’t blame the author, of course, but the system doesn’t work for everyone.
After the killing of my darling, I naturally tried to find another publisher. I have been trying for twelve years. I’ve been pushing the idea as original and of general interest. Editors and agents disagreed about the “of general interest” part. In fact, I’ve had rejections from nearly 100 literary agents over the years, one of them responding that I was a good writer but they couldn’t see where the story was going. Maybe I didn’t handle it as well as this new book, with its glittering endorsements, but a guy likes to get credit for his work. Now if it ever does get published I’ll be considered a copycat. You see, my main driving force as a writer is originality. My published stories are unlike others I’ve read and most of them go through multiple rounds of rejection before some editor “gets it.”
The publishing industry, however, is a strange one. Most publishing houses want work that imitates bestsellers since they’re a known quantity. Money in the bank (or what banks used to be). The internet has changed that a bit, but not completely. It does mean those skilled at such things as self-publishing can sometimes challenge the hegemony of the big five. It also means a lot of sub-standard fare is out there as well. I’m a little late establishing a literary reputation it seems. Although being raised poor does qualify me as “diverse” it’s not in any way visible. It is obvious if people get to know me because the poverty mentality never goes away. So my novel has been waiting while the same idea occurred to someone else (not straight white male) and has received notice. So I follow and hope to learn.