Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The financial success of an author is inversely proportional to the literary worth of the book

I don't know why I waited to so long to read this. Both Brenna at Literary Musings and Greg at The New Dork Review talked about the awesomeness of this book, but I just put off reading it. I don't know why. It's not an intimidating book. It's not a particularly difficult book. It is funny and snarky and cynical and exactly the type of book I usually jump at. I assume I was just being stubborn. Needless to say, I'm very happy I finally picked up How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely.

After finishing up Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil over Thanksgiving I knew I'd need another book for my flights home and this seemed like the perfect time to quit procrastinating. This was the perfect airplane read, except for the whole laughing-out-loud part. Pete Tarslaw just wants to make a lot of money and impress his ex-girlfriend at her wedding and after watching an interview with a NYTimes best-selling author realizes the whole writing thing is a con game and he wants in. He goes through checklists of rules (Rule 9: At dull points include descriptions of delicious meals) or details to include (Woman who says stuff that turns out to have extra meaning when it's revealed she's in a wheelchair). He comes up with every cliche from literary bestsellers and throws them all into his book.

Surprisingly (or not, if you just look at the title of the book) his con works and he does become a famous novelist. Sure, it's panned by critics (he has some funny moments bitching about book reviewers, especially book bloggers) but it's loved by his readers. That isn't what's important though. The money and the whole rubbing his good fortune in his ex's face are the driving forces here. He's quite the noble character.

The NYTimes best seller list doesn't contain any actual authors, but it's not a far stretch to see who he's really referring to. Hely shines when he's describing Pete's writing or when he's mocking these authors. Once he reaches success the book is still funny but I laughed aloud less often. There are parts that are downright painful to read. The wedding scene was particularly wonderful, even if I tried to read it between my fingers.

This is a hilarious and quick read. And if you have any sort of interest in the publishing world, you'll enjoy this one.

Update: Alice at Reading Rambo also recommended this to me and I want to make it clear I ignored all of them equally.

Title quote from page 47, location 376

Hely, Steve. How I Became a Famous Novelist. Grove Press, 2009. Kindle edition