Friday, February 19, 2010

UPDATE: On How I'm Always Right And Always Awesome...

... plus sometimes I match my tie to my shirt, creating a pleasing concordance of color.

Here's the thing. I am so right all the time, that I take for granted just how right I am. But you, my loyal (?) readers (?) may not realize just how right I am, unless I point it out to you.

Which I am doing now.

While wearing my color coordinated-tie-and-suit combination. (You can't see that, but just take my word for it.)

Back 'round-a-bout 10 days ago, I gave you the inside scoop on how to write a best-selling book -- in the post titled The Best Next Best Seller.

And today, reading Slate while I ate my leftover-pizza-for-lunch, I was again proven 100% absolutely correct.

Slate is reviewing, today, something called "The Lost Books of the Odyssey," by someone called Zachary Mason. Judging from the critical slobberfest that is going on right now, Lost Books is going to be The Next Best Next Best Seller (got that?) (It's already 226 at Amazon).

Could that have been predicted? Sure -- since I 10 days ago explained exactly what it took to become a best seller. Let's walk through the Mason book, using my own tips as guideposts in our journey into my right-osity so that you can see exactly what I'm talking about and how right I was.

I said set your book in the American South (or Ireland.) The Slate review doesn't mention much about that -- but a little digging turned up this tidbit: In one of the vignettes in this book, Odysseus travels to Tyre. Where's Tyre? Only in the south of Lebanon -- and, Tyre, when translated into Greek, is Surru -- which means South. Tyre is Arabic for South.

1 for 1.

I said make it a true story, of sorts. And Mason obliged. First, his story is (like The Odyssey) told in the first person (by Odysseus). That makes it sound true, right?

Not enough for you? Fine: It's based on The Odyssey, and because of that, critics are noting that...

"It doesn't matter if you've read The Odyssey 30 years ago or never. The familiar story points are all highlighted here, or are filled in by Mason over the course of the narrative. And part of the fun is losing track of what is authentic Odyssey, and what he's making up, in the footnotes especially."

(From Dallas News

So Mason's story is kind of true -- some parts of it were in the actual Odyssey.

Still not enough? How about, then, the fact that Slate notes: "A short preface lays out the book's conceit: What follows is a translation of 44 variations on The Odyssey, discovered on an ancient papyrus excavated from "the desiccated rubbish mounds of Oxyrhynchus" (a real-life archaeological trove)."

So, first-person story, based on a work that we all know -- supposedly found in a "real-life" trove?

2 for 2.

Then, I said recast an old classic. That was one of my key points -- and it's obviously what Mason's done here -- something that came to my attention not just in the title of the book, but in the very first paragraph of the Slate review:

There are less hubristic ways to start a career as a novelist than by retelling the story of The Odyssey. For one thing, the original was pretty good. For another, the story has been retold before—by the likes of Alfred Lord Tennyson, James Joyce, and Fritz Lang, to name a few. Yet in The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Zachary Mason has achieved something remarkable. He's written a first novel that is not just vibrantly original but also an insightful commentary on Homer's epic and its lasting hold on our imagination.

So not only was I right about "recasting an old classic" being a steppingstone to bestsellerdome, but the reason I said it was important is also right. Remember, I said:

"the key is to find an old story that's beloved by critics and educators (the people who will get the symbolism and guilt others into getting it, too) but also somewhat well-known by the general public, as well."

got the symbolism -- and is guilting you into reading the book because of it.

3 for 3.

Finally, I said you'll need one last little hook or gimmick... that necessary tool which I said "lands your book on local news shows and people's blogs and the front page of MSN."

And do you remember what I said was going to be my gimmick? I was going to include a harmonica with each copy of the book.

Let me quote to you from The New York Times book review -- a review that was dazzled by the book.

Hoping to call attention to the book, Mr. Mason sent it to some reviewers wrapped in high-grade paper, with the opening stanzas of “The Odyssey” in calligraphy, and to others, including The New York Times Book Review, inside a custom-made miniature wooden Trojan horse.

Not only that, but the original version of the book had a fake writer's biography. Gimmickry abounds! That little fake horse was mentioned in all but one of the reviews... and blogs ... that I read about this book.

And, to outgimmick the gimmick, the updated version -- version 2.0 -- has dropped some of the earlier versions -- but has developed a gimmick of its own; the new press releases and book highlight the scientific background of the author (who's a computer guy of some sort) and make mathematical, computer-y allusions to the writing and the way the book is crafted:

From The New York Times: "A Calculus of Writing, Applied to a Classic." "He approaches literature almost as if it were a branch of science, governed by laws that are quantifiable and predictable, as when he talks of devising an algorithm, later discarded, to determine an optimum chapter order for his novel or when he compares writing to the annealing of metals."

See, it's sciency but also literaturey, so you're not just reading a book, you're doing math... um... here, look at this little horsey!

4 for 4.

The final proof that my system works? Lost Tales was originally published in 2007 or 2008 (websites have it both ways) but didn't make much headway, despite winning a contest. Instead, it only began to gain some momentum when Mason sent out the gimmicks -- and then finally hit it big, in the past week -- just after I published my post on how to make a best seller.

I can't prove that Mason and his publishers read my post and adopted it -- but I can't not prove it, either, so I'll just take credit, and I'll note that my post mentioned that my book would be an update of Ulysses -- and Ulysses is the Roman name for Odysseus.

I was right, and the system works.

And because it works, I look forward, next month, to reading "I Was Along For The Ride" -- a fictionalized re-imagining of The Canterbury Tales, if they had instead occurred to Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac while on a motorcycle ride through the American South.

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