John Sayles Looking Forward to Some Time in the Sun

Like a lot of publishing-related stories this week, the dek of a Los Angeles Times piece on John Sayles’ inability to sell his latest novel seems intended to cast gloom on an economy embittered industry.

“The writer-filmmaker is shopping a sprawling work of historical fiction,” writes John Getlin, “but no big publishers are buying. Such is the cautious state of publishing today.”

It seems to me that this is the kind of reporting that has a whole generation irritated with news gatherers. While the piece is well-written and there is input from numerous sources, it seems to have an agenda. Book Expo gets underway in New York in a few days. As a result, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a story about all the doom and gloom in publishing, though most of those stories only use the numbers that back up their claims, ignoring the ones that show that, not only are portions of the publishing industry surprisingly robust but, in certain sectors, we begin to see that reading is having something of a Renaissance.

But back to John Sayles wandering about with his magnum opus tucked under his arm:

“I’ve been done with it for six or seven months, and it’s out to five or six publishers,” he said quietly. “But we haven’t had any bites yet.”

John Sayles, Oscar-nominated creator of “Return of the Secaucus 7,” “Lone Star,” “Matewan” and other movies, is having trouble getting a book deal.

The situation is almost entirely traceable to the publishing industry’s economic woes, and it’s raising eyebrows, because Sayles was an accomplished fiction writer long before he made his first film. Weighing in at a whopping 1,000 typed pages, “Some Time in the Sun” is his first novel since 1990’s “Los Gusanos.”

Later in the piece, though, we’re told that when it comes to books, Sayles’ sales have never been that great. “Sales records matter more than ever, and some publishers are reluctant to take chances on writers such as Sayles, 58, whose previous books got rave reviews but were never bestsellers.”

The book is 1000 manuscript pages — which would put it around 250,000 words: a toe breaker by anyone’s calculations. Not to mention expensive to produce: all those page. The author is well known, but his books are esoteric. And, clearly, the reading public that gobbles up the latest Dan Brown novel doesn’t want to be bothered with a lot of stuff like thinking. And, to make matters worse, the book is historical fiction of the most meaningful kind. That means that, when published, Some Time in the Sun might be an important book, it might even be a brilliantly reviewed book, but it probably won’t be a bestseller. (Historical fiction is never a bestseller, unless it is, then everyone forgets that rule. For a while.)

Now here’s the thing: publishing is made out of Cinderella stories. Listen to the bestseller back stories and you’ll hear it: tale after tale just like this. Only concluding with a happy ending: finally a book deal followed by a film deal followed by tears at the awards ceremonies. I’m thinking that’s where this is going, ultimately. Of course someone will publish Sayles’ book. Of course it will be fantastic and so be well-reviewed. And the rest, well, we’ll have to see. The point is, I’m not as confident as Getlin and some of his sources that this book would have found a home a year or more ago and that this is a more “jittery moment” in publishing history than any of those that have gone before.

Some Time in the Sun,” writes Getlin “…blends vivid human portraits with historical events and brilliantly captures individual voices…. it spotlights African American and white soldiers fighting in the Philippines, fast-buck artists who help create the motion picture industry, and features cameos by Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, William Randolph Hearst, Damon Runyon and other historical figures.”

It sounds amazing. I’m looking forward to the news still to come on this book. The small press that buys and lovingly publishes it, the throngs that read it and rave and tell their friends. I’m looking forward to seeing Cinderella ride again.

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  1. I had the same reaction as you after reading about Sayles’ travails selling this book. OF COURSE, someone will publish it. 😉

    When he mentioned a “50-part miniseries”…I was hoping George Lucas or a PBS or HBO executive would read that and maybe call him to fund it…wishful thinking on my part. haha.

    The 1000-page manuscript should turn into the first Kindle-only publication. No paper, less cost…fast download from Amazon. 😉

    (I mean, let’s get real…the publishing industry had a $24 BILLION year in 2008…)

  2. Tarpaulin Sky Press will happily publish John’s manuscript. Don’t even need to read it first. We just can’t offer him any money…

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