Sunday, January 20, 2019



I have written a manuscript “Baked Lunch” and I'm soliciting agents and publishers.

Brief Synopsis: I have written an update (2018) of the William Burroughs novel Naked Lunch. The manuscript has sex, drugs, and violence, which are clichés, when Burroughs wrote his novel these subjects were more controversial. We live in a more jaded age. The clichés mean that someone could read this manuscript while waiting for a plane in an airport and be reasonably entertained. People have shorter attention spans, we’re more distracted. I simply tried to write something I believe is marketable. Same titles from the same chapters as Burroughs novel, but the content is not the same.

(list of chapters redacted for space)

William Burroughs original novel was considered unpublishable because essentially it had no plot. The Chapter 22 Hauser and O'Brien did have a narrative arc, but the rest of the book was essentially a stream of consciousness. A better insight into a synopsis of the novel would be David Cronenberg who essentially re-wrote the entire plot in his screenplay when he did a film adaptation of the novel. But the movie did not follow the book at all and neither did I. I wrote the novel because I don’t particularly like Naked Lunch and thought I could do a better job of writing a novel about beat culture than Burroughs did. It’s subjective I admit, but I really gave it my best effort.

Bio: I am a retired English teacher who has been working in China for the last 15 years.

Thanks for your interest. I have had a professional edit the manuscript and I am confident there aren't any major errors in the manuscript. Approximate word count: 100,000. There are graphics in the manuscript.

You don't get to "update" other people's work and call it your own.
The warranties and indemnities section of a publishing contract requires you warrant that the Work (the book) "is original."

You may think it is; you might even make the case that it is, but that doesn't matter. Any publishing house with something to lose in litigation (ie they have money; they're not running a printing press in their basement) is going to eschew publishing anything remotely like this.

And if you think publishing it yourself will solve that problem, the agent representing the Estate of William Burroughs will probably disabuse you of that pretty quickly.

And honestly, saying you can do a better job of writing a novel about beat culture that is now considered a classic, no matter what people thought of it when published, is an assessment better left to reviewers.


nightsmusic said...

I don't know what to say about this that would be...kind.

Whether or not you liked the book, you're trying to rewrite something that was, at the time, a book that bucked all norms. It's history at this point, whether you look at it as a brilliant satire or a schizophrenic rambling of a shattered mind. Either way, it challenged obscenity laws for one thing, and the decision by the court changed those laws. It's also not that it wasn't publishable, most houses didn't want to touch it because of the ensuing backlash. But Olympia did and it was published so your comment to that is wrong.

Romeo and Juliet has been redone a thousand times, but that story is not iconic to an era. It's a tale that's been going on forever. Naked Lunch has no form or flow to rewrite. It's not a story, it's a collection of heroin induced ramblings according to the narrator. That's not something you can change and do justice to. There's no 'make it your own' retelling. Nothing in that novel, using the term loosely, is shocking in today's world. Putting all the legalities aside, you need to view it in that respect as well. There's very little left in this world to shock anyone unlike the era Naked Lunch was written in. The question is then, would people really pay to read it?

So what you didn't like it? Why try to rewrite something that's become a symbol of the beat generation? Even if you were able to do it justice, you'd be Sisyphus in the publishing world. Don't be. Write your own book. To presume you can do better than the original author on something like this is...wrong.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I'm with N nightsmusic--it's hard to find something in this query that didn't make me cringe. Don't get me wrong; the writing style wasn't the problem. The problem is the tone. Did you have any beta readers look over your query, as well as your book?

Just a few basic things:

1. Look at the percentage of the query you spend talking about your work vs talking about the original. Who are you querying for, exactly?

2. Don't have disdain for your readers. The 'shorter attention spans' bit gets me every time. People still read long books. People still read long books with long paragraphs. People still read long books with long paragraphs full of long sentences.

3. It sounds like you expect all your readers to have read Naked Lunch. If that's the case, you're shooting yourself in the foot even before you queried. That's a slice of the population, which severely limits the book's appeal.

4. "I'm confident there aren't any major errors" is not reassuring. It's like a chef saying, "I'm confident there are no cigarettes in your mac-n-cheese." I mean, great, but... I would've felt better without that reassurance.

Julie Weathers said...

I try not to be harsh about queries because I have a tough time writing them. I hates them, I do, Precious.

However, I find no redeeming qualities here.

"I wrote the novel because I don’t particularly like Naked Lunch and thought I could do a better job of writing a novel about beat culture than Burroughs did. It’s subjective I admit, but I really gave it my best effort."

I think this is going to turn off most agents and publishers even if they felt like fighting legal battles they were destined to lose. They won't be so inclined. If you think you can write a better novel about the beat generation, then write it. Write something new.

I have no idea what Naked Lunch is, so this is of no use to me. I'm sure most agents know what it is or would look it up if they were interested. Still, you say your book is different, better. How? We hear nothing, nothing, nothing about your book except it's this book only better.

I don't know. I think I need tea after this. My heart is aflutter.

Unknown said...

I'm a the query writer. Thanks for the critique. I know I'm going into unknown territory here. The model I was thinking of Jean Rhys sequel to Jane Eyre "Sargasso Sea" (not too many examples I can think of). I have wondered about the legal ramifications, how would I find out if what I'm doing is plagiarism (can you plagiarise an idea or concept)? Is what I'm endeavoring toward illegal?

Chiang Mai

The Sleepy One said...

Unknown, while Jean Rhys wrote a prequel to Jane Eyre--she didn't rewrite Jane Eyre. She focused on the woman locked in the attic and wrote her story. Look up Tina Connolly's Ironskin or Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. Both use Jane Eyre extensively--Ironskin is basically Jane Eyre with fairies, while in The Eyre Affair, Jane Eyre is kidnapped from her novel--and both can exist in the literary marketplace because they're not a rewrite and they're not trying to claim they're better than the original.

It's fine to dislike Naked Lunch--it wasn't my favorite Beat novel, either, and a scene from the movie still freaks me out even though it's been at least twenty years since I watched it--but it's still significant as a voice of its time.

Dellcartoons said...

Jane Eyre was published in 1847. No question of copyright. Naked Lunch was published 1959. Copyright is probably still an issue. Best talk to a copyright lawyer

If you can write a better Beat Culture novel, then write that novel. From what you say you made major changes anyway

It looks like your target market is people who read Naked Lunch and hated it. That's probably a small target there

And you wrote a 100,000 word novel for people w/ short attention spans?

Irene Troy said...

Whoa! This drips with hubris. Sorry, but that is what struck me while reading and re-reading the query. I doubt this is what you intend, but this comes across as if you are discounting modern readers as lazy and somehow deficient intellectually. No agent, no publisher, no reader will appreciate that attitude. A) It's untrue that people are reading less or that they are reading less serious books. b) You are attempting to sell a rather long-ish novel while suggesting people are disinterested in reading longer novels. As others have stated, suggesting that you can out-do a well-respected, well-known and, to some, a great writer, is...always a huge mistake.

Although it is important for would-be-publisher authors to learn about the market for their book, writing just to appeal to a market is generally a mistake. It is much better, I believe, to write a story that moves YOU - the writer. A story that you need to share. In my albeit limited experience, such novels tend to be better written and more successful. Don't re-write someone else's ideas or novel. Develop your own ideas and your own story.

Laina said...

You wrote fanfiction. Possibly not very good fanfiction with the disdain for the novel and its readers, but... this is pretty much fanfiction. Might be better to treat is as such tbh.