I don't have trunk novel. But I have a good story about a story of mine that never sold. Well, it wasn't really a story as much as it was an idea and that's why it never sold. Here's what happened.
I was young and idealistic when my first book, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America came out in 2001. I co-wrote the book with a friend and we were so proud of ourselves. Hair Story is a cultural history of Black people's hair in the United States. Slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, Reganomics. We re-visit them all through the lens of Black hair. The book got rave reviews and even though I was six months pregnant when the book hit store shelves, my co-author and I hit the road to promote it, hitting at least 10 cities before my son was born.
Considering our publisher only prepared for a modest first print run, we sold out of our first printing rather quickly, but that didn't mean we hit any bestseller lists. We knew our book was good. And important. But it wasn't sexy. No, sexy books at the time were being written by a lot of men. I was working at Entertainment Weekly magazine at the time, and I even wrote an article about this trend of men being able to write even the crappiest pieces of fiction and women would buy it. It was infuriating. At one book event my co-author and I attended, we were seated at a table next to a famous male author who had just come out with yet another one of his bestselling books. Another sexy romantic thriller. Yawn! Six people came over to our booth to inquire about Hair Story. Six hundred women lined up to see Sexy Author Man. And that's when we hatched our plan.
My co-author and I decided we could probably write something at the same level as these upstart male romance writers. We figured we could probably do even better. But we knew that even if the writing was just as good, we wouldn't get the same play as a hunky dude. So, rather than sit down and plot out our story line, we went through our contact lists to see which one of our guy friends could we convince to pose as the author of the book we were going to write. We planned the photo shoot for his author photo (We decided on bare-chested with a beach background), how we'd prep him for the book tour, and of course we calculated just how much we'd have to pay him to be us. That was the tricky part. But my co-author was friends with a wanna-be actor who also happened to be ridiculously good-looking and we thought he might just do it for the experience. And maybe a nice dinner.
We were giddy with the idea. So sure that it would work. And we consoled ourselves by saying that we were only doing this for the money. It was a necessary evil. Then we could then write the important books we really wanted to be working on instead. Plus, we would be proving that the literary industry was just as sexist as the rest of the world. Did I mention that both me and my co-author went to women's colleges?
Anyway, my dear girlfriends, here's what happened. Nothing. After we found our fake hunky author, my co-author and I realized we really had nothing we wanted to write about. Every time we tried to sit down and spit out this easy, breezy novel, we came up blank. Eventually, the idea fizzled, and our fake author moved to Switzerland and got married. Moral of the story? Writing for money will never get you through to the finish line? Cheaters never win? No, I think the moral of that story is just that we should have tried harder and we'd probably be rich today. After all, it worked for Richard Castle. Yes, a fictional character from an ABC TV show is writing New York Times Bestselling books. What's the secret to his success?
Decent story + Good looking guy pretending to be the author = Multi-book Deal.
Live and learn. Live and learn.
Lori L. Tharps is the author of the novel, Substitute Me. She blogs regularly about parenting and pop culture at myamericanmeltingpot.com