Question Posed

Dear Readers,

I am happy to report that I now have a literary agent, which brings this biography one step closer to your bookshelf. As I prepare my book proposal for potential publishers I have been thinking about the population of readers that scholars tend to neglect. They are the casual readers, those strolling through a Barnes and Noble on a Sunday afternoon with an overpriced coffee in hand, or those at the airport bookshop looking to read something on their flight. I have asked myself, why would these readers pick up this biography? What about this story might appeal to them?

And so I hand over this question to anyone willing to offer their thoughts. If you are familiar with Toole, what do you want out of this biography? And if you are not familiar with Toole, what do you look for in a biography? What would make you stop in the bookstore or the airport, pick up this book, and buy it.

I will consider all your comments. And as I reference this blog in the proposal, your comments may very well be seen by a publisher.


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6 responses to “Question Posed

  1. Absolutely! People invariable ask me where his head is. I tell them that you have it.

  2. Hi CoryWell you can definitely put me on the advance order list for your book. I didn't know that Toole committed suicide when I read Confederacy. I was just amazed by how funny and wise it was. Later, I read that he'd killed himself before it was published and his mother published it for him. I was shocked. He’s a fascinating character. He had such insight and such a genius for comedy, and at the same time he found life so unbearable that he actually killed himself. He’s certainly a great subject for a biography. What do I want from a biography? I suppose I just want to get to know Toole. I want him to jump off the page (like ignatius does). I want a book that's well researched and based on personal interviews with people who knew him, ie a book that really digs deep and brings him to life vividly, with whatever mannerisms, quirks, strengths and flaws that he had. I want strong, intelligent analysis of the research. I want to feel like I'm in the company of a smart, knowledgeable writer. I want to learn something from you that will in some way enrich my own life. I already see this on your blog, in your analysis of why he may have killed himself – your reasons are complex and satisfying and you don’t settle for an easy answer like blame his mother or his publisher. I would like to read more of this sort of thing. Of course it's hard for a reader to judge this when browsing through a bookstore. I think you’re largely at the mercy of the marketing department. The book has to promise all of the above on the cover. I suppose all you can do is write a good solid book and trust that your publishers know their job, and that your readers are smart enough to be able to recognize a decent piece of work when they see one. Congrats on finding an agent. Best of luck with it. Diana

  3. Thanks sussah and Matt. You need not feel guilt over looking at the covers first–you don't have a choice, really. Besides, I love great covers, with engaging titles. By the way Matt, congrats on your review in Philadelphia ( I have secured my legacy (albeit parasitical) in your biography with the headless cowboy, no?

  4. I am guilty of judging books by their covers. Design is important for me – a non-professional reader. Too "academic" and I am turned off; it looks like a technical manual. If the book passes that test then I turn it over, or open the jacket, to read the publishers summary. Then I flip open the book to a random page and read maybe a page or three, looking for style/quality of writing. Then judge it against the $25 I am holding because, as you know, I have already spent $5 on my venti, double-pump mocha latte. This battery of tests plays out whether of not I am familiar with the subject. Even in a good economy.I don't know if it's a fair comparison for Toole, but "DeKooning" by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan as well as Hillary Spurlings' "Matisse" volumes are biographies that I hold in high regard. I was pretty aware of these people going in, and looked to the books to confirm or refute the legends and talk about people in their circles that I already knew. Stylistically these books were almost journalistic accounts of their lives. My knowledge of their painstaking research was suspended. The dust jackets were well and simply stated.

  5. In a job interview or a movie preview, the sales strategy is usually to tell the truth while putting on a positive "spin". In the situations you're imagining, the bookstore and the airport, all you have to use as advertising are the title and the book cover. Your blog title may or may not be exactly what you will use as the actual book title– I don't know that this has been decided. An interesting phrase could enhance the attraction of the book as on object on the shelf to the casual shopper. Scholars and students of American literature, and all the New Orleanians, will know who John Kennedy Toole is, but nationally in a cross section, I'm not sure they do. If your target audience is to be expanded in this way, this may even affect your style from the outset. For example, the straightforward writing style employed by Joel Fletcher (in Ken & Thelma) is so conversational that after I read it, I honestly felt that I knew Joel, even though we had not met at all. In this good way, I think both you and Joel have been influenced by JKT. I know, however, that this story you are telling is not humorous, and is not all sweetness and light. In fact you may decide to appeal to the dark fascination with this man's death, when selecting the final title. I'm sure your publication will be heartwrenching in the mode of Benjamin Button, but more chilling because the life being described here wasn't a fictional one. New Orleans is very real & certainly the public couldn't be more primed to hear about an earlier version of the city. sp, n.o.

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