"It cost him his flat and four years of unemployment, but all he had to show for his struggle to write a bestselling first novel were more than 50 rejection letters from agents and publishers". So starts the heartwarming tale in the Times on Monday of how William Petre has had his book "snapped up" by HarperCollins in Britain for £165,000, with Sony and "other Hollywood studios pursuing the film rights".
Most of the story focuses on the familiar tale of the lonely, dedicated author, giving up the day job and gradually becoming more impoverished until he got his big break. He worked on improving his book, a historical novel inspired by a visit to Egypt, for 4 years, submitting it under various names so that publishers would not remember him from last time.
One day, Petre got a phone call "out of the blue" from literary agent Luigi Bonomi, who had "unearthed the novel from the hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts that arrive at his office each week" and was "bowled over by it" (these cliches really are all in the story, such are the standards of journalism these days). Once the agent had taken it on, he quickly sold the book to HarperCollins.
Well, good luck to Petre. But although I don’t doubt the facts of the story as far as publishing the book goes, I am suspicious. The title of the book? "The Alexander Cipher". The extract provided by the Times to accompany the story? Mediocre and unoriginal, to be generous. Hollywood studios being interested? Easy to claim.
Is this story essentially a clever piece of marketing by a canny agent, aided by the fact that the newspaper and book publisher share an owner? I would never have had this mean thought if it were not for the title of the book and the dull extract.