Candy Cover, Round III
In these last few posts I’ve been talking about the evolution of the cover design for my forthcoming novel, Candy from Strangers
. After being given the opportunity to review seven concept covers from my publisher Bleak House Books, I provided some feedback, indicating which of the seven my favorite was and suggesting some other themes that might be mined for future concepts.
A little time went by and Bleak House provided another concept for review, emphasizing the heaven/hell theme in the book. Here’s what it looked like:
I decided I still preferred number 5 from the first round of concepts, but I provided some feedback, like so:
I do like the idea of juxtaposing heaven and hell, but the first comment I have to make is the positions are backwards. Hell, of course, should be at the bottom, and heaven should be in the sky. This is also a little reminiscent of the James Bond movie intros with the girls in silhouette, but that maybe that's a good thing.
I'd also wish for some indicators that make heaven and hell more identifiable. In particular, I'm thinking the designer could take a photo of a girl in angel wings and use it for one of the stencils in the heaven montage. A photo of a girl with devil horns would be good at in hell. Finally, he might throw in some sort of tattoo--maybe of a butterfly--somewhere in the montage (could it be made to work for the eye?).
I'm still struggling with the tag line. Maybe I'm being too literal, but calling the book sweet seems like false advertising (ignoring the slang connotation of "cool"). And, of course, there is more than one murder involved. If we want to stick with the "themed" tag line (rather than a reference to the Riordan series or THE IMMORTAL GAME), how about:
"A sugar-free novel about murder by Mark Coggins"
which contrasts with Candy and makes the point that the contents really aren't "sweet"
"A not-so-sweet novel about murder by Mark Coggins"
If not that, then at least:
"A sweet novel about murder by Mark Coggins"
to deal with the plurality of the murders.
As I said last time, I do like the girl's leg in isolation, but this one has possibilities with some jiggering.
Thus ends Round III. Next up: the break-through design.
Candy Cover, Round II
In my last post I shared the first round of concept covers that Bleak House books provided for my forthcoming novel, Candy from Strangers
. This time around I'm going to post the feedback I sent in response.
I e-mailed Ben LeRoy--Bleak House publisher and current nominee
in the men's division of GalleyCat's Hotties in Publishing contest--and thanked him for letting me review and give feedback on the concepts. Then I threw in my two cents:
My favorite is number 5 (the girl's legs in isloation). It's eye-catching, suggestive of fetishes and the $ for the S adds a nice reference to Monica's commercial motivations. I would definitely add a tattoo on the girl's ankle to tie in that theme and I'd like to find a different tag line than "A touching mystery." It's clever, but in the end, there really isn't much touching that goes on in the book. Maybe "By the Author of THE IMMORTAL GAME" is more approriate and more likely to motivate the fan base I do have to purchase the book.
I do like some of the elements from the others, especially the computer cursor, but I'm concerned that 1-4 suggest lesbian S&M, which really isn't a theme in the book and might be too over the top.
Number 6 just struck me as too abstract and not very exciting, and number 7 wasn't particularly attractive and didn't seem to have anything to do with the book (but I might have missed the connection).
Some other themes that might be worth exploring include tattoos (as I mentioned), angels and she-devils, cemetery monuments and candy (if not done in too heavy-handed a way.)
Just for grins, I've attached a few jpgs to get the juices flowing on other possibilities:
I took this photo tonight with a digital camera (w/ my wife and I as models) just to get the idea across. If we did it for real, I think we'd want to shoot in a grungy alley and put a tattoo on the forearm of the guy holding out the candy.
This is a photo of mine of a cemetery monument that ties well into the "goth angel" theme. Another way to use the monument would be to do a close-up of the angel's face with a hand over her mouth like she was being kidnapped. The hand could have a tattoo between the thumb in forefinger.
Another photo of mine of a creepy display of dolls.
So ends my feedback. Next up: a new concept cover from Bleak House.
Candy Cover, Round I
In an earlier post
, I described the evolution of the cover design used for the Bleak House Books edition of my first novel, The Immortal Game
. The short version of that story is Bleak House decided to use a photographic "contact sheet" theme for all
the books in the series, and the one for Game
blended photos of chess pieces with other, sexier images.
But the decision to use the contact sheet approach came out of the (more involved) evolution of the cover design of my second Bleak House book, Candy from Strangers
, which actually started before Immortal.
I'm going to use the next few posts to trace the evolution, providing copies of the concept covers that Bleak House let me review and sharing my original feedback and some of my counter suggestions.
I should make clear up front, however, that the ultimate decision regarding a cover rests with the publisher. Bleak House was kind enough to review some of the options with me, but I was not privy to the internal discussions about them, nor do I really know how much my feedback influenced the directions given to the designer. What I can say is that I'm very happy with the outcome and it's clear to me that Bleak House places a great deal of emphasis on good cover design and is willing to look at a variety of designs before making a decision--all of which takes time and money.Two Young Women and a Chair
In the first round of design, I received seven concept covers from Bleak House to review. Numbers 1-4 were all based on a photo of two young women engaged in a little, ahem, bondage and discipline. Some of the less obvious design choices echoing themes in the book are worth pointing out. A computer cursor is shown in several of them, picking up on the theme of the Internet and web sites. The S in strangers is done as a dollar sign in the first, tying in with the idea that the characters in the book use their web site to solicit gifts and cash from their visitors. Finally the red and blue in the first is representative of the "heaven and hell theme" of the characters' web site.Legs in High-Heeled Shoes
Number 5 is a tight shot of the legs of the woman standing on the ground from the earlier covers. It, too, has the heaven and hell color scheme, as well as the $ for the S in strangers. As I'll discuss in my next post, this was my favorite of the bunch.Computer Abstract
Number 6 is an abstract with symbols that looked like they might be related to high tech or computers, again tying in with the Internet theme.Three-faced Man
Although I never discussed it with anyone at Bleak House, I assume the idea behind number 7 was to portray one of the sleazy "strangers" who visited the main characters' web site.
Truth is Stranger than Fiction
I mentioned in an earlier post
that tattoos, piercing and tattoo parlors figure prominently in my new book Candy from Strangers
It's not giving too much away to say that this
young woman's very recent experience is, in a small way, similar to a plot line in the book.
It's just about knocked my socks off when I read a squib about it in the San Francisco Chronicle's Weird News Bondage File
Michael Connelly Quote
"I've been waiting a long time for a fresh look at the private eye story. Mark Coggins has delivered it here with Candy from Strangers
. It's original, it's smart and it was good to the last page."
Joe Gores Quote
This one requires a little introduction. Joe really went to town, telling me to use "in whole, in part, sliced, diced, chopped or churned." It was extremely generous of him.
“Mark Coggins knows his Hammett and Chandler. Candy from Strangers
is, in form, a private eye novel of the old school. August Riordan’s beautiful secretary announces, ‘You have a client.’ As the Op would characterize it, a wandering daughter job. An 18-year-old girl has been missing for three weeks. Find her.
“Then it all goes to hell. This is the 21st Century. Riordan is a horny straight P.I. who also fronts a very good jazz band and falls for the ladies with the regularity of a metronome. But his associate and best friend is a gay cross-dresser who sings with the band and occasionally throws his falsies at some stalwart lad who catches his eye.
“Coggins recreates the private eye novel from scratch, breathing new life into it, standing every cliché of the genre on its ear. In turn fall-down funny, then dark and brooding, Candy from Strangers
ends up being a sly examination of all that’s wrong—and right—with today’s youth-driven society. The San Francisco Bay Area is a patient etherized upon a table, unseamed from nave to chops, its guts spilling out from its dark underbelly for all to see.
“When was the last time a book made you laugh out loud, then want to cry out loud, turning heads in a crowded Starbucks? This one will. Violence and sex abound—sex, straight, gay, tender, funny, nasty Tantric. No one is spared Coggins’ scalpel. During a Kama Sutra session with a con-man ashram guru, an underage girl ruins the phony guru’s sexual ecstasy an hour into the session by actually moving!
"By turns tender, brutal, intricate, transparent, challenging, Candy from Strangers
is a hell of a read. If it isn’t on the short list come Edgar time, there’s something wrong with the list.”
David Corbett Quote
"Yes, Mark Coggins’ Candy from Strangers
is a fun, enjoyable, droll and snappy page-turner—but it’s more than that, too. This little gem of a book has a very human heart, revealing a keen understanding not just of how and why young girls go missing, but how and why all of us keep missing each other. The real crime? That Mark Coggins isn’t a household name."
Marcia Muller Quote
"Riordan rides again! Candy from Strangers
is an inventive novel in the classic San Francisco private-eye tradition."
The Blurb Game
There’s always been debate
about the value of blurbs. I tend to believe they are more valuable for small presses and authors trying to establish themselves because it’s more likely that the blurb has been given to the author in question out of real interest in his or her work, rather than as a quid pro quo between big New York publishing houses, editors, agents or authors.
But if the value of the blurb in some sense corresponds to the level of sincerity behind it, a “sincere” blurb for a relatively unknown author at a small press is no easy thing to obtain. As Otto Penzler has pointed out
, best-selling authors are constantly besieged by others trying to prize a few words out of them for the covers of new books and they have developed a number of coping strategies, from claiming that they are too busy, simply ignoring the request, or giving a bland, meaningless blurb that conveys no judgment of the quality of the book.Mark Goes Begging
After Bleak House accepted Candy from Strangers
, I began the process of soliciting blurbs. My first step was to make a short list of authors whose work I admired and was similar enough to mine that someone who read and enjoyed one of their books might also be interested in mine. Since my book was a private eye novel in the hardboiled vein, I tended to focus on fellow PI or detective writers, or writers who wrote in a more hardboiled style.
Everyone I contacted was very polite and professional, and no one simply ignored the request. When I got a “no,” the reason most often cited was lack of time—particularly because of a looming book deadline—and two well-known authors told me they thought they’d given too many blurbs and didn’t wish to continue because they felt the value of their endorsements had been diminished as a result.
I got four yeses: two from writers with whom I had some personal connection and two with whom I didn’t have any connection, apart from reading their books and attending their signings. The two writers I knew were David Corbett and Marcia Muller. David and I had met while attending the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop
, and in the interest of full disclosure in the quid pro quo line, it must be said that I gave David a blurb for his first novel, The Devil’s Redhead
. However, why he would have ever wanted a blurb from me in the first place is beyond me. As an Anthony, Barry and Macavity nominee, David came right out of the blocks as a leading crime writer—and one with a more literary approach to the genre at that.
Marcia and her husband Bill Pronzini I came to know through Bruce Taylor, who was the original owner of the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore
. She was also the chairperson of the Shamus Award committee that nominated The Immortal Game
for best first mystery, so I had some hope that she thought my writing was okay.
Michael Connelly and Joe Gores were the other two writers who agreed to give blurbs. All I can say is both were extremely kind and very generous to an author who they didn’t know from Adam.
Although there are shortened versions on my website
, I’ll put up the full text of each of their quotes in the next four posting.
Chandler vs. Hammett, Round II
In a previous post
, I compared the number of searches that were being done for Raymond Chandler vs. Dashiell Hammett using the Google Trends utility.
Well, I've discovered a new toy: BlogPulse
. BlogPulse provides a variety of tools for analyzing ... you guessed it ... blogs. It has a trends tool like Google does, but instead of analyzing the number of people who are looking for
a particular term, it analyzes the number of people who are writing about
a particular term in a blog.
As you can see below, the battle
between Chandler and Hammett plays out a little differently in BlogPulse.
Chandler still has a consistent edge, but Hammett tracks pretty closely, and on occasion, spikes over him. Which means, I guess, there's much more of a parity in the number of people writing about the two men than there is in the number looking for information about them. And that may not be too surprising since they are often mentioned in the same breath, as in "the hardboiled tradition of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler."
It's interesting, too, to replay the trend graphs for the other mystery writers I listed in the original post. The results are sometimes quite different than they were with Google, particularly for authors who seem to have done a good job of leveraging (on purpose or not) the blogosphere for publicizing themselves and their work. For instance, Barry Eisler is an author who ranks quite differently in BlogPulse compared to Google trends.
Finally, a grim lesson I learned from BlogPulse is if you're looking for blog "ink," there appears to be one sure way to get it
Selling Candy to Publishers
I mentioned in my last post that some sources
calculate that publishers reject as many as 95 to 98 percent of all agented submissions they receive. I’ve also talked about how tough the market is for private eye novels
, particularly private eye novels in mid-series. The phenomenon of authors losing their publisher mid-series has grown so common, in fact, that the professional organization for mystery writers—Mystery Writers of America—has put together a special “rebound grant” to help authors in that situation.
You can imagine, then, how I must have felt when my new agent and I set out to place my third novel in the August Riordan private eye series (Candy from Strangers
) with a new publisher. Let’s see how it went…Picking the Pitchees
The first step in the process was to determine which publishers—and which editors at those publishers—to pitch the book to. My agent put together a list based on contacts she had developed and suggestions from other agents in her office. Her original list represented a good cross-section of the New York houses that published mysteries and included both very senior editors at those houses as well as some relatively junior ones.
The question of which editor to select at a house can be interesting. One strategy is to go with one with whom you have a relationship. Another is to pick someone whose past buying patterns indicate they might like the book you’re shopping. Still another is to go with a more junior editor who wants to make a name for him or herself.
Another tricky bit of the process is that some houses don’t mind if you pitch a second editor after getting a “no” from a first, but if you get a “no” from the first editor you ask at other houses, then you’re out of the game. Finally, it’s not always clear what constitutes a “house.” The big publishers have many imprints now, and some of them buy separately for each imprint, while others have editorial staffs that serve multiple imprints.
It can get very complicated, but the thing you must never, ever do is pitch a second person at the same house without telling him or her that the book has already been presented to someone else at the house.
After reviewing my agent’s list, I suggested she add two independent presses she was not aware of, but whose books and market presence I had been impressed with through my exposure to them at conferences and mystery events.Pitching
Next, my agent started contacting the editors on her list with a pitch. Sometimes this took the form of an e-mail, sometimes it was done via the phone. The pitch included a short description of the book designed to “hook” the editor’s interest and also included a summary of my past publication track record, including mention of good reviews, award nominations, etc.
If the editor was interested, he or she would ask to see the manuscript. If not, then my agent scratched the editor from the list and determined if it was possible to pitch another editor at the house, or if the house overall had to be scratched.
The original list had about 15 editors on it. The process of pitching took several weeks, and a number of new editors were added to the list as others dropped out, but when all was said and done, we had 10 houses that asked to look at the manuscript.The Final Ten
Here is a rough characterization of the ten houses and editors who agreed to read Candy
- House A – Medium-sized New York house with experienced editor focused on genre fiction
- House B – Smaller New York house with editor who bought fiction and nonfiction
- House C – Well-established New York house starting a new mystery line with a very experienced and high profile editor
- House D – Large New York house with well-known editor focused primarily on mysteries
- House E – Large New York house with well-known editor focused primarily on mysteries
- House F – Independent mystery-only press with editor who was an owner there
- House G – Large New York house with experienced editor who bought fiction and nonfiction
- House H – New York house known for mystery line with experienced editor
- House I – Independent mystery-only press with primary editor
- House J – Large New York house with very high profile editor who bought few mysteries but apparently liked memoirs (but maybe not so much anymore)
To cover the rejections first, House B
said they were simply too busy to take it on, which was probably just a polite way of saying thanks, but no thanks. House C
said the book wasn’t “commercial enough,” which probably translates into a concern that the book was a private eye novel, rather than a thriller. I didn’t get specific feedback from my agent (that I recall) regarding the reasons why House D
turned the book down, but House E
felt the book was “too dark.”
Finally, House J
simply never responded.
On the positive side of the ledger, the editor at House A
wanted to buy the book, but told us he needed approval from the editorial committee. House F
also indicated interest, but asked for more time. And House I
made an outright offer.Which Suitor?
When we got the offer from House I
, we were very pleased and talked about accepting it immediately, but my agent pointed out that the rational thing to do was to wait for final decisions (and hopefully offers) from Houses A
, so that we could compare.
We ended up waiting for several weeks, but in the end felt that we shouldn’t delay accepting the offer from House I
to wait for what were proving to be indeterminate decision-making processes at Houses A
.Bleak House Books
As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, House I
was a “bleak” one: Bleak House Books
. The terms of the offer called for Bleak House to reprint my first novel, The Immortal Game
, and as well as purchasing Candy
, they also agreed to purchase a forth book in the series, which I’m tentatively calling Runoff
The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me to be a home run. This was a publishing house that had been added to the list at my request, my first book was going back into print and I had a contract to extend the series beyond Candy
to include a forth book. I was very happy.
The Selling of Books
If you been following the lifecycle of my novel Candy from Strangers
, you know we’ve discussed the process of writing the book, have covered how I found a literary agent and are ready to move on to placing the book with a publisher. In other words, we’re finally ready to talk about selling the damn thing.
But before we get into the specifics of selling books to publishers, it’s worth pointing out that selling is the
operative word when it comes books. In fact, I’d wager that very few other products have to be sold as many as six
times before they reach the hands of the end-consumer. Don’t credit my math? Let’s count the sales hurdles a book has to pass before you get asked the question, “Would you like a bag for that?” at the register of your local independent bookseller:
- Agent – We’ve already discussed this one, but this first hurdle is actually very tall. According to some sources, agents reject as many as 95 to 98 percent of all submissions they receive. Miss Snark and her readers give stats that are just as daunting.
- Publisher – Okay, sure, it’s hard to get an agent, but once you land representation, you’re set, right? Not so fast. The first source I cited says the rejection rate for agented submissions to publishers is also 95 to 98 percent.
- Distributor – Surely, I’m finished now. My book’s been accepted, I’ve cashed the advance—what are you talking about distributors for?
Well, if your book has been placed with a small publisher, they probably don’t have their own sales force and they will likely rely on a distributor to move their books further down the distribution channel. Publishers Group West is an example of a distributor. They represent a group of independent presses who rely on them to place their books with bookstores and wholesalers.
But distributors don’t take on just any publisher or book. To gain representation with a distributor requires another submission (aka sales) process. Granted, once a publisher has been accepted, usually all their books are eligible for distribution, but some distributors screen each book from a publisher—especially very small publishers.
That is why if you sell your book to a small press it’s very important to understand their distribution arrangements. If your publisher isn’t represented by a distributor, it may be very hard or impossible for you to get your books into bookstores or libraries.
- Wholesalers – Now I know you’re BS’ing me. Where do wholesalers come into the picture, and what’s the difference between a distributor and a wholesaler?
Wholesalers are the quintessential middlemen in the book business. They exist because many retail outlets and libraries would prefer to deal with one source (or, at least a limited number of sources) for their book purchases, rather than having to maintain relationships with all the publishers and distributors in the world. The two biggest wholesalers in the book business are Ingram and Baker and Taylor. Ingram is bigger and more powerful; Baker & Taylor tends to sell to libraries more and may have more relationships with the very smallest bookstores.
Because of the power they hold in the industry, the bottom line is, if your book isn’t carried by one or both of the big wholesalers, your sales will suffer in a big way. And, yes, once again, there is a submission process for a publisher or distributor to gain representation.
In fact, wholesalers have so much power in the business that some distributors have representatives from the wholesalers (and the big chain stores) on their selection committees to screen the books they select. The distributors figure there’s no use representing a book that the heavyweights in the industry won’t like.
- Bookstores – Bookstores are obvious, but as we’ve seen from the foregoing, a big part of getting them to stock your books is making sure they can order inventory from their preferred supplier. But of course that by itself isn’t enough. Bookstores have limited shelf space, and with the chain stores at least, a lot of the decisions about what to stock are made at corporate headquarters. Then there’s the little matter of returns.
Besides the number of sales hurdles, the other thing that makes books unique among retail products is they are one of the few consumer offerings that can be returned all the way up the distribution channel back to the manufacturer. Bookstores can return to wholesalers and distributors, who in turn can return to publishers. And all along the way the stock can get damaged, which results in outright losses, and if the publisher is using a distributor, each return means an additional restocking fee, which amplifies the cost of returns even further.
- Readers – If consumers can get past what the Bookseller Chick calls “book blindness,”and actually pick your title out for purchase, congratulations are in order. Your book has finally made it into the hands of a real, live honest-to-goodness reader.
Now you can only hope that he or she doesn’t dump it into the used book market where it will compete with new copies! Some suggest that’s not such a bad thing—at least at the macro level—but it’s not clear to me it’s all that swell for small presses and individual titles, especially reprints.
Finding an Agent
As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’m using it to do a sort of soup to nuts description of bringing my novel Candy from Strangers
to market, from concept to release and further, including promotion and touring.
With the post
that included the last set of slides from my class, “Writing the Private Eye Novel,” I’m officially done with the writing part of the narrative and ready to move on to a discussion of the process of getting the book published, which begins, as you might expect, with a description of the process of finding an agent.
I’ve worked with three different agents over the course of my career. The first, whom I engaged to sell my first novel, The Immortal Game
, I found by doing blind queries. I bought myself a book that listed agents, started with the A’s and stayed there, hooking up with a well-respected “A agent” who happened to like Immortal
. As I related in my earlier post
on the difficulties of selling private eye novels, we eventually had a amicable parting of the ways after she was unable to place the book with any New York publishers.
As with every profession, different agents have different strengths and approaches. Some agents are categorized as “developmental” because they are good editorially, helping authors to improve their work before submission. Some have a particularly good eye for spotting new trends or books that will be salable. You could call them “market visionaries.” Some are simply good at selling books to publishers: i.e., they are good sales people.
I would say that my first agent fit into the good sales person category, and her approach to sales was what’s referred to in the enterprise software business as “relationship selling.” She had good relationships with a set of editors and she shopped the books she represented to them without a lot of hype or pressure. Editors would read the books she submitted because they trusted and respected her as a fellow professional in the business. However, she would rarely pitch a book to a house or an editor she wasn’t familiar with and she probably wouldn’t be the person to spot the next big voice in the fiction world. Nor did she make any suggestions for improvement to Immortal
; I suspect if she thought it needed a significant amount of work, she simply wouldn’t have taken it on, or would perhaps have referred me to a full time “book doctor” to do the heavy lifting.
The second agent I worked with, and the one who sold Candy from Strangers
, actually approached me. This wasn’t because I’m some leading light of mystery fiction; it was because she was just starting out as an agent and she knew me and my work from previous exposure and felt that I would make a good early client. I did, too. Although she was a neophyte, she was working for a well-established and respected agency, so I felt I was getting the benefit of working with someone whom I liked and respected, as well as the clout of a more established agency that had good connections to the publishing world.
Not that my second agent was without experience in the publishing world—because she wasn’t. She was a successful author herself, and had a lot of experience teaching creative writing. Thus, she definitely fit into the “developmental” category and, in fact, she made a number of suggestions for improvement to Candy from Strangers
and I followed nearly all of them in a penultimate round of rewriting I did before we started shopping the book. (The final round took place after the book was sold.)
Alas, even though she did a stellar job for me, my second agent decided that writing, and not agenting, was really the career for her, so she got out of the business to devote more time to her own work.
Which takes me to my third agent, whom I met because my second agent had subcontracted sales of overseas rights to her. She is still representing me for those overseas sales and has also taken me on for future US sales. I’m very pleased with the arrangement: she’s very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about my work, is an excellent, energetic sales person without being overly aggressive and has a large network overseas and in the US.Do What I Say, Not What I Do
In the end, I don’t think my experiences in agent recruitment are typical, nor should they necessarily be emulated by a first time author. I think the best way to find a good agent is to get a referral from an established author whom you trust and who is familiar with your work. This means, of course, that you must somehow meet an established author and develop a rapport with him or her. And the best way to do that is probably to take a class from such an author, join a writers group or an organization that promotes networking such as Sisters in Crime or Mystery Writers of America.
Failing that, you should certainly be more targeted in your approach for blind queries than I was. Do your research up front and select agents to query who represent the sort of work you’ve done, have a good track record of sales and are open to representing first time authors.
And read Miss Snark
. Her blog is an excellent source of information on agents and the querying process.A Horror Story
Here, as a cautionary tale to close with, is a horror story that was told to my second agent in a writing class she taught. One of her students sent queries to a large list of agents without doing much research up front to qualify them. An agent wrote back immediately and requested to see a full manuscript. The author mailed it posthaste, and within a few weeks’ time, received an enthusiastic letter back from the agent offering to represent him.
The author readily agreed, and over the course of the year, received correspondence from the agent chronicling all the places that the book was being presented, along with feedback on the reasons for why the manuscript had been rejected by the publishers involved. All the rejections were characterized as “near misses” so the author continued to be optimistic until the number of rejections and the amount of time that had past since the agent took him on made him suspicious. He rightly figured that no agent would continue to flog a manuscript for so long if no sale was forthcoming.
The punch line to the story is that the author somehow determined (I forget the exact mechanics) that his “agent” was actually … wait for it … a patient in a mental institute. All the representations of the book to publishers had been fictitious as had all of their feedback!