Best Seller by Susan May is a story about the travails of being a writer told through the characters of two writers and an agent. Since the story is told by a best-selling author, one of my favorites, I was looking forward to a fun, fast-moving read with a generous dose of minor surprises. I have read several novels by Susan May, and the only surprise I found with Best Seller is that it did not measure up. At times, the novel came across as a list of complaints about why being a writer is so difficult. If any reader is contemplating becoming a writer, I advise keeping a side note while reading because there are lots of good suggestions about how to survive in the world of a writer. Some are motivational tips, and some are practical, such as who pays for the unsold books returned to the publisher. The tips and advice can be copied and pasted to form a handy checklist of things to watch out for during the writing process.
Be sure to read From The Imagination Vault after the end of the story. Susan May reveals how much of this story comes from real life, much of it from her experiences. In the novel, the author uses reviews that she received for books she wrote. Some of the reviews are cringeworthy and would “encourage” many novice writers to find another profession.
William Barnes, the author, wrote a best seller. His success was phenomenal, with only one drawback. He spent so much time on the road giving readings and signing autographs that he was pressed for time to write his second novel. His time was not open-ended; it did not belong to him. He had a three-book contract complete with deadlines.
Nevertheless, he managed to publish a second novel which was met with surprised reactions from critics. His second novel was mechanically correct but not impressive. Many reviewers gave him a conditional pass but his next book, his third, had to be good.
Orelia Mason, the author, also wrote a best seller. With no experience in writing a novel, Mason had met Barnes at a book signing. Orelia had written what she considered to be an excellent first draft. Written with a pencil on lined paper, Mason had scanned the pages and asked Barnes if he would look at her first effort. If Barnes thought Mason had promise, Orelia would proceed to edit and revision. She asked Barnes for help, he agreed, and the two would work together for three months before Barnes thought the work worthy of submission to an agent. Barnes was not exactly kind in his willingness to help Mason. He felt an obligation to bookstore owner Diane. Barnes had spent much time in the bookstore before the publication of his debut novel, the runaway bestseller. Some of his first, very well attended readings had taken place in Diane’s bookstore. Barnes felt a sense of obligation to at least a first meeting with Orelia, an employee of Diane’s.
Once Barnes considered Orelia’s novel ready for an agent, Orelia requested further help from Barnes. Perhaps she could use the same agent as Barnes, agent Morris. At this point, the story begins to take a darker tone. Orelia would use Morris. There was no doubt. Morris did not know that he would “discover” Orelia. William Barnes did not know Orelia would be successful in landing Morris as an agent, nor did he know Orelia would be such a success. Orelia knew she would be as lucky as she wanted to be in all things because Orelia had a secret helper, one that was not of this world.
The problem was that as Orelia Mason’s fame ascended at an unbelievable rate, the career of William Barnes plummeted at an equal rate. It was as if the world was operating on a system resembling a balance sheet. For every good thing that happens, an adverse event must take place. Readers will follow how this “force” plays out throughout this novel. While readers will primarily see the effects on publishing careers, there are also some horrific accounts outside the literary world.
Best Seller is 472 pages divided into 74 chapters. The first few chapters capture reader interest; the rest of the novel drags on forever. The final few episodes, along with the ending, are imaginative and might surprise. I believe this novel worthy of the reviews written for the third novel written by William Barnes. The story is out-of-synch as far as interest level with all other books and short stories I have read by Susan May. Mechanically excellent and with several astute observations, I rate the story at three Amazon stars. It is available through Kindle Unlimited as a free read or for sale on Amazon for USD 2.99.