A Million Little Pieces … of My Unsold Book

Jul 16, 2006

With revelations that a Harvard sophomore pinched passages from several books, questions raised about the authorship of Dan Brown’s megabestseller, and now concerns that Ann Coulter may have cribbed from others for her latest book, I have a modest proposal that, I believe, will go far in curing an apparent epidemic of plagiarism – and find productive use for the global glut of unsold (and likely unsellable) manuscripts and screenplays moldering on shelves and hard drives.

Consider: Even the crummiest novel or movie script will likely have at least a phrase, a sentence, often even entire paragraphs and chapters, of very fine writing.

Indeed, I’m still madly in love with the prose pyrotechnics displayed in several chunks of dialogue and at least two deftly drawn one- and two-sentence-long character sketches in a novel I wrote but for very sound business reasons could find no publisher for.

Yet if I, and I suspect many other writers with orphaned oeuvres, can’t sell our whole books, why not sell parts of our books?

If, for example, a telegenic Ivy League hottie wanted to write a chick-lit bestseller, but didn’t have the time or talent to write all of the book all by herself, I’d gladly sell her pieces of mine.

Does this would-be author face a scene where a jilted lover finally musters the courage to tell off her betrayer? As you sit down to crank out your latest partisan hatchet job, do you feel tapped-out for fresh phrases attacking the sexuality or patriotism of those who disagree with you? I’ve got a bit of crackling dialogue from my next-to-last chapter that would be perfect for either.

Is a scribbler at a loss for words to describe the sound a certain piece of military hardware makes when your hero resolutely rakes a new round into the chamber? A buddy’s three unsold military techno-thrillers are a buffet of such boffo lingo.

Stumped for an effective transition scene to your romantic-comedy screenplay’s second act? Chances are there’s a waiter somewhere who has just the ticket.

What’s more, advances in secure Internet payment systems such as PayPal would make buying and selling bon mots – or mot – easier than ever. Amazon and other online booksellers could easily add “word brokerage” sections.

Micro-royalties are better than no royalties. And partial publication sure beats total rejection.

Best of all – just think of all the struggling writers out there who some day might be able to tell their children and grandchildren, “See that parenthetical phrase right there on page 231. That’s mine. All mine.”

Copyright 2006 St. Petersburg Times. All Rights Reserved.