Very near the end of Ben Lerner’s 10:04, the narrator tells us about a photograph of the Goldman Sachs building, the only one lit among the dark towers of the financial district. This is an image that he would use for the cover of his book: “not the one I was contracted to write about fraudulence, but the one I’ve written in its place for you, to you, on the very edge of fiction”.
The fictional book on fraudulence, based on a New Yorker article, has been sold for a significant six-figure sum even though the author’s previous novel “had only sold around ten thousand copies”. The agent explains that the “publishers pay for prestige”, which prompts questions in the narrator’s mind.
“Even if I wrote a book that didn’t sell, these presses wanted a potential darling of the critics or someone who might win prizes; it was symbolic capital that helped maintain the reputation of the house even if most of their money was being made by teen vampire sagas or one of the handful of mainstream “literary novelists” who actually sold a ton of books. This would have made sense to me in the eighties or nineties, when the novel was more or less still a viable commodity form, but why would publishers, all of whom seemed to be perpetually reorganizing, downsizing, scrambling to survive in the postcodex world, be willing to convert real capital into the merely symbolic?”
The agent has a ready answer to this.
“Keep in mind that your book proposal…” my agent said, and then paused thoughtfully, indicating that she was preparing to put something delicately, “your book proposal might generate more excitement among the houses than the book itself.”
10:14 is an intriguing novel about writing and the slitheriness of fictions, a great proposal that turned into a great book.
Ben Lerner, 10:04, 2014