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My future bestseller

Abhi Sharma

It is often said that everybody has at least one book in them. It may not be a good book. It may be the kind of book that should be censored or suppressed. But, if you really feel the need to share your inner book with the world, it’s best to get it out before it upsets your digestion.

I have been writing books for a long time. It’s a harmless hobby, apart from the waste of trees. Most of these titles are out of print now, although they have a tenuous half-life on the Internet. As a former bookseller I know very well that the vast majority of books, even by authors who are household names, are routinely consigned to oblivion only weeks or months after they were published. I am not a household name. In fact, my name is sometimes forgotten even in my own house, so my expectations of immortality through writing have been modest.

Yet in the past few years an unlikely industry of book resurrection has grown up, offering unfamous writers like me the chance to bring back our dead publications and become bestselling authors at last. These miracle workers phone me constantly, sometimes two or three times a day, from all over the country. They call themselves agents, publicists or media promoters, and promote their services with lavish praise of the book and Trumpian promises about its vast potential. They offer to arrange publicity to boost the forgotten book into the review pages, bookstore windows and — most important —onto television. It’s clear that they have never read, or even seen the actual book, and the same script serves for everything from horror to romance.

I assume I’m not alone in suffering this mild but irritating kind of harassment. Anyone who has published anything must be a target.

These callers cannot really believe that they can transform literary dross into gold. They are working on the assumption that a certain proportion of published writers have egos the size of the planet and are only waiting to be “discovered.” The result must be a great deal of disappointment and, I imagine, wasted money.

I let these calls go to voicemail and sometimes listen to them later. They can be quite entertaining. I don’t know what would happen if I picked up and said: 'yes, I would love you to promote my book.' But I don’t answer because I feel sorry for the people on the other end of the phone. My guess is that they are working from home on commission, and that commissions are few and far between. It would be cruel to waste any of their precious calling time by pretending that I am interested. They sound tired and depressed enough as it is.

Sometimes I feel guilty about writing books at all and giving them all this pointless trouble. Then again, sometimes I wonder whether I am missing something, like the lottery ticket I never bought. Any one of these callers could be the brilliant publicist who would catapult me to fame on the basis of my old books with no further effort on my part — what a delightful dream! But I know, sadly, that this is only one of thousands of telephone scams targeting exactly this weakness, an all-too-human mixture of vanity and hope. I’ll let the telephone ring.

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.