The Third Daughter -- a publishing fable by Kiki Clark
Once upon a time, there were three beautiful sisters who all wore glasses. They also all happened to be princesses in a country ruled by their mother, the Queen.
One day, the Queen gathered her daughters together, calling them away from their various hobbies of writing Firefly fan fiction, composing an e-zine on the benefits of raw foods, and editing a local coupon booklet. “The queendom needs cash,” she said. “I need one of you talented gals to write a book and become a best-selling author.”
The oldest daughter stepped forward and went down on one dainty knee. “I’ll do it. I’ve often thought of turning one of my short stories into a science-fiction novel.”
The Queen nodded and tapped her daughter’s shoulder with her sparkly wand of office, designed by Swarovski. “Rise and go on your quest. And make sure there’s a tiny talking dragon in it, because I love those.”
“That’s fantasy, Mom, not science fiction,” the daughter protested.
“Then make it a cyborg dragon. Never let it be said I’m not a fair ruler.”
So the eldest daughter toiled away and finished her novel. She printed out the final, polished version and went to see the Queen. “I’m ready for my quest to the publisher.”
The Queen nodded, well-pleased. “I like the title… Burning Bug.” She looked down at her daughter’s weary face. “How long have you been in that bathrobe, anyway? You’re a little whiffy. And for God’s sake, put some make up on.”
Her daughter bowed and went to get ready. When she was attired in her little black suit, her sisters stood at the gates of the castle and waved to her. “Have fun storming the conference!” they called.
The princess traveled far, enduring rude security guards, luggage limitations, and a three-hour layover. But at last she reached the conference. The next day, she had an editor appointment with the best in the land. After settling into her room, she went to the bar and ordered a drink to calm her nerves.
A little hag of a woman, poorly dressed and already drunk, hoisted herself into the chair next to the princess. “You here for the writer’s cornfr… conferush… thingie?” she slurred.
The princess smiled graciously, tilting her head away from the woman’s breath. “Yes.”
“Who you seein’ tomorrow?”
The princess named the editor she was going to see.
“Goo fer you.” The hag swayed on her stool. “Lemme tell you ‘bout my book idea.”
The princess listened at the hag rambled on and on, losing the thread of the story, repeating herself, and mixing up the names of her characters. “Excuse me,” the princess said when the hag paused for breath, “but I need to get a full night’s sleep.”
The hag grabbed her sleeve. “Not finished…”
The princess listened some more, getting angrier and more desperate by the second.
Finally, the hag finished. “Tell me if that’s not the besht idea you’ve never heard anything like it.” She took a gulp of her drink, spilling some down the front of her blouse.
“I think it’s terrible,” the princess said.
The hag blinked at her. “Wha?”
“I’m sorry, but you did ask what I thought, and I’m a very honest person. I don’t think you should pitch that book idea to anyone. It rambles too much, the ending isn’t satisfying, and the main characters are completely unlikeable.”
The hag drew herself up very slowly, gave the princess the finger, and fell off her stool.
The next morning, the princess waited in line for her appointment with the best editor in the land. She could see the editor in the conference room, looking over her notes. At that moment, someone brushed by the princess, almost knocking her over. She looked up to see the hag, transformed into a respectable-looking woman in a beautiful dress. The hag went straight into the conference room and bent over the editor, whispering in her ear. The editor looked up and her eyes met those of the princess in a cold stare. The hag giggled and left by another door as one of the conference volunteers showed the princess in.
The princess sank into the guest chair. Being royalty, she took the bull by the horns. “The woman you were just speaking to looked familiar. Should I know her?”
The editor smiled thinly. “She’s one of my best clients. Not only that, but she’s an expert on recognizing talent, and has sent a lot of good writers my way. Shall we get started?”
Back in the queendom and a week later, the Queen called her other two daughters together. “Your oldest sister is going away to rest for a while,” she said sadly. “Which of you feels like a best-seller?”
The middle princess stepped forward. “Me! I do!”
The Queen tapped her on the shoulders with her sparkly staff. It was missing a lot of crystals, because she was making and selling earrings to pay the castle rent. “Rise and go on your quest. And forget dragons. I hear you can’t make money off sci-fi. Why don’t you try a romance?”
The middle princess toiled day and night. Finally she appeared before the queen and plopped a manuscript at her feet. “It’s about an Olympic discus thrower who loses an arm, and the woman who cracks his shell of grief and teaches him to love life, and her.”
“What’s the title?” asked the Queen.
“Love’s Labors Tossed.”
The Queen nodded thoughtfully. “Not bad.” She held out a sheet of paper. “I can’t afford to send you to a conference, so here’s a bunch of agents who accept email queries. If none of them bite, I’ll see if I can rustle up some money for postage.”
The princess took the list. “I thought we had to cancel our DSL.”
“Is there a Starbucks down the road or what?” the Queen snapped. “Now get on it.”
So the middle princess sent off her queries and behold, a very good agent requested the full and then offered to represent the princess.
“Finally,” the Queen said, smearing glue on her staff and sprinkling glitter on it. “Any day now, you’ll be a best-selling author.”
The agent called the princess the very next week. “We have someone who’s interested. The only thing is, you need to alpha up your hero. They especially don’t like the fact that he’s a vegan.”
“I can’t do that,” the middle princess said. The Queen, who had her head pressed against her daughter so she could hear, smacked her on the back of the head.
“What do you mean you can’t do it?” asked the agent.
“I mean that the story demands that the hero be sensitive, or it falls apart.”
“This is your first book! How do you know what the story demands?”
“I know myself as an artist,” the princess said, with some dignity. “Hello? Hello?” She sadly replaced the phone. “I’ve failed you, mother.”
The Queen was already stomping out of the room. “Get me my youngest daughter!” she yelled at a nearby guard, who was trying to make a fabric-covered picture frame to sell at the neighboring kingdom’s flea market.
The youngest daughter was hauled in front of her mother. “I still have ten ads to edit for the coupon book, and there are fewer days in February!”
“I happen to know you have a book hiding under your bed,” the Queen said.
“Yes, but it’s not very commercial.”
“I don’t care. I had the cook read it to me while I was making earrings, and she cried at the end.”
“Did you cry?” asked her daughter.
“Royalty doesn’t cry.” The Queen drummed her fingers on the threadbare velvet of the throne’s arm. “I’ve managed to call in a few favors and have J.K. Rowling introduce you to her agent.”
The youngest princess gasped. “In that case, I’ll be happy to pitch my story.”
The Queen started to reach for her staff, but gave her daughter a limp salute instead. “Good luck, kid.”
And so the youngest princess met with the agent, who was very impressed with her work. The princess called her mother on the queendom’s last cell phone, pushing the loose battery sideways so the connection wouldn’t fail. “She wants to sell it to a small press.”
“What?” her mother screeched. “You won’t get rich and famous that way!”
“I know, but she says the story is so unusual, none of the big houses would know where to put it. She thinks that maybe after book three, if my numbers are good, I might be able to get someone else to take me on.”
The Queen made a noise like a broken kazoo. “Don’t bother coming home.”
And so the youngest daughter found a cheap apartment and a job editing a complimentary real-estate magazine. Over the years, she made enough money on her publishing career to buy a good used car and take the occasional nice vacation. She enjoyed writing and lived reasonably happily ever after.