An interesting rule of fiction is that when it comes to a character who wants to write a book about something, they will always get published. It doesn't matter what their profession is—they could be an entomologist, a shoe-salesman, a retail clerk, whatever. Within a few minutes after mentioning the fact that they've completed the book, we'll find out that they already have a publisher and that the printing date is a few weeks from now.
The topic of this book will almost always be about the main characters and their adventures and personal achievements. Either that or it will be a thinly veiled work of fiction about their Captain Ersatz, with a high likelihood that the writer's counterpart will invoke Her Code Name Was "Mary Sue". Only very rarely do books written by main characters actually involve their areas of professional expertise.
Suffice to say, getting published in Real Life is nowhere near as easy. Publishing companies are notorious for their arbitrary selection process, and even assuming the book is as brilliant as all the characters say, it's not like being good at writing is an easy segue into actually getting published. Interestingly, the process is portrayed as quite difficult if the topic involves more than a couple of lines of expository dialog, making this similar in execution to an Instant Expert versus a character who must spend several episodes training.
Considering that most stories are written by writers, one would think they'd know better. Regardless, this trope persists for one very simple reason—conflict. Books, especially tell-all books, are a great way of forcing characters to interact with each other, particularly the writer, in a very focused manner. The existence of this book, which people everywhere will read, creates privacy issues that must be somehow solved by the end of the plot. Rejection slips, unless a plot centerpoint, generally aren't that interesting.
Reasonably often, this trope is justified by the connections the character in question has. If they're friends with a famous person, a famous person themselves, or know people involved in publishing circles, then getting published quickly is a fairly plausible task. Note that this will rarely, if ever, be stated outright.
This trope can actually be Truth in Television, as getting a self-published Vanity Title is a relatively simple task, and Eragon actually did become a bestseller in this manner. However, note that fictional portrayals usually involve proper publishing houses and that the vast majority of such start-ups are failures, a few large successes notwithstanding.
See also Who Would Want to Watch Us?.
- Hidamari Sketch has Sae, who seems to fit both "easy bestseller" and "easily published" definitions. She's a high school student who seems to have a fairly successful writing career at 15/16 years old (and she's been at it for a while, so was presumably even younger when first published.) She also seems to write pretty quickly - which is justified; her reason why she's in the art department (so that she can draw illustrations for her own novels) means she's writing the Light Novel sort of work.
- Nozaki in Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun is even more exaggerated than Sae. As a shojo mangaka his work is highly popular. This comes from a eleventh grader who, according to a backstory chapter, has been writing manga, commercially, before high school.
- Averted in the audio drama Year 2003 -Summer- for Digimon Adventure 02. Takeru's memorandum about their adventures ended up delayed because of his difficulty in writing it objectively.
- Aversion: In the Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman, a struggling young writer is unable to successfully publish anything until he acquires a bezoar and gives it to an older, accomplished writer. This is the price for the slavery of the muse Calliope, and once the younger writer starts raping her on a regular basis, he's able to create modern masterpieces. (Unfortunately for him, Calliope happens to be the mother of the title character's only child, and once he finds out...)
- In one issue of The Maze Agency, Gabe is ecstatic when he signs a deal to publish a paperback collection of his lurid true crime articles. This is not unreasonable, as Gabe is a true crime writer with several years in the industry. However, when he rushes to tell Jen the news, he discovers that she has just signed a deal for a hardback book based on her career as a female P.I. - her first foray into writing.
- In the A Song of Ice and Fire story Wearing Robert's Crown:
- Tyrion manages to arrange publication of his first book in a matter of hours.
- Robert Baratheon also had books printed with ease, but in fairness he's both the King and the inventor of the printing press.
- Triptych Continuum: In Goosed!, it's justified, at least by the publishers of the taxonomy books: the return of the Crystal Empire allowed them to hastily compile an update featuring what little was remembered about their species. Now, if they'd just waited a few weeks and gone into the North themselves to check the local reference material...
- Hannah and Her Sisters has Holly, who writes two plays over the course of the movie as a part of her recovery. The first one she sets aside because Hannah was upset about how much the characters resembled her family, but the second one (based on a subplot she had had earlier in the film) is produced. This is, however, due to the support of Mickey, who works in theater production.
- Averted in the film Sideways. During a wine connoisseur tour, Miles is frequently in contact with his agent, who is trying to find a paying publisher for his book. Eventually, the agent finally tells him that she's giving up and he causes a public scene in his frustration.
- Double-subverted in Deathtrap. Unknown playwright Clifford writes a producible script on his first attempt (based on the murder he and Sidney committed). He is killed before it's produced but Helga (a TV psychic with no known writing skills) swipes it and scores a massive hit.
- In Discworld there are published books on every subject imaginable, giving the impression that anyone can get their book out there. Titles include
Anecdotes of the Great Accountants, Vols 1-3
My Life Amongst the Sponge-Eating, Coral-House-Dwelling Pygmies (General Sir Rodney Purdeigh)
Why Things Are Not Otherwise (Crumberry)
- Possibly justified if most books are written by the wizards of Unseen University, who are encouraged to write (or eat, or sleep, or anything else) as a distraction from actually practicing magic.
- Ben Bova's Cyberbooks averts this when following the fate of three books, being set in the publishing industry. An manuscript for a horror novel by an established writer is described as complete rubbish, but a guaranteed cash-cow. It gets a massive launch and much promotion. A World War II memoir by an unknown retired naval captain is accepted, but bowdlerised and mangled, creeps out onto the shelves and is ultimately pulped. The third is The Great American Novel, whose author has become so frustrated with the lack of response that he sets off to extract answers from the publishers, becoming a major plot point.
- In a semi biography of Michel Tremblay, French-Canadian writer, make a reference to the 1945 book "A Chicken for Christmas" who was written by a thirteen years old Jo Hatcher he was given as a kid. Michel's librarian thought he would like to read about a child his age being able to publish a book since Michel was an avid bookworm. This made Michel cried at the time since from his perspective a child from London could have an Instant Book Deal while he was living in a province booming in the pulp and paper industry his chance to publish anything (poor upbringing, he attended Catholic school when Index of banned book, his brother told him about how hard it was to get a publisher, etc.) were slim.
- Liz Lemon in 30 Rock published a book called Dealbreakers which, while not about the people in her life, still affected them negatively because of women interpreting the things the book says as good advice for relationships- even though Liz herself is notoriously poor with such relationships. Portrayed more plausibly than most examples- a publishing company approaches her with the idea based on a sketch she wrote for TGS, and the book is written off-screen in between seasons.
- In one episode of Star Trek: Voyager, we learn that the Doctor has been working to get his holo-novel published. While he insists it's fictional, it's hard to escape the fact that, among other things, the clearly evil oppressive characters in the book look like identical (but more evil) copies of the actual Voyager crew. Of course, this being both the first holo-novel written by a hologram and the only writing we know of made by a member of the ship's crew, it does make sense that it would be published for those reasons alone. Try not to think too hard about how publishing is supposed to work in a scarcity-free society.
- Timothy McGee on NCIS is a successful author under a pseudonym whose first book (at least) had versions of the other characters that raised eyebrows when they finally found out. However, this example may be an aversion in that the viewers don't know how long it took him to get the book published, and when his writing has come up in later episodes it's shown that it isn't an easy process and he actually works at it.
- They also established he'd been devoted to writing for some time before it ever came up that he'd finished a book, and the book had already been published for some time before the rest of the team (except probably Gibbs) even knew about it.
- Averted in Stargate SG-1 in the episode "Citizen Joe," when Joe, a barber forms a mental connection to O'Neill via Ancient technology and becomes obsessed with trying, unsuccessfully, to publish the stories of SG-1's exploits in various magazines.
- Averted in the The X-Files Day in the Limelight episode "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man". A running subplot shows him submitting his novels to various publishers and getting rejection letters (one advised him to burn his manuscript), but he's finally published - in a low-rent Playboy equivalent where they edited in a lot of sex scenes that he never wrote and changed the ending. He was looking forward to chucking it all and becoming a full-time professional writer until he realized what happened.
- In Sean's Show, Sean Hughes writes a very long suicide note, but then leaves for somewhere else. When he returns, one of his friends has had the note published as a novel.
- On Bones, somehow Sweets is able to get a book published about psychoanalyzing two people who aren't massively famous or of interest to most of the world. Who was the target audience? (Booth may not be that famous, but Bones is a multimillionaire best selling author. Some people might want to read about her issues.)
- Sweets does not get the book published. He writes it based on his assumption of the first case the pair worked together only to discover they had worked on an earlier case which somehow invalidated his conclusions. He adapted his book into a novel but was killed without its being published. The manuscript later turns up on a thumb drive that was in his car.
- In the short-lived show Legend, the title character (or rather, the writer who published under the title character's name) got out of a gunfight by promising the man who wanted to duel the famous (and fictitious) Nicodemus Legend a deal with his publisher for a book series about his real-life exploits.
- A major plot arc in the fifth season of Babylon 5 was G'Kar going on a diplomatic mission to Centauri Prime for maybe a month, during which time the personal diary he had been keeping for two years was discovered, published, and sold more than half a million copies. Since the resulting manuscript was a religious tract, he found himself considered a modern-day prophet upon his return, to his great dismay.
- Averted in NUMB3RS by Charlie Epps, who was offered a book deal by a publisher who saw potential in a mathematics paper he had professionally published on using math principles to make friends (something he found hard to do as a child, made more so as the paper was started when he was nine, and cleaned up to publish). It went through several versions, several titles, and he mentions having to simplify the math so the layman could more easily understand it, until finally becoming a self-help/finding-love book called "The Attraction Equation."
- Mad Men:
- Roger Sterling makes a big deal of the fact that his World War 2 memoir is going to be published. The book is not very successful, and it is implied that the only reason the book was accepted for publication was because of Roger's contacts in the publishing world - and that he probably paid some of the publication costs himself.
- It is later revealed that Ken Cosgrove is a fairly successful sci-fi author who sold multiple stories under a pseudonym. However, he has been writing for a very long time and he is not making a lot of money from it.
- When Pete wants to upstage Ken, he tries to have his own story published in a respectable magazine (in contrast to Ken's "trash" sci-fi magazines). However, his story is mediocre and he only gets it published because his wife is friends with an editor for a boy's magazine.
- Michael in For Better or for Worse has little trouble getting his books published. In fact, he's even able to support a family on this (normally highly unreliable) income extremely quickly. One of the more justifiable criticisms leveled at the comic in its waning years was about how he received a sizable cash advance for his first novel, which had been read and edited only by his mother.
- Averted by Peanuts. Snoopy spends most of the strip's run trying and failing to get a publisher interested in his works. For his part, the publisher keep sending increasingly angry letters demanding that Snoopy stop pestering them, culminating in cheap pranks and the ultimate rejection letter, "Dear contributor, we've noticed that you have not submitted anything to us for some time. Thank you, that suits our present needs."
- In the 10-Minute Play Sun Dried, this is actually subverted in that Mary Louise simply cannot get published despite her best efforts, which include "camping on [the publishers'] doorsteps". It is then pointed out that she's not writing anything interesting in the first place.
- In Girl Genius Agatha gets a deal on her A monograph on wasp eaters before she even sits down to write it. The information is incredibly valuable though as the creatures have been wiped out, their creator killed and they are the only known way to detect the more subtle sleeper agent like reverents.
- Family Guy:
- Subverted. Brian's results at writing are mediocre at best, and result only in his works being mocked, or massively modified (i.e. his screenwriting being used for porn-flicks, or his serious TV-script being made into a crude sitcom).
- Played straight in an episode where, in order to show to Stewie how vapid and false self-help books are, he knocks out a terrible and trashy self-help book of his own in the course of a few hours; it instantly gets published and becomes a best seller, much to Brian's ambivalence. However, Brian ends up falling victim to the book's hype, forgetting why he wrote it in the first place, and turning into a huge diva.
- On South Park, the boys wonder why The Catcher in the Rye was so controversial and decide to write something far more objectionable. The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs is instantly published and becomes a runaway hit, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that no one can get through a single paragraph without throwing up.
- The Simpsons: In "Diatribe of a Mad Housewife," Marge writes a romance novel called The Harpooned Heart, revolving around a secret love between a whaler's wife and her hunky neighbor, which is published and becomes a runaway success, and gets a book on tape version read by the Olsen twins. She's briefly seen working on the sequel, which she called The Harpooned Heart 2: Thunder Down Under which is set in Australia.
- The first season finale of The Critic has Jay's mother Eleanor write a children's book called The Fat Little Pig, which is a thinly veiled parody of Jay, and the book is immediately picked up by a major kids' book publisher and becomes a major sensation overnight. She originally wanted to write a book about sending the poor into space, but Jay talked her out of it.
- Beetlejuice becomes a successful author when he gets one of these for his tell-all autobiography. It blows up in his face because it's full of Blatant Lies about his friends and neighbors, who don't appreciate it, and omits the existence of his best friend entirely.