No Soap in this Box

So I was reading Jennifer Laughran’s latest blog post, because it popped up on the RSS feed attached to my iGoogle—I’m not really sure what I just said.

Anyway, Jennifer is a literary agent. She’s attending some writers’ conference in Texas to talk about writing god damned query letters and then something else about pink boots. She asked her readers (I almost feel that those who read blogs should be called viewers) to share anything regarding queries that they felt was important for her to relate at the conference. Understandably, Jennifer has gotten bored recycling the same basic set of query guidelines over and over again.

Well, I got all fired up and slammed down a good ol’ tirade that prattled on for way, way too long.

Just so it’s clear: Jennifer was not my target. Far from it, in fact. Jennifer is one of the good ones—you can tell because she’s a total smart-ass. She covers it up with cats and faeries and shit, which somehow makes it better. My target was the conferences themselves. Rather than clog Jennifer’s blog with my histrionics, I figured I’d post it here on the Bloggery.

I’m not fond of writers’ conferences. Not because I’m a grumpy recluse who thinks he Knows It All—I mean, I wear those traits with pride, but they have nothing to do with my distaste for writers’ conferences.

Writers’ conferences have been impeding the pace of artistic progress in contemporary literature for some time now. People are spending $500 (this value has not been exaggerated) to travel to some convention center (yes, that’s correct—the $500 does not include driving/flying expenses) just to have some agent or editor say the same generic crap that can be found on any blog or website that has anything at all to do with the publishing industry. Not only is this information goddamn ubiquitous, it’s free. Public domain. Seriously, you can’t avoid running into query guidelines if you try. And if you’re truly having trouble, just ask someone for advice. Almost all of us love to share what we’ve learned about the business from our own experiences, and 100% of us love to hear (read) ourselves talk (type).

Folks, the people who pay for and attend these writers’ conferences are getting representation. They’re the ones putting books on the shelves. Being face-to-face with the agent, their inexcusable ignorance can be portrayed as endearing naivete—they become the Charlie Brown Christmas tree worth saving.

My question is: with several hundred dollars to blow on avoiding having to type “queries” into Google search, and enough free time/freedom to take the mini-vacation required, how much can these people possibly have to say?

Hence, the decline in quality.

Writing has always been a solo gig; however, as resources continue to proliferate and remain, like, free, the writer’s job description will keep getting longer, and more complex. We are the marketers, and educators, of our selves. Regarding the business side, our level of personal responsibility has reached an unprecedented degree. Arguably, it’s a bit too much (we’re supposed to be writing, or conducting research, not composing 120-character advertisements for some blog called “10 Tips for New YA Writers” or whatever-the-fuck).

Personally, I’m thrilled to see marketing control shift more heavily toward the writers. I enjoy this stuff, especially since it’s online, meaning I don’t actually have to interact with anybody. I can experiment with as many different approaches as I want without having to explain myself. Anything negative that happens can only happen as a result of my own actions and decisions, thus making even the consequences a valuable learning experience.

Imagine if the opposite had occurred, and the balance shifted toward the agents, instead! Why, in a world like that, writers would actually pay agents for suggested query guidelines before offers have even been considered…

Look, if you really, truly feel that you lack the ability, or the patience, to read query suggestions online and then grind out a whole bunch of terrible queries until you get the hang of it (this will happen and it’s fine—you’ve gotta make bad ones to learn how to make them better; this will most likely apply to your first manuscript, too), if that’s the case, perhaps you’re in the wrong industry. Heck, if all that doesn’t sound like fun to you, maybe your skills are needed elsewhere.

If you have over $500 to burn on a god damned conference, you have other skill-sets available to you. Some of us don’t have other skill-sets. Some of us are writers because we have no choice, because it’s the only trade in which we’ve shown any talent, because we really are writers, and the thought of not writing is so awful that it ceased being an option a long time ago. Some of us are content to devote 75+ hours a week to our writing careers and will continue to do so until we get published, or die trying.

Unless you meet the criteria for the aforesaid “some of us,” please just take your money, and your boodles of free time, and bring them to a field that isn’t flooded with people who have neither. Put your resources toward something that works for you. I’m sure you’ll find it; so long as you’re willing to educate yourself enough that you recognize it.

Or just buy a motorcycle, for fuck’s sake.

Published in: on June 17, 2012 at 7:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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My First Bite

Today, a literary agent requested to see more of KHUSH, my first novel. Before I say anything further, let me show a few rough statistics pertaining to literary agents in 2011.

Queries to prompt more material: .06%
Queries to prompt full manuscript: .01%
Queries to receive representation: .002%

Needless to say, the odds are against me.

Please, if you have room in your thoughts, or prayers, or whatever your function, send some of that sweet, sweet positivity my way.

Thank you, all of you, for participating in my life at some point, in one way or another. You have impacted the work that has carried me this far, regardless of our relationship—a lot farther than I knew myself capable. And an extra special thanks to my coworkers, who continue to be so tolerant, and supportive, of my chosen path.

Of course, this thing could still take years, but I don’t care. I feel pretty damned peachy.

Because, if nothing else, I am the .06%.

Published in: on January 23, 2012 at 8:47 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Pitcher

    I’m not fond of people. I don’t have a problem with them personally, as individuals—I like anybody, I guess. I just don’t like being around them, having to make the chat. This isn’t some brooding hermit act, it’s a matter of preference. I prefer to be alone. Sometimes I like to be around people without interacting with them directly. That’s why I write in coffee shops. I like to write in coffee shops.

    People enjoy asking about my novel. I think it makes them feel good to take an interest. I certainly appreciate the attempt, even if it’s feigned, but sometimes it feels like more work than it’s worth. These same people never read my little blog posts, yet they inquire about a 350+ page novel as if they plan to write a paper on it.

    I’ll be writing in one of my journals—I’m always writing in one of my journals— and some chipper soul, seeing me scrawling frantically all over the paper, will deem this an appropriate time to ask me about it.

    “You’re always writing in that journal of yours,” they say. Usually it’s a she. I don’t know why. Maybe men don’t like to acknowledge the accomplishments of other men.

    “Yeah. I’m writing a book.”

    “Really? Wow, I didn’t you you were a writer!”

    For some reason people seem astonished by this. I can’t tell if they’re impressed or simply surprised that I possess a talent.

    “What kind of book is it?”

    “Literary Fiction.”

    “No, I don’t mean that. I mean what kind. Like, is it Science Fiction, is it Romance, is it… I dunno. You know?”

    “I do. Literary Fiction.”

    At this point, their interest begins to visibly wane. Their eyes wander a little, they play with fabric on their clothing. If I wasn’t being such a stuffy tight-ass about it, they would probably give me money right then and there. But I’m a stuffy tight-ass when it comes to the inane—more so when my writing is involved.

    I sigh, “You know that big section in Barnes & Nobles that says ‘Fiction’?”


    “That’s my section.”

    The person lights up. They’ve seen that section before, just never bothered to look at it.

    “Oooooh! I get it! So what, is it like Lord of the Flies or something?”

    “Same section, yeah; but the two books are nothing alike.”

    “But you just said they were the same kind.”

    “It’s a broad genre,” I try to remain calm. “All kinds of books are in there, from Herzog to Every Thug Need a Lady.”

    “What’s a Herzog?”

    “Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

    “Hmm… anyway, what’s your book about?”

    I can barely stifle the groan rumbling in my belly. I know I should be good at answering this question because I know that I am stuck with it. This question will never die—it will never fucking die.

    I want to say: “If it took me this long to get you to understand the genre…” But I don’t. I try to behave, most days.

    I smile. I grin, making my eyes all big and playful, so it is understood that what I’m about to say is a joke. Bustling with bravura I cry, “It’s about life!”

    Since they were forewarned, they laugh. They feel good about this, like they’re in on some kind of author humor and are now more worldly because of it.

    “Seriously though,” they say. “What’s it about?”

    Usually I offer some limp-wristed explanation that effectively deters them from ever wanting to read my book. I don’t do it on purpose; I can’t help myself. My book isn’t about anything, really. It’s about characters and observations. My book is about the way it’s written, but what a terrible sales pitch that is!

    I tell them it’s about a girl from India and I leave it at that. If they know my girlfriend is from India, they assume I wrote a book about my girlfriend. My book has nothing to do with my girlfriend and the fact that they assume my creative spring fails to extend beyond my bedroom makes me feel insulted. Yet I do nothing to alter their perception, even though I alone possess the ability to do so. My body language, squirmy and uncomfortable throughout the entire exchange, is about to implode. They leave me alone and I probably start scrawling the conversation into my journal.

    The worst part is that I hope to god they buy my book, read it, and tell me that it has changed their lives. I hope they fall in love with me and I hope to love them for it. Their opinion of the book means everything, yet I can’t be bothered to convince them to consider reading it.

    Hopefully the only reason I’m so curmudgeonly is because I’m a half-decent writer. Hopefully.

Published in: on August 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm  Comments (5)  
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Advising Against Advice

    A slew of information exists, out there in web-land, regarding publishing. I wish this post was about the usefulness of some of this information but… no. This is the Bloggery, after all.
    As some of you may know, I am in the process of querying agents for representation of my debut novel. Like everyone else who has gone through this process since the dawn of Twitter, I have pored over an endless series of blogs and websites dedicated to helping writers create a solid, effective query. I figured there was a proper querying format, and actually, if you read most of these ‘advice’ posts, you would think there is. So, what have I learned?
    Every agent, believe it or not, is different. Here I was hoping I could just cut and paste the same spiel to every agent in America and then get back to writing my second novel–but no. It turns out I have to work. I don’t want to work; that’s why I wrote a novel!
    There is no magic formula, folks. Some agents consider the ‘query’ and the ‘summary’ to be the same thing; some don’t. Some agents want one paragraph to summarize the basic plot-line; some want the first three chapters. Some agents want you to cut and paste the first 25 pages directly into the body of the e-mail; some will hit ‘delete’ if they notice they have to scroll down to read your letter. Some agents love it when you cite authors the agent has worked with; some agents think it’s creepy. Some agents like the summaries to be focused on the emotion of the book; some like it focused on the story. Some agents like narrative voice in the query; some prefer to keep things strictly business.
    Here’s the thing. You need to research the individual agent, and write a completely new query for that individual. Tailor your query to fit the agent’s personality and preferences. This takes time–lots of it–but ultimately, it will be worth it. Even if an agent rejects you, he or she is more likely to give you some feedback, if your query was clearly written with care and research.
    There are dozens of agent lists out there in web-land, so I won’t bother with pointing you toward any links. Just find a list, go through it, and write the fifty to one-hundred queries you need to write to get your book published. Make sure you know exactly what each agent wants, and give it to them. And don’t stop after the first landslide of rejections fills your inbox, because it’s going to, no matter how good you are.
    The only other piece of advice I think I can give involves organization. Make a chart with each agent’s information, so you don’t have to track it down every time you want to send out more queries. Include:

    1) Name of Agency
    2) Address
    3) Phone number
    4) Agent, with e-mail address
    5) Submissions Policy, with exactly what they want
    6) Expected time it takes for Agency to respond
    7) Any relevant information you could use to sweeten your query (i.e. the agent really likes dogs, and your novel features a lot of doggy narrative; or the agent spent time in Brazil, and your novel takes place there)

    Make a chart with fifty to one-hundred of these, in order of desirability. As you send out your queries, mark the date you sent it and, if the estimated response time has passed, politely poke them again, then move on.
    Also, keep in mind most agencies don’t allow you to send queries to multiple agents–within their agency, or otherwise. Again, this is different with every agency–make sure you know exactly what they want!
    Look, I don’t like tedious desk work either, but if you love your novel, you’ll do it. The fact of the matter is, you’re researching all these ‘advice’ blogs because you’re looking for a quick-fix, but there truly isn’t one out there.
    Remember all that boring research and fact-checking you had to do, to make sure the nonsense you jotted down actually holds up? Well, think of the agent hunt like that.

Published in: on July 10, 2011 at 4:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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