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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