Posts Tagged ‘agents’


If I’ve learned anything (the hard way) in my life thus far, its that nature must run it’s course, and that the final results of my efforts are largely beyond my control. This is an intimidating concept, but I’ve come to slowly accept that for me to have any peace, I need to distinguish where the border lies which separates what I have control over, and what I don’t. From there, I can only work on those things that are within my bounds… and leave those things outside of them for the universe to manage.

I realize that from a social standpoint, this is a very counter-intuitive stance. We live in a world that tells us from a very young age that we have absolute control over the outcome of our lives… and while that is true for the most part, no one seems to tell us where our limits for control end, or the truth about the harrowing agonies of trying to control something (or someone) that can not or will not be controlled.  Nature will run its course, with or without my consent. This has been my constant experience and has therefore become one of my immutable truths ~ and my writing is probably the most difficult facet of my life I’ve had to apply it to. Like a parent sending a child into the world, as a writer, I have to learn to accept that I’ve done what I could and the rest isn’t up to me.

At this time last year, my manuscript The White Room was in New York being considered by an agent I met at a conference in Salt Lake City. In April, after five nail-biting months, I heard from her ~ and was given an impersonal rejection with no usable feedback. I was disappointed and I felt a little cheated… but I didn’t go into this business with the naiveté I’ve witnessed in many other young writers. I didn’t expect this to be easy, so ultimately, I licked my wounds and moved ahead, querying other agencies. But for those five long months… my life was at a complete standstill. And sadly, this was entirely due to some very erroneous thinking on my part.

Because this faulty thinking has made me wiser, I have nothing to be bitter about, and I have no regrets. However, there are some very heartbreaking pitfalls that, if at all possible, I would like to help any other writers to avoid. Below, I’ve listed some of my own intellectual glitches in hopes that I can not only offer such help, but to remind myself not to fall into the same traps in the future.

Pitfall #1 ~ I dedicated myself and managed to complete an entire 90,000 word manuscript! The hard part is done!

Oh, if only this were true. The fact is, you are one of hundreds of folks who’ve just finished their novels, too. Now it’s time to get in line (no cutting!) and wait your turn. Writing the book, as my mentor so truthfully put it, is the easy part. The hard part comes after “The End.”

Pitfall #2 ~ An agent asked to see my entire manuscript! I just hit a home run!

While having an agent or publisher ask to see your manuscript in its entirety is an exciting thing to be proud of, it doesn’t mean they’re going to take you on. Anything from too many grammatical errors, to a slight shift in the market, to a poorly written character, to a change in the wind pattern can inspire them to decline. Sometimes, you’ve got a great concept but need help executing it. Sometimes, as wonderful as you are with words, your concept just isn’t cutting-edge enough to make a splash… and sometimes, an agent really believes in your talent, but doesn’t have the capability of taking you on right now.

Pitfall #3 ~ I followed all the rules and still got rejected. Clearly, the rules don’t matter! Writing is art, and art is subjective… so obviously, I don’t really need to waste my time with the rules of good storytelling, proper grammar, character development and plot consistency.

Yes, writing is art, and yes art is subjective. But books are products and products are non-existent without consumers. And in order to obtain consumers, products need to appeal. As soon as your manuscript leaves your hands, it’s no longer about art. It’s about business. When handing a person your book, you are asking a person to spend hours and hours of their time on you. That’s a committment that deserves some serious consideration for the reader.

 Pitfall #4 ~ Agents and publishers don’t know what they’re talking about. They are mean and greedy people with no appreciation for authors!

This couldn’t be further from the truth… in most cases, at least. Agents are very real people with very heavy responsibilities. If they take your manuscript, convince a publisher to take it and your book bombs in the market, you can always write a different book under a pseudonym. Agents don’t have that same luxury. Likewise, publishers are people too. If they believe in your work enough to risk their reputations for you (and as a new writer, you are a huge risk) and your book goes over in the market like a fly in a cocktail, they lose credibility… and lots of money. In short, Agents and publishers care very much about your work. This is where your control of the situation ends. You have to trust them to be professionals at their jobs. The only control you have over the situation is to be a professional at yours.

Pitfall #5 ~ I will never ever get published!

If you keep getting better, conduct yourself as a professional, don’t bank your entire writing career on one project, and never, ever, ever give up… you will be published. I’ve seen too many success stories to believe otherwise. And this is where the issue of control comes into play again.

As a writer, it’s my job to write as well as I possibly can, continue learning and getting better, and keep submitting my work to publishers and agents. My only business is in the footwork. When I get published isn’t something I can control.  I can’t control the market, I can’t control the book industry, I can’t control the economy, and most of all, I can’t control other people. Agents and publishers, by the way, are other people.

 

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The prologue is that first page (or few pages) at the opening of a story which gives readers background information, establishes character and setting, and/or gives readers a quick glimpse into the central conflict of the story, sometimes in an attempt to grasp the reader’s attention enough to motivate further reading. There does not seem to be any real rules about what a prologue may or may not contain, or whether or not a prologue should be used at all, therefore, whether or not a book should or should not open with a prologue is a subjective topic. While I’ve known people who feel that prologues are no more than a lazy way to introduce information, I’ve also known people who will only read a book if it has a good prologue; so there really is no right or wrong answer.

I’ve never used a prologue in any of my stories, mainly because it never seemed called for. That being said, I personally am a fan of the prologue, but it has never been a subject to me that seemed to require any of my attention, until just recently when a good friend of mine asked me to critique the opening chapter of the book she’s currently working on.

As I started reading this chapter, I noted that as soon as I’d just begun to get involved with the present situation in the story, I was thrust backward in time, where the events that lead to the present were revealed. While there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this, it felt too soon to me; I wasn’t ready to flash back yet. I finished the chapter and considered ways that my friend might more smoothly incorporate the information into the story, but found no reasonable opportunity for it. Then I read the chapter again, skipping the background information, and was stunned by how much smoother the ride was. Finally, I read the flash back, separate from the rest of the chapter, and it struck me that it would make an excellent prologue. The problem is, my friend hates prologues.

I was very cautious as I approached her with the idea of beginning her story with a prologue. At first, she was adamantly against it, but now, as far as I know, she is considering it.

It’s been said by many that a “good” writer can work background information into a story without resorting to a prologue. It’s also been said that the best way to judge a good book is by its prologue. I am sure there are literary agents out there who scoff at prologues and shove manuscripts straight into the slush-pile just because the story begins with a prologue. I am equally as sure that there are those agents who will not represent a book without one. The point is, using a prologue or not using a prologue is the author’s choice and should be a decision based on his or her own judgment.

To me, it’s a simple matter of the author’s style; some use prologues, some do not. But there are no rules for or against it, and in a business that is over-saturated by an endless and ever-changing list of do’s and do not’s, we sometimes have to keep in mind that writing, at its core, is still a form of art… and that art, for all it’s marketing rules and its potential levels of salability in the retail world, is still subjective.


     

     Me and my friends’ Kim (Williams-Justesen) and Joe (Ostler) talked about forming our own critique group for many months before we ever got together and actually did it. The trouble was that the project Kim and I were collaborating on was very high in gore and horror, and I, being the nice guy I am, didn’t feel comfortable corrupting poor Joe by subjecting him to the nastiness and raw morbidity of our story, (little did I realize at the time that Joe has his own unique brand of deviance ~ but hey, I was trying to be nice!) Just kidding, Joe. 😉

So, as Kim and I wrapped up An Evil Heart, we both began new (and far tamer)  projects which we used in our critique group of three. The interesting thing about our group is that I write Horror/Supernatural, Kim writes for Middle Grade and Young Adult, and Joe writes Sci-Fi/High Fantasy, so the contrast of our styles creates a fun dynamic. The three of us were only able to meet twice though. I am leaving the state in two days from now, but we plan to continue the group through Instant Messenger and e-mail, but already, in the short time I have been a participant of a critique group, I have learned a good deal.

A critique group is an assembly of writers who’ve come together for the purpose of gaining insight and feedback from other writers, and no matter how good a writer you may be, there can be no arguing the benefits of being part of one. Critique groups may be as large or small as the group desires. They may be done face to face, over the phone, or online.

The beauty of the critique group is that however polished a writer may be, he or she will undoubtedly overlook some necessary detail at some point in his or her story. The other member’s of the group will hopefully be able to see these snags and help the writer smooth them over. Editors, agents and publishers don’t want raw and sloppy rough drafts. They want polished, revised material that has been read and critiqued, preferably a few times over. A critique group can help a writer be sure that the material he or she sends to an agent or editor is clean, concise, and professional.

     There are however, those groups of writers who do not have their fellows’ best interests at heart. I’ve heard many horror stories about really nasty critique groups whose members were apparently more interested in stroking their own egos than becoming better writers. These kinds of folks undoubtedly run rampant in writing communities worldwide. These kinds of writers aren’t hard to spot and should be avoided at all times. When someone works up the courage to allow his or her work to be viewed by others, I think we need to respect the vulnerability of the writer. That’s not to say that honesty isn’t imperative, it absolutely is, but honesty in and of itself does not need to be cruel. Writer’s are up against enough rejection and damage without having his or her peers standing in line to take turns crushing him or her. Critique groups should be constructive and supportive, and if they aren’t, find a new one. End of story.

Critique groups are as good (or bad) as the members make them, and I am grateful to have a pretty good, albeit very small, group of trusted writers to share my work with. It’s a disconcerting and unfortunately very necessary thing to lay your heart out and ask to be critiqued. To find just a handful of people who I feel comfortable asking feedback from is a wonderful thing.

     The world in general loves to give its opinion and whether you ask for it or not, you are going to get it. The trouble is, you have to be very careful who you listen to. The way I see it, you can divide the world’s population into three groups. The first (and probably largest) group, are those who really just don’t much care whether or not you succeed or fail. The second group is what I call the “cockroaches”. These guys will go out of their way to try to sabotage your success and sense of self-confidence. And the third and final group is the group you need to stick with. These are the folks who want to be better people themselves, and who want to help you become a better person.

So if you are thinking of joining or creating  your own critique group, my advice is to be sure you are among good company because, as important as it is to get feedback from other people, it’s even more important that you don’t give up on writing at the hands of someone who took it upon him or herself to let you know how bad you suck. We all suck or have sucked at some time or another. Totally sucking is the first step of good writing, so if you have to suck, why not suck with the best of them? 🙂

Write on.


    

     We all choose different paths in our approach to the business of being published according to what it is we want, and these days, there are more options than traditional publishing, in which the writer seeks a publishing house to represent his or her work, usually at the cost of several years of rejection, and/or having one’s self-esteem beaten down and battered to a bloody pulp by a series of professionals who may or may not know what they’re talking about.  Now, we live in an age of indie art where writers can publish their own books.  There is conventional self-publishing in which the author fronts the money to have his or her book put into print, and is solely responsible for the sales, marketing and distribution of the book.  Also, we now have print-on-demand books in which a publisher prints whatever amount of books the audience requires and the author puts no money upfront as the cost is taken from the sales of his or her book.  There are branches of each of these methods of self-publishing (some more appealing than others) extensive enough that a writer these days has far more options than he or she once did, and personally, I think that’s pretty wonderful.   However, despite the fact that I am currently standing in that terrible position where it feels like the whole publishing world is standing in line to get a chance to tell me I’m not good enough, traditional publishing is the path I have chosen.   

     Before I began this journey, I first gave a lot of thought to what it was I wanted from this.  I knew that if I was going to pursue this path, that I was going to be in it for the long haul, and that I would need to be willing to go through whatever level of hell I had to in order to get to where I wanted to be.  I suppose this explains the several-years reluctance in which I shied away from this whole “writing thing” as if it had fangs and a thirst for blood, but nevertheless, this is the path I have chosen.      

     After fully understanding all of the various avenues of publishing, I firmly settled on traditional publishing because I knew that, although I would meet far more resistance, going the traditional route would ultimately lead me down the paths I wished to wander.  I realized that even if I failed, I’d be far happier having given it all I had than not having done everything in my power to make it happen. 

     That being said, there are several disadvantages to traditional publishing, not the least of which is the possibility that you might never see your book in print.  Agents and publishers are flooded by manuscripts on a constant basis and it’s very likely that your pride and joy will be buried, overlooked, forgotten or never even looked at.  To break into writing the traditional way, you need to have a firm faith that one day, someone will see your work and have a strong enough vision for its possibilities in the market.  You need to believe that your writing is strong enough to stand out among the abyss of other talented author’s books.  Above all, you need to be patient and you need to keep writing.  If you’re going to take this route, it’s not enough that you’ve written a book.  Now you need to write the next one.  And the next one.  Eventually, you will have a pretty vast library of material for an agent or editor to choose from, and if you can get their attention once, they’re going to want to see more of your work.

     I’m lucky.  I have that faith.  I suffer terribly from other various personal insecurities, but there is one place I have total faith and that is in my writing.  At a soul-deep and cellular level that is impossible to explain, I know I’m in the right place, doing the right thing.  I may not be published next week or next year, but it will happen.  Despite the fact that thus far, I’ve garnered six rejections from agents, and been (so far) ignored entirely by another dozen, the towel isn’t feeling anywhere near heavy enough that I think it needs to be thrown in yet.

     What someone traveling down the traditional path needs to understand is that rejections aren’t personal.  This is not an attack on the author or their work.  This is an agent giving you respect enough to admit they don’t have the vision necessary to take your work to the heights it could reach.  I have yet to meet a rude agent who tells me that I suck and I really need to just give up.  In fact, the agents I’ve corresponded with have been encouraging, pleasant and professional.  A few of them have taken a sincere interest in my book and offered some good advice.  In that way, this is nowhere nearly as brutal as I had expected… but then again, I’m pretty new still.

     I’m sure I’m headed for some far harsher dealings, but I’m tough enough to be told no.  The fact is, I don’t have to have this right now.  Whether or not I ever get published is, as far as my writing’s concerned, inconsequential.  I will continue writing, and then writing some more, whether or not it happens.  I’m okay waiting for the right agent, the right publisher.  I believe with everything I am that somewhere out there, exists someone who will have that vision for my work which will carry it to the places that I can not.  I’m not an editor.  I’m not a marketer or a publicist.  I’m not an agent or a publisher.  I’m a writer.  It’s my job to write the best novels I can, and to trust the other professionals to do their jobs the best they can.  I don’t mind being told that I need to get better at my job, so long as it’s by someone who knows what my job entails.  As far as I’m concerned, it would be arrogant of me to write a book and think it was good enough to impact the market without getting some serious professional input.  So I’m not going to go down that route.  I’m going to do my job and I’m going to do it well. I’m going to continue getting better at it until, one day, I can be where I set out to be.  But it takes time.

     And as that time goes by and my rejections pile up, I am encouraged more and more by other writers to self-publish.  But I won’t.  I know far too many people in this business who are successful to not have faith in it.  And besides, I respect the business.  Despite the neglect it’s awarded me thus far, and despite the abuse that it will surely hurl at me in the future,  I love this business too much to walk away.  I couldn’t do it anyway. I am learning good business and good ethics.  I am learning how to effectively write some truly knock-out, wicked good stuff.  And above all…  I am meeting my heroes… the ones I looked up to when I was a kid.  It’s an honor to be among them.  Who am I to turn my back on that?