Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Five days to the big 3-0 party. This will be the first party I have not thrown for myself since I was seventeen. In this decade I hope to bid ever more of my controlling tendencies toot-a-loo. I have few bad habits in the way of substances to thrust out the wind (such a GOOD ACA), so we'll start with those of a psychological nature.

You're out there! Thanks to a lovely and talented writer named Joy (first names only), I feel as though for the first time in a long while I’m not just writing to myself, like all the other journal entries I’ve composed life-long (the journal count is hitting the 70s now, by which I mean number of, not decade). Because of Joy, I feel inclined to approach today’s leg of the heretofore despair-filled road to publishing with a more golden attitude, that is to say, to look on the bright side, or, since most of the cynics (read=writers) out there would say there is no bright side, the slightly less dark side. Gosh, I’m already doing a poor job. Here’s the thing: Don’t be like me. Don’t believe that the first agent who bites is the one you should sign with. Don’t assume that having an agent is some kind of sign of your worth as a writer. Don’t let said agent slack on the job because you are scared of being dumped as a client even before your two year contract is up. Oh yeah, and don’t sign a two year contract unless you can bank on a book sale. And who can bank on that except, perhaps, T.C. Boyle or Amy Tan? A few more don’ts: Don’t give up on your book first. Let the agent give up. Let the publishers not fall in love. But please, learn from me, stand behind your own work, and if you find it needs to be pushed, push it, but stand behind it. Mother it, love it, trust it. It needs you, believe me. In today’s market it needs you more than ever.

Many writers, I have come to discover, have had multiple agents. There’s the shotgun-agent, where you are pregnant with possibility and too naïve to know everything. And heck, who wants to turn down the validation of one of these New York heavyweights saying your work is WORTHY OF PUBLICATION?? Well, sometimes you really do. Especially if you were really paying attention and noticed that your agent-to-be repped everything from political thrillers to chick-lit.

With that said, at 1.5 years along the path with my first agent I am hitting the sad place I hoped not to reach…deciding to end the relationship. He’s had BOTH my novels, a foolish trust on my part. I should have pushed novel #1 harder, I should not have believed him when he thought number two had “greater commercial appeal after a rewrite.” Yes, the rewrite is a hell of a lot better. But it still falls between market niches like those funky fruit hybrids that are not really a pear and not really an apple. But I want someone who pushes publishers, who says: “You’ve got a one week exclusive on this puppy and that’s that.” I want an agent who believes I have it in me and encourages me to rewrite based on a very strong literary background, not the whims of the marketplace. I understand the whims must be obeyed at some point, but non-commercial books sell all the time because there are still people who want to read great literature.

I am in a bit of a bind over this dissolution I’d like to reach. Number one: BOTH my babies have been shown to publishers. Number one did pretty well. Harper Collins gave me an “almost” citing a similar book just purchased in their catalogue. Pocket books was enthusiastic about my first three chapters but then we never heard back from them (hint: agent’s job is to nudge these people!), and there were some adjectives used like “rollicking read, colorful characters” alongside “didn’t fall in love with it.” When one’s book has already been shown to agents it’s sort of like it has lost its virginity. And agents are of that weird ilk where they want virgins only. They don’t like to know that your book has been bandied about promiscuously to “all those other” editors out there. Which means, you have a more difficult time getting a second agent to accept you based on this soiled work. Which means…I gotta write a third novel? Or keep going with the non-fiction idea, but don’t give it to the agent that I am trying to get out of relationship with.

Oh yeah, back to that subject: I’ve got six months of contract left with agentie-pie. So I sent him an email today designed to raise his hackles. A “so, what’s your game plan now, toots?” and we’ll see what kind of tenor of response I get back. I am likely to ask him if we can dissolve our contract and I will throw myself back into the lava of querying. It’s just part of the process. I know so much more than I did. And I’m not depressed. No more depressed than having two novels go nowhere. I’m invigorated. I have another shot. I can shoot for primo agents instead of mid-line agents. I can work it and push it further, even if it means that temporarily my postage/paper/ink budget skyrockets upward. I don’t know why, but I’m dedicated to this process, and as far as I can tell thus far, dedication is the number one criteria for the job of being a serious writer.

More to come on this.Oh, and if you’re interested, I’m teaching "Novel Writing for the Commitment Shy" on September 20th (7-9pm) and “The Art of The Query Letter” at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts on November 6th, 11-2 (a Saturday).

Email me for more info: Thanks for reading.


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