Sunday, July 31, 2005

Don't Make Waves

The editor at a new erotica imprint who was considering the novel disapproves of this blog and efforts over on Beyond You & Me to promote it are "exactly the sort of thing that could severely alienate potential agents and/or publishers, and will not aid your ambition to get the book published, and neither would disparaging agents on the blog."

Funny, it's OK for agents to make outrageous comments, only don't fight back.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Anais Nin the Loathesome

Carlton from Grad Student Madness made a comment to the post about agent Jack Scovil's scathing rebuke of Anais Nin (see previous post below). I think it justifies a post all its own:

"I suppose the good news is that there are plenty of readers who enjoy Anais Nin. Sort of an astounding comment really. Not particularly witty, and really bizarrely vicious. Why exactly would a mentally healthy individual loathe Anais Nin anyway?"

Indeed, why would a big-time agent like Mr. Scovil dismiss out-of-hand a writer who has charmed so many, sold a ton of books, and whose influence on other giants like Henry Miller will assure her a place in literary history? What sort of author is he looking for? The website for his company, Scovil Chicack Galen Literary Agency insists:

"Our list is eclectic and chaotic, rich and diverse, and there is no type of book that doesn't interest us if it is first-rate. We take on clients who interest us deeply as people and as writers, whatever their background and prior accomplishments. At any given moment we might be working on a first sale for an exciting new author or an eight-figure deal for a veteran of the New York Times bestseller list, or anything in between."

Just no Anais Nin, please!

Interestingly, I was not the one who made the comparison between Beyond You & Me and Anais Nin. It was Demon Queen, a fan, and a passionate one, too. The real Cassie wasn't familiar with Nin's work, who was still not well-known in the mid-70s when the journal my novel is based on was written. So I have stayed away from Nin's writings for fear of being influenced-- Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence appeared during this same time period, and he was a looming presence at Yale. In this case, a reader who finds a resonating chord in the book made the connection to Nin's naked self-revelations.

Looking further at Scovil's own list of agented books, they're all pretty weighty topics: Mars, the Korean War, no fiction I could see. Thankfully there's THE CATHOLIC GIRL'S GUIDE TO SEX by Melinda Anderson and Kathleen Murray to redeem Mr. Scovil from total fuddy-duddy status. Certainly no stories about the mostly self-inflicted problems of a married woman and her failed affair. Of course, it's true that the problems of most people are small, personal and often largely self-inflicted, not the subject of great books.

Or apparently, even commercial fiction.

The truth is, most of us are under the partially mistaken impression that agents are looking for books that will sell. So why, you might ask, would Beyond You & Me, which has clearly demonstrated an appeal to at least a small coterie of fans, be of such little interest to a big-time agent? Apparently the month-in, month-out dedication of so many of you in the unfolding saga of Cassie DiMarco is not enough for Mr. Scovil and others in the business.

I hesitate to pick on him, except the arrogant dismissive tone of his email makes him such an inviting target. I'm sure to get an angry missive from at least one of his authors (assuming anyone is reading this site), so let me issue a blanket apology up-front: I'm sure Jack Scovil is a wonderful agent, talented and immensely sage. I suppose I just caught him on a grumpy day.

So why are agents unwilling to take on a book with a fan base. It's not because we expect our literature to be non-profit. Dr. Johnson, one of the titans of English literature, decreed "no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." Yet we denigrate commercial fiction. No matter how many of you embrace Beyond You & Me and swear you'll buy it, that doesn't change a thing with agents. The book's inferior in their estimation. Your vote doesn't count.

Beyond Beyond You & Me, Scovil raises an interesting question in my mind. Is women's writing and/or books about women second-class? Just look at the condescending descriptor "chick lit." Or "chick flick." The highly-regarded "Band of Brothers" or "Black Hawk Down" films were really just "guy flicks," but because they have wartime settings, they're more meaningful than books or films that appeal to women. Nin's work (and by extension, Beyond You & Me) suffers from being confessional.

And erotic.

How can erotica be true literature, since it's purpose is not to excite the intellect, but arouse? Because Little Birds and The Delta of Venus were written for pornographers, they can't be literature, right? Add to this the anti-sex bias of western intellectual history since at least St. Jerome took to heart the Paulist dictum about cutting off an offending member. Self-castration will certainly limit arousal.

I accept my banishment by Mr. Scovil and the other agents. It's now up to the small presses to see the merit in having a pre-sold audience for a book that's not about nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula or the Kennedys, or even successful young women looking for Mr. Right amid the wilds of Manhattan. I would be happy, though, to take a seat beside Anais Nin in the erotica ghetto if she'll let me.

And to the organizer of "S.W.A.Y. Sex Week at Yale" who asked me about coming back to Old Blue to read next Valentine's Day, I will not let your interest "sway" those same agents in their resolve to ignore my novel. No, nor when its website passes 50,000 hits (sometime around Labor Day). Nor when the list of links to the webiste passes 100 (currently at 75 and picking up two or three a week). No, nor even those of you who drop by regularly to comment on the unfolding saga of Cassie DiMarco.

After all, publishing is a meritocracy, not every vote counts.


Friday, July 29, 2005

An Agent Responds

With the website for Beyond You & Me having topped 30,000 visitors, the agents now can't ignore the book, even if they don't want to represent it. Here's one email from Jack Scovil of the Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency (sadly not quite as funny sounding as the apochryphal law firm of Dewey Cheatham and Howe mentioned in the closing credits of NPR's hilarious "Car Talk"):

Dear W S Cross:

I seem not to have responded to your many communications, and I apologize. Because BEYOND YOU AND ME is just not the kind of book I represent. I loathe Anais Nin, which will give something of a clue as to why. Nevertheless, you seem to be skillful in attracting readers, and I wish you great success in the future. Very best.

Jack Scovil

Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency Inc
381 Park Avenue South, Suite 1020
New York NY 10016
(212) 679-8686

I guess he doesn't want to be on my mailing list, do you think?

While I don't want to turn this blog into a poor man's version of Gerard Jones's very funny thrust, parry and ripost Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing & Tinseltown, too, here is what I wrote back:

Dear Mr. Scovil,

Thank you for your response. It's nice to know that if enough people are interested in a book, agents will actually reply to my communications. You see, something like 25% of the ones I queried never got around to it somehow.

And since you have been blunt with me, I will be honest in return. I really have no interest in what agents like or dislike, but in getting my story out to the growing number of readers who have taken its heroine to their hearts. Frankly, I thought that's what publishing was about: putting books in the hands of people who want to read them. Evidently you have another goal, so it's a good thing I'm not sitting waiting for your answer.

Thank you for your good wishes, and I promise to keep you up-to-date. I would imagine Beyond You & Me will hit 50,000 visitors sometime around Labor Day. Your refusal to consider it will seem even more courageous then.

He's not going to represent Beyond You & Me anyway, so I guess there's no point in NOT being frank. Someone once told me "don't piss the agents off, it's a small world and word gets around."

Well, having gone through the first 756 agents already, I'm curious to know if there are any left to piss off?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Using the Internet as a Marketing Tool

I attended a writer's conference at the NYC Small Press Center in the Spring where hopefuls sought out advice from panels of editors, agents and writers about how to get their manuscripts read, their books published and the books resulting from that publication sold. All in all, it was a fairly pathetic scene of folks desperate to do anything to get into print.

The topics ranged all over the board, but mostly centered on the age-old question: what do the publishers want? What's the latest trend, is chick lit still selling, and the usual practical questions: do I have to have an agent, what can an agent do for me, what should I do if my agent isn't performing?

Generalizing (as I am wont to do), I found that the consensus was that publishers are buying fewer and fewer titles, their editors are overloaded and don't do very much to edit the manuscript, and agents are being forced to assume some of these duties. I hope being an agent is more fun than it looked on the faces of the agents on the panel, most of whom looked as though they had been told they have terminal cancer.

One of the "trends" that several agents and editors (and the publisher of Soft Skull Press) extolled was the Internet. According to them, the 'Net will allow the trendy, edgy writers of the future to emerge. Of course, this assumes that editors and agents are monitoring the Internet. Considering that many of the 756 agents approached so far don't even have functioning web sites, I'm skeptical that the super agents of the future are trolling the 'Net for inspired new voices, but hey, surprise me.

The interesting thing about this proposition is that Internet publishing has become something of a Robinson Crusoe enterprise: thousands of solitary bloggers and writers commanding their own islands of one. I've had contact with hundreds of them, some from trying to trade links, others posting on their sites trying to draw traffic over to mine. The results are interesting, with several types emerging:

The clueless loner who can't interact with others
The callow hipster who knows it all
The damaged psyche who needs a vent
The frustrated writer who can't find an agent or publisher

Hmmm, that last one sounds uncomfortably close!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Beyond You & Me Gets Some Virtual Ink

The very pretty Jai at The Cusp of Something has noticed Beyond You & Me and this site, too. The editors and agents are talking about the Internet as the place where tomorrow's literary voices can be found today, but it's fascinating how obtuse the agents can be.

For example, when Beyond You & Me passed 10,000 visitors, Lisa Van Auken at Creative Media Agency, Inc. was frantic to get in touch with me about the book, since she is looking for "a fabulous erotica writer." Then, when she did, she realized she'd turned down the book proposal several months before. OK, I guess that means all of y'all who are faithfully following the story through the blog don't count in comparison to her opinion. Oh, and Beyond You & Me will pass the 30,000 visitor plateau today, July 27t, barely a month after passing the 10,000 mark. Not too bad for a novel no agent will take a chance on.

This, of course, is why the publishing industry is turning out product that doesn't sell: it's the same stuff, book after book. Bridget Jones Diary means a whole list of imitators. Does my lack of success in placing this book with an agent mean that it's crap? Or too ground-breaking or innovative for their tastes? It's true that Liza Dawson told me she was passing because "just too off beat for my bourgeoisie taste. I like my books less episodic and more plot-driven."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Alexandra Robbins Update

Subsequent to my last posting, I received an email from Alexandra Robbins after asking her once again to blurb Beyond You & Me. Ms. Robbins regrets she will not be able to because her busy schedule prevents her from blurbing any books. "I get several requests each week and have to turn them all down. Good luck."

I hate being wished "good luck" by another writer. Isn't that what you say when someone leaves the plane crash to hike through the wilderness to bring help? Good luck, because you can kiss your sorry ass good-bye.

I won't go and Google her blurbs to make certain. That would be unkind and not lady-like. But I don't have to be a lady, you see.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Wow, I'm Slightly Valuable (as a commodity)

Someone asked me just today:

"What the hell good is all the interest you're creating in your website? What does it DO?"

Hell if I know.

Of course, the goal of the Beyond You & Me website is to build a pre-sold audience for the book. The market for first-time novelists without a track record is pretty thin, so it would be helpful to prove to agents and editors that people actually like my book, that some of them would actually buy it (beyond my friends and immediate family).

But one thing is now certain: I am useful to other writers. Today I got my second plea for help from another writer. The first was for an obscure small press in Brooklyn. The second was from big-time non-fiction writer and Yale alumna, Alexandra Robbins.

Ms. Robbins got her start writing for The New Yorker, followed by a book about the Yale secret society Skull & Bones (Bones is mentioned in Beyond You & Me when Cassie and S. pass Book & Snake, another of the senior societies at Yale. Senior societies are mostly supper clubs, a silly holdover from the time when only the children of the affluent attended Old Blue, and it became a distinction within a distinction to be "tapped" for one of these clubs. Much blather persists about the connections (for good and evil) that arise inside the windowless buildings of the various societies, enough so that Robbins' book did reasonably well.

After I finished writing Beyond You & Me, I contacted a number of Yale alums asking if they'd be interested in "blurbing" my book. A blurb is a short endorsement of a book, usually by the author's friends, or writers his publisher thinks will induce consumers to buy said book. While normally blurbs are solicited after a book has been contracted for publication, they also are sometimes used to convince a publisher that a certain book is worth bringing out. Especially if the blurber is famous.

Needless to say, Ms. Robbins never answered my email request. Until today.

Oh, she still hasn't agreed to blurb Beyond You & Me, nor even entered into a real communication with me. No, the email I received today was a broadcast to countless people in her address book (she even apologized in advance if I received the email twice). It's a form letter hoping I was having a wonderful Summer, and promoting both her new book about the scandalous, sex-drenched goings-on in sororities, and seeking help in finding damaged kids for her next book about the pressures of getting into the "right" schools (like Yale).

And yes, for those of you who suspect that some writers of non-fiction books start out looking for evidence that will confirm their original hypothesis, the short answer is "no, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus."

What's Next?

The agents can't ignore 23,000 visitors (as of July 11). So I still am getting requests to look at the material. Usually it's a chapter to 50 pages. Burdened with that knowledge, can you imagine the flurry of writing and re-writing it will inspire? "If I can't interest them in the first XX pages, then I'm sunk."

Of course, this supposedly mirrors the reading public. If they pick up your book and sample the first few pages, then they are going to make their buying decision based on their reaction, right? Do we know that's true? In my own case, I purchase books based on recommendations from those I trust, or write-ups and reviews in the paper, magazines, on-line. And once I've bought the book, I'm not going to send it back if it starts slowly.

It would be interesting to compile a sampler of good books that start slowly and require patience. Alfau's Chromos springs to mind. Wouldn't get an agent to piss on it today. Ulysses? I can see the agent comments now:

Sorry, but I can't imagine where I'd sell this.
I was exceedingly put-off by your dense, unreadable prose and confusing structure.

Now, I'm not trying to make a deft comparison of my work to Joyce. Frankly, I don't really like Ulysses all that much, it's not a book I read with great enjoyment (as opposed to Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, which polluted my writing style for decades as I tried to channel Bill the Drunk. But as one agent who read the first 50 pages of Beyond You & Me wrote me:

Sorry, the journal structure doesn't work for me, while another one replied after reading 2 chapters I'm afraid though that it's just too off beat for my bourgeoisie taste. I like my books less episodic and more plot-driven.

Interesting how bald confessions of mediocrity now pass for badges of honesty.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

It's not just me

You might say to yourself, "well, you're just being petulant because the agents aren't jumping at the chance to represent your book."

Could be. I might be paranoid, but that doesn't mean there isn't someone following me.

The stagnation of our fiction market into beach reading and precious hothouse lit fiction isn't a concept I coined. Consider

Down with MFA Literature.

Published on the extremely interesting "Moby Lives" site, the piece denounces the "literature by committee" that's taking over the publishing industry.

You be the judge.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

I'm not listening!!!!

Well, the site for Beyond You & Me just passed the 20,000th visitor. You probably know that already, since I can't believe anyone comes over here who hasn't clicked through one of the links on that site, but hey, you never know.

Now I sent out an email press release when it reached the first 10,000 hits. That took about 3 months to happen. The next 10,000 took slightly over a month. One agent asked to know more, then realized she'd already turned it down. Glad to know that evidence of strong Internet marketing and potentially a loyal fan base meant nothing.

Now a second agent has come out of hiding at the 20,000 threshold.

What's it going to take, 50,000? 100,000?

The ironic thing is agents and editors are saying all the time "Oh, the Internet is the marketing tool of the future."

Apparently they haven't caught up with that future.

Could it be this book is no good, and that's why they're turning it down?

Then why the strong interest and loyal support from other bloggers?

You tell me, what do I know?