Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tell me a story, sell me some soap

I love free advice.

One thing you can count on is sincere free advice from agents. They like to tell you things, mostly in the hopes you'll go away and read the books they tell you to and not fill up their mailboxes (virtual or snail) with useless bullshit they don't want to read anyway. Not that any of them read what you send them. In case you didn't know, it's the interns and flunkies who are the first line of defense. Writers also like to tell you things. I guess we wouldn't be writers if we didn't.

Now "how to" advice is very interesting, because it's an industry. Fashion and beauty magazines would go out of business if women didn't keep reading over and over how to get the perfect body, the perfect tan, the perfect man, or guys didn't want to find out the secret to getting that corner office or making a killing in real estate (buy low and sell high?). It should come as no surprise, then, that some of the same writers who dish out this brew are ready to offer it to aspiring novelists.

Take Jennifer Weiner. Jen's on a roll, with "In Her Shoes" having just opened in theaters near you. To listen to her tell it, publishing your novel is a snap, since agents are dying to find you. She insists she never used her connections from working at The Philadelphia Inquirer to help her career along, and I'm willing to believe her.
Actually one agent does offer some new self-help books on her site: Joanna Pulcinni. And by happy coincidence, Jennifer Weiner is a client.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

More Thoughts on Ms. Snark

I have been thinking about the logical conclusion of Ms. Snark's defense of the literary mainstream, and her comment:

The people who are in dire straits right now are the folks with two or three or more books under their belt who haven't sold in big enough numbers to keep a publisher offering contracts.

This is a really scary notion if looked at logically: it says that agents and publishers are signing up authors whose works don't sell well. This, of course, calls into question their business acumen; but the publishing business isn't really a business, because agents and editors resort to aesthetics to justify their decisions. The result is a constant turnover of writers as new books are sent out, like soldiers over the top into a hail of combat, with no support, only the hope that they will find an audience. Like the emperor's new clothes, it ignores the logical conclusion that editors are doing a poor job of picking books, since they don't stay with the authors they publish. Can't blame the agents, since their job is to bring authors to editors and get advances.

Or perhaps I'm mis-reading all this. It's the writer's fault for turning out drivel after that first remarkable tome, right?

Or it's the reading public's fault. After all, was it Mencken who said "nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public"? I guess we deserve lousy books that don't sell. Or are they good books that don't sell? Good books with lousy distribution channels? Good agents with stupid editors?

Interestingly agents live in suburban houses and dress well, while many writers I've known do their writing part-time, while holding down "day jobs." A curious disparity between the producer of the work and those who profit from it. I'm beginning to sound like a damned Marxist, and the only Marx I've ever studied in any detail was Groucho and his brothers.

I'm sure I'm wrong, after all, I'm just a "junior officer" as Mr. Winkler says, and don't know what I'm saying. The publishing world is doing just fine; ask the editors who all have jobs. Just don't ask some of the writers.