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.


Blogger Peter L. Winkler said...

I just read Jennifer Weiner's post in its entirety and I think you misrepresent it by plucking out something, which, by the way, you got wrong.

Now, maybe you skimmed the post very quickly and made an innocent mistake in recounting it.

Weiner writes that she had some minor connections and then goes on to write that she refrained from using them to gain representation.

Then you write, "To listen to her tell it, publishing your novel is a snap, since agents are dying to find you."

I didn't take her article that way at all. She received rejections and the first agent who expressed interest in her was a mismatch. She also writes about being rejected by some fairly prestigious periodicals as well.

Your characterization of her post make it sound like she's engaged in flippant gloating.

Clearly, at least one agent was eager to represent her and at least one editor agreed with that agent's affinity for Weiner's work.

Are all agents dying to represent new books? That's far too categorical a question to answer yes or no to.

Some agents are certainly interested in new writers of fiction and nonfiction. If they weren't, we'd only be seeing books from the same established authors to the exclusion of anything else.

Everyone tends to form a confirmation bias based on their personal experiences. You haven't found an agent who wants to represent your novel, therefore you conclude it is next to impossible for a new novelist to be published.

Weiner got an agent who professed to love her novel after querying far fewer agents than you did, therefore, it was a "snap" for her to find an agent.

If Weiner had had to query 98 agents, had bad represntation and had to switch agents numerous times before things clicked, would you feel better?

Either way, you are taking ONE writer's experiences-either Weiner's or yours-and globalizing it.

Which result in totally contradictory conclusions: either you can't get an agent or it's a snap.

Both can't be true or false simultaneously. The evidence from the bookstore suggests there is a middle ground.

1:15 AM, October 13, 2005  
Blogger W. S. Cross said...

Mr. Winkler, I find your analysis stretching what I said to fit your own conclusions. I have revised my comments about Ms. Weiner, whose "gosh, wow!" enthusiasm is disengenuous to me. It's easy for those who've found quick success to say how doable it is. This blog is testament to the other side.

You at several points put words in my mouth, including that I feel it's impossible for new novelists to get published. That statement is so obviously false in reality that I'm surprised you'd want to link to a blog that would make it. Of course new novels are getting published. That's perhaps part of the problem with the current system: a thirst for novelty that means 2nd and 3rd novels are going unsold. This is a phenomenon that not even the irrepressible Ms. Snark has done more than touch on.

You also want to ascribe feelings and emotions to me that fit conveniently with your thesis that I'm somehow a disgruntled reject. You've either misread this blog, or you want to put me into your neat "Caine Mutiny" paradigm. Frankly, it's a bogus analogy, and I'll say it now if I haven't before. Agents are experienced at figuring out what editors will buy, but we've extrapolated that notion to make it seem like they know what's quality, and that everything that fails to find a publisher is crap. Even Ms. Weiner perpetuates that idea, with her insistence that "good writing will find a market." That's simply not true, but it's a comfortable, very American rationalization, one akin to the widely held belief that those who are wealthy worked hard, and those who are poor are lazy and inferior.

I wouldn't feel better or worse if Ms. Weiner had struggled to find an agent, or had fired one or two along the way. I know several writers who have moved from one agent to another, so what? Ms. Weiner has made it, and that's fine. But the reason I started this blog, and have revealed so much occasionally unflattering information about myself and my search to publish Beyond You & Me is because there are good writers out there who are not going to find quick and easy success.

So forgive me if my background makes me enjoy pointing out the pimples on the faces of the successful, who often can't imagine what the rest of us go through. You may ascribe whatever motives to me you wish; I don't begrudge Ms. Weiner her good fortune, or God-given talent. I do think that it's much harder than she promises, and for that I'm unrepetentant.

12:57 PM, October 13, 2005  
Blogger velvetbabe said...


W. S.....................!

I love what you are doing with Beyond You & Me!

I'm ready to start adding all those little things you've got going on down the side of your blog m'self!

I finally figured out how!

a tip of my writerly cap to you!


1:31 PM, November 11, 2005  
Blogger Anne Merril said...

Have you ever considered that maybe the book just isn't publishable? That it is too flawed, too out there, or maybe just not what editors are buying?

How is your second novel going? Are you having trouble with that one, too?

8:24 PM, November 14, 2005  

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