06 March 2010

The Fickle Finger of Fate, Agents, Editors, & Lovers

What' I'm reading now: Dashiell Hammett's short story anthology The Continental Op.

My wish list for the week:

1. A coffee cup that refills itself.
2. Ten more hours in my day.
3. Two sets of hands and two computers so I can type my story with one set of hands and one computer while I write my blog, network, grade student papers, critique my buddies' stories, and troll the Internet with the other pair of hands and the second computer.

Fickle is a good word to describe the pleasures of agents, editors, and publishers. At times I think "arbitrary and capricious" are more fitting.

In the days of old, an agent and the publisher would actually help to build a writer's career. A writer wrote, an agent sold, and a publisher published two or three or five small, good but unimportant novels to help the writer become known and established (much like 1960's groups pressing local and regional 45 rpm records). This is how a writer learned his craft and earned his chops --the pre-digital world's version of platform building.

Because that process is expensively prohibited now days, writers spend much time in college creative writing classes, attending seminars, participating in workshops, gathering at conferences, and workshopping with critique buddies to hone their craft and earn their chops.

Nowadays, each agent and each editor seek that next blockbuster novel and series rather than take a writer under his/her wing and develop him/her into a blockbuster writer.

Plus, every writer is trying to write that next blockbuster novel and series instead of just writing good stories as he/she learns her craft.

Serious writers spend much time researching agents and editors to learn what they are buying to sell.

Serious writers spend much time in market research to see what the public is buying from the sellers.

Then I read a comment like this from one of my favorite agent bloggers: "It's really all subjective when you get right down to it. I might not like your submission today, but if I had gotten it two weeks later, I might ask to see the entire manuscript."

Sometimes I feel as though they just walk outside and hold their fingers to the wind. Or, just toss up several slush pile queries and the one that lands face up, they ask the harried writer to send the entire manuscript.

In reality, I know agents and editors are just like me and you--we love books and we love to tell stories. A writer who approaches the agent and editor side of writing as though the agent and the editor are sharks or worms or haters of books had best become good friends with Lulu or AuthorHouse.

As with you and many other writers, I read several agent and editor blogs, and several of the agents and editors post queries, making comments about what they like and what they don't like about the hundreds of submitted queries and such.

From their comments, I surmise they are indeed at times "arbitrary and capricious" -- some even admit to breaking their own submission rules to accept a query's idea because they like the story's premise.

One even admitted, "There really aren't any rules" despite her agency's "strict submission rules" on her website.

Learning this is like learning Santa doesn't really exist--confusion, mistrust, frustration, and even anger swirl through me like small dust devils on a hot Southwest Oklahoma afternoon. (How's that for a mixed metaphor, eh?)

Perhaps it's the hundreds of thousands of years of male evolution screaming out from within me, but I like rules, and I like when the rules are followed. Makes my life so much easier..

Jump on Board!Sometimes I feel like I'm riding a commuter train in India and the editors and agents are the conductors, all of whom are grabbing at the controls because each believes he/she knows how to drive better than the other; yet, few actually have a conductor's license.

As with you, I enter any contest that puts me closer to an editor, agent, and publisher.

I haven't made any of the winning lists yet--win, place, or show.

However, the same novel I have submitted to these monthly contests from which I have yet to receive a win, place, or show I have also submitted to agents and editors over the past few weeks.

So far, three out of five agents to whom I submitted this same novel have asked to see the entire manuscript and are reading it now (I hope I haven't just jinxed myself).

One of the agents who is reading my novel for representation was a judge in one of those contests that I didn't win, place, or show. I didn't even make the top 20 list.

But, now she's reading the same novel I had submitted to her for the contest because she found it to be a "unique and interesting idea" as well as "witty with a strong voice and well written."

Interesting, huh?

Writers and Agents are Lovers groping for each other in the dark--trying to figure out how to please his/her partner while not abandoning his/her own desires in the process.

See you on the bookshelves.

Larry Mike Garmon

PS: This blog was inspired by writing friend Helen Robertson who recently placed third in a monthly submission contest with an entry I had read and helped critique last fall--it's a very good story and will see print one day. Helen had submitted her entry to another contest and was soundly rejected by that one. She wrote to our Yahoo Group to show how fickle this whole business really is, and, thus, inspired me to blog about it.

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