Pub Rants

It Takes A Freakin’ Village To Buy A Book

 50 Comments |  Share This:    

STATUS: TGIF! I’m feeling decent. Did I finish everything on my list for today? No but I came close and that’s always amazing since I usually have 10 things that have to be done and only one actually gets accomplished. I have two outstanding things that I’ll finish up (probably tomorrow) and email off to my clients. What’s that adage about all work and no play?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TUB THUMPING by Chumbawamba

When I stop to actually think about it, I’m generally amazed that any book gets bought at all. Why? Because think about the levels of difficulty involved in the process. Sometimes it’s hard enough to find that one editor who loves it and will champion it through the process but since books are bought by committee, it’s darn near a miracle when an editor gets the second reads and the editorial director in love with it as well (not to mention the marketing director and sometimes the publisher). In reality, it takes a village (of at least 5 or 6 publishing people) to buy a book.

So imagine how heartening it is to find not just one editor who loves a work on submission but three and then imagine how heartbreaking it is to have those editors go for second reads, get full support from those reads to take it to ed. Board, get folks excited there, but ultimately the offer gets squelched from a higher up like the editorial director or the publisher and boom, the project gets no offer.

Rejection is always painful but nothing compares to that. To know your book might not be bought solely because of market conditions and not because of lack of talent or because no editors felt the love.

Squashed by the bottom line.

In general, that tends to tick me off as an agent but as I’ve said before and will probably say again. Publishing is a business. P&L statements are the ultimate decision-makers.

End of story.

50 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Hmm, I’m not so sure about that one. I think I’d rather be rejected for marketing reasons rather than be told “IT STINKS!” Yeah, yeah, much rather, but that’s just me.

  2. Anonymous said:

    A couple of years ago, an agent was reading my full. Over the course of a week, she sent me several emails telling me she was in love! and was going to call me on a certain day. The day came, no call. The day after that, I called her. She talked to me for over 40 minutes, very generoulsy, about the book. She passed because though she loved it she didn’t know who to sell it to.

    That messed my brain up so much. How do you fix something someone you admire is in love with? At least if the book stinks, you can work on improving it. If it’s lovable already, what do you change?

  3. Anonymous said:

    I agree! But at this point in my “rejection” process I would like a little something even if it is “It stinks!” I haven’t been at it long but I already feel the frustration. Deciding to stop obsessing about that part and move on to the next book was the best decision I’ve made.

  4. Anonymous said:

    Facts of life like these are pushing me to the tipping point. I am seriously researching starting my own publishing company and going the ebook route.

    As much as the publishing cartel likes to anathematize self-publishing, the way things work now result in a frustrating, needle-in-haystack, lottery-like chance of success only partly dependent on the quality of the book.

    Platform. Connections. The agent’s mood. The editor’s mood. Insane marketing and distribution models (returns). Untrustworthy accounting practices.

    With everything stacked against success, why not keep control of the book and sell it as a pdf?

    I know this sounds like sour grapes, but I suspect I am not the only one thinking along these lines.

  5. Anonymous said:

    Anonymous #3 makes good points. Some days it really does feel like self-publishing is the way to go. EVERYTHING is subjected to mood swings and market demands. It’s like that for us authors too. We slave to complete a great manuscript but sometimes no agent wants to take it on because, despite loving the writing, they don’t know who’d buy it.

    At least, in the case you mention, the book that got rejected had an agent and can be shopped elsewhere. Some of us don’t even have that because of these conditions… and so our work isn’t even being submitted to editors.

  6. Mark Long said:

    I have much sympathy for anonymous #3. One really big potential dilemma, however, with self-publishing is that if you want to sell books (as opposed to just having a book printed) you wind up having to fulfill all the production, business, and promotion aspects of publishing your book in addition to being a writer. It’s not impossible to do but the amount of time/effort required to both publish and write well is pretty daunting.

  7. Anonymous said:

    Oh yeah. Forget the bit about how it only takes one YES to make the difference between selling & not. It takes a ton of YESes. I had something killed in committee a couple of months ago, and it was probably the most heartbreaking rejection thus far (and I’ve been trying a LONG time). At least, when the problem is with the writing or the story, the author can roll up her sleeves and say, okay, I can learn how to fix that. But fix the market? That part is completely, totally beyond control. For me, at least, that was what made it so painful – to know there were many people who loved the story, but it still ended up rejected.

  8. Kelly Parra said:

    I just wanted to chime in here. This happened about two times with the book I originally signed with Kristin. Two editors from different houses were behind the book, one editor got a second read and took it to “the meeting”. I was waiting on a head editorial director to make a decision from another house. What’s hard is that the closer you get, the more you think, “This could be it, this could really happen”. Truthfully, there’s always a slight chance it could go either way. Then when you get that email that says they are going to have to pass, it’s really tough. The other house had it for months, when they decided the book wasn’t right for them, they directed us to another imprint, where it eventually sold, but then the line closed before it could be published.

    This all happened in a course of a year, and what did I do after each close call? I let myself be bummed out for a day or two and then I dusted myself off and just kept going.

    You can’t give up in this industry. Even when you feel knocked down, and believe me you get knocked down a few times when you least expect it. But If you want something bad enough…you’ll work harder for it. It makes the sale all the more sweeter knowing how much energy and perseverance you contributed and that eventually it pays off.

  9. Anonymous said:

    Kelly, thanks for posting that. It’s good to hear.

    I wonder though, does it really “pay off”?

    Does anyone know a website that honestly talks about what writers make in terms of cold, hard cash in this business? I’m talking other than bestseller numbers.

  10. lainey bancroft said:

    Anon 12:31,
    I don’t have the link, but Karen Fox has a ‘show me the money’ page that discloses average earnings from many of the leading romance imprints.

    Having said that, if you think of your success in terms of financial ‘pay off’only, chances are you’d be better moonlighting as a pizza delivery person. The majority of writers I’ve corresponded with will happily tell you the ‘hourly rate’ for their labor is laughable. Its done for the love of the craft and the dream that you’ll write the right one at the right time…

  11. Anonymous said:

    Thanks for the post, Ms. Nelson. It helped remind me that writing is a business. These days it pretty much takes a committee to get anything done in business. It stinks, but such is life. I’ve run across similar ‘decide by committee’ issues before. Everybody gets a say and it takes forever to get anything done. And it seems the bigger the company, the more brains any idea has to pass through to get accepted. (You should try getting a new part spec’d into Ford… Egads.)

    Good luck, and keep your chin up everyone.

  12. WarHammer said:

    Its the same when you query an agent, and they ask for a partial. From there they want to see the whole manuscript, and you have gotten your hopes up, but in the end they decide to pass because they feel they can’t sell your book because of marketability. I can’t tell you how many times that has happened.

  13. Ryan Field said:

    So many excellent comments here, and so many of us have been disappointed in the same way.

    You just move on.

  14. Anonymous said:

    I think, in the end, I would much rather hear that editors love my book but just can’t sell it at this time.
    That means the writing is good, and the possibility exist to shop it around at a later date.

    One can always start work on the next novel in the interim.

  15. Debby G. said:

    Twice, my manuscripts made it to the acquisitions meeting with very enthusiastic editors behind them, only to get shot down. It’s both incredibly heartbreaking and incredibly encouraging. The silver lining is that both manuscripts later sold to other publishers, thankfully.

  16. Anonymous said:

    “At least, when the problem is with the writing or the story, the author can roll up her sleeves and say, okay, I can learn how to fix that. But fix the market? That part is completely, totally beyond control. For me, at least, that was what made it so painful – to know there were many people who loved the story, but it still ended up rejected.”

    There IS a solution.

    I had my option novel, my fourth, squelched for market reasons. Yes, it broke my heart. Yes, it almost broke my confidence.
    But I solved the problem – I think. I wrote another book; one that I knew was BOTH commercial AND something that I really wanted to, needed to write.
    Yes, it took time and heartbreak and struggle to reach this stage; and yes, it was a rocky journey and I had to find a new agent. But it made me a stronger, better writer and in retrospect I don’t regret a thing. I am telling that story on my LJ right now, if anyone cares to look.

  17. farrout said:

    A most interesting discussion! But, i have questions.

    Just WHO determines determines what the market will bear? Is it the marketer who decides to future certain reading edibles thus shape the current culture? Or is it we, the reader, who shapes the market? When we talk about market are we talking about age groups? Income groups? What exactly are we talking about?

    While i am currently unpublished, i cannot — for the life of me — think about writing for such a nebulous concept as “market.” Maybe i’ll remain unpublished. Who knows? What i do know is that i’d much rather my write from my spiritual center and live with the consequences.

  18. Anonymous said:

    If you’re going the ebook route, you probably don’t need to self-publish. From what I’ve seen, the lower overheads in ebook mean that the publishers will take on books that might not be bought in the print market. Ebook publishers pay no advances, and the files are relatively cheap to create, so the costs (and therefore the corresponding risks) are much lower. Some of my friends get a small but regular income from their ebooks, although Amazon put a dent in that recently.

    Ebook publishers however prefer shorter works, because of the constraints of reading on screen. About 45-60k is preferred, if memory serves. Short story collections also have a chance in ebook, because they are very readable on screen.

    Although I’m constantly hearing rumours that someone’s top-selling ebook is going to be made available as a POD, I’ve yet to see anyone cross over from ebook to print publication with a commercial publisher. Not saying it can’t or doesn’t happen, but it may be rare.

    If, however, commercial publishers with brand recognition and market share don’t think they can sell your book to readers, you probably need to think long and hard about whether you can.

  19. lizzie26 said:

    Kelly has it. She knows it’s a business like al the others. You can get knocked down, you can get put on a pedestal. When knocked down, you pick yourself up and go on. When on the pedestal, you revel in it, but also keep in mind that you must keep on trying even harder. Difficult, but isn’t life that way anyway? Makes it interesting. : )

  20. Cindy Procter-King said:

    buffysquirrel, MaryJanice Davidson “crossed over” to a commercial publisher with her UNDEAD series, the first (at least, that I recall) was published with an epublisher. Berkley put it out in trad format. Another author who pubbed in e and then went trad with the same book to a different house is Rowena Cherry. Can’t think of any more off the top of my head. It does happen, but certainly isn’t anything I’d bank on.


  21. Dorothy said:

    Hi Kristin! It’s hard on everyone’s part…and I suppose that’s why it’s just so darn hard to get a contract with even an agent…we authors are stuck between a rock and a hard place…hard as all get out to get an agent, but the agent (if she or he is any good) knows what market trends are out there. I mean, I think that it would be awful to finally land the agent of your dreams only to find out the book just isn’t selling anywhere. I have an author friend whose book this happened to. She wasn’t very happy about it. If one of my books ever made it through all those people, man, I don’t think I’d ever stop celebrating.

  22. Anonymous said:

    That song should be the theme song of every writer.

    No, not the “…Pissing the night away. He drinks whisky drink, he drinks a vodka drink, he drinks a lager drink…” part. Unless you’re Hemingway.

    So remember: I get knocked down, buy an elephant. 😉

  23. Anonymous said:

    I think there needs to be a new trend in writing, period… we all need to train ourselves to write fast, thus being able to take advantage of marketing trends by staying ahead of the bubble before it pops. Would quality suffer, would “art” be a little less evident?

    Sure, but the way things are I don’t think many in the industry would care. We all talk about reading garbage quite often. The other day, Kristin spoke of editors dying for “historical romances”… if you could bang one out in two or three months, she could probably get you a sale.

  24. Anonymous said:

    I disagree with most on this subject, as it is brought up quite often on this manner of forum site.

    Discouraging writers seems to be a hobby of agents and established writers. Why? To cut down on competition. Plain and simple. Many have said that the space on bookshelves for commercial fiction is painfully finite, and the fewer writers there are taking up that space the easier it is for them to sell their books (it even allows for them to write less-than-stellar books). Agents benefit from this, for they make more money off of the established writer than they do from the unknown. Plus, with too many unknowns clogging up the publishing channels, it will be harder for the agents to sell their established clients’ books.

  25. Anonymous said:

    What Kristen describes happened to me twice last year. Heartbreaking.

    I’m focussing on the next project… And on the fact that at least some editors wanted my last one — even if it all came to naught in the end.

  26. Anonymous said:

    Discouraging writers seems to be a hobby of agents and established writers.

    Sigh. How many times do we have to go over this? I’ll never understand why people who have this mentality even bother reading agent blogs. If agents and established authors are “out to discourage” you, why are you even reading this post? Because you’re a masochist? That’s the only reason I can think of. Sheesh.

  27. Anonymous said:

    anonymous said…”Discouraging writers seems to be a hobby of agents and established writers. Why? To cut down on competition. Plain and simple. “

    Oh, anonymous… if you think that’s why they do it, you’re deluding yourself. Every editor/agent/published author I’ve had the pleasure to meet and/or know are the most encouraging, supportive, generous people around. They don’t give this advice to cut down on competition, they give it because it’s true. Breaking into this industry (and/or lasting in it past a couple of books) is very, very hard. Telling it like it is, isn’t purposeful discouragement, it’s education, it’s reality.

    All creative/artistic pursuits are hard to succeed at: writing, dancing, acting, fine art, music. If you want to pursue one of these careers, you have to face that.

  28. Anonymous said:

    Observing trends is not masochism, it serves to educate. Denying that a trend is there is just being blind, and yes, stupid.

    A favorite mantra was repeated in Kristin’s post- “Publishing is a business.”

    So is agenting.

    Selling questionable used cars is a business. So is convincing teenagers to forego college in favor of “accredited technical schools”. Selling weapons is a business. So is selling drugs.

    Are you telling me that no agent or mid-list author will ever make a valid attempt to stack the deck in their favor? You’re a nitwit.

    Imagine you write erotic werewolf novels. Your heroine is someone torn between career and a nocturnal craving for human flesh.

    Now say you write a dozen of these, and they prove remarkably popular. All of the sudden there are twenty other writers pumping out similar stories, and when you submit number thirteen, your agent gets back to you with, “The market is oversaturated with erotic werewolf novels”.

    How would you respond?

    Look, there are lots of midlist writers out there making decent money writing full time. Look up Richard Coe (I’m pretty sure that’s the guy’s name) the next time you’re in the bookstore. He writes fantasy novels, and has four or five currently on the shelf. None were best-sellers, none were award winners. Yet, the guy writes full time. The shelves are full of people who write full time, who have never been huge sellers.

    Open your eyes, blind one. Again, publishing is a business, one of fierce competition. It’s not currently a sellers’ market. This is the result.

  29. Anonymous said:

    Business is competition.
    Publishing is a business.
    In competition, it is human nature to want to win. In business, it is the nature of business to do whatever it takes to win.

    So why is discouraging competition so unbelievable?

    Look, you can all stand tall on soap boxes and believe that the anonymous dude is deluded, but he/she has a point. I read this column to keep up on publishing from an agent’s perspective. It helps me. But to say that THIS aspect of business is ignored by THIS particular subset of business people is ridiculous.

    Yeah, getting published is hard, but if you are someone who’s getting it done and you see your meal ticket fading away because there are so many more people offering as-good or better things than you are, you’re going to do whatever you can to make sure the odds are in your favor. Likewise for your agent— he/she has you for a client, not one of the multitude clammoring for your spot on the shelf.


  30. Anonymous said:

    people hate being pointed at as sycophantic, and they hate mirrors held before them that show them as such. let the mirror holders find their own place to rant and razzle, to spew their endless complaints at uncaring walls until they have calmed down to a state of normal humanity.

    that’s all this is, you know. sycophants and angry folk. some hope for some smidgen of recognition from sticking up for agentry. the other half is angry that this isn’t easy.

    here’s a tip for all. be talented, be published. don’t apologize and don’t follow trends, and certainly don’t listen to agents, angry folk or nay-sayers. write your heart out and created something, don’t waste your time reading/writing/defending industry slaves. go. do.


  31. Anonymous said:

    Ah…. there’s no business like show business. Same thing. And even though you’ve shown diligence, there’s always rejection. It’s part of the trade. Sooner or later there’ll be someone who comes along who wants your work, despite the lukewarm receptions of others. Afterall, who can forget this little ditty: Can’t Act. Slightly bald. Also dances.

    In the meanwhile, onto the next book/article/short story/ newspaper/magazine piece.

  32. Anonymous said:

    Who’s Harriet Klausner? I was looking up someof Agent Kristin’s author Linnea Sinclair’s work on B&N, and she gave stellar reviews of two books. Two reviews each.

  33. Anonymous said:

    There is a difference between stacking a deck in your favor, as someone said, and discouraging new writers. Stacking a deck in your favor does not have to mean stepping on other people to get to the top. It can mean doing lots of publicity, visiting lots of bookstores, having a great website, etc. Kristin is not stacking the deck in her favor by “discouraging” us in this post.

  34. Patrick McNamara said:

    There’s even more steps involved when one considers a writer may have to get an agent first. Then they have to query, and if that gets the agents interest, possibly submit a few pages before getting asked for the full manuscript. Then it’s still a matter of whether the agent decides to take it on.

    The E-Book route is easier to get published, but a lot harder to get paid.

  35. Anonymous said:

    And then, to make it all even more laughable, are the agents who also write (yes, Virginia, they’re out there) and so are competing with their author/clients, and authors who also are acquisitions editors, competing with their author/hopefuls.

    Untrue, you say? No, and I can name names. Now is the deck stacked? Not for me. I don’t choose to send to those folks who I perceive as making my task harder than it has to be. I send to others instead.

  36. Anonymous said:

    “Who’s Harriet Klausner? I was looking up someof Agent Kristin’s author Linnea Sinclair’s work on B&N, and she gave stellar reviews of two books. Two reviews each.”

    Anonymous 2.43:
    Harriet Klausner is Amazon’s Number One reviewer. She reads and reviews several books a day,. She always gives five-star reviews. She always thinks the book is great. Her reviews are never much more than the cover blurb. As a reader, I never take her Amazon reviews seriously.

  37. Anonymous said:

    A marketing decision is always a risk analysis. There is no real ultimate authority on what will or won’t sell. It’s all educated guesswork. Sometimes the most lauded books fall flat when they hit the shelves, sometimes the little engine that could surprises everybody.

    I would agree with those who have stated that self publishing drawbacks are largely about the time it takes away from your writing to do all the business end. In a sense finding a publisher is like “outsourcing” because then you can focus more of your efforts on the writing itself.

    However, if I had a book killed by the committee in “marketing” I would at least “consider” self publishing that title and let the market decide for itself. As one person and with smaller print runs, I have potentially less to lose than a publishing company does.

    The book might be really great but not considered “commercial enough” to bring back a big enough return. Going on your own for a book doesn’t require it to be “commercial enough” you just need to actually FIND your audience.

  38. Diana Peterfreund said:

    Ah, yes, Agents are all out to get writers. They discourage new writers. That’s their job. That’s all they are interested in. Especially the ones who write as well.


    My agent (Deidre Knight) writes. She’s also known for selling debut authors. I am one of them. My critique partner Marley Gibson is another. Cara Lockwood, Gena Showalter, Jennifer St. Giles, Shannon McKelden. All authors she discovered. The agency made over a hundred deals by the middle of last year.

    Laughable? eh, not so much. But I’d call it pretty encouraging to debut authors…

    naturally, everyone has to make their own decision about who they want to work with. I completely respect that. But the embittered anonymous should realize how many fact belie their statements about agents who hate new authors.

    KN herself is known for selling debut authors: Jennifer O’Connell, Ally Carter, Kelly Parra, Jana DeLeon. How in the world could someone try to make an argument on her own blog that she’s in the business of discouraging them?

  39. Anonymous said:


    You are an author with a large agency. The battle is over for you. You have won. Your book will go to the head of the line when you send it to Deidre.

    You are part of the opposition, dear. When agents speak of being busy (and they always do) with established clients, they are talking about you.

    You’ve missed the point. It is in your own best interest for unpublished writers to lay down and die, because someday Deidre may give you a phone call and say, “Diana, your last book sold poorly and that last manuscript I read was a turd that needs a re-write. On the upside, I’ve got my hands full with five new novelists who are writing things that the market is gobbling up, so sorry honey…”

    If unpublished writers are discouraged and stop, you might not have to worry about that.

    Get it?

  40. Anonymous said:

    This is hilarious. There is a stunning difference between agents’ websites and those of writers. Granted, some groups of writers can ber very pessimistic (SF writers are downright morose), but most are extremely encouraging. Writers push people to keep writing, to stick to it and keep at the keyboard.

    Why? Because they want to read good stuff, and be impressed by something they did not come up with, to stretch their imaginations in different directions.

    I disagree that writers discourage new writers. I agree that agents discourage writers, but not about writing. I think the agents are discouraging different pathways to publishing, pathways that don’t involve them. Self-pub, e-pub, good old fashioned submit to contests or publishers’ slush piles—- none of these involve agents making any dough.

  41. Anonymous said:

    Be cocky and listen to no one. Take any mainstream, successful writer, whatever the genre, and research their history. You will find a mishmash of insurance agents, school teachers and homemakers (many of whom were looking down the barrel of bankruptcy), who simply wrote great stuff and submitted ad nauseum.

    If one of them had listened to a discouraging word, they wouldn’t have bothered doing what they did. This place (and other places like it) breeds dissent and lowers spirits.

    Everyone needs self-confidence, especially where the literary arts are concerned. An over-abundance of doubt can cripple a writer. Think about it. We all know it’s hard. Hammering it into everyone’s head is counterproductive, because your discouraging word may be the one that convinces someone to hang it up.

  42. Mel Francis said:

    You are an author with a large agency. The battle is over for you. You have won. Your book will go to the head of the line when you send it to Deidre.

    Wow. Is that how it works?

    Cuz I’m soon to be a DEBUT author having just recently sold a 2 book deal on proposal through my fabulous agent Deidre Knight (who is also a writer, you know?) and if what you’re saying about Diana is true, then I shouldn’t have sold at all. By that logic, I shouldn’t even have an agent at all.

    I’ve been writing seriously for 6.5 years. Deidre’s been my agent for 1.5 years. She just sold me two weeks ago to Harper Collins. Up until then I’d been very close several times.

    But if I believe the logic that because I am a newbie unpublished writer my agent will never read my emails.

    This is a tough business. Nobody ever said otherwise. We’ve all been discouraged. But we write because we have stories to tell. And many of us realize that dreams can rise out of the dust of discrouragment. I’m certainly glad I didn’t give up…and I have my very supportive agent to thank in large part for that.

  43. Anonymous said:

    Amen Mel Francis.

    What is wrong with you people?

    Write a f#cking amazing book and get over yourselves.

  44. Diana Peterfreund said:

    Actually, anonymous at 9:35 am, it’s you who are missing the point. I’m very sorry that this is your worldview.

    Every published author was once an unpublished author. And when they wrote the right work at the right time and put it front of the right agent, they got an offer. And then when all the ducks lined up again, they got an editor. How do you think debut authors get published? And they do all the time.

    Another point: if you think “the battle” is over once you have an agent, then you need to do more research. Your hypothetical even contradicts that statement.

    A final point: I prefer to tend my own garden than poison someone else’s. besides, it doesn’t benefit me to hope that great writers aren’t published. I love to read! I WANT great books to come out. I want good writers to get better.

  45. Anonymous said:

    All I want to do is write. Period. The world crumbles about my head; marriage woes, bill collectors, late mortgage payments, looming financial ruin. Even through all this, with everything going wrong, I still want to do nothing but write– a thankless, pauper’s existence. I’m sick.

    If the publishing world’s doors weren’t closed quite so tightly to newcomers, I’d probably be less bitter about those perceived as “gatekeepers”. Keeping one’s head up seems to be the biggest part of doing this writing thing.

    Ick. The tides of self-loathing are a little high today, and have been for a few weeks. I need a shower and a beer. Toodles.

  46. Anonymous said:

    Things suck. Too much self loathing, too much frustration. Need a break, in any way, with anything. Don’t mean to frustrate others, or poison gardens.

    Scary, isn’t it? The anonymity of the web can be creepy. As I wrote that, I was overcome with the image of a hulking, sweaty brute typing with grimy fingers in a dank basement, lit by a lone, swinging lightbulb. You know, the screams of hitch hikers in the background, Alice in Chains songs blasting from tinny sounding speakers…

    Not at all like the pleasant white office and the wall full of family photos that stares at me every day as I write, reminding me I’m not published and my second attempt is, while well written (agents have said that), boring dreck.

  47. Anonymous said:

    I can’t even remember the rejection count for this history maunuscript.

    Rapid Stream Review

    Supposedly this guy is a published novelist and optioned screenwriter out here. I see no reason not to believe him despite anonymity, for once. He was less than enthused for my screenwritng choices and asked for the nonfiction book so I obliged. Agents just don’t see any money in this type of book and frequently want me to be David McCullough from the start.

    I think there’s such a thing as a bar set too high at the starting gate. I don’t question the system though. I’m just trying to win.

    What I can’t do is describe my first novel about global warming, as the backdrop, in a way that compells an agent to see the characters and plot even when I spell it out. One wonders exactly what this would take? Leaping out of a helicopter into the Tiber River at night with only a tarp?