Pub Rants

Category: general rants

In Loving Memory

STATUS: I will not be blogging for the rest of this week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? JACKSON By Johnny Cash
(My dad’s favorite artist.)

James Carl E–
May 9, 1936-January 5, 2010

Dad, I just wanted to say thank you…

–for taking me to the library every Sunday afternoon without fail the whole time I was growing up. My passion for books began there.

–for teaching me how to sail and for all the weekends we did just that together.

–for not saying that I was crazy when I quit my job, gave up tenure, moved halfway across the country without a job prospect in sight. You just said, “you only get one life; do what makes you happy.” Well, it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life and your support made it possible.

–for living with cancer and going blind with grace, dignity, and never a complaint. I’m not sure I’ll be able to do the same but you’ve shown me how.

–for asking me to bring, of all things, your iPod shuffle to the hospital because darn it, you really needed to know how that audio book ended. And people wonder where I get that from so I want them to know that I am successful because you taught me to do my passion and it was through you that I found just that in books.

–for tolerating my football commentating so you could “see” the game but heck, that Auburn-Northwestern bowl game with its wild finish was so worth it. I’ll never forget sharing that with you.

I feel incredibly blessed that I was able to say all these things and more.

I miss you already. Rest in Peace

Love Kristin

Really Good Might Not Be Enough

STATUS: Ugh. I’ve got 300 emails in my inbox.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HAMMER AND A NAIL by Indigo Girls

I have to say that I’ve been shaking my head a lot lately. This market is just brutal.

Today I wrote a rejection letter to a really talented author. Previously published, had a really good manuscript but I honestly didn’t think I could sell it so passed on offering representation.

You know things are bad when as an agent, I’m passing on really good novels because currently I believe that really good might not be good enough in today’s market.

I really hope another agent takes it on and proves me wrong in a heartbeat. Is it odd to say that I’ll be really happy for the author if I see the sale announced on Deal Lunch? I’d really like to be proven wrong. I’d prefer it!

Editor Rant–Daniel Menaker

STATUS: TGIF and I’m heading out of the office early to do a little reading.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? STORMY BLUES by Billie Holiday

Ah, I couldn’t get the Friday Funnies to work and since I’m heading out, I’ll just have to let Daniel Menaker rant in my place.

If you haven’t checked out his blog posting at the B&N blog, it’s really worth a look.

Warning—this article is not for the faint of heart.

It’s definitely the unvarnished inside perspective though….

Have a great weekend.

R.I.P The King Of Pop

STATUS: Maybe I’m a little too attached to old pop culture but Farrah and Michael in the same day? I have to blog about it.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BILLIE JEAN by Michael Jackson

What news. I feel like an essential part of my teen hood has just died. MTV. Thriller. King of Pop. It doesn’t feel like it was 27 years ago.

In Loving Memory…

Here’s the link to the original MTV video.

It’s worth a little nostalgia for the 1980s Michael

Dancing With The Stars Analogy

STATUS: Today was my final round of meetings. I’m taking tomorrow off and then heading back to Denver.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MAD WORLD by Gary Jules with Michael Andrews
(I rather like this remake of an old Tears For Fears song.)

When I was at the Backspace Conference last week, a fellow agent made an analogy that I thought was rather apt. Here’s my lame attempt to paraphrase the thought.

For all other forms of art, say being a dancer or a painter or a musician, the general public rather believes that it takes years of practice to master the art form. In fact, the artist might do an apprenticeship, take classes, study under a master, or have many practice tries that are then thrown out.

People, in general, don’t actually believe that if they take one tango class, they are ready for Dancing with the Stars.

But for whatever reason, this same viewpoint doesn’t apply when it comes to writing novels. Lots of aspiring writers really do think they can hammer out a first novel without studying the art form, without participating in a critique group, without learning the mechanics and boom, get a publishing contract. Get a big advance. Become a bestseller.

Now I know that my blog readers don’t think this way—because you read this blog as well as other industry blogs. You guys are smart enough to know otherwise but I’d say that for at least 50% of the queries we receive, the writers contacting us did very little to master the craft of writing. In fact, they probably didn’t even bother researching elements of the biz.

And yet they think they are ready for Dancing With The Stars. They get angry with agents who they perceive as impeding their success because we aren’t recognizing their talent. And these same writers make it that much harder for you savvy people to be heard through the noise.

So my little rant for the day.

We Interrupt This Daily Blog to Bring You Two News Flashes

STATUS: Dashing out to meetings soon. I did plan a write up my most recent notes but two headlines pre-empted my intention. These are too good to pass up.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TRAIN IN VAIN by Clash

The first story is just brilliant. From the Washington Post:

DHS Enlists Sci-Fi Writers to Imagine Future Dangers
The line between what’s real and what’s not is thin and shifting, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has decided to explore both sides. Boldly going where few government bureaucracies have gone before, the agency is enlisting the expertise of science fiction writers.

The second story clearly illustrates that the “pen” is mightier than the sword. Never underestimate the fury of book lovers or the power of the internet to enact change. Power to the People! A wrong has been righted.

The Philippines 2009 Book Blockade

Earlier this month (
Shelf Awareness, May 4, 2009), Hemley had written about “The Great Book Blockade of 2009,” (also seen in McSweeny’s) in which customs officials in the Philippines began requiring that duty be paid on all incoming books.

Hemley reported that, “Within a day or two of my story going online, bloggers all over the Philippines had caught it and were reproducing and commenting upon it, and hundreds and then thousands of book lovers were voicing their outrage. . . . Soon, the story hit the mainstream media in the Philippines when Manuel Quezon III wrote a column for the Philippine Inquirer, also titled ‘The Great Book Blockade of 2009.’

Now the story had gone beyond the blogosphere and other media started picking it up.” Finding himself “more or less at the center of this controversy,” Hemley was even contacted by a U.S. Embassy official “who told me that if there’s one lesson he had learned from this it’s that ‘we have greatly underestimated the power and reach of the internet as an organizational tool in the Philippines.'”

Hemley added, “As I write this, I’ve just heard from a friend that President Arroyo has lifted the book blockade, that effective immediately, there will be no taxes on imported books. Together, Filipino book lovers have performed what I consider a miracle in less than a month’s time.”

Complaining About Agents

STATUS: Getting ready for the London Book Fair so both Sara and I are working rather long hours.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE FEAR by Lily Allen

I realize that I’m probably just about to express an unpopular opinion. Basically I simply raised an eyebrow at the whole agentfail extravaganza at the Bookends Blog.

I’m sure it’s cathartic to get out all your annoyances and grievances against agents but for the most part, it’s a waste of energy and time.

For the agents like Jessica, Janet, Nathan, Jennifer, Lucienne, Nephele, and Deidre who blog (and sorry I can’t name everyone), you are preaching to the choir. We ALREADY do everything we possibly can to reply quickly to queries and sample pages (even fulls!), to help writers, and to really be resources for those who are looking to get published.

Despite all that, I’m sure we all still have disgruntled writers out there who have a complaint against us because we never received their query or our response got caught in their spam filter and it was never received, etc. The list could go on.

We simply don’t have enough hours in the day to make sure all communications get through where queries are concerned because that, quite simply, is so low on our TO DO list, it barely registers.

Although I know that it feels like the world to you writers as you navigate the seemingly unfriendly waters of getting an agent, finding a publisher, etc.

I get that. But we are only X number of people with X number of hours in the day and even now, we are working easily 10, 12, sometime 14 hour days or more. (And yet, I still manage to squeeze out 15 or 20 minutes to write a blog entry—time away from my hubby and Chutney who are right now doing something fun together like snuggling on the couch while I type this. I do it because I’m committed to educating writers.)

And those agents who you are really complaining about—those who don’t ever respond to queries, who take 6 months to get back on sample pages, who ask for an exclusive and then hold your full manuscript ransom for X number of months, they are not reading agentfail. In fact they are not blogging or even reading blogs most likely.

So despite the big outpouring, I seriously think that very little will change. So I’m glad you had the moment of catharsis but could you have taken that same time and energy and sent out 20 queries instead? Revised your opening chapters? Get critiqued on your query letter?

Be proactive folks. Not reactive. That’s how you play to win.

Age Defying

STATUS: Snow? There was snow in the forecast? I love when they predict a foot of it and we get nada. And spring is back! In the 60s tomorrow. Hooray.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I WALK THE LINE by Johnny Cash

Now here is a dilemma in need of a practical solution. Last week, Sara fielded a call from a 94-year old woman looking for help in republishing a narrative historical nonfiction work that she wanted to see back in print before she died.

She had no access to the internet so we couldn’t direct her to our usual list of online resources that we give out when people call.

She could not drive—which rules out the next helpful hint we usually give people which is to visit the local library and talk to the librarian.

She did not live within walking distance of any kind of resource and although we didn’t ask about her physical health, we rather did get the sense that her mobility might be limited.

I have to say that we were a little flummoxed as to how to help her. Sara actually spent 30 minutes or more talking with this caller to see if she could come up with a solution. We thought about maybe ordering a book for her and having it delivered but she had vision issues so that wasn’t going to work.

We finally ended up asking her if she had a grandchild that lived in town (or wouldn’t mind a long distance call) and whether he or she could ring us up as we’d be happy to talk to them and point them in the right direction to the best of our ability. So far they haven’t called back.

Which makes me positive that we left out some wholly obvious solution to assist this caller.

Writer Beware! Always Willing To Take One For The Team

STATUS: Done for the night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SUPER BAD by James Brown

This blog entry is for you Ann & Victoria. You two are super bad in the best possible way.

I think there are very few people in the world who are willing to take the time and energy to stand up for the rights of unsuspecting newbie writers who get scammed by unscrupulous people who call themselves “agents.”

Ann & Victoria have devoted countless hours to the cause. They have blogged about it. They have chatted on various writers forums to warn new writers of scams and to educate them on what they should look for. They have publically denounced scammers. And they’ve been willing to be sued. Yep, you read that right. They always say bring it on! Regardless of how many hours it will probably eat into their private lives.

That’s sacrifice and they deserve some major kudos!

And it makes me so happy to read about how the latest attempt to intimidate them with a retaliatory lawsuit has failed. The scammer failed to respond to discovery or otherwise prosecute the lawsuit. In other words, the criminal didn’t bother to show up.

How sweet it is! Now this “agent” is being investigated for fraud by the Florida Attorney General’s office.

And the good news continues! This just in from the Writer Beware Blog site. Because of their unrelenting hard work, The Federal Bureau of Investigation has decided to create a special task force to help agents in their field offices recognize and deal with writing scams.

Oh yeah. That’s super bad! Alas, if only it were true…

Still, the lawsuit was real enough. To salute the Writer Beware team, let me ask you this. What have you done recently to help spread the word about scammers? Have you blogged about it? Provided links from your website or blog to Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors?

Have you helped to educate a new writer on a writers’ forum or at a conference lately?

Be part of the solution. Blog, twitter, facebook and make those links live today. Let’s get the word out that scammer “literary agents” who charge fees will not be tolerated.

Monies flow to the author, not away.

What It Means To Write

STATUS: TGIF! Hum… not that it matters too much as I plan to work a lot this weekend to try and catch up on things.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DREAMS by The Cranberries

Some days I can’t help thinking, and yes I’ll admit this is cynical, that there are more people who want to write a book than there are people who actually read books.

When asked, just about every person you talk to believes they have at least one book in them. These same people when asked how many books they’ve read in the last year might also say just one.

Back in the day before computers, to be a writer was serious business. Most authors handwrote their first draft before painstakingly typing it on a typewriter. An error on the page meant either careful white-out (hopefully my blog readers are old enough to remember that product!) or yanking the page to start retyping all over again.

The advent of computers makes the writing process significantly easier. Sometimes too easy I think. I wonder if writers work on their craft as much when it’s so easy to copy, paste, delete, or what have you.

It certainly means that more people try being writers. I guess we could make an argument that really only the serious have the perseverance necessary to really succeed as one. That there are still enough hurdles to make the process daunting enough that only the serious continue.

Today I read this story about Christopher Nolan; a writer who, because of his disability, had to use a pointer attached to his head to write. I can’t help but think that this person truly wanted to be an author. Nolan was willing to transcend what could only have been a cumbersome method of getting text on the page to share his art. In my mind, this is a writer serious about writing. Considering that my brain goes way faster than my fingers are able to type, I can’t imagine what the experience must have been like for him. An agile brain forced to slow down to the pace of how he could create. And yet, he wrote. Won the Whitbread Book Of the Year in 1988. Writing was by no mean easy on a whole different level and yet he remained undaunted.

And it’s very sad to hear that he passed away this week at the young age of 43.