Thursday, November 26, 2009

Agent Horror Story #1

Since I've been writing and querying, trying to get published, I've done a lot of querying. Most of those queries, thus far, have ended in a form-letter rejection. That's a little annoying, to be honest, but nothing especially traumatic.

Some of the queries have resulted in a partial request. My Horror Story #1 features one of these.

This agent was kind of near and dear to me... I followed her blog, left comments and well-wishes due to some news in her life, and she commented back on mine. I really felt like I had a connection with her, even though it was entirely virtual and totally tenuous. I got excited when she let me know that she would be reviewing my partial.

When it came close to the time she was going to review my partial, tragedy struck and she had to take two months off of work to take care of herself. I was trying to be understanding, but when it's your dreams on the line, it tends to drive you beyond crazy to be in limbo. Other queries came in and out, but I had my heart kind of set on this agent.

Then, on the day before my birthday, I received an email. It was a rejection of my partial.

Was it a nice letter, with a snippet of advice or a tiny nugget of insight, given the fact that I had effectively networked with her?

Nope. Form letter.

I had a birthday party the next day that I had to put on a brave face for. I received a few books as gifts, and I had to give them to my roommate to hide, because even the sight of a book was hurtful. I felt like my boyfriend just broke up with me (even though I'm a confirmed bachelorette right now), or like the kid from Little Miss Sunshine who found out he was colorblind and therefore disqualified to be a fighter pilot. A bit of my dream died that day, and I was heartbroken.

I suppose it worke dout for the best, as the agent recently changed the focus of her business and is no longer representing clients, and she still had clients that hadn't sold their manuscripts.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How Not To Be This Guy

I sometimes enjoy reading AskMetaFilter questions, as well as the responses, just to get ideas for my own life, or alternatively, to indulge in my occasional strange desire to peek into the lives of other people. A few days ago, I came across this question. A little later, the same guy posted this, so I suppose he learned a bit of a lesson.

If you bothered to read through the full first question (I read it on a BlackBerry. My thumb hurt afterward), you will see some of the most overblown prose you could possibly imagine, about the young man simply describing his living situation. The kicker is, he wants/"needs" at least 3 days a week free (preferably 4) so that he can write his poetry/Literature/philosophy. As it generally happens on the wonder of the Internet, people make suggestions and comments about something outside of the central issue (he is looking for a situation that would allow him to write for at least 3 but preferably 4 days a week and still pay the rent), and actually mentioned that he might want to consider trying to write under less than ideal conditions. After people responded with those types of suggestions, he decided he was being insulted, and decided to post another question a week or so later, but with most of the unnecessary footnotes, citations, philosophy, and other extraneous details omitted. The second time around, he managed to get advice that, hopefully, applied to his situation.

Sometimes, as I'm idly reading AskMetaFilter, I come up with a few ideas for the advice-seekers, but this time, all I could think was "what a pretentious asshole." I don't approach my writing as High Art of the Highest Form. It's kind of hard, especially since I'm writing genre fiction, which is sort of seen as the opposite of High Art, to keep ones pretensions alive. But, even when I was in school and attempting literary fiction, which was not really my show, I still couldn't see it as Art.

Also, I believe that acting like one is attempting Art, they are sort of closing themselves off to criticism and suggestions for improvement. Can anyone say that The Mona Lisa has technical flaws, or The Thinker, or Falling Waters by Frank Lloyd Wright? How about Pamela? When you present yourself as an Artiste of Very Serious Literature, it's an attempt to silence anyone that might say something negative or critical about your latest Attempt.

Unfortunately, receiving criticism is how you grow, especially as an author. If nobody tells you that the plot is kind of stale and needs a twist, or that your characters act out bizarrely without reason or justification, or that no, you have to double-space your manuscripts, you will never learn. You can take what you've learned, analyze it, and discard what doesn't really apply, and figure out how to work the criticisms to make sense with your style.

But, if you distance yourself from that entirely, you'll never grow into being able to legitimately call yourself an Artist (which I differentiate from Artistes, who are those kind of people who I'll describe below). You'll still be writing the same tired prose, the same bizarre characters that an audience can't connect to, and you'll still be submitting to agents with a single-spaced manuscript that they won't bother to read. Eventually, people will get tired of trying to tell you things, and then they will start to roll their eyes at you. I already roll my eyes at these types, and I'm not even that mean.

Why do I roll my eyes? Because Artistes are boring as hell to talk to. They aren't open to learning anything, they aren't intersted in what anyone else has to say, since they already know everything they can possibly know about Art. Also, they tend to put their Work on a high pedestal, which gives them an excuse when they can't produce. They can basically ignore just about any suggestion, critique, or idea based on the fact that their Work is so all-consuming. Finally, an Artiste is boring mostly because they spend so much time focused on their Work and their Artiste-ness, that they don't really have anything else to talk about. Ask them about current events, pop culture, other artwork, travel, or just about anything, and they either can't carry on a conversation about it or all, or they play along until they can pull back to their glorious Work. If you haven't clicked the link above, go ahead, and tell me if you can successfully boil down the Artiste's mile-long stretch of blather into a succinct question. If that's what he's writing when he's trying to be clear, can you imagine the detours that his book takes?

How do you avoid becoming this guy? First of all, get down to earth. Submit your work to multiple critique groups, and see what they say. If you get the same series of critiques from all of the groups, from multiple people (concrete things, like "use more/less description" or "your dialogue reads terribly and I'm not too sure what's going on, clarify your plot," not things like "I don't like the title" and "Ruby's a bitch, how dare she break up with Rowan???"), then you have an idea that perhaps you have things to focus your attention on. Second, get out in the world, and learn something that doesn't apply to your current project. For me, it's my job, my friends, and archery lessons, which all help remind me that I might be Writing Great American Literature, but I still can't hit a target at ten paces, and I still laugh at fart jokes. Finally, read. Read read read read read. Read novels and poetry from people so insanely talented, you know it's impossible to approach them, to keep yourself humble... mine are Milton, e. e. cummings, and Jane Austen. Read work from people that you know you are better than, to give yourself hope. Mine is The Fifth Sorceress by Robert Newcomb. Read things about American idioms, soapmaking, the Zodiac, and AutoCad 2009. Read everything you can get your hands on. Not only will this help give you perspective on where you might fit in, but it will help keep your mind sharp and engaged with the world around you.