Turkey talk

I recently attended a relatively small book festival (small compared to, say, the National Book Festival). It was community-based, and the proceeds went to area charities and scholarships. Included in the schedule of events was the opportunity to reserve a one-on-one appointment with an editor, publisher, or agent. The appointments lasted for ten minutes, and during that time individuals could ask questions about publishing or even pitch an idea.

I had two appointments: one with an editor, the second an agent. Agent-Man was patronizing and condescending. He told me in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t taking any submissions from anyone (which I could respect, despite the tone in which he expressed himself). When I asked his advice on what steps I should take to find an agent (once the manuscript is finished), he... well, he basically told me I needed to “read more.” I needed to eschew Austen and James and Bronte and Wilde and read more modern fiction so that I would have a better idea of what’s marketable. He made a point to ask me “who” I was reading, and grew even more patronizing at my reply (Sayers, Gaiman, Pratchett). I’m also reading McCullough and a few others, but I blanked – it was a question I wasn’t prepared for. He recommended researching who represented the authors who write in the same genre as I do (but this seems to me to be vague advice, since I’m fairly certain the authors I read belong to agents who probably aren’t looking for new writers to represent). I then asked him about the question of nomenclature and genre and was told “to visit bookstores more often.” (I hold an MA in English; bookstores are my Mecca. I love to read. It was hard not to be insulted by Agent-Man.)

I don’t know if this gentleman is the norm or not. I also don’t know if it was simply a case of not knowing the right questions to ask. I was as polite and professional as I know how to be and was met with an indulgent (metaphorical) pat on the head and got told to read more and visit more bookstores. Is this common?

Miss Snark hopes not!
Miss Snark would like to poke that guy's presentation skills with her parasol. What a turkey.

Too bad he made some good points.

One. You can and should read all the classics but I'm not sure Agatha Christie could be published today. Nancy Drew sure couldn't. Times and tastes to change. Reading the books that are front list is a good idea. I do NOT advise trying to write for the market, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be aware of it.

Second. It is a good idea to query agent who represent books you like. Even big time agents are looking for good material. Those that don't have room on their list may refer you to someone who does. I've gotten and given clients that way.

His attitude makes his advice difficult to take. It was good advice. His attitude sucked. Majorly. However, Miss Snark says the same thing but she says it with much more élan and only after she's bought you a gin so it sounds nicer.


Bunneh said...

Thanks so much for the reply! (I didn't expect one so quickly, if you're just getting back from Out There.)

Yeah, he did make good points. I had to remind myself that (repeatedly) on the walk back to the car.

What frustrated me (aside from the 'tude) was that it was advice that I was already taking. I do read a lot, and it's not all dead Europeans. Telling me to read more modern authors is like reminding me that I need to get my oil changed every 3,000 miles, or that I need to eat my vegetables. It's something I'd do anyway.

I don't like feeling defensive, but thinking about this guy still gets my back up.

However, I am all about making lemonade out of the lemons (or trading the lemons for limes and squeezing a bit into a G&T), so I'll keep reading the modern authors I'm reading, and I'll keep going to bookstores.

But mostly I'm going to finish the book. ;)

Thanks again!

kmfrontain said...

Bunneh, I hope you get your work published and this guy ends up feeling like an absolute shit because he finally knows he is one. Good karma to you.

Mr. Breese said...

People often say "don't write for the market," but don't you have to write for the market if you want a realistic chance at getting published? I keep hearing horror stories about great novels that get rejected because publishers can't figure out how to market them.

Jan said...

What I'm wondering is why he was attending a conference and participating in one-on-one time with writers, when he isn't even accepting new clients??
I find that very odd.

Bill Peschel said...

Some comments:

1. If you're writing in a genre, you should be reading deeply in that genre. It tells you its expectations, where it has succeeded, where it has failed, and where the boundaries are. Not so you can follow them slavishly, but so you know enough when to cross them.

It also helps you by paying attention to how you respond to these books as a reader. Case in point: Agatha Christie. No, you shouldn't try to assume her writing style, but look at how she plots. See if she snags your interest within the first few pages, and then go over it again and put your finger on how she does it. (This happened to me recently, which is why I'm het up about it.)

Then, go read Sayers and decide if you think she's the better writer and why (I think she is, but not necessarily the better plotter).

2. Terry Pratchett can teach you a lot about writing. He follows Elmore Leonard's advice not to put in things readers skip over. Yet, look at how he's capable of describing a fantasy world without the ruffles and flourishes of Tolkien or *shudder* Robert Jordan. Look at what he emphasies in his use of language (particularly Britishisms) and folklore. Pull out a highlighter and mark the dialog, the description and Terry's voice, and see what dominates on the page.

Then, once you've figured out that, by paring down the worthless words and putting in only those that advance the plot or affect you emotionally, only then will you understand how much d*mn hard work it is to write that well.

Fitchnchips said...

Miss Snark,
Just to underline most of what you have said, but from another perspective, Jennifer Crusie has a couple of articles regarding finding an agent on her website.
"It's All About You: The First Step in Finding an Agent" http://www.jennifercrusie.com/essays/itsallaboutyou.php
"The Impossible Dream: How to Find Your Perfect Agent" http://www.jennifercrusie.com/essays/impossibledream.php

I'd like to know Miss Snark's opinion about the career planning collaboration between writer and agent that Crusie talks about.


Elektra said...

Miss Snark, I apologize. But do you remember in the first bit of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, where the writer says she'd like to carry around a pen to correct the grammar on signs? That's pretty much me. It's a disease. So I have to tell you...on the post heading, you said 'mouth's' instead of 'mouths'.

Bernita said...

Something I was going to post about tomorrow - those posters who make a point of trumpeting other poster's typos and mis-spellings - but who never mention same of agents, editors and the like....
BTW, Stothard of the Times Literary Supplement has a typo on his blog.

Bella Stander said...

Fitchnchips, thank you for posting the links to those 2 essays by Jennifer Curlie. They're fantastic! (So are the others on her site, which is one of the best author sites I've seen.)

pinch said...

A few years ago when I finished my first novel I went to a writers' conference and signed up to have an agent read the first 10 pages. I was scheduled with a man who was not listed on the brochure and who I had not picked. I was told that they had so many writers they had to add an agent at the last minute and I was promised that he was experienced and had been in publishing a long time. Boy was he: I'm not in the brat pack nor am I in the greatest generation, but this guy must have started in publishing before the WWI...not that I am biased....experience is great. Well, he kept looking at me, asked a few questions about the plot; we were sitting on a sofa with lots of people around, it being the end of the day. I should have had ten gin and tonics. Tension: his shaking voice must have gone up 100 decibels and he says: "Young lady, this scene on page 6, haven't you ever had sex before?"
A sense of humor, yes, gin and tonics, yes - wondering what did I get myself into thinking about writing!!! No more meetings with agents or editors since then. Yes, I have a super agent now and am pretty happy and have had ...well, never mind.

Elektra said...

Either Miss Snark is mocking me, or her Con Ed bill has fried her grammar circuits. I'm going with the former

Miss Snark said...

Yikes! What did I do now? I fixed the apostrophe! Didn't I? My brain IS fried.

Elektra said...

I like the fix :) You always have the best post titles, Miss Snark

Elektra said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Janet McC said...

>> I'm not sure Agatha Christie could be published today. Nancy Drew sure couldn't.

Ah, but Nancy Drew is. Though I'll grant she's not the same Nancy. For one thing, she doesn't have a roadster. Or a gun.

Every X years (I'm not sure just how many) she gets "updated". The most recent was a couple years ago.

In her current incarnation, Nancy drives a hybrid and writes in first person. George is a computer geek and Bess, if I remember aright, is into sports.