3.23.2006

Comebacks

Dear Miss Snark,

First let me thank you for your biting wit, those razor-sharp castigations that overlay a truly sincere and helpful disposition. The contrast certainly sets this old heart atwitter, not the least for the way you remind me of my oldest daughter, Ella, who has likewise mastered the loving art of brutal honesty.

I'm afraid I've been a bad boy. I had a lovely and hardworking agent who was with me for years. She was there for my height in the late 70s when we cracked the NYT bestsellers, and she stuck with me through the 90s when I was savaged by the critics. But after a series of fiascos during guest speaking engagements, bawdy romps through pastoral writers, camps, and shenanigans at cocktail parties, she dropped me through sheer exasperation. Plus she said my latest manuscript showed "little potential."

I sulked.

But now I'm back. After a near-death experience, a third ugly divorce, and several years of good wine and food, I've produced a pair of, I think, exceptional manuscripts. My agent won't have me back (nor should she). She's moved on with younger and better behaved writers. I've been querying other agents, though, and I've received only form rejections. I expect that the younger agents won't remember my work (nor, I hope, my bad behavior) but hundreds of thousands of books sold and international sales up to my eyeballs (they still love me in
Berlin) have failed to tempt them into taking a chance.

So, should I change my name and query as a new writer? Or should I write an apologetic query insisting that I've reformed my ways; after all it would only take a few calls on the part of an agent to collect anecdotes on why I'm a potential nightmare client. I am at a loss at how best to proceed.


I will whip up a Florentine frittata, pour a glass of pinot grigio (sorry no gin--this old fish can't stomach spirits) and await your suggestion.



So, let me get this straight. You're pretty sure the agents you've queried don't remember you but you're sure they're rejecting you cause of your reputation as a bad boy?

Does that actually make sense to you? How much pinot grigio did you pour?

We agents are an avaricious lot. We like making money. We like it so much we put up with wine swilling writers who are a public embarrassment. The only thing you have to do is produce work we can sell.

Here's the brutal truth of the day: they don't remember you; they don't care. Your writing isn't what you think it is. You may be the chien's chapeau in France, but that's the back list.

You don't mention if you've got readers who also think you've produced 'exceptional manuscripts'. That would be my first suggestion: find some readers who'll tell you the truth and ask them.

And to actually answer the question: no you don't query as a new writer, you don't change your name and you don't mention your history. Just query the work you've got. Time enough for people to find out you travel with a personal redcap for all the baggage. If you've actually got "an exceptional manuscript" they can decide then if you're worth the risk.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

That letter just doesn't ring true. I think someone's putting you on, Miss Snark.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Miss S. Despite the insinuations of the previous commentor, I can assure you I am as real as Mr. Frey, and likely more so. I will put your advice to good use.

litagent said...

Oh, it rings true all right. And Miss Snark is dead on: if the work were up to snuff, he'd be more likely to find an agent to at least consider putting up with the shenanigans. Of course, some writers' bad behavior is so far over the top that even the prospect of a lot of money isn't worth the aggravation. (Take my word for it.)

Lorra Laven said...

I think this guy's for real; I know people like this. They never see themselves like others see them.

Question: Do you think he's any relation to James Frey?

Anonymous said...

I thought the same thing when I read it.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with the first anonymous commenter. It reminds me of the prank letters Ann Landers would get and sometimes publish to show she was wise to them.

On the off chance this guy's for real, and wrote this email in a pinot grigio fog, I'd like to suggest he find an online critique group where he can hide his true identity and get honest critiques. Even if he doesn't agree with the crits, he's at least get a feel for the quality of his writing.

anon-y-mouse

Dave Kuzminski said...

Whether the letter is true or not, the answer is appropriate.

jta said...

Yeah, I don't believe this either. No amount of baggage would be too much with the described track record. If I'm wrong, I apologize, but then the only explanation would be the mss being truly bad.

Naughty boys sell books.

jaywalke said...

This is my favorite line in the whole piece:

"bawdy romps through pastoral writers, camps, and shenanigans at cocktail parties,"

Ah, the magic of the comma. What is a pastoral writer, and where do I sign to romp with/through one?

ColoradoGuy said...

I agree. It has the subtle aroma of the script from "My Favorite Year," or something like it.

Rob said...

Either way, in my experience agents routinely reject exceptional work. You might recall the experiment on submitting manuscripts that had won the Booker Prize (they were submitted under fake names). All were rejected. Yes, agents like manuscripts they can sell, and what they often can sell just sucks.

doc-t said...

Miss Snark???

You mean... You do this...for the money? you sold out to the man? for what? for what i ask you?! food, clothing, shelter! a car?! actually those don't sound all that bad. As long as you have those, can i come live with you?

Waylander said...

Gonzo. Is that you?
I thought you were dead.

srchamberlain said...

Oh, he's real.

http://browntroutsnextbook.blogspot.com/

His blog's a trip. Actually, maybe he isn't real. It's hard for me to believe that anyone lives like this.

lorra laven said...

On second thought, if this guy is for real -- and I'm a sucker for pranks -- I feel badly for him in the same way I feel sorry for James Frey.

All the money/success in the world can't buy happiness - yeah, it makes things a lot easier - but it doesn't make people happy. Some of the most miserable, messed up people I know are independently wealthy; they aren't excited about anything when they get up in the morning because they don't have to work and/or they have to face another day of addiction or loneliness.

bookfraud said...

it may or may not be true, though i wonder why such a supposedly battle-hardened writer would pen what sounds like to me a pretty pathetic attempt at attention. anyone suggesting they query under an assumed name is kinda crazy. musta been all that wine.

and i've heard (and seen) much worse behavior at writers' conferences and cocktail parties from writers whose agents don't care.

but if it is true, who the hell is this person? let's see -- thrice divorced, bad boy from the 70s, daughter named ella, popular in europe...

Anonymous said...

About the Booker winner gimmick -- I am plain old tired of this old horse being trotted out as evidence that agents and publishers are rejecting your precious snowflake prose because they are all uncultured idiots.

First, the article indicated they'd sent the (entire, mind you) manuscripts unsolicited to a random assortment of agents and publishers, with no indication they'd checked the submission guidelines or even if the *publishers* accepted unagented submissions (which they almost uniformly do not). Second, if one recognizes a submission as outright and blatant plagiarism that further violates stated submission policy, the correct response is to ignore it entirely, which is what the majority of the chosen recipients did. Third, a Booker winner in the 70's is not free and clear of the charge of perhaps being a tad dated 30 years later, and unsuited to the current market.

jta said...

Rob, everything you say may be--is-- true, but this is a known name with 100+K US sales, and eyeball-level international sales. NYT bestseller. The only fly in the pinot seems to be a problem with the sauce, which is well-nigh endemic among writers and far from the worst sin on this planet. If the letter's for real, the problem is the work.

Anonymous said...

You may place me firmly on the smack-dab center of the 'undecided' vote about the sincerity of this..

yet I LOVED it! Whoever this Old Bawd is, just tingled my spidey senses as a Cool Dood (or Doodette). I recognize those brain patterns and grinned big!

Also totally grooved on Miss Snark's SnarkSlap of a response; Beware, oh Ye who try the patience of a Snark today!
(Thanks MS, I'm all inspirey now and off to spew some witty, possibly scathing.. drivel) *Magz*

Eileen said...

The real tragedy is that we writers don't do enough dancing on the tables, lampshade on the head fun anymore. In this age of videocameras we're all too well behaved.

BuffySquirrel said...

I see eighteen people managed to comment on this thread. It's just me that had problems with the Word Verification, then?

It says, smenetia.

I type in smenetia.

It says, no, stupid, smenetia.

I type in smenetia.

It says NO, STUPID, smenetia.

I type in smenetia.

It says, word verification has no mercy on those who can't read. It's smenetia

I type in srnenetia just in case I really can't read.

It says, no, smenetia.

I refresh the page.

It says, smenetia.

I close Firefox, reopen it and reload the page.

It says, smenetia.

I give up.

(By this time I've forgotten what I wanted to say anyway. Something about Koln not being in Belgium...)

Maybe it was snrenetia?

kathie said...

I kind of think his blog is a ruse of some sort...I read it but it's so outlandish--can it be true? I won't quote the old cliche that goes along with that sentiment. Who knows.

Anonymous said...

Buffysquirrel, I had the same problem and the same word verification gobbledygook string of characters. I always copy what I put in the comment box to my clipboard before clicking on Login and Publish. Good thing too, because I had to leave and come back new, comment box blank. It took about five tries before I was able to publish.

anon-y-mouse

Anonymous said...

If this guy has the publishing history he claims, shouldn't his first step be to work some of the connections he's surely built up over the years? (Rather than sending letters to random agents.)

THRILL said...

Anon, you're a braver woman than I to refer to Miss Snark as a 'random' agent!

THRILL said...

Brown Trout's blog reminded me of an aging law professor who used to invite pretty students to his office to sip coffee from white china teacups and discuss their latest assignment marks.

Needless to say the jolly old prof caused almost as much outrage as the teargas cannisters fired down the corridors by riot squad.

Lady M said...

I think it was a worthy letter.

I don't know much about the premise or the reality of who the author is, or was...

But - heck - I say - be honest. If you've truly changed your ways - get down on your hands and knees like the rest of us and keep trying.

You've got a leg up on most of us, since you've been published before and know the ins and outs. You also probably still have some contacts... Other authors you've kept in contact with... Go to them and let them know you're having problems... Have them read your stuff to see if you're worthy enough to pass on to their agents. They can vouch for your good or bad behavior.

You could always re-query your old agent - with a note telling her how you've changed, how much you promise to be good - and notes from your therapists saying how much internal changing you've done.

Tell her how now, after careful reflection, you sincerely have appreciated her efforts and the fact that she stood by you even on your worst days - and now, looking back... You can say that you have changed and you promise to never put her through those shenanigans again.

You could also apologize.

Especially if she was good.

Add lots of chocolate - or whatever her favorite thing is...

You never know - some people are very forgiving. Especially if there is honesty in the apology.

Think about it.

Lady M

Sarah said...

Oh, that comment reminded me of a jolly old English professor of mine who used to tell this story about Tim O'Brien (author of "The Things They Carried") coming for a writers' series... and he went out to the undergrad bar and hooked up with a student, and they had to wake him up at the hotel to do his reading.

But that's all hearsay, of course.

jta said...

Lady, haven't you heard? No means no. Self abasement won't help--even sincere snivelling is still snivelling, and attempts to manipulate her with chocolates would and should earn him only a hang-up. Would with me. And the last thing he needs to do is get down on his hands and knees "like the rest of us." What he needs to do is recork the vino and put his ass in his chair and make those manuscripts irresistable. That way lies salvation. The rest is delusion.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm that first anonymous poster again.

I absolutely agree that Miss Snark's response would have been spot on if the letter were legitimate. But to me it reads like fiction.

Thanks for the link, srchamberlain. The Brown Trout blog only strengthens my suspicions that the Brown Trout blogger is phony.

It reminds me a lot of that fake writers' group blog... Can't find the URL now or I'd direct you.

Anonymous said...

I find Brown Trout's blog hilarious, and easily in the vein of commercial "academic fiction" (David Lodge, et al.) He just needs the right person to "get" his humor. And his anger.

Kirsten said...

BT's a fake. He came out on August 9 and has since pulled the blog off line.

Kudos to the snarklings who sniffed this one out!