A Gent's Outlook

A Literary Agent Divulges the TRUTH about Publishing

Friday, July 29, 2005

Drop the Word Processor and Pick Up Some Chocolates

Here is a little tidbit from an editor of a mid-large house. New writers should read this at their own risk!

Have you ever heard of a profession, besides politics, where any dork can walk in and think that they are qualified to contribute to that profession without having an iota of experience or expertise in the field? Apparently, writing is just that type of profession.

The problem with this is that every time a writer wannabe--you know, those folks who dream of adoration and fame and fortune--decides to submit his/her garbage, they take time away from the serious writers and their work. Serious writers, you remember, are people who have written and slaved away learning their craft for years, only to have the pipelines clogged by those who think that world needs to hear their wonderful message. They are that gifted! Wannabes will change world--thank God for them! No one else has ever had the idea to write about terrorists in and outside of America. Nor has anyone EVER written a picture book designed to make kids feel good about themselves. And don't forget the romance that no one has ever conceived of with a quirky, funny, vulnerable heroine who ends up with a studly, romantic, sort-of-dangerous-but-in-a-good-wholesome-way hero. So original. So thought-provoking.

Such bullshit.

Everyone can write, right? It's something we learn in what, the second grade? Used to be, though, writing in book form was hard. Not everyone wanted to sit at the old Royal for hours on end pounding those keys. I'm talking here about the days when they sold White Out by the gallon. Those were the days when only the extremely dedicated even sat behind a typewriter. Yes, they used to be called typewriters.

Then a new age dawned. Let's call it "The Age of the Word Processor." Or "The Age of Anyone Can Do It." Or "The Age of I Want to Be an Adored Celebrity." Suddenly, everyone was a writer. Folks who would never have thought of changing a typewriter ribbon are suddenly proclaiming to anyone who will listen that they have written the Great American Novel. The whole damned country was abuzz with writers. AOL was probably the first to usher in all those new wordsmiths, their faces all aglow, fresh from their latest brush with their muse and ready to talk to any and everyone about what they had discovered...

"My God, Barb, I was sitting there and suddenly it came to me. Oh my God!! It's so beautiful. I actually wrote something and it made so much sense to me. My sister and her kids love it. I think I'll send it to Harper!"

"Dude, this is way better than whacking off all the time!"

"Oh Leslie, do you think Random House would like my story of how I overcame childhood trauma to become the woman I am today? It's so different from what's out there."

The next big thing to hit the shit filter was all this buzz about scammers. Those rotten bastards wanted to charge me for just reading my beautiful prose. Bastards! Why, they actually charged me money and never got me published!

Could it be because your writing sucks and your emotional neediness to have a large group of people validate your empty life overrode your common sense? Without dipshits who are desperate, scammers can't scam. This goes for any type of scam. Watchdog groups who target these frauds, cons, and reprobates could save a lot of time and energy if they posted one thing on their sites: "Hey, newbie, if it seems too good to be true, it is. And if you don't know enough about the publishing industry to not be able to distinguish whether something an agent/publisher does is common practice, then YOU SHOULD FIND ANOTHER PROFESSION!"

It is not like con artists are coming up with brilliant schemes. If the same person tried to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, you would probably figure out not to buy the scammer's game (after all, Uncle Ed bought the bridge in 1979, so how could this guy have it for sale?). But, when it comes to writing, people will believe any moron who says, "I can get you happily published!" And by the way, they believe any book that says that, too (but I won't digress onto this different, higher-level type scam).

My advice is put down your word processor and pick up a nice big box of chocolates. There used to be whole industries dedicated to food for the emotionally needy. Since the invention of the computer, these industries have gone broke. Something needs to be done about reviving this time-honored pastime--bon-bons for bad feelings. Look at Forrest Gump. Were his words of wisdom wasted? My God, people! Someone needs to lead this rebellion and restore Russell Stover to its former glory. Doing this would be like pouring a bottle of Draino down the publishing tube. Think of all the shit that wouldn't end up in agents' and editors' inboxes. Of course, the postal system would have to raise it's rates again, but there is rumor that this is going to happen anyway, so what the hey?Less chocolate, more bullshit, and higher postage rates--that, dear readers, is why writer wannabes suck. (Can you tell I ran out of steam and just ended this? But I am not a writer so it’s okay. Hell, it would be okay if I was a writer! Cool, huh?)

A Blog Orgy

Just a note, folks, to let you know that a couple of pals of mine are digging this blog idea. That’s write, er, right…some other agents, editors, and writers that I have worked with are getting into it (some are a little too into the sex part for my comfort level, but hey, this is publishing). So, I will be posting some shit from them so that they can anonymously vent some pent up feelings of anger, bitterness, frustration, sexual anxiety, PMS, and, yes, even joy.

Enjoy!

Professionalism and the Art of Making Whoopee

What would you do if you paid a hooker $500 for a night of lustful passion, and it sucked? No, I didn’t say the hooker sucked, which would have probably been not so bad; the whole night sucked. In other words, you could have saved your money, rented a porn video and been just as happy watching Debbie do Dallas while you did the Widow Five-Finger. How would you feel when morning came, but you hadn’t—at least not so’s you noticed?

And how the hell does that relate to writing?

Here’s how: Lots of writers call themselves professionals and some even look like professionals. smell like ‘em too. But, when the time comes to produce or participate in the publishing process (asking questions about the contract, revising, working with an editor, understanding the business, etc.), they turn out to be real dogs. I am not talking about the 98% of you who can’t write; I am talking about those who actually have talent. Talent alone doesn't qualify you to writer, either.

What constitutes a professional in your field? Isn’t there some sort of standard? And don’t give me that bullshit about how writing is subjective—that IS bullshit. Writing is a job, and you need training, experience, and the personality for it, not just a dream to be adored. Look at the field of making wine. Looks easy, doesn’t it? Pick some grapes, squash ‘em down and let the yeast take over. Bottle it, let it set for a year, and taste it. Yuck! Vinegar! What did I do wrong?

YOU DON’T KNOW SHIT ABOUT WINE, THAT’S WHAT YOU DID WRONG! And the same goes for writing.

Most of the people who write me don’t have a clue about how a novel is put together: What’s POV? What have I written? Why don’t you want this—my family loved it?!? Why won't you mentor me?

Don’t most other professions require a degree and experience? Or some kind of training? Why do you think that just because you finally made time in your busy life to write, that someone is 1) going to publish it and 2) going to pay money to read it?

What qualifies you to be a writer?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Happy Hooker

I’ve been called a literary whore, but I want to be a literary hooker. A whore, technically, in any profession, gives something away for free, which is what writers want me to do. I, however, prefer to get paid for services rendered.

I like whores and hookers, so I hope this doesn’t offend them. I may have even been married to one of the latter—I still don’t know where the extra money for the Paris trip came from. However, I am not the one using the terms in a bad way. I have nothing but respect for people who know who they are and what they have to offer others. It seems that nowadays literary agents have replaced criminals of almost any stripe as the most reviled people on the planet. At least according to just about any writer. On a regular basis, I hear about how awful we agents are, but then in the next breath, writers ask if they can send me something because I am so successful.

Agents are evil, but how can I get one?

Many writers want agents for the same reason that some guys want a wife—to do the dirty work and clean up after them. That is not my job, folks. I am highly successful at what I do best (which is not being married, if you haven’t figured that out by now). I cultivate talent and place it in the hands of people who can do something with it. Recognizing writing talent is my forte, so for those of you who want an agent to clean your dirty literary underwear, that wouldn’t be me (for details, see Why the Writer/Agent Relationship Works Better Without Underwear) or really any other agent who has been in the business for any length of time at all.

But back to the issue at hand: Professionals get paid for what they do, and, being a professional, I expect to get paid, too. This crap about finding an agent who works for nothing just for the privilege of sharing your work with the world + 15% is just that—crap. Somehow writers think they have replaced readers on top of the literary heap—it just ain’t so.

My point is this: Every week I get some writer who I rejected asking for feedback on his work. With just a little direction, he is SURE he can turn his sow’s ear into the silk purse I am looking for. Two problems with that. First, he wants me to share advice for free, and I just don’t. Why would I? Ask anyone in any other profession to give you free advice, and they will tell you where to stick it after grimacing. I don’t care what the touchy-feelies and the watchdogs say; normal people in a normal profession get paid for performing a task, and agents are no different. Second, if you don’t already know how to make your sow’s ear into a silk purse, then you shouldn’t be looking for an agent. You are clogging the publishing pipeline with stuff that just isn’t ready, and I won’t contribute to it.

Do you know what you are asking me to do when you ask me to mentor you? Would you spend weeks, months, or years teaching someone how to make jewelry, taking the risk that she would never figure it out, hang out her own shingle, or move on to another gemologist who can get her work seen by a larger jewelry store (because, sorry, she HAS to think of her career)? That’s quite a big chance to take, isn’t it?

So, call me a whore if you must, but I am just a literary hooker, and a happy hooker at that.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Why the Writer/Agent Relationship Works Better Without Underwear

My first wife, who I will call Underwear Woman, had a strange habit that eventually led to the demise of our marriage. Well, that and the fact she was a shrew and I was dating my second wife while still married to her. When we first started dating, I thought it was sexy, even a little kinky, that she liked to keep her underwear on (not panties, mind you, underwear) when we made love. Then I realized it wasn’t just a fetish that she did sometimes, but ALL the time. Every time we made love, there were three of us—me, her, and her underpants. I went along with it for a while, but finally I asked her if we could try doing the nasty all naked, or maybe even all clothed, just for a change. The resounding “No!” was the shockwave that crumbled the shaky foundation of the rocky mountain that had been our marriage. No discussion, no explanation, no dialogue, and definitely no resolution.

What’s my point here and how does it relate to writers and agents?

The relationship between a writer and his agent is just like a marriage. Communication is key. Knowing upfront the quirks, idiosyncrasies, goals, needs, personality traits, and foibles, among other things, about each other is essential to making any relationship work. Sometimes I think there should be agent/writer therapy groups instead of couples therapy, or maybe writers and their agents should just crash those groups when trouble sprouts, which it can if both parties aren’t fully prepared to work on the relationship.

Underwear Woman’s other little foible that helped squash the bedbug of bliss was that she blabbed to all our friends about my “underwear fetish” and how it was my problem. By this point in time, I really couldn’t have cared less if I ever saw another pair of underwear again, including my own. She wouldn’t talk to me about it, but all of her friends knew my proclivities. This was bad for two reasons: 1) Communication in a relationship belongs between the combatants, er, partners, and 2) Wife #2 ended up being one of her chums she blabbed to, who liked the fact I was so “adventurous,” rich and soon to be single, and she also hated underwear (and I suspect Underwear Woman, too).

Again, my point? It is that I see too many writers on discussion boards asking questions about their agents or agent’s practices to, strangely enough, writers who are looking for agents. Not too smart. If you have a problem with your agent, you should talk to the agent, not go asking every wannabe on the planet what they think. Even people who have been agented for a long time can't speak to how your relationship should be--every marriage is unique and so is every writer/agent relationship. If Underwear Woman would have talked to me instead of her buds, maybe I would have talked her out of her underpants and into an actual marriage. I am, after all, a smooth talkin’ SOB. Instead, one of her friends saw the opportunity and took it—and me. If your spouse does something you don’t like or you think is weird, would you get on a discussion board and ask about it? Or call your mother? Or your best friend? Communication with your agent is just as important as communication with your spouse.

If we worked on this more, maybe there would be a lower divorce rate and a higher rate of publishing success.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Sex and Writing: It’s All in the Technique

DISCLAIMER: I will be writing about sex and relationships a lot on this blog. Why? Because the same dynamics that apply to happy, fulfilling relationships and great sex between all people also apply to happy, fulfilling relationships between readers, editors, writers, agents, and publishers and a great read. It is that simple. If you might get offended, please do read any further. If you do read on and get offended, remember, I warned you. Here we go…

Are you any good in bed?

A little direct, isn’t it? A little personal, naughty, racy, invasive, bold, even offensive maybe. But, it is necessary to ask yourself, whether you are a female or male writer. Are you shocked, stunned, or don’t know what to say? ARE you good in bed? Some of you might be able to holler out, “Heck yeah!” right away. I’ll get to you folks later, but for now I imagine most of you reading this article are seriously pondering the question or just getting nervous.
This is not good.

Let me try the question another way: Are you a good writer? How’s that? Non-threatening, impersonal, and easy to answer. Again, some of you can holler out, “You bet I’m a good writer!” And again, I’ll get to you folks in a later blog (confident lovers and writers have different challenges). However, there may be some of you still pondering THAT question, too.

This is so not good.

Why? What is so wrong with not knowing the answer to either question? And what in the world does one activity have to do with the other?

Everything, absolutely everything! And you confident folks knew that already, didn’t you?

Writing and making love are both based on technique, a willingness to please someone else, and love or passion. Okay, and in some cases, money does play a role. In either department, you need to know who you are and what you have to offer, as well as what you want to accomplish before you start. Sure, sometimes spontaneity is involved, and that can be great. But spontaneous love-making and writing are even more difficult because you really have to know your stuff and be practiced in your art to bring your partner to satisfaction—whether in the bedroom, kitchen, sunroom, bathroom, or anywhere people can make love or read. You don’t have time to think, so using the techniques that physically and psychologically connect with your partner have to be automatic, or the encounter, whether literary or sexual, will not produce the desired effect or any desire at all. Literally.

And that is the most important part.

Becoming good in both areas takes practice, even if you are born with a God-given talent to be a great lover or writer. So think about that the next time you sit down to write your book. What is your partner going to get out of this? Out of picking your work from the thousands of books out there? Will he/she be satisfied or mortified? Will the reader get to the end and sigh in disgust because what looked like a good read turned out to more hype than substance, just like the guy who wears a sock in his underwear or the chick with falsies? Will the reader feel like a voyeur, having watched you intellectually masturbate on his dollar? Are you willing to try a few new, yet tasteful, things if you readers request it or stay with the same old formula if they request that?

The bottom line is, if you aren’t a good lover, then you might not have what it takes to please a reader either, and vice versa.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Welcome All!

My name is Sammy Kitzler, and I am a literary agent. Yeeaaah! I decided to start blogging because I need some stress relief. Yeeaaah! This is not a site to give writers or anyone else advice. In fact, it is just the opposite. I need to vent!! I need a place where I can vent about all of the folks who make my job difficult, including writers, editors, publishers, other agents, and, the truth be known, sometimes me. If you enjoy watching car accidents happen, you will enjoy this wreck of a blog, so please read on...

Stay tuned!

Sammy Kitzler