A Gent's Outlook

A Literary Agent Divulges the TRUTH about Publishing

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rock Stars and Writers

Writers are a part of the entertainment industry. Maybe this has escaped many of you, but it’s a fact that you might as well get used to. As a writer, you are in direct competition with music, video games, movies, the internet (although not as much) sports, etc.

So let’s start thinking like a rock and roll band.

Rock bands begin in basements, garages, dorm rooms, wherever, anyplace that can tolerate their noise. They get together, perfect their sound, cut a CD, and look for someone to either agent them or record them. Does this sound familiar so far? To be successful, a band must be original and have a different sound—familiar—huh-huh?? I’m sure you’ve heard this before—different—original.

There is lots of competition in the music industry, so you have to have an image along with a different and original sound. After you find a record deal, you have to either promote yourself by going on tour, hire someone to promote you, or both.

How many rock bands make it in the music business? How many writers make it in the publishing business? Are you seeing the similarities?

Now that we’ve gotten past that—hopefully, we’ve gotten past that. If not, pay closer attention. Let’s take a close look at publishing. Some wiseass said to me the other day, “Well, I don’t understand. Look at all the junk out there in the bookstores. My book is better than any of those books.” This may well be true. But do you know why there is so much junk in the bookstores, so many horrible reads. It’s because of volume. Bookstores will shelve junk just to give the appearance that they have a huge selection of titles available.

“Nahhh,” you say. “They can’t do that because it would cost them too much to stock all those books if they aren’t going to sell them.”

Okay writers, here is comes. The first gem you can take home with you on our little adventure into understanding this screwed up industry that you want so badly to be a part of. Bookstores can return 100% of their books back to the publisher and get their money back. Have you ever heard of an industry in which the buyer of a product for sale can return their stock if it doesn’t sell. Damaged goods you can understand somewhat, but stuff that doesn’t sell is allowed to be returned with a 100%, money back, guarantee. This is why bookstores can stock junk.

I’ll take a short digression here as to why bookstores won’t stock POD titles. You guessed it—no return policy, plus one other small thing—price. Are you getting the picture now?

My god, ten minutes with Sammy and you’re already selling why it’s so tough to get published today. Plus that extra gem—why I don’t want to POD publish my book.

Next—rock star celebrity. Why is it that Daniel Steel can produce stinker books and still sell thousand—no millions of them? For the same reason the Rolling Stones are still around and selling millions of CDs. CELEBRITY NAME RECOGNITION.

Why is it that CD music lovers will risk being killed in rush hour traffic to buy the newest CD from their favorite musician? Isn’t it the same reason readers stood in line at midnight a few months ago to buy the latest Harry Potter? Isn’t it celebrity name recognition that drives folks to do dumb things? Was the CD better than some unknown’s music? Is Harry Potter better than other writers who are struggling to make it? Probably not on both counts. Then why? If you can answer that question and bottle it, you can make a million.

Publishers and record producers are in business to make money. Why else would they be in business, right? Now ask yourself this, “Can a publisher make more money from a celebrity or some unknown?” There you go. Your answer number two as why it’s so difficult to get published. You, my writer friends, are in competition not only with other forms of entertainment, but also with celebrity writers. And you say to yourself, this is simple stuff. Hell! Everyone knows this stuff.

Do they? Then why do they ask stupid questions?

Okay. Now it’s time for a test?

Name a huge American owned multi-national corporation that makes movies, publishes books, owns a piece of major television, produces CDs, DVDs, and other digital media. Probably does much more too but this should be enough to get you started. When you have the answer, you will begin to see the light. Oh, and they also own another thing that they acquired but is losing them money because of what happened a few years ago.
Writers are a part of the entertainment industry. Maybe this has escaped many of you, but it’s a fact that you might as well get used to. As a writer, you are in direct competition with music, video games, movies, the internet (although not as much) sports, etc.

So let’s start thinking like a rock and roll band.

Rock bands begin in basements, garages, dorm rooms, wherever, anyplace that can tolerate their noise. They get together, perfect their sound, cut a CD, and look for someone to either agent them or record them. Does this sound familiar so far? To be successful, a band must be original and have a different sound—familiar—huh-huh?? I’m sure you’ve heard this before—different—original.

There is lots of competition in the music industry, so you have to have an image along with a different and original sound. After you find a record deal, you have to either promote yourself by going on tour, hire someone to promote you, or both.

How many rock bands make it in the music business? How many writers make it in the publishing business? Are you seeing the similarities?

Now that we’ve gotten past that—hopefully, we’ve gotten past that. If not, pay closer attention. Let’s take a close look at publishing. Some wiseass said to me the other day, “Well, I don’t understand. Look at all the junk out there in the bookstores. My book is better than any of those books.” This may well be true. But do you know why there is so much junk in the bookstores, so many horrible reads. It’s because of volume. Bookstores will shelve junk just to give the appearance that they have a huge selection of titles available.

“Nahhh,” you say. “They can’t do that because it would cost them too much to stock all those books if they aren’t going to sell them.”

Okay writers, here is comes. The first gem you can take home with you on our little adventure into understanding this screwed up industry that you want so badly to be a part of. Bookstores can return 100% of their books back to the publisher and get their money back. Have you ever heard of an industry in which the buyer of a product for sale can return their stock if it doesn’t sell. Damaged goods you can understand somewhat, but stuff that doesn’t sell is allowed to be returned with a 100%, money back, guarantee. This is why bookstores can stock junk.

I’ll take a short digression here as to why bookstores won’t stock POD titles. You guessed it—no return policy, plus one other small thing—price. Are you getting the picture now?

My god, ten minutes with Sammy and you’re already selling why it’s so tough to get published today. Plus that extra gem—why I don’t want to POD publish my book.

Next—rock star celebrity. Why is it that Daniel Steel can produce stinker books and still sell thousand—no millions of them? For the same reason the Rolling Stones are still around and selling millions of CDs. CELEBRITY NAME RECOGNITION.

Why is it that CD music lovers will risk being killed in rush hour traffic to buy the newest CD from their favorite musician? Isn’t it the same reason readers stood in line at midnight a few months ago to buy the latest Harry Potter? Isn’t it celebrity name recognition that drives folks to do dumb things? Was the CD better than some unknown’s music? Is Harry Potter better than other writers who are struggling to make it? Probably not on both counts. Then why? If you can answer that question and bottle it, you can make a million.

Publishers and record producers are in business to make money. Why else would they be in business, right? Now ask yourself this, “Can a publisher make more money from a celebrity or some unknown?” There you go. Your answer number two as why it’s so difficult to get published. You, my writer friends, are in competition not only with other forms of entertainment, but also with celebrity writers. And you say to yourself, this is simple stuff. Hell! Everyone knows this stuff.

Do they? Then why do they ask stupid questions?

Okay. Now it’s time for a test?

Name a huge American owned multi-national corporation that makes movies, publishes books, owns a piece of major television, produces CDs, DVDs, and other digital media. Probably does much more too but this should be enough to get you started. When you have the answer, you will begin to see the light. Oh, and they also own another thing that they acquired but is losing them money because of what happened a few years ago.

Monday, August 29, 2005

A Few Good Writers:

Let’s flash back a couple of years to the movie, A Few Good Men when Jack Nicholson is on the witness stand being grilled by Tom Cruise and he uttered that now famous phrase, “You can’t handle the truth!” I think of this when a writer says, “We just want a peek into what really goes on in publishing.” No you don’t! It’s best that you stay fat, dumb, and happy.

But being the sadistic bastard that I am, I’ll give you a little peek:

When dealing with publishing, at least major publishing, one must think big. Think General Motors—think The Ford Motor Company—think huge, multi-national corporation, oligarchy big. What happened recently to a couple of thousand white collar workers at Ford kind of keys you into the mentality that you are dealing with in publishing. These poor bastards were silly enough to believe that The Ford Motor Company had their best interest at heart. The shock that much have reverberated though those cubicles when they received their pink slips. Fired! How dare they just fire me! Why I’ve given this company . . .blah—blah—blah.

Some of you have probably received copies of queries sent to you by your agent that read something like, “ … I loved your book, but it was shot down in the final stages by marketing.” Yes, I know that 007 said this is what editors say when they run out of standard reject phrases. But they do, sometimes, take books into meetings only to have them shot down by marketing, finance or the publisher him or herself.

Profit dictates what publishers publish. They could give a big fat fig about how good the book is or isn’t. Money is their only concern—the bottom line. What the editor wants is always secondary. This is why books that might become best seller, in the publisher’s eye, usually fall flat on their asses and ones that do make that coveted list are surprises to everyone—except the reader, who, because they loved the book, spread the word and MADE IT A BEST SELLER (I really don’t know what happened in Dan Brown’s case).

Multinationals must protect the bottom line because their stockholders control them. Stockholders care less if this or that book is fit to sit on bookstore shelves or is be added to our American body of literature. Their only care is that their stock climbs in value.

Something that escapes publishing is that many writers get better. The more they write and the more they are guided by good editors, the better they get. This is something lost on a publishing world that dedicates itself to profit only. There is no room or time for nurturing, no time for growth, no time for anything but making more and more money from the same old tired horses.

If you have been paying attention and studying the publishing industry, you are probably aware that over 80% of the volume of fiction novels sold (not titles) comes from just a few top authors. All other books come from that small percentage left over. So where do you think you fit in here? You are delusional if you think there is room. It has also been said that you are in competition with every other writer in the world. Believe it or not, you are. These are some of those truths that you can’t handle.

For more, take a skip over and look at a report called, Best and Worse of Times—The Changing Business Of Trade Books, 1975-2002. It’s online and Google can find it for you--amazing what comes up when you type in "monkey sex" and "tapioca pudding."

To emphasize what I’m saying here, read page 23, column 6 of this report—in fact, read the whole damned page—no the whole friggin’ report. Read, memorize and then stop asking silly questions.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

A Philosophical Moment

This used to be the time, back in the old radio days when the announcer would say (they used to call DJs announcers), “We pause here for station identification.” Hell, maybe they still do that. I haven’t listened to radio for years.

To respond to one of the commenters on another site who said (I am paraphrasing here): I wish someone would, on one of these blogs, give us (writers) a real peek inside the publishing industry.

My answer is: To get the straight poop on publishing (not to be confused with “poop on publishing”), go to college, get a job in publishing as an assistant editor or as an assistant agent and work inside the industry for awhile. This way you’ll get the true picture of this industry. For instance, if I was a policeman, I could “tell” you how it is to be a policeman, but to truly understand police work, you have to be a cop—on the inside. You would have to go to the academy.

It tickles me how some writers want all the hard answers the easy way. Some people get a non-writing job, being a lawyer for instance, and make large sums of money most of their lives. Then one day they decide to be a “writah” and want all the answers to getting published right now without getting their hands dirty down in the trenches. Try earning low pay for a long time in an industry that is notorious for low pay. Dig through writer wannabe droppings day in and day out and work your way up, then you’ll know. You expect instant entrance and then bitch because no one will let you in. As a writer, try writing because you love it and don’t want to do anything else. Educate yourself and take your knocks like everyone else in any industry. There is no easy way to learn about publishing or writing for a living. Don’t even ask. I worked in shit for years before making it—that’s how it used to be done and still is done for those who are really IN the industry.

Then there are the writers who adore the look 007 is giving them into the business that they want. Maybe 007 is giving you the business, is what you should be saying. Maybe she and all the other agents who dispense “knowledge” for free are priming you so they can write their blog books (the most recent trend in publishing). That’s how it’s done nowadays, haven’t you heard? Did any of you consider that? It is called building an audience--there’s a small glimpse inside the industry for you. Is that my reason? Nope, already did a book for writers, some of you may have read it already and maybe even liked it. Or not. Royalties are damn good; that’s all I know. I am not picking on 007 intentionally, but it just occurred to me to post when I read her blog and it was a good example of what I rail against.

Someone else asked if I was angry. No. Disillusioned would be a better word. Why am I disillusioned? I do look at queries occasionally, by the way, and what I see makes me sick most of the time. At times it’s all I can do to write a polite note. I want to scream at you. How can you insult me with this garbage, is what I want to say. But I bite my lip and write something short, like the standard, “This is not for me.” Most of you, 99.9% of you, 99.9% of the time don’t even deserve to carry a writer’s notebook let alone call yourself a writer. Get a clue and stop the nonsense. Being a writer is probably the lowest paying job in the United States. Most writers qualify for welfare and food stamps. It’s only the few that you hear about who are making it--Dan Brown (don't get me started on that disaster of a book), for example. True writers write for only one reason—they have no choice. They must write. They don’t care if they don’t get paid—they have to write. You got it now. If you do it for any other reason, YOU MAKA ME ANGRY!!

But venting, the true reason for blogging, helps a hell of a lot.*wicked, engaging grin*

A Damn Hard Day at the Office

Spend a typical day with me:

9:00 AM. Arrive at work. Turn on computer and delete spam. Separate personal mail, mail from clients, and queries. Delete queries. Get coffee—two cups.

10:00 AM. Get posted mail from secretary. Separate personal mail, client mail, junk mail and queries. Combine queries and junk mail into a pile. Read client and personal mail. Trash all other mail. Buzz secretary for more coffee.

11:00 AM Call editors and schmooze to find out who is taking me to lunch. Put lunch dates in a pile, sort guy editor from girl editors. Sort girl editors into two piles--whiners versus smart with physical attributes. Throw names from the non-whiners in the air and grab one (hoping for the curvy blonde with the long hair). Call curvy blonde and confirm. Trash guy offers. Whew!!! Hard work.

12 N to 2:00 PM. Lunch. (Due to recent weight gains, I’m taking some days to walk in the park and skipping lunch)

2:00 PM. Call or write clients and advise them of current movement, sales positions, sub-rights deals pending, etc, etc. Take a quick Cappuccino break.

4:00 PM Prepare to depart office for the day.

4:02 PM Depart office. Quickly before anyone else calls asking another stupid question.

So there you have it, folks, Welcome to my world. And keep in mind that most trade acquisitions editors’ jobs are three times easier than mine (see other posts on BookAngst blog by Mad Max for confirmation).

Have a nice day.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Solicitous Agents

Thoughts from Sammy, shabammy . . . .

You know what burns my ass? A flame about thigh high! Yeah, that, too. No, what really burns me are solicitous agents—you know, those who are so nice on their own blog but are probably real pains when you have to work with them. There is one, I won’t mention her name, but her blog is Agent 007. Whoops.

This person—I assume she’s a woman, but who knows?—I have to take her for word for that. Hell, she could be a German Shepard… or a gerbil, maybe, with its own blog, I don’t know. Anyway, it, he, she (let’s call her she) she says that in a prior life, she was an editor. Then a big light came on in the sky and an alien. ..whoops, different story. Before she became enlightened and joined the ranks of agent-dum—dum-dee-dum-dum duuuummmmm—she was an editor.

Anywho, I thought most of her earlier posts were solicitous, if you know what I mean. But in her current post (August 12), she rips into editor-dum, with a vengeance, and I’m kinda wondering which side of the sidewalk she’s now traveling.

I’m kinda wondering if she ever was an editor even, and if so, what kind? You know, I can self-publish, and lots of writers do, and during the process of self-publishing, as I’m editing my work, I become, for all practical purposes, an editor. Then when I’m finished and send my work in to the printer, again, for all practical purposes, I become a publisher. I could go on to producer and actor and whatever, but you get my drift.

My guess is that she wasn’t a very good editor or an editor at a very small house because, if so, why would she want to go from vacationland (editors have it made or haven’t you heard) to this profession where you have to work 18 hours a day and never get a vacation (at least I haven’t had one in years. And no, you can’t count that trip to Hawaii. That’s a writer’s conference, for God’s sake—or that trip to Italy either). I’ll get to editors on another post.

The other side of the coin is that if she’s doing so well as an agent, where does she find time to post a blog every day—man, this is work! But don’t pay any attention to me. I’m just asking questions here and solicitous agents burn my ass, remember?

I guess I am posting because it fries my hiney that there are agents out there pandering to writers. Jesus, as if writers need anyone else telling them how wonderful they are or "enlightening" them. If you don't know shit about the publishing industry and get your info from a blog, you really shouldn't be writing for publication. End of story.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

It’s Not the Size, but How You Use It

Any woman will tell you that it’s a waste for a man to have a huge pecker and not know what to do with it. Technique is at the root (no pun intended) of getting the most out of any tool. No technique, no satisfaction. You might as well leave the pecker at home and send a finger in its place. Also, knowing where to go to get your tool noticed is vital; otherwise, you’ll be sitting at home playing with your tool all by yourself. This also applies to writing. Beautiful prose a novelist does not make. No, Shakespeare did not say that, Sammy did. Another way of looking at this, from an agent’s point of view this time, is no technique or business sense, no sale.

If you aren’t getting the connection, here it is: Lots of people are born with God-given gifts, such as a long pecker, big titties, high IQ, great sense of style, tact and diplomacy, strong back, good cross-stitch skills, ability to run a mile in 10 seconds, writing talent, talent for decorating houses, and on and on. However, even if you have a talent for writing, that doesn’t qualify you to be a published novelist. How’s that? What? That’s right. It takes talent and the skill to do something with that talent, plus business sense to get your talent where it needs to be. So, to put it in laymen’s terms, you have to know where to go to meet girls and then you actually have to be able to use your big pecker to please them. Otherwise, no return engagements.

Readers are no different.