A Gent's Outlook

A Literary Agent Divulges the TRUTH about Publishing

Monday, September 12, 2005

Another Agent Weighs In

As hard as it is to believe, I actually do have some friends in publishing, including some that I haven't slept with yet, although Marley isn't necessarily in that category (Hey, I don't kiss and tell, although I do nibble and tell). As I mentioned in my Blog Orgy post, I am going to post some stuff from other people in the industry who don't want a blog of their own, but want to vent now and then. Here is one of those posts:

Jesus fucking Christ, people! You call yourselves writers? Get this: If I have one more "writer" send me something that starts with description of the setting, I will go insane. I don't care what your freakin' English teachers taught you, and I don't care what made those same English teachers give you an "A." What I care about is not having 20,000 words of descriptive narrative blocking my view of the goddamn story. How hard is this to understand? I have given lectures on this I don't know how many times, and, still, Goober Writer will come up to me and hand me a piece of trash that begins something like, "...and the fall leaves glistened in the sunlight as the crisp autumn air surrounded Tom and Marge and the garbage truck made its way through the city." Can anyone tell me what the story is here? Anyone? I want to know about Tom and Marge. Are they fucking? Fighting? Placing bets on the next presidential fuckup? And don't give me that shit about how you are building suspense for the reader, and the reader will keep reading, blah, blah, blah. Know this: You are pissing off the reader! The reader keeps reading to find the story. If you are writer who has to bribe the reader with descriptive narrative and false suspense, then you don't have a goddamn story. Here you go if you want an example:

Bad: The willow outside Molly’s window blew softly in the breeze, and the smell of lilacs filled the spring air. Molly made her way across her room, being careful to not trip over the piles of books on her floor. She admired the pink curtains at her bay window, the ones that matched all the other pink things in her room—her bedspread, her walls, her pillows, her tiny portable telephone. She grabbed her new jewelry box, which she loved even though it wasn’t pink, and plopped down on the window to explore the wonderful gift from Aunt Gina.

Good: Molly held her new jewelry box near her ear and listened. Yep, there was no mistaking it: Something was definitely rattling around in there. Molly frowned. What in the world could be wrong with the crazy thing? She’d only had it two days! Suddenly, as if in answer to her unspoken question, one of its legs dropped to the floor and out rolled the biggest, most glittery diamond Molly had ever seen.

Do you see the difference? If you don't, don't fucking query me. Okay, well you can't query me because you don't know who I am, so don't fucking query anyone until you figure it the fuck out.

Fuck it,

Spunky as hell, isn't she? Yeah, we did it. And after reading this, I am going to call her to see if she wants to do it again. God, I love those fiery women!


  • At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and the leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

    Who might this be giving us so much setting write from the beginning? Oh, Hemingway, that hack.

    I think you agents are necessary parasites. But your limited vision of the world that commercial appeal is the end all and be all of fiction simply puts you in with the marketeers. Wouldn't it be great if you sold books which had ideas, too, didn't just sell this season's list and then were forgetten.

  • At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Jesus fucking Christ! Are you kidding me? First, Hemingway would have never gotten published in today's market, and it isn't because he isn't commercial enough. It has nothing to do with that. The art of fiction grows and changes, and he just doesn't have the technique. And I am not talking about technique designed to grab the MTV generation away from their music videos (that "people quit reading because of TV" excuse is bullshit). A great novel is more than wordy descriptive narrative--where is the story? I am guessin' it's with the soldiers, but why do I have to plow through garbage describing the scene just to get the idea that soldiers are marching along somewhere? Jesus Christ! Do you know how many hacks I have rejected who have thrown Hemingway in my face? His words were all about him, not about giving the reader a good vibe. No wonder he offed himself. Fuck, you people who just think us agents just pick commercial shit without any consideration for anything else are rationalizing your lack of publishing credits. You want to blame someone? Blame the stupid fucking editors and ex-editors like 007 that I have to deal with every goddamn day who use words they heard at cocktail parties to sound important (Oh, the rising action just didn't connect with me..titter, titter, titter) and arbitrarily publish some lame shit from somebody's cousin just to get a chance at a really hot property from some hunky stud.
    Yeah, I am a necessary parasite. But I would have rejected Hemingway and anyone like him, even knowing how much money he would make, just because he drones on and wrote for him, not his audience. Wait a minute, I know what's wrong...you have an MFA, don't you?
    HA!--Love, Marley

  • At 5:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I know what you are thinking...she isn't going to try to re-write Hemingway, is she? Well, just watch this shit!

    MY VERSION: Dusty leaves covered the road by our river, having fallen there after the troops marched by. It was the beginning of the end for me. My life, my love, would never be the same; I just didn't know it yet.

    Yeah, I did it--I re-wrote fucking Hemingway! Screw 'im and his depressing descriptive narrative.

  • At 5:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    Hemingway doesn't have the chops eh? I guess that's why he never ever shows up on the syllabus of 20th c lit class. No chops.

    If you think the start of Farewell to Arms is just wordy description you're more of a blowhard than your posts suggest. This is gorgeous clear prose which sets the tone of the novel and introduces an initial motif with striking imagery.

    So please, go get us some more Dan Brown and stop pretending you know anything about literature.

  • At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks, Marley, for your example, even though I did have to sift through alot of curse words to finally get to it. I see what you mean and you’re right…Hemingway sucks.

  • At 6:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey Analonymous, listen up…

    Oh, the heavy sigh of derision…I am so upset! I love it when high-nosed, snooty people (usually budding writers with an MFA or PhD) who think the world would be better off if everyone just read the “classics” shake their heads at us dumbfucks who have the unmitigated gall to think some of those so-called classics suck.

    Give me a fucking break! Just because somebody’s book ends up on a fucking college syllabus doesn’t mean jackshit. I give you Toni Morrison. I give you Louisa May Alcott. I give you F. Scott Fitzgerald. I give you Willa Cather. I give you James Fenimore Cooper. You give me a headache.

    I DO think the start is wordy description, and I AM a blowhard (just ask Sammy). It isn’t gorgeous prose, but repetitive fucking rambling. Actual words saying goddamn something sets a tone and you don’t need forty thousand fucking words when ten will do. Ask a poet. If you can get them off of the weed long enough. You want to know what I think? Of course not, but that’s never stopped me before, has it? I think it is the Bush Principle at work here. Let me explain:

    There are two types of people who voted for Bush. The first group includes religious fanatics and people who believe Bush was sent to fulfill biblical prophecy. The second group includes all those putzes who look at Bush and think, well, if Mr. Mediocrity in Everything I Do Fuckup can become president, then maybe my cross-eyed, deadbeat grandson Jethro Jr. can too. They want Bush to stay on top, because as long as he does, they believe that there is hope that they, too, can some day become rich and powerful without doing anything at all to deserve it.

    How does this apply to Hemingway? Well, there are three groups of people who like Hemingway and want him to remain a classic writer, or pretend to anyway. The first are academics or just regular folk who don’t want to get ostracized by admitting he sucks. Then there are all these writers who want to forsake technique using the rationalization that their work is like Hemingway’s in that it rambles on and repeats itself and winds back and bites itself in the ass, but its okay cuz Hem did it. Instead of actually working to improve their writing, they fall back on the idea that Hemingway got away with it, so it must be okay. And finally my favorite group—the manly men. I like these guys, because they don’t actually read Hemingway’s books, but just inhale the testosterone emitted from the moldy pages. I can respect that…seeeeexxxxxyyyy!

    By the way, pick a classic with some real chops. Try Hawthorne or Steinbeck or Poe or Dickens, or someone who at least once in while accidentally wrote something good.

    Fuck Hemingway.
    Love, Marley

  • At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Marley, you need to get off the caffeine or cocaine or whatever. Are you psycho or what? What agent talks like that? I think you are both full of shit. Without writers you would be nothing, nowhere, and nobody.

  • At 5:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey, Montana Bard, listen up. I have heard agents say alot worse things than a few (okay, a bunch of)curse words. I had one agent gush over my novel at a conference, and then when I sent the whole thing, his rejection was really mean, as if he had never heard of me. The things he wrote made me feel like I wasted his precious time, which I wouldn't have done if he had just flat out told me that my work sucked at the conference. My friends have had that happen to them too. It is hard to hear the crap these agents say about us on this blog, but it explains some things. By the way, not to suck up Marley, but I HATED Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. HATED IT! --L

  • At 12:14 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Wow! I like this place. :)

  • At 1:00 PM, Blogger Amie Stuart said…

    Oh my.....this looks like fun.

    Never read Hemingway but I did like Little Women ;-)

  • At 7:16 AM, Blogger Bob Liter said…

    Thanks for showing me how to fucking write.
    Bob Liter

  • At 9:41 AM, Blogger AnimeJune said…

    I read Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast", and didn't find it terrible. Nothing grabbed me about it, but to all those folks bitching about how this "genius" writer broke all the rules, maybe they could consider this credo:

    "You have to know the rules before you break them." If Hemingway knew that starting with description alienates the reader, but he just said, "Fuck that! THIS is how I roll!" Well then, his call. Don't break the rules because some "classic writer" did it. If you feel like you have to break the rules, you better come up with a damn good reason why the rules WOULDN'T work in that case.

    Write you own damn way, not like the classics. The majority of the 'classic' writers were seriously fucked up people, and I doubt many of the writer 'wannabes' (man, that term's really starting to grow on me) today would be willing to take the sheer amounts of opium and alcohol that would get them into that mindset.

    For the record, I adored "Little Women", but HATED "Little Men" and "Jo's Boys".


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