Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Waiting to Hear

I'm waiting for a response to my manuscript from the Best Agent Ever whose office is across the Atlantic. Maybe I'll have fish and chips for dinner tonight to cheer me up, nourish hope.

Hanging out at Agent Query trying to penetrate the mind of the average agent is one way to kill time. There's consolation in the articles, the sage advice and the exhortations to be patient. Which I think is funny because if you ask any civilian, they'll tell you writers must be incredibly patient to sit there all day doing nothing but thinking. I'm fabulously patient with my work. Not so much with business. Writing the next book would help, but why do that when I can abuse my Internet minutes searching for an answer to the age-old question: Are we there yet?
Since I'm goofing off instead of writing deathless prose, I'll share what I've learned.

1. Agents are normal people just like you and me. We don't like crazies, they don't like crazies. Be normal. Be professional. Resist the temptation to drop the mask and reveal your inner crank if they reject your work. Do like I do: Take yourself off into the woods where no one can see or hear you, and release your inner crank there. Have at it. Rage aloud at the flaccid, gutless publishing industry. Then go home and eat a carton of ice cream.

2. Agents want to read good work just like us. Submit your best work. Don't blow your wad on weak stuff hoping Agent will see the diamond in the rough. Don't send until you know there is nothing more you can do with it. Even so, accept that it's not perfect; it's a work in progress that has to leave your hands to improve.

3. Agents have lives just like us. And loads and loads of submits to wade through. It's true. I just perused some pics of the Slush Pile at Agent Query. Terrifying. There are better things to do than vent your spleen on some poor agent for not responding to your submission ASAP. Vent your spleen on banks for charging criminally high service fees for no service. Seriously.

4. Agents want to know that you know what you're doing. New writers are often ambivalent about their work. Do you know what you want for your writing? Can you talk about it? Can you talk about it without resorting to language that suggests it's a bit of a lark or you're a bit of a loon for doing it? If you aren't passionate and serious about your work, I can't imagine an agent getting passionate for you. If you aren't sure what I mean by passion, you are not a writer. Better to find out now.

5. Agents like reading, thinking, making deals, and they like writers. Even if rejection comes in the mail, I'm grateful to this agent for giving me a shot. Don't take rejection personally. You were writing before you submitted to an agent and you'll be writing long after the rejection letter is filed in your scrapbook.

The Last Novel by David Markson
The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker
Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Telling Times by Nadine Gordimer

And visit Agent Query. It's good for what ails ya.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bookselling 101

This post is coming to you from behind the sales counter of an independent bookstore. I have a part time job selling books to the public and I am getting first hand knowledge on selling books to the public.

I think I'd rather be left in the dark.

Lemme tell you. A crude, mercenary mind-set takes over a bookseller. Sure the unknown author has a title on the shelf but I'm pushing the latest Stieg Larsson and Jodi Picoult. Why? Because I have a better chance of making that sale. Today my priority is the survival of the independent bookstore, not growing some unknown author.

But darn it--why are the two mutually exclusive? Remember the 70's when radio stations were ordered to play a percentage of Canadian music? The result is that today we have internationally famous artists and a healthy music scene at home. It didn't happen by magic, it took legislation.

I'm not saying we need legislation to force booksellers to showcase Canadian books. But maybe, just maybe, booksellers could be encouraged to piggyback a lesser known author onto the fame of a bestseller. As it was with the radio stations--everyone tuned in because they wanted to hear the familiar U.S. and U.K. hits. The Canadian musicians who were given airplay piggybacked onto that popularity, becoming popular in their own right.

Here in Wakefield, local performers did just that. Last year they launched the Piggyback Festival a day after the larger, hugely popular Ottawa Fringe Festival closed. Theatre-goers, hungry for more fringe, flocked to tiny Wakefield to take in the smaller shows. Today, the Piggyback Festival is a hit, attracting a heavy share of media attention.

There's no reason why a bestselling author can't drag the rest of us into the limelight. Or at leastcast a bit of glow our way. It takes a year or more for a book to be written and get to the shelves, correct? In the meantime, fans of a bestselling author can be persuaded to try another, lesser known author. I discovered William Deverell while waiting for PD James. A friend handed me a Louise Penny one day. Penny led me to a world of Canadian mystery that makes me positively weak in the knees.

With this in mind, I pop some lesser known Canadian musicians into the CD player and set a couple of fine Canadian mysteries next to good old Stieg.

Will you take a Barbara Fradkin with your Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest?