C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

FAQs: Would I go with an agent?

Crack the Indie Author CodeWhen I attended the Banff Publishing Workshop, most attendees were bent on writing and managing magazines and publishing houses.* I knew one nice woman who wanted to be agent. I wonder what she’s doing now? There’s an excellent chance she’s selling real estate. Too bad. She really was nice. Same is true of all my classmates in journalism school who were let go from their newspaper jobs about the time they turned 40. Changing media delivery paradigms sure do stir up chaos.

Given my last post, you might think I’m against agents. Not at all. I think agents could be very useful for negotiating foreign rights for my imprint in the future, for instance.

However, their role is much reduced and smart agents are changing their games. At a recent writing conference, writers were not chasing agents so much. The Meet-An-Agent appointment schedule could not be filled. Now more agents are chasing writers and they’re very interested in how your self-published books are doing. They weren’t at all interested a short time ago. In fact, some were quite pissy about the prospect. But now? Establish a happy track record and they might come a courtin’.

The short answer to this post’s title is:

I’d be interested in hearing what an agent feels he or she could do for me. There are good agents out there. I think hybrid publishing maximizes exposure and opportunities for you and your readers. Look at Wool author Hugh Howey’s experience. An agent found him and she was willing to travel outside the ruts of old publishing’s logging road to get Hugh a deal that worked for everyone.

The long answer? Let’s go with bullet points so I can make this shorter:

  • The submissions process can be a long ordeal. Long as in, are you young enough to begin now?)
  • You may be asked to make major changes to your manuscript. If you succeed in getting a book deal, you’ll make even more major changes.
  • You may choose to make the requested changes and they still won’t take you on. (They may even forget the changes they suggested. Yes, that’s happened.)
  • You can get an agent but still fail to place the book with a publisher. An agent is a person, not a guarantee of slinging back cosmos in Manhattan with your new editor.
  • The myth is that you choose an agent. The fact is if someone sends you a contract, most authors pee their pants and quickly sign. Regret is for later.
  • You can find an agent, dance joyously and then find out it’s a scam (as happened to a friend of mine.)
  • You could bypass the agent and submit directly to publishing houses and they’ll still read it. (They say they don’t, but most will.)
  • As Dean Wesley Smith has said, agents should be your employees. I’m sure he’s right. Guess how many agents see their professional status that way?
  • Submit to the wrong agent who blogs and they’ll mock your submission. Unprofessional, I’d say. As Will McEvoy said recently, “Snark is the idiot’s version of wit.”
  • Good agents have precious few slots open for new clients. Bad agents and scammers demand reading fees.
  • Rather than submit query letters to agents, many agents find new clients via recommendations from the authors in their stable. Who you know? Yeah, that’s still a thing. It’s called networking. Ignore the denials.
  • Getting an agent is tougher than getting published. Why not publish it yourself first and start selling now? As I’ve said many times, Amazon is the new slush pile.
  • Some agents live in fear of submitting manuscripts that might not be accepted. They have to be so sure, they’re too risk averse. One agent complained that one false move with a particular editor would lose her access forever. This sad story tells me that’s a crazed editor. It also tells me that’s an agent who is too fearful, forever doomed to be chasing trends instead of helping to make them.
  • The agent/author relationship is like a marriage: They have a piece of you forever even after the divorce.
  • Lazy agents say, “This would be hard to sell.” As a former sales rep for many publishing companies, I can assure you that there are few easy sales. We don’t need you for easy sales. Selling is part of the job. The better question is, “How can I sell this and to whom?”
  • Often when they say, “This would be a hard sell”, they aren’t lazy. It’s a euphemism for, “I think this is crap but why not be diplomatic?” They’re being kind. Don’t resent them for it. Move on.
  • You’ll get a better deal with a good agent than without her. A good agent will more than pay for herself. However, some agents are getting paid for doing very little. They treat the publisher’s contract as set in stone. That’s supposed to be the publisher’s attitude. It’s a bad attitude for the person negotiating for you.
  • Good agents can act as a buffer and help resolve conflicts with editors. Bad agents are the source of personality conflicts.
  • You have to trust your agent. You don’t have to love your agent. It’s a business relationship. That’s less clear in the beginning when you’re riding high. It’s very clear when they dump your mid-lister ass.
  • A good agent can do things you can’t and navigate the tiny details of contracts. A good agent can pay great dividends for their fifteen percent.
  • But an entertainment lawyer can practice law and navigate the tiny details of contracts and you pay them once. Hm.
  • A good agent can justify their participation in your enterprise without sounding old-school entitled about it. They work in listening mode.
  • Trad publishing has changed. Good agents know it and are adapting to serve their clients better.

TPOD 0616 EP 1 coverAuthors who love their agents are everywhere. A plethora of horror stories about agents also span the Internet, just as there are snarky complaints about clueless authors everywhere.

A better question is about the human variable: You.

Would you feel better with an experienced, connected agent helping you on an ongoing basis?

Or does the prospect fill you with anxiety?

Are you happier as a publisher/author/entrepreneur who pays for an entertainment lawyer’s expertise on an ad hoc basis?

Enter the relationship self-aware, eyes open.

Even better:

How do you find a good agent if you want one?

Ask an author in your genre who is already delighted with their agent.

*FYI: A magazine is something people used to subscribe to and read, like a blog but made out of glossy paper. Publishing houses were places that had an undeserved reputation for great cocktail parties that were vaguely upper crust, literate and British, no matter where they were located or how little the worker drones were paid.)

~ Robert Chazz Chute was one of those worker drones. He is the author of This Plague of Days World flu pandemic! Autism! Zombies! Oh, my!

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Filed under: agents, Books, publishing, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FAQs: How to write books agents will hate (but readers might love)

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

Yesterday I told you how a well-meaning friend with experience in traditional publishing gave me advice I thought was askew. As we struggle to gain traction in the marketplace, we get a lot of well-meaning advice we can’t take. (You’ve probably read that sort of advice here from me.) My friend’s other foray at saving me from myself was to tell me to court agents. “With World War Z, zombies are big this summer! Find horror agents and get traditionally published!” he said.

It’s not that it’s necessarily bad advice. However, it’s bad advice for me. Here’s a list of the things I do in my books that repel agents like fried bat armpits at the wedding feast:

1. Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus is written in second person, present tense. Unconventional scares agents away. They’re trying to make money after all. I don’t blame them, but I’m in the Art and Brain Tickle business first. I have this crazy notion that being me will lead to making money. Eventually.

2. The assassin/anti-hero in the Hit Man Series is neurotic and afraid of women. (Name another hardboiled gunner who has that problem. Take your time. I’ll wait.)

3. My hit man suffered childhood sexual abuse. He’s also hilarious. Those elements rarely sit side by side comfortably.

4. Hardboiled isn’t selling hard right now. Or is it humor? Or is it action adventure? Easily classifiable is really important to a lot of people who aren’t me.

5. The titles may offend some Christians, especially since it’s crime fiction with a lot of swearing.

6. The titles are confusing until you understand that the assassin, Jesus Diaz, is Cuban and it’s pronounced “HAY-SOOSE”. In fairness, agents and publishers should be repelled by these titles. It wasn’t the best strategy because any title that requires explanation sucks. After two books, I’m committed and in love. I also have a plan around this problem after the next novel in the series is published early next year.

7. In my zombie series, This Plague of Days, the zombies aren’t “true” and “traditional”. It begins with a flu pandemic. You get to see how society gets to dystopian before the action kicks into ever higher gear. The slow burn requires more buy-in from sophisticated readers. Underestimating readers’ intelligence is an easier bet.

Season One has five episodes. Get each one for 99 cents or get all of Season One at a discount for $3.99.

Season One has five episodes. Get each one for 99 cents or get all of Season One at a discount for $3.99.

8. This Plague of Days has an autistic hero who rarely speaks and whose special interest is dictionaries and Latin phrases. Sounds like sales suicide when I put it like that, huh? That sort of gamble can pay off in a book. It’s death in the tough sell of a query letter.

9. The table of contents is a long, dark poem embedded with clues to the bigger story. Reread that and tell me I’m not silly. I know it.

10. Who will serialize a book unless I do it with my imprint? (Amazon Serials didn’t bite but readers are buying in.) Besides hooking up with Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com for his awesome covers, serialization has been my best sales strategy yet. This Plague of Days is a sprawling story tracking action over two continents with a big cast of characters. (At times you may wonder, is Chazz British or American? Split the difference. I’m Canadian.) It was too long to publish as just one book and the serialization model fit best.

When you look at that list, which idea comes across stronger? A or B?

A. All agents are evil, lazy and lack imagination.

B. I am determined to fail.

It pains me to say that all agents are not evil. I’ll save further discussion of agents for my next post.

For more on the why of this post, the writer’s character and how this relates to Joyland by Stephen King

click here for my latest post on ThisPlagueOfDays.com:

Writing Against the Grain: B Movies, A Treatments and the Deceptive Familiar

 

Filed under: agents, book marketing, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Slush Pile Snark

I came across another one of those lists that tell you about common errors that lead editors and publishers to reject manuscripts. But this post isn’t about those lists. This post

manuscript

manuscript (Photo credit: El Chupacabrito)

isn’t about manuscript tips. It’s about snark. Have you noticed these lists about what you shouldn’t do are sometimes devoid of gentle correction, kind suggestions and sweet-natured guidance? Sometimes some editors and agents strike a certain tone that suggests that somebody needs a vacation from reading the slush pile.

No wonder agents and publishers have such a hard time finding good manuscripts if they’re too eager to put manuscripts down. When I worked at Harlequin evaluating manuscripts, I had to read the whole book, write a summary and a full report. I wasn’t allowed to reject manuscripts with any of the caprice I was tempted to wield. But I was never snarky about it. Being impolite to the group that supplies the crux of the cash flow would have been considered unprofessional. As agents become ever more irrelevant, are some (I emphasize some!) agents becoming more cynical and even more rude? As Shrek said to Donkey, “You’re goin’ the right way for a smart bottom!”

Sometimes unsolicited submissions were irritating, but I never whipped myself into a froth and climbed up into active dislike of writers. Read some agent blogs and you’ll find a few who have become cynical, hate their jobs and seem to hate you. Reading manuscripts takes time and some agents have decided to blame you because bad manuscripts are a part of their job that sucks. As if we all don’t have something about our jobs we like least. For instance, it’s tax season and any day now my accountant will ask if I have readied a pile of paperwork I haven’t even begun to think about and I will threaten to claw out my eyes if she doesn’t leave me alone until I call her instead of the other way around.

Of course, times have changed in publishing. No editor is interested in developing your manuscript (as happened with Stephen King to some extent and to Harper Lee to a huge extent.) Don’t get me wrong. I’ve met nice people in publishing. Nice is the norm. Smart is the norm. It’s just that the nasty ones are so much louder and more memorable.

Filed under: agents, DIY, Editors, manuscript evaluation, publishing, self-publishing, Writers, writing tips, , ,

The Author Selects the Agent Scam

Writers’ magazines occasionally run stories on “how to select an agent” or some such nonsense. Sure, you can check Preditors and Editors and ask around about particular agents, but the power differential between authors and agents is, well…the word “egregious” comes to mind. (In fact, that’s the same word that came to mind for Kristine Kathryn Rusch. See below for that most excellent link.)

When you submit work to an agent (note you’re already in submission and they are in dominance from the get go) it’s kind of like applying for a job. You send out a resume (your manuscript proposal) and agents say no. And more agents say no. Repeat until doubt and self-loathing kicks in.

When you do finally get the call, you’ll say yes to anybody.

Pick your metaphor: 

1. It’s the end of the world and don’t you want to experience the act of physical love just once before you die?

2. You’re a serial killer/diabetic and the warden says they’re fixing the electric chair and would you like your first and only chocolate éclair before they electrocute your ass?

3. The vampires have risen and this is the last sunset before Dracula’s armies of the undead close in on you, the last human survivor on the roof of The Mall of America. Suddenly Carrie Moss shows up piloting a helicopter. Do you jump on the rope ladder to safety? Or do you negotiate so she wears an even tighter leather outfit like the one from The Matrix?

Answers:

1. Of course, devirginize!

2. Eat that éclair. The sugar won’t have time to migrate to your rotten pancreas.

3. Board that helicopter and maybe you’ll live long enough for the sequel!

If you’ve run the long gauntlet of trying to find an agent, or just heard a few horror stories to that effect, you sign that contract as fast as you can. You’re closer to publication than you were, so an agent calling must be good, right?

“Must” is a strong word. In fact, read The Passive Voice  and you’ll be running to publish yourself after all. It’s about enslavement via contractual obligations that go on forever. This is scarier than anything Stephen King could possibly dream up. 

Passive Voice also links to Kristine Kathryn Rusch, which you should also read before you do anything. Don’t even poop before reading this.  

Before you put on that electric collar and tie the leash around your genitals, read your contract carefully. Make informed choices. Show contracts to a lawyer. Negotiate the egregious. Take responsibility so you hire the agent, not the other way around. And always be willing to walk away from any deal. Walking away may be the only way to get a decent deal.

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Filed under: agents, authors, DIY, publishing, queries, Rant, Rejection, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , ,

Publishing: Ownership

Ever see the follow-up to Get Shorty? It was Be Cool with Uma Thurman and John Travolta. While generally entertaining, there was a sour note and just didn’t feel at all right. It’s a problem with a lot of artistic gestation.

Uma’s character confesses her life’s ambition. She wants to turn on the radio and hear one of her songs. She says, “A song I produced.”  But she’s not talking about a song she wrote or sang or drummed or strummed. She’s talking about the bureaucracy that brings the art out and to the masses.

Producers talk about “their” films, “their” writers, “their” stable of talent. Like they own that talent, or at least rent it. When I hear an editor or agent refer to “their” writers, entitlement and ownership creeps into their tone. “I tell my writers…” “My books….”

But they aren’t your books, films and music, are they? Bureaucrats, like the rest of us, are each the star of their own movie. Money and access has been the root of that uneven power relationship.

Key words: Has been. Now agents and publishers are struggling harder to justify their roles. Why do you need an agent for access to digital publishing when you can DIY? Why should an author only get 25% for ebooks? (Or Harlequin’s egregious offer of 8%!) Meanwhile, some agents are morphing into writing coach services, expanding their offerings to stay in the role of taking care of authors. Some authors want to be taken care of. That’s fine, as long as they know their options.

The writer has been the last to get the cash. The writer has written on spec and often been a “speck” in the way they’re treated. It’s upside down. Writers are content providers. We make up things from nothing.

If you still feel powerless before the system, a small cog in a great machine, a serf among lords, a peon The Man pees on—now you’re just doing it to yourself. Take ownership of your ambitions and destiny.

Don’t blame them.

If you want power, don’t ask permission.

Just go take it.

I did. I’m now president and chief bottle washer, turd polisher and executive in charge of toilet paper replacement and Creative Arts at Ex Parte Press. Boo-ya!

Filed under: agents, authors, Books, DIY, ebooks, Editors, getting it done, Useful writing links, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

Writers & Readers: I say something new & cranky

Joe Rogan

Image via Wikipedia

Alfred Hitchcock once said a painter needs a brush, a writer a pen and a director an army. The numbers needed to make a film are coming down, but it’s still a collaborative, team sport (or a war, depending how indie you are as a filmmaker.) Painting  is still a solo pursuit and for a long time writing was solitary. Then writing got decidedly less solitary. And now, with self-publishing, the game has changed again.

Authors used to have publishers. Later, agents entered the industry and took pressure off editors by curating. They helped many authors get better deals. Now a lot of agents want to intermediate and perform more of an editorial function, possibly because other traditional roles they have fulfilled are shrinking. See this post for more on that and much more.

Now there can be fewer people between you and publication. Publishing isn’t necessarily a team sport anymore. Publishing with a group of lovers of all things literary  has produced many great books (and has probably interfered with the production of great books, too.) You may think many minds produce better material because all of us have more brain power than one of us. I used to believe that was true in all cases.

Then comedian Joe Rogan challenged that idea for me and articulated something that was slowly percolating through my cranium. In his experience as a comedian on The Man Show, he found that more suits on the set diluted the funny. His stand-up is a pure art form, moderated only by his own sense of humor and direct feedback from his audience. (I saw him at Massey Hall in Toronto recently. He rocks hard.)

It’s an old adage that too many cooks spoil the broth. Now science, as presented in the fascinating book 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute, has disproved the notion that more brains help a creative project. The most creative solutions are not arrived at by the most creative person in the room. They are directed by the loudest person in the room.

So, if your agent says “I’m not submitting your work because I don’t think it’s ready,” and you cede that power, your work isn’t going to market whether your agent is right or not.

This is the sort of thing that drives the traditional world of publishing nuts. Without those mediators, obstacles, curators, gatekeepers, shepherds and rabbis, the worry is that we shall be inundated with a slew of awful, awful books. The deluge shall be as a fire hose pointed at the tiny tea cup of our fevered minds. Without those helpful interlocutors, who will keep the bad books away?

Rather than address the curation question directly (and I’ve already addressed it many times on this blog), I’d like to say something new on the subject:

Even if that objection is valid, so the f**k what? I reject the premise. I say this is not about your convenience in going to a legacy publisher you trust for all your curation wants. This is about my freedom to express my art, which you can enjoy or not. As they say at the convenience store, “Buy or leave!”

The marketplace of ideas is opening up to a lot more shelf stock. Buckle up and put on your big boy Underoos and your big girl panties. Soon you might find more variety and much more current reading material to explore and fill your mind.

I value my sovereignty of expression more than your convenience.

I said this was a revolution. I asked you to join me.

Did you really think no one would get hurt along the way to the shinier, freer new world we’re creating? 

The results will surely be messy, but the cost of your tender sensibilities is really negligible. There will be a lot of bad books delicate grammar doilies will decry. You’ll see a lot of typos (though I see a lot of typos in traditional books, too, by the way, and yet the earth keeps on spinning.)

We value freedom and freedom of expression. A lot. The US Supreme Court allows the Westboro Baptist Church to protest at funerals with ghoulish signs without regard to the feelings of the families of the dead. Evidence obtained illegally is routinely thrown out and murderers are sometimes set free as a result. We accept some consequences far worse than inconvenience so that greater individual sovereignty is assured.

If it sounds like I’m saying your worries

about all the coming bad books don’t matter,

you’ve read this blog post correctly. 

Filed under: agents, authors, Books, censors, publishing, self-publishing, , , , , , , ,

Writers: Take a penny, leave a penny

New York City Serenade

Image by joiseyshowaa via Flickr

The agent talked about her latest sales: This fabulous author and that little debut. She called them her authors, her books. It sounded like such a glamorous world. The writer hadn’t seen any of it for herself, but she had a writer’s mind so she could imagine every tantalizing detail.

“Good for you,” the writer said.

“Well, it’s not all cocktail parties, you know. In fact, it’s not nearly enough cocktails. Sometimes I hate it. You should see our slush pile. Long nights. No down time. I’d love to read the latest good books, but I have so much to read, I end up reading more bad stuff than good. You know how it is.”

The writer nodded and smiled, but she didn’t know how it was. She only read the good stuff. She aspired to be one of those writers who get a book launch and get to gripe about not getting paid enough as they examine royalty statements.

She glanced down at her own manuscript in the middle of the desk between them. She had changed the title five times over the course of as many drafts. Now she thought the words on the cover sheet should read: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM.

The writer thought of the bills that had been piling up as she wrote and rewrote multiple drafts of her book. She wanted to ask, “What do you think we can get for it? Any chance of an auction?” The writer didn’t have dollar signs blinding her vision. Her family had been supporting her efforts to get published for a long time. She wanted to finally have some money to show for it. She thought of all those nights she said, “Mommy’s working.” Everyone else she knew who worked got a paycheck.

But the writer knew those questions would sound impertinent. Unprofessional. Instead, she acted cool and casual and nodded at her manuscript. “Is it any good?”

Is it benign? is what she meant.

Sure, it’s good,” the agent replied. Then, a deep breath and a furrowed brow. “A lot of people might even think it’s great.”

The writer’s shoulders relaxed.

“But it’s not just a question of it being good.”

The writer’s shoulders tensed again. “It’s not?” Uh-oh…

The agent picked up the manuscript, felt its weight a moment and then placed it back on her desk. Then she slowly slid it back toward the writer. “The landscape has changed a bit since we last spoke.”

The writer sat up straight in her chair. She didn’t want to pick up her manuscript. Not yet. If she took it back, it would signify something she didn’t want to see.

“There are a lot fewer bookstores. The economy isn’t recovering as fast as we’d hoped. E-books are really screwing things up, I can tell you. There’s a lot of flux in the industry,” the agent said.

“Flux.”

“Yes.” The agent pushed back from the desk and stood. “I tell you what,” she said. “The market just isn’t ready for this sort of thing right now. I could have sold this a year ago, maybe even a few months ago.”

A few months ago you told me to take another swing at it, the writer thought.

“But it’s just not hot enough with my editors—”

There it was again. My authors, my books, my editors. It was if her agent held the keys to the whole world.

“…and I’m not as enthusiastic as I’d hoped. If I take something to them which isn’t really double-plus ready for prime time, they’ll never let me in the door again. I have to love it to sell it. You understand.”

The writer thought of all those years her father sold Fords. He didn’t love every model, but he had sold a lot of cars. The writer refused to rise from her chair. And she would not touch her manuscript. Promises hadn’t been made, no. But the agent had always sounded so positive. It had taken her two years to find this agent. Everyone said two years was lucky.

“Can I…? What could I do to fix the draft?” She hated the desperate tone that crept into her voice then.

The agent shook her head, but she was smiling in a way the writer guessed was supposed to be reassuring. “I wouldn’t worry,” the agent said. “Eventually, with a stick-to-it attitude, you’ll be published soon enough.”

Soon enough? What did that mean? The writer winced.

The agent put up her hands in a soothing gesture. “Relax and persevere. Your writing shows so much promise.”

The writer had heard this phrase many times. She thought if she heard it again, she might just throw a very embarrassing, very childish tantrum.

“So what should I do?” the writer asked.

“Oh, I think you should start fresh, of course,” the agent said. She was still smiling that infuriating smile.

Fresh? The writer had begun this manuscript (her third unsold manuscript) four years ago! The weight across her shoulders felt like an ox yoke.

“Don’t be discouraged,” the agent added breezily. “This is how this business works.”

“This business doesn’t seem to be working for me,” the writer said. I’m not even sure you’re working for me. She thought it but she didn’t dare say it.

The writer took a breath, held it a moment and then let it escape between her teeth in a slow hiss. “I don’t want to hear about flux. Give me something I can chew,” the writer said. “What’s wrong with it? You were so enthusiastic about the pitch.”

The agent came around the desk and took her elbow, ushering the writer toward the door as she spoke. “It’s a combination of elements. Not loving it enough is the main thing. If you’re looking for something more concrete to work on, I’d say this draft turned into a bit too much of a cross-genre issue. We have to be sure which shelf the book will be on so we can market it effectively. Is it a thriller or is it a sci-fi? I’m not sure. I bet you don’t know. It’s not…” the agent searched for the right word, “definitive.”

No, the writer thought. She’s appearing to search for the right word, but she’s acting. She’d said this many times before. She said it the way human resources people spit out, “…and we thank you for your years of service.”

“Wait. I do know. It’s a thriller, but if they aren’t sure—whoever they are—they can put it on both shelves,” the writer said. “And if bookstores are disappearing and people are buying books online so much, bookshelves aren’t really such an issue anymore are they? Shouldn’t we at least give some editors the chance to say no?”

The agent’s mouth was a line now. “You have to trust me,” she said. “I know this business. I’ve worked in it for almost twenty years.”

The writer said nothing. She was angry, but she wasn’t sure she should be angry with her agent. She wished she knew who to blame. The agent’s answer seemed to be that she should blame market conditions. Or herself. She didn’t know, but she wasn’t so far gone she didn’t wonder if the agent’s twenty years of experience meant she was now twenty-years stale.

The agent’s hand was on the doorknob. “I have a piece of advice for you,” she said. “I have to share it with all my clients at one time or another. Are you listening?”

The writer nodded. She could hold back the big fat baby tears until later, but she cursed herself still. She knew her eyes were wet and shiny. She wasn’t looking like a professional writer just now.

“Pick up the pennies,” the agent said.

“Wha…whut?”

Pick up the pennies! My mentor always told me that and now I’m telling you. When you see a penny or a dime in the street, pick it up. It’s your message to the universe that you’re open to receive your fortune. You’ll get good things eventually if you let the universe know you’re open to whatever it will give. When you pick up a penny, you’re telling the universe, God, Fate, whatever…you’re saying, ‘I’m patient and worthy of your grace. I’ll wait for my time and my turn.'”

With that, the agent grabbed her hand and pumped it firmly twice. “Good luck!” She seemed almost cheerful. “Pitch me again some day when you’re really really ready.”

Outside on a bench the writer searched her purse for tissues that didn’t look too well-used. Somehow she had the manuscript in her hands again. The agent had slipped it into her grasp so smoothly. She looked at the cover again. She felt the weight of it. It had seemed so valuable.

And what would she tell her family? Worse, what would her writing group say? They hadn’t been fans of the story at first but she’d honed it and they had come around. The people she had trusted most had loved the story, but now, obviously, their opinions had been wrong. All wrong. Not even close to right by accident.

This, she thought, had been needlessly humiliating. She should have just waited for an impersonal email instead of making an appointment. What had she been thinking when she picked up the phone? When she had spoken to the agent’s snotty assistant, the writer had said, “I’m in the city and I thought, hey, I can finally meet my agent in person!” As if she ever just happened to find herself in New York. As if she didn’t live three states away.

She’d felt so good about that move. It seemed so bold then. She had pictured the agent taking her to lunch where they could plot strategy over gourmet coffee with cinnamon swizzle sticks. The agent, she knew from her blog, was big on planning her stable’s careers. She felt like such a rube now that she hadn’t even stayed long enough for a stale cup of office coffee with lousy powdered creamer in a paper cup.

The city street bustled on around her. Hundreds walked past and they all ignored the woman snuffling on the bench. How much older would she be before it was her turn to get noticed? How much patience was reasonable? Maybe it was time to quit.

She had always dreamed of being a published author, but it was a dream with no known origin. She didn’t have to do it. It wasn’t beyond the dictates of her own will. Would she always be held hostage to the whim of her eight-year-old self? This was like running a marathon with no known finish line. Why not stop? No one was making her do this. She couldn’t call this a profession after this. Now it was just a hobby.

She could do something else, too. She had talents. She loved to cook. It wasn’t too late for culinary school. Maybe she would write a cookbook one day. She didn’t like the hours and the time it would mean away from the kids, but she could go for that real estate license. If she saved enough, there was still time to go back to university, she supposed. But what, besides english lit, would interest her? And wouldn’t all those books be a terrible, daily reminder of the beautiful dream she’d abandoned?

The writer looked down. At her feet she spotted a penny on the sidewalk. It was so soiled it was almost black. This, she thought, was one of those plot twists that would make an editor with a MFA scoff. She smiled and, without thinking, reached for it. Before her hand touched it, she froze.

What message was she sending the universe? Patience and openness and receptivity? Like her place could only be a gift? Like the universe was deciding whether she was worth a favor?

No.

That’s when she knew what picking up pennies really meant: If she stooped for a penny she was really telling the universe she’d settle for anything.

No.

She would not settle for a grudging gift. She would choose the dignity of earning her place instead. She would go get it herself.

The writer marched down the street with renewed purpose as she shoved the manuscript into her bag. She’d print off a new one as soon as she got home. She held her head high. Her step was fast and her shoulders light. A plan was forming. There was so much to do. She had to research ebooks and POD and formatting. She had to figure out self-distribution. She had to hire an editor and recruit proofreaders. When she got back to the hotel she’d call her husband and announce the great news. She wasn’t just an author anymore. She was a publisher now, too.

She knew she wasn’t supposed to smile at New Yorkers. You were supposed to look straight ahead, avoid everyone’s eyes and blend in. Instead, the writer beamed at everyone she saw. “Bright lights, big deal.”

Filed under: agents, authors, Books, ebooks, getting it done, manuscript evaluation, publishing, Rant, Rejection, Writers, , , , , , , , ,

Writers: Check out the Pay It Forward Contest

Cover of "Pay it Forward"

Cover of Pay it Forward

This post is a little  about a writing contest.

It’s mostly about being a better, happier and richer person.

Over at Market My Words, there’s a great contest for writers. The author will pluck the right query and sample from the entries and push the winner’s name to her agent. It’s a chance to get out of the slush pile. If your manuscript is worthy, this contest could save you an awful lot of time and energy.

What pulled my attention was that she called it the Pay It Forward Contest. Do you remember the movie? (SPOILER ALERT) It wasn’t cynical. It was inspiring. It might have caught on even larger if the ending hadn’t been such a downer. Still, it was a reminder we must all use our time well.

And it made me think of how I’ve been paid forward. I have a very successful friend. By the force of his mind and personality, he’s achieved a lot and continues to achieve a lot. People are always glad to see him coming. He’s gone out of his way to help me on several occasions. That spirit defines him and, precisely because he is so generous with his advice, time and money, his success is multiplied however you choose to measure it.

Too often we associate business success with a dog-eat-dog mentality. To succeed, we’re often told, others must fail. Instead, my friend looks for opportunities to reach out to people. He helps them and in turn, he is helped. He’s genuinely interested in other people’s problems and tries to help them.

It takes very little effort to slip into the human network to, with kindness, grease the wheels of interaction and eliminate friction. S.R. Johannes, the author of the Pay It Forward Contest is doing it. Though I must decline to specify how I’m doing the same, I can tell you I’m already on it (promise!)

You know what’s great about paying it forward?

It feels fantastic!

Key question:

Somebody’s helped you at some point.

How are you paying it forward?

Filed under: agents, authors, Contest announcement, DIY, movies, writing contests, , , ,

VIDEO: When an agent asks for revisions

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Filed under: agents, authors, Books, publishing, queries, Rejection, , , , , , , ,

Writers: Time for some controversy

Book-shelf complete

Image by Medusa's Lover via Flickr

Since I’m still recovering from a Toronto weekend conference, Green Hornet and Black Swan, here are a couple of recent links you may have missed:

Dean Wesley Smith blows agents’ future aspirations out of the water (make sure you read through the pithy comment section, too!) and Anis Shivani tells you to forget everything you thought you knew about writing and publishing.

Much of it appeals to me because neither believes in sucking up and allowing yourself to be put down or kept down by The Man.

What do you think? 

Is Shivani’s rant satire or for real?

Will you dare to take this advice?

Filed under: agents, authors, DIY, ebooks, Editing, getting it done, Rant, self-publishing, Useful writing links, writing tips, , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

Write to live

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