Sunday, April 13, 2014

Good Times at Pottersville #19

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Good Times at Pottersville, 4/12/14

Friday, April 11, 2014

Good Times at Pottersville, 4/11/14

Monday, April 7, 2014

Come to the Light

     During my Rodney Dangerfield life, whenever I thought I saw a light at the end of a long tunnel, it would turn out to be an oncoming train. Think Wile E. Coyote thinking that couldn't happen to him while standing in front of a tunnel painted into the side of a cliff. You know he's going to get creamed, I know he's going to get creamed and he's the only one who's not in on the joke.
     Well, I think I'm seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and this time it may not be the A train.
     To the phone booth's worth of readers who still come here on a regular basis, you know about Tatterdemalion, the novel that tied me up all year last year and is continuing to tie me up in the revision phase. It currently weighs in at close to a Caleb Carr-class quarter of a million words. First novels by unknowns like me have zero chance of finding agents let alone homes at major publishers if it's more than 100,000-120,000 words.
     And perhaps I should've trimmed the book to something more closely approximating camera-ready status before I'd sent it out to over 225 literary agencies across the English-speaking world. But it is what it is and, despite its size, Tatterdemalion has gotten the attention of one agent who stands head and shoulders above the rest.
     I'm not going to mention this agent's name before I've even decided to hire him, if I do. But on the first day of spring last month, I'd sent off the file attachment of the book to him at his request and, amazingly, he didn't grab his head and run screaming for the hills when he saw how large it is. His assistant tells me he'll be on the road for the next week but he'd not only brought the book with him, word has it he's actually enjoying it. His assistant is also reading it at his request.
     This is the light at the end of the tunnel... possibly. While I've said that Tatterdemalion is a special kind of special, if this guy (a big fish in the big pond of literary agencies) sells this book to one of the Big Five, it could put me on the map forever. Since he also handles film rights, there's also a chance he could get a production company to at least option the film rights, if not sell them outright.
     But I'm getting ahead of myself. If he likes the book now, I'm confident he'll be wild about it when he finally reads the unimaginably brutal and powerfully harrowing ending. Maybe it's just wishful thinking but if I wind up hiring this guy, I think he'll manage to sell it. If you saw who's on this guy's client list, you may agree.
     And hope is just a glorified way of putting the cart before the ox, imaginary seed fed to a starving bird. And, while I've compared myself to Job at least once, keep in mind that Job eventually found his way out of that whale's stomach after countless crucibles testing his faith and will. I think my time in novel jail and the disrespect and ignorance shown to my work and talent is coming to an end.
      Still, things often happen at a glacial pace in the publishing world and even a best case scenario (say, him selling the property for a good advance sometime this spring) isn't going to help me out in the short term. From the time the publisher gets a property from a literary agent, it could easily take months before anything is actually signed. They first have to do a P&L, or a profit/loss statement, which is their sales people looking into their foggy, cracked crystal balls and reporting back to them how big a seller it'll be. Then, based largely if not entirely on the level of excitement of the bean counters, they decide whether or not to offer a deal and, if so, how large the advance against royalties will be. In the meantime, the agent will have already done their own P&L to determine whether or not they stand a good chance of selling this to an executive or acquisitions editor.
     Assuming an offer is made to both the agent and client, it would then take the publisher's contracts department an average of three weeks to draw up the contract. Agent and client (and any intellectual property rights attorney who may be retained to consult) then review the contract and if all clauses are agreed to, the client then signs it, sends it back to the agent who then co-signs it and mails it back to the publisher.
     Half the agreed-upon advance is then sent directly to the literary agency, which then extracts its standard 15% and sends the balance to the author. The other half of the advance is then withheld pending receipt of a camera-ready manuscript. Then the turnaround time (except for Bantam, which is about eight months) is typically 1-2 years before the book even sees a bookshelf.
     All told, it could very easily, and likely will, take until well this summer before I see even a nickle from this novel. Ask any published author and they'll corroborate everything I've said here.
     Obviously, if this book sells even for a mid six figure advance (as when he signed one of my friends back in 1999 to a three book deal with Mira in Canada), which is about as lucrative as one could hope for a first novel by an unknown, it would put my begging days behind me and I could finally stand on my own two feet like a man for the first time in five years.
     But exactly 24 hours from now I'll be standing in a Small Claims courtroom in Marlborough, Massachusetts trying to get back $190 that's rightly due to me. For a little while there, it looked as if the case would be arbitrated in Hollywood by Judge Judy after a call to my house from CBS last month. Obviously, that didn't go anywhere but for a while, CBS saw the merit of my small claims complaint. But I fucked up. I loaned $150 to some grifter hillbillies here in town who then burned me at the first opportunity. And even if I prevail in court tomorrow, there's no telling when I'll get that money back. If push comes to shove, I'll have to notify the court as to the default and have them send the Middelesex County Sheriff's department to his house to summons him in again and even seize his assets until the settlement is paid, which could take several more months.
     And the $190 I'm seeking is still a drop in the bucket compared to our monthly expenses, which about a grand a month.
     So right now I'm grasping at straws trying to keep a roof over our heads, the car running and the utilities on and we really need help if we're going to survive even next month let alone later this summer.
     As I said, I think my penance for whatever transgression I've committed in either this or another life may be coming to an end. But we just need a little bridge to tide us over until I can finally bring Mrs. JP, Popeye and myself into the Promised Land, the blindingly bright other end of that endless tunnel.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Bluebird of Unhappiness

     Some more regurgitated wit and wisdom or what passes for it on my Twitter feed over the last few weeks (Sorry for the generic, no frills look. Twitter's completely fucked up their embed code, as it was all year last year.).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Panic in Gunland

     It's difficult to remain solemn and respectful in the wake of yesterday's newest shooting at Fort Hood that claimed four lives and injured 16 others. Certainly, the tragic subject matter doesn't exactly readily lend itself to satire and snark.
     That's why we have people like Pat Dollard and Dana Loesch, "people", for want of a better word, who sally forth, heedless of social conventions by going where no wingnut has gone before, contemptuous of the Obama-era czars of basic human decency.
     Because, according to former talent agent Pat Dollard (Breitbart's Big Government, Big Hollywood, Big Douchebag, etc), we should murder all the Muslims over this before the identity of the shooter has even been ascertained. Steve Douchey of Fox and Friends With Benefits wasted no time blaming Obama for the Fort Hood shooting within the first 24 hours, even going as far as quoting a mouth-foaming right wing moron like Gateway Pundit who gave Douchey his talking points for the day like a moth-eaten Karl Rove.
     Point in fact, the shooter was no more Muslim than the President was to blame for this. The alleged shooter's name was initially reported as being that of Army Specialist Ivan Lopez, an Iraq war veteran who served four months in Iraq and was being treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So, if you want to blame a Commander in Chief for this, look no further than George "Don't Burn the Oil Fields" Bush.
     Of course, it took Dana Loesch no time flat to show what a class act she was by showing more sympathy for her fellow gun clutchers who won't lose their guns over this than the 20 victims of this latest Ft. Hood shooting. Cristina Hassinger weighed in on Loesch by saying... Well, why don't I let the principals speak for themselves?

     Undeterred, Dana then made herself the victim in true right wing fashion after she got into it with TBogg, who put the results up at his place, Panic in Funland:
     After sniffling that SHE was the one being harassed on Twitter by the daughter of the slain Sandy Hook principal "for bring(ing) the victims into this", the loathsome Loesch really let TBogg have it between the eyes, uh, somehow, for something only she can tell us.
     O, the inhumanity. O, the inanity.
     So, the moral of the story, kiddies, is that it's always the black guy's fault no matter what, we should slaughter every Muslim in America for something a Latino does to people they don't even know and right wingers should be allowed to attack whomever they want then whine about being swarmed by the blue meanie birdies on Twitter when their targets hit back. And feeling persecuted is sure a strange tack to take considering loonies like Loesch have almost all the guns and ammo.
    And every shooting becomes a referendum on the rights of gun ownership whether or not the black guy said he wants to take away your guns. The running theme in the gun control debate is that on the far right, more sympathy is shown for gun owners, even those carrying out these crimes (Yeah, Zimmerman, I'm looking in your direction) than for the innocent victims of these crimes. And the fact that eludes these cordite-huffing psychopaths is it's not us gun control proponents they have to worry about but fellow gun-clutchers like themselves.
     You know, Wayne LaPierre's "good guys with guns."
(Addendum:  I just saw that Tengrain linked to this at Crooks and Liars. If you have any spare cash, Mrs. JP and I need a little help to survive April. TIA.)

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Good Times at Potterville, 4/3/14

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Good Times at Pottersville, 4/2/14

How Not to Write a Query Letter

      A few days ago, I was web-surfing and came across a site maintained by a fellow scribe. I saw a post he'd put up over two years ago in which he'd queried literary agents about what their pet peeves were in book proposals.
     Anyone who's been following me for even a few months knows my thoughts on literary agents. Depending on your willingness to maintain the current corrupt status quo, literary agents are either a necessary or unnecessary evil inflicted on us by a lazy, bottom-line-driven publishing industry.
     But that's not to say that literary agents don't have legitimate beefs about no-nos that don't make their jobs any easier. As much as I hate and mistrust literary agents in general, that's not to say I don't have a smidgen of empathy for their lot. So this writer had sent out letters to 100 literary agents (typically, barely over half responded) asking them what their biggest gripes were concerning book proposals and query letters.
     Among the most common complaints were "Dear Agent" letters. Among all their pissings and moanings, I have the least empathy for this since they reserve the right to send us out "Dear Author" form rejections. After all, in our spare time, the more conscientious of us send out personalized letters and still get fed a steady diet of boilerplate increasingly sent out through their flunkies.
     But this is still a big no-no because it betrays a basic flaw in your strategy. Sending out boilerplate "Dear Agent" cover letters more than suggests you're not doing your research and are scatter-shooting proposals without any heed as to what that agent represents. It shows you're too lazy to do your research in the interests of appropriate submitting. And, if you're a historical novelist like me, someone who needs to do a ton of research to maintain plausibility and authenticity, how ironic would it be if you sent out letters to badly vetted agents?
     Another huge mistake novelists make when presenting their work to agencies is droning on and on about themselves and in the opening paragraph. No one cares where you were born, how much you love writing, what your great aunt thinks of your family saga. The agent wants to be pitched in the opening paragraph, ideally in the opening line (To borrow a phrase from the film business, it can't hurt to kick off your cover letter with a "log line", or a one-sentence summary of your book. For Tatterdemalion, for instance, I sometimes start off with, "The Seven Per Cent Solution meets The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.").
     Most agents will expect you to summarize the book in the opening paragraph or two, then for you to go on with a mini CV or your literary biographical blurb. What qualifies you to write this story, what workshops have you attended, any prior publishing credits, awards, etc? Always keep your CV pertinent to the book you're pitching.
     Since the onus for success is being placed more and more on the shoulders of the writer, this necessitates you have a marketing platform in place (especially if your book is nonfiction). This all but requires an internet presence, meaning Facebook, Twitter, etc. Throwing in some numbers, if you have them in abundance, can't hurt, especially if it suggests you have a built-in fan base waiting for your book. Saying your Mom and college dorm room mate loved your book will not cut any ice, no matter how objective and honest they were.
     I cannot stress enough the importance of appropriately submitting. There are roughly over 1000 literary agencies currently operating in the United States alone and many of them are specialists. Rick Broadhead and Jeff Herman are just two examples of agents who represent only nonfiction. There are many other agents who rep primarily or exclusively romance while others will only consider Middle Grade, Young Adult and childrens' book. Others are Christian agencies. If your book is a thriller intended for adults, then you need to do your research and find the right agent.
     While researching the right agent for Tatterdemalion, I tended to zero in on those who represented not only suspense and thrillers, I went right after the ones who are seeking historical fiction. A simple Google search using the words "literary agents, historical fiction" is enormously helpful in weeding out those who do from those who don't. And there's nothing more frustrating to an agent than some boob trying to sell their erotica on them when they take on only inspiration and Christian literature.
     It goes without saying you need to proofread your cover letter, synopsis and anything else you would send them. If you can't adequately proof your proposal for spelling, grammatical and punctuational errors, then it conveys to them what a slipshod writer you are. You could be the next William Faulkner but if your query reads like something written during an acid flashback, how are they to know how brilliant you are? Reading an Elements of Style by Strunk and White and making your letter as concise as possible will give them a more favorable idea of what your real work will feature.
     Another beef agents have is when you start pitching them on the sequel or other books. One proposal. One book. You can pitch the sequel later after the first has made it into print. No agent wants to read who you think ought to play the characters in your novel, which is putting a whole team of mules before the wagon. You need to get an agent first, then a publisher, then sell the film rights. And, even then, you would have no control over the casting. So keep your casting ideas to yourself.
     Here's where it starts to get a little dicey and the channel narrows. Agents want to know you did your research and to short-stroke their easily-bruised egos by letting them know what properties they've sold, who's in their client list, etc. While doing this is recommended in the interests of appropriate submitting, don't resort to outright flattery and ass-kissing. Agents want to be acknowledged for their prior victories but they can smell an obsequious supplicant like a fart in a spacesuit. One agent smelled a boilerplate when the author complimented her on her track record. The problem was she was just starting out and had hardly sold anything.
     Another tightrope we need to walk is one involving confidence. Some agents bitch about a surfeit of it while others bitch about a dearth of confidence. Finding that perfect balance is difficult but not impossible. Agents tend to turn to stone when you proclaim your book will make them, you and your publisher a gazillion dollars. Trust me, they've heard it all before.
     Then again, they also hate it when you seem to have no artistic hubris and have no confidence in your own work. "I know you're probably going to turn this down because this is my first book..." is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy. A great way to strike that balance is to say, after describing your book, something like, "this would fit in well with {this publisher's or imprint's] catalog and your client list." It shows you envision your book would be a good fit for everyone concerned while showing you've done your homework.
     And speaking of homework, this is the part of the cover letter I hate the most but everyone expects you to do this. Agents and movie producers have one thing in common: They all want to be the first to do something second. Oh, they make a pretense of looking for something original but in reality they're all looking for the next Stephanie Meyer or JK Rowling. And agents are hard-wired to look in your letter for any examples of books similar to yours or at least written in the same (sub)genre that had been successfully published. Once again, it shows you've researched your market and appraised how well your property would fit in.
     Believe it or not, some writers are so hesitant about their work they think they need an edge, a way for it to stand out so it doesn't hit the dreaded slush pile. They resort to gimmicks such as colored, scented stationary, glitter and even outright bribes like chocolate. Being a literary agent must be like living in a Groundhog Day where it's always the first four weeks of every season of American Idol. Once more, with feeling:
     Let your work speak for itself. Show you've done your legwork and have 1) Arrived at your targeted reader demographic, 2) researched the market and determined there's still a demand for your work and the genre(s) in which you write and 3) that you've scrupulously researched just the agencies that would be the best fit to place your intellectual property, including obeying submission guidelines.
     You would have a legitimate beef if you said, "But, I'm a novelist! I don't write query letters for a living!" True enough. But until literary agents are finally phased out and we're allowed to approach publishers again, this is the game we have to play. Writing effective query letters is a discipline that nonetheless must be learned, as is writing synopses. It was devilishly difficult for me but eventually I learned what agents are looking for. And as the old saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Good Times at Pottersville, 3/31/14

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Good Times at Pottersville #18

Saturday, March 29, 2014

From Bridgegate to Bridgetgate

"My million dollar lawyers said I was innocent because... hormones! Now someone make me a sammich!"
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)

     If the mainstream media was worth the biomechanical electricity required to hit a button on a remote control, it would've long ago pointed out the screamingly obvious fact that a sitting chief executive does not have the final say over his guilt or innocence in a scandal by hiring a million dollar-a-pop white shoe law firm. That's up to legislative ethics committees and, if necessary, courts of law.
     Or, as NBC's own website says,
Critics have pointed out Christie's close ties to the chief of the law firm and said that the report lacks crucial testimony from those most deeply involved with the lane closures, including Kelly, Stepien, former Port Authority staffer David Wildstein and Port Authority Chairman David Sampson.
     Yes, indeed. Just as the FBI was blocked from interviewing potential crucial witnesses (that would be the bin Laden family) in the first days after 9/11, the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher either blocked themselves or were instructed to never interview exactly the very principles involved in the Bridgegate scandal that closed all but one lane on the GWB starting on the first day of school last year. The most conspicuous absence of depositions was that of Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former Deputy Chief of Staff.
     And yet, despite David Wildstein's charge that Christie knew about the lane closures before, during and immediately afterwards, this law firm that enjoys very cozy ties with Christie announced with all the credibility of the 9/11 and Warren Commissions that Christie's innocence in the matter "rings true."
     Unfortunately and amazingly, NBC's Carrie Dann, who wrote the article,  either elected to ignore and was blithely insensible to the rampant misogyny of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher's whitewash job. Essentially, it almost completely chokes off accountability at Bridget Kelly herself and faults to a far lesser extent Wildstein himself, the guy who actually ordered the green lights turned off at all but one lane on the GWB leading from Fort Lee.
     As John Amato at Crooks and Liars correctly points out,
They show no proof of their misogynist allegations, but they include them anyway, Why is that you ask? Because this is not a real internal review report, but a document that's sole purpose is to exonerate Chris Christie. Why they thought going gonzo on Bridget Kelly was a good idea I have no clue. Maybe they believe like Bryan Fisher, that women are an inferior species and make a handy scapegoat.
     Which isn't to say we should have a pity party for Kelly, plainly a partisan political operative with a little bit of power and thought absolutely nothing whatsoever of inconveniencing countless thousands of motorists for four days straight in the interests of petty political revenge inspired by a desire to curry political favor from a man she knew would be pleased by this. And the "probe", plainly written entirely by men, shamelessly makes repeated references to Kelly's emotional instability, a terminated relationship and basically coming thisclose to mentioning the word "hormones."
     Yet, at the very least, the report still reveals Christie as a boob who hadn't the slightest idea of what his senior staffers were doing under his nose and during a re-election campaign. At the very worst, it shows Christie as every bit the Jersey leg breaker he is by commissioning an internal probe costing the New Jersey taxpayers, at minimum, $1,000,000 to take down one woman who was but one member in a conspiracy designed solely to exact revenge on a Democratic mayor who withheld his endorsement of Christie during his bid for re-election. And it shows he is all too willing to use the tried-and-true Republican tactic of misogyny to justify his actions after the fact.
     The very fact that Christie saw no problem billing the New Jersey Treasury $1,000,000 or more to have a law firm whose top dog is buddies with Christie in the interests of distancing himself from a scandal that just won't go away and to save his sinking 2016 presidential aspirations speaks volumes. The very phrase "internal probe" has about as much credibility as a crocodile in a camouflage suit.
     And imagine the furor that would've arisen if it had come out that one of President Obama's Deputy Chiefs of Staff had ordered a lane closure of a major bridge because its Republican mayor withheld his endorsement of Mr. Obama's own re-election bid in 2012? John Boehner and Darrell Issa would have burns and callouses on their hands from the lynching ropes they'd be endlessly gripping.
     Considering Christie's countless evils against the people of New Jersey, the Department of Education and a growing line of victims littering the wayside of Christie's potholed road to Pennsylvania Avenue, it's amazing that it took this long for one of those scandals to finally stick to his rotund body. And the more Christie tries to distance himself from this scandal, the more he lambastes former aides and school chums, the pettier and smaller he looks and the more he resembles the vindictive Chief Executive whom David Wildstein said knew about the lane closures and did nothing to mitigate them.
     Indeed, for someone who's obviously adept at lane closures in the interests of petty political revenge, Chris Christie knows precious little about closure itself.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Wood and Silverware? Uh, Pass.

     Remember this heartbreaking picture of Zen-like loneliness, this empty chair without even the company of Clint Eastwood yelling at it? I sure do. That was taken way back in April 2009 when I moved into my present apartment. That was during that mercifully brief period of time when I lived alone, before Popeye and Mrs. JP moved in, back when I could still leave the toilet seat up 24/7, which at the time was the highlight of my life and the best part of being a single 50 year-old guy (Well, that and endlessly standing in front of the fridge in my skivvies in the early part of that first summer). Now, the chair has long since been buried with all sorts of ephemera (How we artistes call "junk" and "clutter") and my living room now looks like a tornado-tossed shrine to CDs and cat toys.
     Well, I was driving to the post office today and when I looked at my cell phone, I noted the date and realized something. I don't often forget dates and anniversaries and maybe this one was a tender mercy. But I suddenly became aware that I moved into this apartment five years ago yesterday. The only thing in my life that was better than now is that I had a job and was about to secure a second one. Then, one month later to the day, I showed up for work and was told to come into the boss's office before I had a chance to punch in.
     By June that year, I'd lost even the parttime gig on Sundays and it's been a struggle since.
     Despite the generosity of some people that began showing itself a month ago today, we were put way behind the eight ball thanks to the state Department of Revenue levying my bank accounts and essentially extorting a month's rent from us in back taxes, fees, penalties and whatever else they could think of for shits and giggles. Add to that car woes, additional biennial expenses such as registration renewal, the quinquennial license renewal, the annual excise taxes and unforseen expenses has not made this winter a very happy one.
     Well, spring is here (In Massachusetts, that's when the icicles turn green and the penguins go north until late fall) and MLB Opening Day on March 31st is looking a helluva lot more exciting than it usually is in Pottersville and not necessarily in a good way. It's going to be a struggle meeting our bills, starting with the rent and the still-high gas bills aren't making life any easier. Add to that the fact I'm going to have to buy another brand new battery on account of AAA dicking me over and refusing to replace for free the shitty one they installed December 2012.
     So to whoever has any spare cash, please consider making a Paypal donation because things are looking really dicey. I'm sorry I haven't been posting much of late and justifying any kindness but Tatterdemalion's been kicking my ass what with my struggles with my publishers at Create Space, sending out literally hundreds of proposals to agents and real publishers plus the ongoing revision process. I'm really making a concerted effort to remain relevant and up-to-date here but my plate only holds so much.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The News at a Furtive Glance

     From the, "You Gotta be Fucking With My Head. No, Seriously, Are You?" files, Your guy, Barack Obama, got up on his hind legs and actually defended our decision to invade and occupy Iraq for almost a decade. Then he had the chutzpah to say that, while he was supposedly against it, at least we sought consensus from the international community. That would be the UN's Resolution 1440 that forbade the US invasion of a sovereign nation, Colin Powell's little cartoon show before the Security Council and the violation of virtually every international law on the books. Oh, and, according to our beloved Chancellor, we didn't grab Iraq's resources for our own gain, despite having taken a nationalized oil industry and forced Iraq to privatize it and hand it over to the same five Anglo-American oil companies Saddam had kicked out when he'd nationalized the oil industry in 1973.
     So why did Obama defend our clearly illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq? Because the Russian government is criticizing us for our hypocritical criticism of their invasion of the Ukraine, which is none of our business.
     Which has absolutely nothing whatsoever do with the oil pipelines of the Caspian Sea, I'm sure. Seig Heil, motherfuckers. We still have almost another three years left of this fascist asshole.

     Why are some of the best, brightest and, yes, youngest banksters taking the short and fast way to the pavement through their office and apartment windows? Two weeks ago yesterday, 28 year-old Kenneth Bellando did the Wile E. Coyote thing just two months after taking a new job at Levy Capital and jumped into the concrete canyons of the Big City. His suicide marks the 12th so far this year of banksters who've committed suicide. And we're not even out of March.
     Bonus factoid:  Bellando's big brother John's emails were introduced as evidence in the Fail Whale scandal involving JP Morgan Chase, Obama's favorite bank run by his favorite bankster Jamie Dimon. Oh, did I mention that young Kenneth also worked for JP Morgan? Yeah. Yeah.
     Oh, and add to the rising body count the disappearance of a Wall Street journalist who was in the middle of an OPEC investigation, a guy who suddenly got up and left without his liver transplant medication that he needs daily to stay alive.

     The Supreme Court recently announced it was ready to hear oral arguments on both sides of something that shouldn't even be an issue: A woman's right to contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Apparently, the evangelical lunatics at Hobby Lobby as well as the owners of almost a dozen other companies in the lawsuit seem to think religious freedom depends upon suppressing other peoples' right to free birth control coverage. At the heart of this ridiculous controversy is the inexplicably-held belief that corporation are people, which, once more with feeling, was NEVER decided by the Supreme Court in the 19th, 20th or or any other century. That lie was inserted into a SCOTUS ruling by a clerk who also happened to be a railroad executive.

     Finally, sometimes it really sucks being Chris Hayes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Good Advice to Bad Agents

     If you're a serious writer like me, then you've already been to countless literary agent websites. And if you've been to more than two or three, you'll click the backspace button with the growing uneasy feeling that, while they don't look alike, they all begin to sound alike.
     British literary agents, as is typical of the British, tend to be more civil and polite in their submissions pages. However, their American analogs across the pond tend to be insufferably arch, arrogant and sound as if they're ready to reject your next brilliant opus completely out of hand just for your using the wrong font or the wrong value (Not really an exaggeration, as some are so exacting in their specifications that they're impossible to meet).
     After they go on and on about their personal histories ("It all started in a little brownstone in Manhattan's Upper West Side in 1956..."), which no author really gives a flying fuck about, they then start in on what they expect, how selective they are (Like any literary agent is going to brag about representing pulp fiction and subpar work?). They come off as sounding like that Marine recruiter who'd spoken first at a banquet (because he thought speaking first instead of last was a place of honor on the roster, without realizing the audience tends to remember the last guy the most). During his speech, according to my father, the Air Force's representative, the Marine came out and said, "You think you're good enough for the Marine Corps? Well, I don't think you are!"
     This is exactly what literary agents come across as sounding like. If they haven't already slammed their gilded doors in our faces and pulled up the drawbridge to the unwashed masses of the unrepresented, they always seem thatclose to saying outright, "So, you think you're good enough to approach this agency? Impress me, peasant. But I wouldn't, if I were you because you need me a fuck of a lot more than I need you." Which they actually believe with all their black little hearts.
     As you read their submission guidelines, you can practically hear the arrogant sniffing and snuffling between the lines as they archly try to convince you who's really in charge (IOW, the guy making just 15%).
     Essentially, like Republicans, they never admit to wrongdoing or to being at fault for anything. Their decisions are inviolate, unimpeachable, beyond any appeals process short of appealing to another brain-dead agent within the same agency. That doesn't mean, however, they're infallible. Far from it.
     I've sent out what must be, by now, close to 250 queries ranging from just cover letters to proposals consisting of a synopsis and the first 50 pages. Some agencies have been hit as many as three times in rapid succession but I've mainly restricted myself, after countless hours of research into hundreds of agencies in four different countries on two different continents. That means well over 200 agencies are currently mulling Tatterdemalion.
     And after all this research, and the rude, ignorant rejections that have begun trickling in, sometimes as many as six a day, I've made a mental note of all the things I've seen and read that I don't like.
     Take today, for instance: I got a form rejection from some twit who started off the boilerplate with, "Dear Crawford..." I fired off a response that said, ver batim, "Dear Grimm, Next time, try using a prefix so you don't come off as looking more jaded and arrogant than you already are. Crawford." If an agent cannot even hide their contempt for you long enough to add the prefix "Mr." before sending out a form rejection, then that is an agent you plainly don't want or need in your life.
     I've had agents tell me that they no longer accept queries (such as another today) when the tracking website that serves in lieu of an actual website said they were still taking submissions or that they didn't represent my genre. If you change your guidelines and focus, then update your website or advise the tracking websites listing you on them. We're not fucking mind readers.
     The rejections that make me the craziest are the four word ones like the one I got yesterday that curtly say, "Sorry, not for us." This, after getting a personalized query letter free of all spelling, grammatical and punctuational errors and providing exactly the amount of sample material, if any, they request. Their fallback response is, "We get so many submissions a week, whine, whine". To which my answer is, "Hire some more unpaid interns. You don't get to whine about how busy you are when you hung out your own agent shingle then get to cherry-pick who gets an actual response and who gets an irritated, disinterested grunt."
     Another is website design. Without naming specific examples (although I could), I came across one website by a powerful literary agent whose entire site was, no shit, about 90% white space, consisting almost entirely of two useless pictures of NYC and a clip art of a pencil that looked as if it was about to impale you in the eye. And I cannot even tell you how many websites I've been to where the agents or web designers thought it would be a corking good idea to superimpose pale grey text over a white background.
     If you want people to adhere to guidelines for the common good, then provide some fucking submission guidelines. I've been to sites that gave no agents' names whatsoever, despite the fact that getting "Dear Agent" letters drives agents as crazy as "Dear Author" letters make us. I shouldn't need to go to another site just to find a contact name and concrete submission guidelines.
     Agents also archly tell you both on their websites and in their automated response emails (if they use them) that if they "don't get back to you within 2-12 weeks, then that means we didn't even think enough of you and your dreams to tell you to eat shit and die."
     Again: You are the hired help. How dare you treat prospective clients in such a rude fashion? How do you think it would go over if an author was inundated with dozens of offers and chose to ignore all but one? Put yourself in our place, if you can think for a nanosecond outside your solipsistic sociopathy.
     One major way in which American lit agents differ from their colleagues across the pond is that they still seem blissfully unaware that anti-virus software exists. Although a very few agents are timidly sticking up their haze snouts and announcing they're now taking email attachments, the majority of US agents still insist that all material be pasted in the body of the email. This is a bad idea as, #1, shitty email clients like Yahoo tend to truncate long emails containing 30-50 pages of sample chapters and, #2, emails that long can easily get strained out in their spam or bozo filters. But American literary agents still suspect all writers are vindictive cyber-terrorists who are out to give them viruses. That's how much they loathe and distrust us.
     UK literary agents are more savvy and many of them actually insist on email attachments which almost universally ask for what is now a standard first three chapters or 50 pages, so they can make an informed decision. US agents are so arrogant in their own expertise and abilities to smell a rat or a winner a growing number insist on just a query letter no more than a couple of paragraphs. If you can't hook them without them reading a single word of your outline let alone your book, then the fault rests with you. Or so they'll have you think.
     Or, as "Dear Crawford" Katie Grimm said, "The concept didn't grab me." Well, if the concept of Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull, Arthur Conan-Doyle and Sigmund Freud chasing Jack the Ripper doesn't grab you then you seriously need to get the fuck out of the business.
     Another pet peeve of mine is one that spans the Atlantic. More and more literary agents, like children begging to open their presents on Christmas Eve, want to know how the story turns out without making the slightest effort to read it. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. You want to know how the book ends? Read it. Make the time. A literary agent's job is to read books. Stop cutting corners and making ignorant snap decisions based on little to nothing. A generation ago, publishers decided they didn't feel like reading manuscripts in the slush pile either, and look how marvelously that's worked out for the American publishing trade < /sarcasm>. (Hint: Agents are supposed to pick up where editors left off 30-35 years ago.)
     More and more, we're hearing editors, agents and authors alike all saying in a bad chorus that "You need an agent these days to get a publishing contract and this is why..." but my research of late has revealed to me a growing number of agents both here and abroad that refuse to read anything unless it's sent through invitation or a referral.
     If there's a more self-interested, useless piece of shit on God's Green earth outside of the Beltway that isn't a literary agent, it's a published author. Authors, by and large, are themselves so arch and arrogant they'll actually unfollow you on Twitter and elsewhere for even daring to ask if they could put in a good word or a referral to their agent. They will never read your work to see if you're the real deal because they're too busy pimping or writing their own books.
     And many authors simply don't have the money to go to the annual Frankfurt Book Fair or to any other (involving air fare, accommodations, meals, gratuities, registration fees, etc) so there goes the myth of working by invitation. So when Sterling Lord Our God Literistic (Yes, they actually coined the word "literistic") says they don't accept unsolicited submissions, take it from me: They literally looked down their nose on you and sniffed as they did so.
     Essentially, the zeitgeist tells us we need an agent before getting a publishing contract although more and more agencies are telling us we can't get their services without a publishing history. Which means unless you began your career back when MC Hammer was making a fool of himself in his parachute pants, you stand no chance of getting officially recognized. The trends in self-publishing today are still finding ways to keep literary agents between the hashmarks no matter how the technology develops.
     But, as the American consumer was fed up with corporations to the point of starting Occupy Wall Street in virtually every major city in virtually every state, eventually writers will tire of being treated like second-class citizens by disinterested scum who are deluded enough to think the person making 15% is actually the one in charge. Eventually, we'll rebel against these parasites and, hopefully, during my lifetime literary agents will become as irrelevant as buggy whips and saddle soap.
     Until then, heed these words and be thou warned.

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