Tuesday, June 22, 2010

God, I Love Literary Agents

What follows below are the last two exchanges between me and Molly Friedrich of the Molly Friedrich Agency. Friedrich had just yesterday rejected a little book I’m putting together of Twitter tweets “written” by my dog, Buddy. I just thought it would help me break into print so it could pave the way toward my publishing what I really want to publish, which are my novels.

The form rejection letter I got yesterday from Friedrich for the second time, lauded how “interesting” my “story” was but one, regrettably, we will have to pass on. Thank you for thinking of us and eat shit and die, etc. etc. etc.

I saw two colors, in this order: Red then black. I sent her the two links to my two part post about agents and what follows is her response. What follows is my final response.

Dear Robert,
Can we please stop this exchange of letters? It's hurtful and counter-productive. Since you keep invoking John Gilstrap's name, why not query his new agent? And in what possible way was your query letter "personalized"? You never made reference to John Gilstrap. You refer to "countless hours of research". I think even a little bit of research would quickly yield the basic information that I'm fairly adverse to technology. I'm not proud of it, but honestly, I just went onto e-mail a couple of summers ago, among the last of the hold-outs in publishing. So submitting a series of tweets to me was seriously doomed from the beginning, I don't even have a cell phone, for crying out loud. You urge me to hire more interns, hire more agents--with no clue about how expensive it is to run a small business in Manhattan, starting with the costs of basic space. As for your talent, I'm sorry but there are lots of talented writers out there, half of the queries I get are from already published writers and there just isn't that much room for many more writers on my list. If you refer to my colleagues as "odious ilk", you're just going to get angrier and more exasperated, instead of trying to figure out what's not working with your query letter.

You're right, of course, that I do this for a living. I read from about 10:00pm until 2:00am every single night. A lot of that reading is transom--the last five novels I sold were all over-the-transom, debut fiction, submitted without connection or leverage of any sort. The system does really work but it requires patience and mutual respect. I'm sorry this submission of yours got off to a bad start and I hope you'll go forward and find the right agent. With best wishes, MOlly Friedrich


Did I or did I not address you directly? Yes, I did. My salutation:

"Molly Friedrich
The Friedrich Agency
136 East 57th St., 19th Flr.
New York, NY 10022
(212) 317-8810

Dear Ms. Friedrich:"

Sorry if that wasn't personalized enough. I'll try to include your DNA profile next time to prove I'm thinking of you.

I didn't mention Gilstrap in my cover letter because my talent should speak for itself (and I'm not talking about my little tweets in my dog's name, but my serious work, my novels, that you've also imperiously rejected). And besides, you don't represent him anymore. John Hawkins does. And, yes, I tried him already. Several times. And got rejected several times by one of his flunkies.

OK, I'll apologize for using colorful language. But please consider that I am 51 years old, currently unemployed for going on 14 months and get treated by employers and temp agencies exactly the same way I'm treated by those in your industry. I follow the rules, observe the protocols and guidelines and have a lot to recommend me for at least serious consideration. But neither lit agencies nor temp agencies give me any incentive for further compliance. At this point, it doesn't matter if I'm Faulkner reincarnated or Bill Gates.

I find it typically contemptuous that you would assume I'm not doing the requisite work on my end, combing through literally hundreds of agent listings, cherry-picking only the appropriate ones and personalizing each and every query letter, even to the point of quoting certain agents. I suppose it's also my fault because I never thought my query letters ever needed tweaking (I've written countless different ones and four prologues and as many synopses for American Zen alone, another brilliant book you've rejected).

And, as a personal note, I don't ever recall you saying anywhere that you're averse to technology (In your defense, saying what you rep doesn't give a writer more than a vague, abstract idea of what will actually fly or not). I saw that you repped nonfiction as well as fiction, so I threw the dice.

And then I snapped when I saw this one-size-fits-all rejection letter in my spam inbox geared for rejecting a novel. It just brought home to me once again of just how impersonal, how callous and how brainless your colleagues have gotten. When I get form rejection letters in my mailbox from agencies I've tried with multiple projects, I literally do not have any idea what they're rejecting since they don't think enough of me to reference the title of my book.

There was nothing wrong with my query letter regarding the Twitter book, not was there anything wrong with the other ones I'd sent out. I did everything I was supposed to, kissed ass for the umpteenth time and got farted in my face.

No more.

To tell you the truth, Molly, I forgot I'd even queried you with this book because I've stopped living and dying by my mailbox and inbox. I've given up on you and your... "profession."

Because I'm sure you don't need me to tell you the tide is turning, Molly. You're in the business and I'm sure you know about AmazonEncore, Cambridge House Books, Scribd, iUniverse and the "vanity" presses that you're still telling us will ruin our careers that, ironically, you've already ruined or at least stalled. That's because the current, dog-eared business model of the editor/publishing executive/agent as literary gate-keepers simply does not work any more.

Even publishers, such as Rupert Murdoch's Harper Collins, are sick of seeing you and your ilk getting brain transplant candidates like Sarah Palin $7 million for books they don't even write. They're showing enough agility to make writers partners and to share half the royalties with them as well as the risks. An agent even got Joe the Plumber, a man unqualified to write eye charts, a lucrative publishing deal. Another one got him a record deal all because he talked to Obama at a rope line.

The center cannot hold, as Yeats once wrote, and even your contemporaries are slowly coming to that conclusion. More and more writers are getting published and making money without your help and you siphoning 15% of their hard-earned money. Traditional publishing lost 1.8% of its revenue last year, knocking it down to just under $25 billion. At the same time, epublishing such as Kindle tripled their revenue to $313 million (still think I don't do my research?).

Coincidence? I think not.

You and your colleagues permanently blew any chance of signing me on. I really am much more talented than you realize, more than Gilstrap or most of the birds perching on the book shelves today. I know that makes you roll your eyes like inmates insisting on their innocence makes guards roll their jaundiced eyes.

But in this case, it's true. Guys like me don't grow on trees. And, at my age, with a nursing home and CNA's telling me how to live the rest of my life in my future in 20-30 years, I refuse to be ignored and disrespected when I know I have what it takes to be a success in this business.

Now, I tear up form rejection letters and mail the pieces back to the agents. Because I've given up on you, all of you and no longer care about burning bridges. How can one burn a bridge when the trolls beneath it forbid you to cross it? There are options we didn't have four years ago, options that threaten to make you redundant.

And you guys can either be agile and go with the technological wave that makes you, Molly, shudder with disgust or you can, as all too many of us unfortunately still do, die by the mailbox.


At June 22, 2010 at 1:15 PM, Anonymous Cynical observer said...

JP, the problem is, you're operating under the old paradigm. Or at least you used to be when you thought "I'll write some books, submit them to agents and the books will be sold to people who want to read them. That's so 20th Century!

You've raged about the $7 million deal that Caribou Barbie got, and all the deals for Joe the not-Plumber. You must realize that not one in a hundred of the books that got published under their names will actually be read by humans who paid money for them. Those are not literary books; those are payoffs. Especially to Palin. (I doubt Wurzerlhacker ever got much more than low 6 figures total, certainly not enough to retire on. He'll be doing novelty porn before long like John Bobbit did with his amputated penis.)

Those book deals are the bones thrown by the power structure to reward their loyal attack dogs and keep the dream alive amongst the proles that they too might get struck by money-lightning if they keep barking the rightist corporate line. Writing has nothing to do with the real concept of it.

Ditto with most books by non-political figures. There are some established literary lights who'll get printed because they've already been in print -- that's 20th Cen. But much of everything else is novelty -- more getting struck by lightning. You can have deals like that "*#$! My Father Says" Tweetbook, or the Lolcatz book, which are essentially tomes that you can leave on the back of the toilet to skim while you're patiently waiting for your shit to come out. You can have "books" that are tied to movie scripts or TV plots or some latest flavor-of-the-instant. Those are the ones that people will see on the Goodwill used book shelves 7 years later and say "I remember that" before they put it back down unbought.

But as far as books crafted by authors intended for humans to read, that ain't happening. Who do you know that reads any more? Maybe you are in contact with some because your blogworld includes a higher percentage of word-oriented people. But I look around me at co-workers, friends, relatives, and I estimate that not more than 1 in 20 reads a book a year. Aside from textbooks, travel guides and similar non-fiction.

Dude, talent and writing ability do not matter any more. That's old-school, and it's dying. The literary agent trade, book publishing (woe to the sub-editors, typesetters, people who run the book-binding machines, etc.) and newspapers are dying too. So if you want schadenfreude to assuage your angry rejected feelings, know that there are thousands of people going down into misery in the industry that has shat on you.

At June 22, 2010 at 1:55 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...


While I cannot and do not disagree with a single word you say about the realities of the business, I have to interject and reiterate a couple of points:

I read. My fiancee Barb reads omnivorously. My ex Ingrid reads at the same clip. I know many people who regularly read. After all, as I said, dead tree publishing is still a $23.8 billion a year biz.

I think I've also demonstrated in this post and elsewhere that sometime this spring, I'd finally had it up to here with traditional publishing. The blindly trusting mindset that talent and diligence will save the day is no longer a part of my thinking. Obviously, that's not true.

At June 22, 2010 at 2:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been rejected by Molly before. Yeah it's definitely a form letter, but she does put the name of the writer she's addressing into the letter, and wasn't that your only evidence when you were saying that your letter to her was personalized? I mean, did you just put her name on it and then yell at her when she did the same? A lot of the agents whom I wrote to didn't even bother responding. I don't know, seems like you're killing the messenger here, Robert.

At June 22, 2010 at 9:24 PM, Blogger Distributorcap said...

you are telling me the Palin didnt write her book or that she didnt have to go the agency route?

when an entire industry is based on vanity as opposed to intelligence

enough of politics......

At June 22, 2010 at 9:37 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

No, I think I proved my letter was personalized. And it doesn't matter much if my name is being used in a form rejection letter. Am I supposed to get a warm, fuzzy feeling every time I get junk mail that happens to have my name on it? A form rejection letter is a form rejection letter no matter how you cut it. And Molly's rejection letter was almost comically inappropriate.

DC: No, I'm sure that Palin got an agent but they were probably camped out in her front yard in Anchorage begging to represent her. And yeah, she got a $7 mil advance for a book she didn't even write, a fact that is a sore spot and embarrassment with several agents with whom I've spoken.

Yeah, publishing's all about vanity except the bonfires ought to consist of most of the books these publishers trowel out annually, starting with GOING ROGUE.

At June 23, 2010 at 8:53 AM, Blogger Mithras61 said...

I'm just thinking aloud here...

Have you looked into getting your work into an ePub format? I ask because while I don't read many dead-tree books anymore, I find that I read quite a bit on my iPhone, and will likely be getting some form of tablet PC (either an iPad or some similar other branded tablet) and will likely read quite a bit on it as well.

Also - a couple names of gents who may be able to help you get started on the self-publishing format - Marko Kloos (aka The Munchkin Wrangler) & Larry Correia (self-published Monster Hunter International, which got picked up for additional editions by Baen Books). They have tried to help others get started and may be able to help you also (their politics leave me cold, but their stories are entertaining).

I truly enjoy your writing on this and other sites. I hope your financial sit-rep improves soon.

Best of luck with your writing/publishing travails.

At June 23, 2010 at 6:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As it is in most endeavors,if you have talent,you'll find success.If your talent is limited you just end up angry and frustrated.

At July 6, 2010 at 11:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As it is in most endeavors,if you have talent,you'll find success.If your talent is limited you just end up angry and frustrated."

Gosh, did you have to put it like that?


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