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Free Agent

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Free Agent

Well, it's looking like I am about to be a free agent again.  Gonna hit the open market, lend my considerable talents to whomever wants them the most.  Let the bidding begin...


When I got an agent two years ago, I was beyond ecstatic.  After sending off myriad query letters, most of them going unanswered, or rejected with a single, uncapitalized (and often not even spell-checked) line, I was totally unprepared for life after acceptance.  I'd been so singularly focused on finding an agent for my work that I didn't realize doing so only got me through the door to the party.  It did not introduce me to the hot girl.  It didn't even move me closer to the hors d'oeuvres table.  It left me in corner with baby, holding out hope someone would ask me to dance.

The most important aspect to consider when looking for representation, I'd been told by professor and advisor and writer alike, was to find an agent who is in love with your project.  I'd had nibbles and bites, garnered a modicum of interest out of grad school for my noir novel, The Lone Palm (since reworked and retitled into the far-snazzier Wake the Undertaker)--even had someone hold onto it for close to a year, suggesting umpteen changes, all of which I implemented, only to have said agent pass (though concede I'd done everything she asked for)--but no one was in love. When I redirected my efforts to my memoir, revising an earlier, incoherent and aimless draft (which featured, among other unsellable points, a time-traveling subplot and six tiny monkeys the size of field mice on a mission to assassinate God [spelled with a small "g"]), I landed representation with the first agent I (properly) queried.

The "query letter" is like asking the most popular, prettiest girl in class to go to the prom with you. You are woefully overmatched, flying blind, goofy, awkward and insecure, trying to convince someone who barely knows you exist to take a flyer on you. With a brief, cordial, risk-less introduction, you need to convince her in a few words that you are worth her time and expertise.  And to do it for free.

An agent only gets paid if he/she sells your book.  Which may or may not happen anytime soon.  You have to sympathize with agents.  Everyone thinks he is a writer. If an agent accepts open submissions, and most do, can you imagine the amount of utter shit she has to read?  The countless, meandering tomes with unappealing characters who sit around cafes talking endlessly (via improperly tagged dialogue) with nothing causal ever happening.  It's amazing how many writers write that same talking cafe scene (I've written dozens).  I had a former prof who said that's because writers tend to be introverted and spend so much time in their head that internal conflict is where they are most comfortable.  I guess.  But remember, like playing sixteen-minute, prog rock guitar solos: just because it's fun to play doesn't mean it's fun to listen to.

If he could, I'm convinced, a writer would pen an entire 800+ page novel composed of nothing but dialogue in a cafe (or on a train), where misunderstood and unappreciated losers discuss life, love, and death through pithy one-liners and obtuse metaphor.  Kinda like My Dinner with Andre, but without Wallace Shawn. And you can't have a dinner with Andre without Wallace Shawn.

It's not like I don't understand how tough it is to be both an agent or a publisher; I am not approaching this like a lover wronged.  I suffered through enough horseshit submissions and uninspired creative writing papers as a magazine editor and teaching assistant/tutor to know that most people who call themselves writers can't write for shit.  Still, I am a writer, and tonight I am feeling a bit heartbroken.

My agent and I are breaking up.  It's not because we don't love each other any more.  We have, in the words of Jackopierce, just run out of time.  Contract is up in January.  There is nowhere left for Michele to submit.  We've hit all the big and medium-sized houses, and while the writing has generally been hailed as just this side of James Joyce (I'm paraphrasing) (, we failed to find a publisher.

Michele loved the book, and did everything she could to see me published, and she is still willing to help me explore less traditional routes (i.e., e-publishing), but as I discussed yesterday (, I am reticent to go that direction.

So where do we go from here?  Good fucking question.  There are the smaller houses, the less attractive, dumpy cousin to the big house hot girl, which offer nothing in return, the prose version of the poetry chapbook.  It's doubtful another agent could take on the memoir and do anything with it right now.  At best, he/she would have to wait until houses roll over or the market dictates something differently.  And that will take a long time, with no end in sight.  Wake the Undertaker lacks some of the lyrical punch of Junkie Love, but the novel is more plot-centric and commercially viable (I think), so I could try to push that one, hope that my rising star within the noir community garners me more than a cursory glance.  I have the short stories and whatnot, but first book deals for short story collections are pretty rare.  Then there's the new novel I just started, which is still years away from being presentable, because I write slowly, and I just started.

But, really, who gives a shit?  I don't need the money.  I've got exactly the life I want.  I wake when I want (i.e., when Holden tells me to), I workout in my garage when I want (when my arthritic hip isn't flaring up), and I write when I want (meaning, when all my chores are done and Justine says I am off duty).  All I ever asked of this World/the Universe/God was to A.) be afforded the opportunity to be an artist, and B.) not starve.  I'd say W/U/G granted that request.  Maybe not exactly in the order or manner I would've liked.  But it was granted just the same.  Of course, now I want more.  But isn't that the way it always goes when you think you've got everything you want?  Like the Boss says, "poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and the king ain't satisfied 'til he rules everything"...

I don't care about being king anymore.  I just want my fucking book published.

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At November 29, 2011 at 7:55 AM , OpenID courtmerrigan said...

"I don't care about being king anymore. I just want my fucking book published."

Couldn't agree more. Also, Bruce (often) Knows All.

At November 29, 2011 at 8:01 AM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

And what he doesn't, court, Tom Waits usually covers...

At November 29, 2011 at 11:47 AM , Blogger tom pitts said...

Sorry. but as long as we're tossing up song lyrics, I'm gonna give you a dose of the sage wisdom of John Prine, (there's a lot to choose from, so I'll keep it simple)
"It's a half an inch of water, you think you're gonna drown. That's the way that the world goes round." There now, don't we all feel better?

At November 29, 2011 at 12:59 PM , OpenID thetroublewithtwentytwo said...

Sorry to hear that Joe. I'm glad you've started on your next novel. It took me a while to get into mine, but once I did it made the heartbreak of letting go easier. If you want to consider self publishing, check out agent Meredith Barnes's blog:

If you give it your 110% with marketing, I don't think it's a bad route to go. I might do it if my second novel doesn't land me an agent. Best of luck on this crazy journey and be grateful for the freedom of your writing schedule. I dream of the day when I can give up my office job and sleep!

At November 29, 2011 at 11:49 PM , Blogger MattyDread said...

I loved the time-traveling subplot and the tiny monkeys. Put them back in!


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