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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

The Agent Steeplechase

The “Age of Internet Communication” has made life & work easier for writers (and other artists); contacting publishers, agents, and readers is a “virtual” no-fee process (remember printing/copying costs, envelopes, and postage?). As I embark on a 3-to-4 month effort to get “Max, the blind guy” a larger chance at a worldwide distribution market, I have noticed a few things (some new, others ridiculously cliché) about the publishing industry.

Firstly, the research to hunt down likely agents is far easier than it once was. Today, websites abound on which agents avail themselves of their education, their pedigree, likes-and-dislikes, what “turns me on” or “we don’t consider.” Great!

I can send out 10 queries in the space of an hour, using cut’n’paste tech with a letter that reads as if I had only them in mind (which I do, for the time it takes me to assemble the requisite letter) even while some actually expect a writer to send a single query, wait nine weeks for a single response (rejection? acceptance? blasé criticism?), and then think I’m lucky to have gotten any response at all.

Agents/editors might have the same tech as I do, but often they are living in a distant past that even the venerable Maxwell Perkins could chuckle upon over a sandwich eaten at his desk while reading manuscripts of unknown authors, looking for that gem he wouldn’t otherwise allow underlings to pass over out of venal angst or pure ignorance.

Nevertheless, while I do in fact look closely at each agent to whom I post a query, I know that I am up against a high wall of — no, not expectations — sales/marketing mentality. In other words, agents are looking for “the next …. [fill in the blank author’s name]” while not actually able to predict what will/shall/can/ought to sell, and what won’t. Truly, this IS the case. Most of them admit to this fault; hell, major-PubHouse editors haven’t a clue (and their jobs are far more precarious than agents’).

Secondly, I retain the hold on my “product” that the agents claim they “want to see in print” and promise they’ll “work with an author to forge the best book possible” — as if any author should allow a mere agent to tell them what is or is not good writing (likewise, an editor). You see, agents and editors (who may in fact be writers themselves, but usually not (only readers), and more likely business people who look at your book as “product”) are quite lovely people who are in a terrible position of not understanding the market any more than the average writer walking through the local Barnes & Noble and/or looking at various “sales sheets” of the top 100 books. So to allow yourself, as the writer of your story, to be convinced that this story needs this’n’that changed, becomes a fool’s game, with the writer playing the fool, if he isn’t careful (I’ve heard numerous stories of writers doing major rewrites over 2-year periods, only to be told by the agent/editor, in the end, the story didn’t fit any marketing profile).

Agents, Editors, Publishers, Readers. Friends, Adversaries, Haters, Benefactors. Slush Piles, Invitations, Rejections, No-Response Bastards. Published Book, Sales Figures, Book Fairs, Public Readings, Residual Checks.  Book Reviews, No Reviews, Good Reviews, Bad Reviews. “The best writing I’ve read in years!” “I didn’t get the plot.” “I liked the opening but not the ending — couldn’t the character have lived?” “I read only stories that I can identify with the character.”

Next book project. Time to pitch Hollywood producers. Merry-go-round or steeplechase?


“Max, the blind guy” is a story of Max and Greta Ruth, their 40-year relationship, and all the demons that show up as they find that life rarely goes according to plan. The manuscript is now out with agents; it may be in print as early as December 2014.

What Beauty was published in 2012. It’s a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

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