But enough about you…

a writer's blog

Archive for August, 2012


without comments


One of these guys could get the job done for you.

I’ve been contacting agents for my recently finished YA novel and it’s been an interesting mix of responses so far. Interesting because I’ve been rejected by all the ones I’ve submitted to casually, but have received enthusiastic reviews and notes from three agents who were my top picks anyway. Each of these agents has offered notes and has asked me to resubmit after a rewrite. So the weird part is, I’ve been rejected by agents who have average reputations, but given encouragement and an invitation to re-submit from three giants in the world of NYC literary agency, each of whom represents top writers whom I idolize.

It’s like being accepted to Yale, Harvard and Brown, but turned down by 7 different state universities. It’s like being picked last for a casual backlot football game, while at the same time, three NFL teams are considering drafting you as a rushing linebacker.

When scientists get this sort of mixed signal, they throw out their test instruments and just start over. Or change their emphasis to philosophy.

I started my agent search with the latest copy of “Writer’s Market” and by contacting several friends in the publishing industry and at Hollywood studios. One Hollywood contact landed me a nice response from her favorite NYC literary agent. The other agents on my contact list came out of “Writer’s Market”, though I didn’t contact any of them until I’d read about them on the web, checked out their submission policy, figured out who they represented and took a look at their recent sales.

My top-top-top pick is a woman who ranks high in all these categories. Her assistant read the first two drafts and offered detailed notes on each version. The third draft is about ready to send back to her now, pending any notes from my in-house reader (my wife, sitting up in bed right now, reading the manuscript as I waste time here on my blog).

Here’s the other odd thing: the three agents at the top of my list all responded instantly to my query, two of the three read the manuscript within weeks (the third one just got it the other day), and responded with notes and an invitation to resubmit.

The agents who rejected the manuscript were casual about responding to the query, took their time about reading the manuscript and either responded after months had passed, or never responded at all (some, in fact, say on their website, “if I don’t respond in 3 or 4 months, just consider it a ‘no’.”) We all have part of our lives we put on autopilot, so I understand that, but I actually find this one a bit odd: reading and accepting or rejecting manuscripts isn’t just ‘part’ of an agents job, it’s the seed for the whole business. Maybe that’s just me being a compulsive communicator.

I had a similar experience years ago when I was looking for a agent for screenplays. Most were rude, slow, unresponsive or some combination of all of those. The ones who gave notes back or at least sent a nice, personal rejection, were all the top agents in Hollywood. Remember Michael Ovitz? He founded Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and was, in the early 90s, the most powerful and feared of Hollywood players. I just knew that he was an agent on the WGA signatory list with heaps of recent sales, so I sent him my script. Within two weeks I got a really polite rejection letter gently informing me that Mr. Ovitz was pretty chock-a-block full with is current client list and not looking for new clients (any idiot could read between the lines of this note and catch the “unless you have a Pulitzer Prize play under your belt…”. But I hadn’t yet risen to the level of ‘idiot’).

So, my experience is that top-notch people tend to be top-notch because they’re on top of things. They read their mail and respond. They don’t act arrogant to newbies. They have a polite response to even the most naive approach, and they give you a hand-up if it looks like you have a bit of talent. Even if it means they’re letting themselves in for more reading.

As William Goldman famously said about the screen trade, “Nobody knows anything.” As soon as you put your work on the market you start to understand what that means. You think there’s consistency of opinion amongst people who make movies or publish books, and who have seen the variability in the flood of submissions, but in fact there’s no consistency at all. One person’s literary masterpiece is another person’s doorstop. Your work is ready-to-go from one point of view, still-needs-some-tweaking from another, and not-worth-the-effort to a third.

In an age where you can easily skip the whole process and just ePublish when you decide, for yourself, that your work is ready. is it really worth all the rejection and hoop-jumping of looking for an agent? Financially, it may well not be. But artistically it forces you to measure up and to reach for something better than your first idea. That’s what public art is all about.

Written by Alan

August 31st, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Posted in Writing

Stella. Stella, Stella, Stella…

without comments

Stella, shown here wtih the inventor of the ‘disapproving Southern Incumbent whose afternoon Julep has been interrupted by an uprising in the fields’ look.

“The only excuse for not coming to a class or a performance is death.” — Stella Adler (from a review of her book in yesterday’s NY Times).

Well, yah. Ditto getting your writing done.

Written by Alan

August 31st, 2012 at 9:21 am

Posted in Writing

Write every day

without comments

I finished a novel last November, got some really nice notes back from both agents who would be my top choices if one of them (eventually, hopefully) decides to take me on as a client. I’ve spent the past half year rewriting to those notes and I’m about to send the manuscript out again. If the agents aren’t wild about it this time I’ll probably ePublish at Smashwords or go directly to the Apple, Kindle and Nook stores. Because I’m wild about it, and the few readers who have given me feedback are wild about it, and I want to get it out there. Whether it’s traditional publishing or ePublishing, I should have my YA novel out sometime soon. So I’ve decided to switch my blog over to writing about writing, starting with my basic philosophy of putting words on the page.

A classic instrument of fine writing, on which you could write your one page a day.

I have friends who are successful writers, and I’m not sure how they manage things because I haven’t asked. My impression is that some of them work on bursts of inspiration and others put their head down every day for a specified time and bull out what they can.

But for me, the only way I can get anything done is to have one simple rule: write every day.

I don’t have a specific time or place where I write. I don’t have a favorite pencil (mostly I write on my laptop). I don’t have a routine because the other pressures on my time don’t allow it. But at the end of the day, I don’t go to bed unless I’ve written at least one page of something. It might be one page of screenplay, one page of a novel, or a page of a one-act play. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I write a page. Every day. No matter what.

If you set the bar low enough, it’s tough to fail. And that’s why it works for me. Lots of small successes pile up to a finished work. Once you experience failure, it’s tougher to face the blank page knowing you failed at it yesterday, so my writing rule allows me to skirt failure by redefining success as something not much harder than getting out of bed and scratching out a few words. It’s sort of succeeding downward; placing the target so close you could hit it with a potato chip (go ahead, see how far you can throw a potato chip).

It’s like an exercise program. If you run every day, then being in shape becomes a habit. Sounds simple, but the psychology is pretty complex. I know, because I’ve spent most of my life running to stay in shape and I know what happens when you let your running program slip. What happens is you no longer feel like you own it. You think about putting on your running shorts and shoes and heading down the road alone, and it feels like something you used to do, or something other people do, but not something you do anymore. It feels foreign. But if you get up and run, even a half mile, each day, you’ll start to look forward to it. Stretch your run a bit, even if you have to walk a little, and you’re on your way. it’s part of your day. It’s what you are. You’re a runner.

So skip emptying the dishwasher if that’s what it takes. Stay up an extra half hour. Mow the lawn tomorrow. Decide that your one page a day is just as important as responding to every e-mail, and far more important that gaming or Facebook or keeping up with the news. One page a day is a a novel in a year. It’s 3 to 4 screenplays in a year. It’s any number of one-act plays, short stories or novellas. Little successes pile up and become finished manuscripts, and finished manuscripts make you a write. It all starts with writing that one page a day.

Written by Alan

August 28th, 2012 at 2:35 pm