Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rejected manuscripts, query letters, resumes: A response

Note: Vin Suprynowicz is the critically acclaimed author of several works as well as a nationally syndicated columnist. (I read him on the Las Vegas Review-Journal website.)

When Vin tried to leave a comment pursuant to my post about whether it’s okay to query more than one literary agent at a time, Blogger rejected it as too long. “AFTER I GET DONE, your robot tells me I've exceeded the 4,076 character limit,” he wrote in an email. “Is that 600 words? I write 1,200 words while I'm waiting for the teakettle toboil.”

To this introduction I add that Vin said what I wish I’d have been astute and brave enough to write.

  The old model, pretty dysfunctional for half a century anyway, is collapsing before our eyes.
The unspoken assumptions are: 1) I need a big-time New York publisher because only that person/outfit has the money and expertise to publish my book in attractive, professional form, get it professionally reviewed and get it into bookstores. Therefore, 2) Because hardly any publishers will still look at an unsolicited manuscript, I need a New York literary agent to open the gates to one of those publishers.

But read the final page of Richard Russell's 2006 "Book collector's Price Guide." He reports the effect of the calcification of publishing into the hands of a few green-eyeshade houses is "to freeze the state of literature and writing in general, keeping it within the bounds of the type of writing that has a 'winning track record.'" As a result, "Books published in the last decade in the United States will, over time, become worthless and fit only for the dollar bins. ..."

He's right. The shelves and tables are now full of ill-written derivative potboilers, shoddily bound. Anything new and refreshing tends to come from "outside the system," often in small press runs, 500 copies run off as a lark by some science fiction club or a socialist bookstore in the Haight or the Minnesota chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars.

Agents are told to "Go find me someone who can write just like ..." James Patterson, John Grisham, Alice Walker, whoever. They don't expect to find these people in the slush pile. You'd be FAR more likely to attract an agent's attention if you said you could prove you'd had a homosexual affair with Mitt Romney, "but I can barely write a grocery list; can you find me a ghost writer?"

THAT they know how to pitch.

And they pretend to serve at the altar of "literature"?

I once had a New York agent (actually signed a contract, the works) who's since written a book about "how to write a best-seller." All he ever did was ask me with great urgency whether I could "crank out a fictionalized biography of David Bowie in six weeks." By the time I got him an outline, five weeks later, he'd moved on to some other scheme, based on a different lunch with some other impresario.

The "rule" against multiple inquiries is for the convenience of agents and publishers, who pretend they're still a gentleman's club editing Scott Fitzgerald with pencils and sleeve garters and rubber cement, and thus further pretend to be outraged over the implication that they should get in a quick bid for your services, rather than watching you grovel at their feet for a month or two before moving on to woo their equally unattainable cousin in the next block. They act as though they're Scarlett O'Hara and you've just announced you intend to propose to the 40 prettiest girls in town, announcing you'll marry the first one who says "Yes." 

It's not a courtship; it's a business. (If it's a courtship, send flowers and ask if they prefer the missionary position.)

Why send out what amount to 40 form letters, a month apart over three years, when you can mail them all the same week?

Either way, 3 to 7 percent will reject you with a form letter, the rest will never reply at all. And I say this as someone who's made my living exclusively as a writer for 40 years, all of my books printed at professional binderies, all produced with private investment capital, with not a penny of the proceeds owed to any German banker pretending to be a publisher nor to any Sarah Lawrence graduate pretending to be a "literary agent."

The Internet is destroying their distribution monopoly; the rest of their haughty house of cards will collapse soon.

The expensive collectibles of tomorrow, Mr. Russell concludes, will be unusual, innovative books "subsidy published" in small press runs today ... the same way Poe subsidized the first printing of "Tamerlaine," the same way John Grisham subsidized the first publication of "A Time to Kill" by Wynwood Press in 1989.(Current value of a nice single copy: $4,000.)

And today's academics and "publishing professionals," far from being on the lookout for the new and the good, will reject it out of hand, Russell concludes, realizing that "a 'new' novel makes their years of knowledge, study and expertise obsolete."
-- V.S. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Who killed the bookstore?

Panoramic view of Plaza Books in Las Vegas (Photo by Patrick Morgan)

Jill Olsen, of the Antiquarian Book Lounge, posted a link on her facebook page that piqued my interest. Written by Jeremy Paul, dean of the School of Law at University of Connecticut, the article asked the same question as the title of this post: Who killed the bookstore, "After which he inserted a colon and added, "After all, it was you and me."

The theme of the article focused on the fact that as consumers we failed to support bookstores by searching for cheaper prices, thus supplanting a lifestyle that combines consumption and philanthropy.

It's the first part of that statement I found annoying and incorrect. To hell with lifestyle; if I can find a book I want at a cheaper price at Walmart, I'm using the extra money to buy another book! So, no, I did not kill the bookstore; I actually saved money, contributed to the economy, supported the print industry (now referred to as pBooks), and gave myself hours of entertainment and information.

Meanwhile, I also posted a comment on Dean Paul's blog: "Maybe Barnes and Noble and Borders killed the bookstore!"

BTW, I'm getting a little tired of the media blitz about the death of the bookstore and hoping someone more creative and innovative than I will stop rehashing this story and find solutions to saving an institution I think is worth saving.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mid-century books that stand the test of time

I belong to a local group of booksellers called The Las Vegas Bookmans Guild. 
It’s a loosely-knit group of people who own used, out-of-print and collectible bookstores and willingly share their uncounted years of experience with fans (like me).

The group meets once a month at a predetermined restaurant to discuss various topics related to books.

Last week, before and after a food and drink (mostly iced tea, water and one glass of "grape juice") the topic of discussion focused on mid-century authors whose books survive – books that readers and collectors want to read, read again, or have available to read, books the booksellers receive requests for time and again.

Among the writers were James Thurber, Cornelia Otis Skinner, L. Frank Baum, Daphne du Maurier, and others on a list I compiled after the meeting, put in the pocket of my jeans then promptly washed! (Does the word airhead apply here?)

I’m wondering in this electronic publishing era, which authors (and their current titles) still be in demand in fifty years?

Any thoughts?

P.S. An interesting poll on goodreads lists titles chosen by readers as survivors.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rejected manuscripts, query letters, resumes

A few posts back, I posted a copy of an email from an emerging author who asked why an agent query should be so different from a resume submission.

To get a job, he noted, he would send resumes to as many contacts as possible. Why then should he be cautioned to send only one query letter at a time.

No one has answered his question as yet.

Should he obey the rule? (Who set that rule anyway?)

She he throw that caution to the proverbial wind and hit every potential agent with a query?

I don't know.

Do you?

Meanwhile, to make him feel less discouraged if and when he starts receiving rejections (or getting no responses at all), I sent him to this website.

I hope it made him smile and gave him hope.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Sunday?

While the rest of the nation and parts of the world are watching the Super Bowl, I'm listening to the radio and writing.

Seems as if so much revolves around this once-a-year event; it's almost like New Year's Eve celebrations.

But, my New Year resolution was to pull the plug on my television!!! Too many commercials (and I get so irritated about having to pay a cable company to sell me advertising!)

Give me a DVD player, Netflix, my radio, my laptop and a couple of really good friends and I'm a happy camper.