1. Enter as many writing contests as possible. It will build up your resume, give you free opinion from someone who isn’t family or a friend if you are actually good or not, and you never know who a judge might be (For example, my radio series, The Dante Experience, was produced and directed by a judge of a radio script competition I entered).
2. Try to get an agent. An agent’s job is to find you a publisher and help you succeed. They have contacts you don’t have. You need them.
The problem is with number 2; while it is right to say it, it does always leave a little bad taste in my mouth since my experience with working with agents has been lackluster at best. So far I’ve had four agents.
Agent round-up time!
1. Lightning something or other: My first agent, I was sixteen. They worked out of Florida (no idea why). I wrote a collection of short stories that they represented called INTO THE TWILIGHT (No, this is before vampires, I was just a moody teen). They once sent me a copy of the query letter they were sending to publishers, and I was stunned– They had compared me to Judy Blume. Judy freaking Blume! Definitely had to stop wearing all black that day.
2. No idea of the name: The agent died. Kid you not! I signed with them (I was about 20), and I got a letter a few weeks later saying the agent has died. My only hope is that it was not related to my bad use of grammar.
3. A blank on the name as well: They wanted to represent my first novel, 3 DAYS IN ROME. I signed a contract and never heard from them again. It’s been over 14 years, sometimes I wonder if they are still trying to sell it.
4. McIntosh & Otis: I was with M&O for five years, and this to me was my first shot at the Big Leagues. They represent some great writers and one of my all-time favorite authors (Harper Lee). They asked to represent me after reading my thesis from USC’s Master’s of Professional Writing program. I couldn’t have been happier, but what I didn’t realize is that I was entering…
In the five years I was with M&O I sent them four different books, including the thesis that originally landed them.
Yet nothing happened, nothing ever happened. I would hear stories and get letters proving that my books were being seen by big editors and publishers (some were very nicely interested), but nothing… nothing… nothing…
I’m not sure why M&O kept me for so long. Every time I talked to them it seemed that they had passed me to another assistant or agent, and sometimes that person had no idea who I was or what my books were about. They debated which book to push, and they didn’t want my screenplays yet; always promising to push them once a book was sold (which was odd since I got my degree at USC which has a great film writing program and I had received a lot more attention for my scripts than my books). Oh, they were nice (and I am still good friends with the person who originally supported me there), but they just weren’t sure what to do with me.
That last point was very obvious during my final conversation with them. It was with another new assistant. This person just did not get me at all. Why couldn’t this book be chronological order? Why couldn’t that book just be a normal mystery? And, what the heck, is up with the style of MY PROBLEM WITH DOORS!?
So the writing should have been on the wall for me; yet, the nail in the coffin was still to arrive. That rusty nail was A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM.
What to do with Jane Austen…
Yes, A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM.
My retelling of Jane’s life as a romantic-comedy told in a style reminiscent of her voice with one surprising post-modern twist. The same book that you can find links to on this page that was just published last year on GreenSpotBlue.com. The same book that nicely garnered praise and attention from Jane Austen fans around the world…. And to put this in the time frame of the telling, there were Jane Austen “sequels” being published left and right, books about her, movies about her, and for me this felt like a no-brainer. This wasn’t another money grab, this was a book about Jane that was trying to be different, and, dare I add, special. What publisher wouldn’t want a literary Jane Austen book like this?
Well, M&O thought all of them and let me go.
I must admit it killed my writing and creativity for a few years and it still smarts. See DAYDREAM was a work in progress for seven years. The actual writing of the early drafts was some of my most fun as a writer; it was also hard work and sweat and research. And to have this work of love added to the pile of other books dead in the water, it stung.
I focused on my family, hobbies, exercise, and a lot of video games; and tried to turn off the voice in my head that kept repeating: “What about your next book? What about your next book? What about YOUR NEXT BOOK?”
Anyway, jump to last year, and JANE is out there to be read online and it got some nice attention and I want to now see it in print and as an e-book more than ever. Which brings up my concern, what to do with it?
Do I take it right to a publisher, or do I try to find an agent?
Agents have a job for a reason, they are the gatekeepers to the big publishing houses. While publishers may think this is a useful thing, I have always had some concern around this path that they had created. See, publishers can have “pet” projects, they can publish the occasion non-successful literary novel, the award-winning fiction so they can have bragging rights; but an agent needs to make money with every client, every book. They can’t financially waste their time on a work that won’t generate some green back in their pockets; representing a work is too much time, energy, and money to throw away on pet literary projects. They don’t want Faulkner, they want Stephen King. They ALL want Stephen King (In other words, easy to read and digest pop adult fiction with traditional twists and characters, set in universes people have seen before, in genres that are exactly what they are paying for. No surprises and no literary groundbreaking allowed).
Another problem I have with trying to find an agent is more personal. See, the last time I looked my five-year history with McIntosh & Otis came up with agents… It came up a lot.
Why couldn’t they sell your works? (I don’t know.) Were you difficult to work with? (No, I barely bothered them.) If they couldn’t sell your books, why do you think we can? (I have no idea. Hope mainly.) What was at one time a fact I bragged about to my writing friends (I have the same agency as Harper Lee!), now my five years with an established New York agency was an albatross around my neck. And even though it has been a few years since I was with M&O my fear is that that damn dead bird might still be there.
So what to do.
This the conundrum I face. I do think a book like this could find an audience through a big publisher, but how to get to one without an agent? Or should I just try for a smaller press, but how to get one to look at it without an agent as well? I don’t want to self-publish (shiver again), but as I get older and older the more I wonder if this is the only way to get all of these books off of my shoulders. Or should I just suck it up and do another mailing to agencies and cross my fingers?
There has got to be a different path for a writer to take, and more precisely me with this book, but what that path is or how; that is the question.