WRITER – STOP LOOKING FOR AN AGENT

The early working title of this article was, Editing Workshop in Wexford and What I Think I Actually Learned There. Sometime between then and what you see up there now, it was titled Self-Produced—Doing It (Almost) All. Such are the sensibilities of editing. 

I’ve come to think of editing in b – r – o – a – d terms, more so now with blogging, and such things as tags, and links, and ping-backs and whatnot.  I tend to come at every piece of writing from many angles, viewing it again and again, knowing even so that it may never be enough.  Therefore, when someone offers a free workshop on the subject locally, I’m all in, especially when that someone is the group WRITE TO PUBLISH. I went, and came away with more than I hoped for.

I learned of the editing workshop in an e-mail from Randy Johnston. She knows me through an article she did when Steve Mann and I shared the Artist of the Month honors at ENTITY. She writes for the newspapers—not all of them, only three. The writers’ workshop, sponsored by her group, was Saturday, February 11, in the Cadillac Library conference room.

The featured speaker was book-doctor Heather Shaw, a professional editor/writer from Traverse City. It sounded interesting. I thanked Randy and started thinking up a list of questions. The first one I had was, “How could they do this for free!?!” But I supposed that Heather Shaw was marketing herself somehow. That’s fine. That’s good. [Scroll to bottom for a link to her services]

WRITE TO PUBLISH, by the way, is a progressive group of writers gathering to learn from each other.  They’ve been bringing in guest speakers twice a year to better their own writing and that of the community. The core group meets every other week at Horizon Books in Cadillac. It’s open to anyone with an interest in writing: contact Becky Herring for the schedule at 231-775-2425. Yes, they have coffee.

So I started out for the big event early, stopping along the way at three local libraries with signed copies of RESET as donations. They were graciously accepted, and I was feeling like a writer proper when I showed up to the presentation. To see more than 50 other writers there was exciting. 

When all was said and done, several things stood out for me about this workshop. As is usual with these events, there was the unanswered question, unanswered in some cases because it is unasked, whether forgotten or elsewise—I’ll get to that later.  There was also the revelation; another standard at such events (more about that later too, trust me).  And then there was the hoped-for reassurance, that I already knew much of what was being presented. Oh, and there was the one minor disagreement, I had with what one of the presenters stated as fact, given with qualifiers and with no exceptions, and relating to the previously mentioned unanswered question. Got that?

I found Randy to say “Hi.” She’s making progress on her European travel book, and still at the papers, much to their credit. She said she was also giving a presentation as part of the program.  A multilingual retired professor, literary critic and woman of the world, Randy’s list of credentials was nearly as long as Heather’s. Her presentation was Newspaper Writing and Editing.

She gave 10 reasons why people might want to write for a newspaper. Having written for the paper myself some years ago, I could relate, though I was never as good as she. For me, the job was the much-needed training for a lot of what I do now.

She led us through a mini-lesson on how to write and edit a newspaper story. She talked about the importance, to All writers, of using a style manual. She concluded by handing out the following addresses to online resources for writers.

http://www.tameri.com/   http://owl.english.purdue.edu/  and,  www.newsroom101.com

(Appreciative applause. Ten minute break. Sweets and coffee and small talk.)

Heather’s presentation was Manuscript Editing for Today’s Writer. She stepped forward, trailing credentials long and varied—several ongoing editing jobs, several awards, and she teaches at (NMC) my old school. She was engaging, smart, pretty in black, author-itative, a brave speaker and . . . I could go on, and then I could use her advice ‘to get naked’, to strip it all back out.

Her talk was steered toward the widening self-published path, away from the traditional.

She advised us to write the book we wanted to read, and then to read it aloud. Ask, “how does it sound?” This she calls ‘cooking your book’.

She suggested using more verbs, less adjectives and adverbs. Write what you mean.  Eliminate qualifiers.  Leave room for the reader to create their own picture.

She stressed the importance of beta-readers, an often neglected resource. Beta-readers are easy to find. Use their advice to get ready for your final round of edits. Maybe consider a professional beta-reader for a paid ‘critique’.

Then . . . then, she said, “you must, MUST hire an editor.” A grand command at a thousand dollars a book.

Being herself an editor, also the author of the book Write, Memory, she may have been tempted to break her own rule. Thus formed my unasked question; “did she hire an editor?” She did say that a writer is apt to read right over their own mistakes, whereas they would probably catch the same mistakes if made by another. I’ll give that a nod, but I wonder if it must always be so. 

She and Randy ended the workshop with a long question and answer period. Quite informative.  I wondered about literary agents. I noted the table near Heather, and the fifteen books there that she had edited, all but two self-published, and one she had written. “If this is the way of the future, where does an agent fit into all of this self-publishing?”

My own mainstream dreams have long included the unquestioned search for an agent to help sell my next books. To that end, which would really be a new beginning, I had already committed many hours of preparation. I had already resigned myself to the long grueling search ahead. By most accounts, a writer bent on going through an agent should expect to spend years looking, then prepare to spend years more finding a publisher.

Couldn’t we just self-publish, and get on with it? There may be only a few self-published authors making millions, but they don’t owe 15% of it to their agents.

She went over the standard short-list of the pros and cons of having an agent. She explained that the reasons for using an agent (or are they using us?) are fast disappearing, along with the publishing houses. The fact that the remaining publishers aren’t giving as many big advances these days is no small consideration.

Many of us hung around after the closing remarks, anxious to make new acquaintances of our own kind. A pair of the WRITE TO PUBLISH members got me together with another self-published author there to ask us if we would consider ‘sitting on a panel’ at an upcoming workshop they are planning. “We certainly would,” we said.

At home later, online, I went looking for information to support this great strange idea that there was no use in chasing the old tale. Most of what I found corresponded to the same info I already had about placing one’s faith in an agent, how and why to find one, and all the variables that contribute to the experience. [Some new stuff of interest is linked beneath article.]

We all know that the vast majority of new writers will never become old authors.  Bless us for trying right?  Bless us for loosing the serpents in our minds upon the world.  For making people cry.  For torturing our protagonists.  For insisting that life be lived.  For exposing the beating heart of humanity.

We do what we can. But we can do more.

“More than an agent?” Maybe.

“How? Agents have all these odd connections with people that a writer never will.”  Bull!  We are writers.  Knowing people and odd things and making connections is what we do.

“But, agents have a way with people. They’ve got the personalities suited to selling.” That’s a nice way of putting it. Nevertheless, it’s mostly to make up for the fact that people would usually, if they could,  rather talk directly to the author. Be your own agent. Do your own marketing.

“Well, agents save the author time, time to write.”  Wrong wrong wrong.  We make our own time to write, usually out of the merest scraps of the day.  Besides, everything a writer does, everything he sees, hears, feels, thinks and dreams, feeds his mind and moves his pencil.  Doing for oneself what an agent does for 20 or 30, can’t take that much time.  And if the experience can be counted on to enrich one’s work, where’s the downside?

As for hiring an editor, or paying for a critique, I do still believe that a writer should be able to do it all. That is my aim. However, since I’m probably wrong, I may seek to trade service for service when the next time comes around, just to be on the safe side—pair up with another writer with some skill at editing, and his own book ready to be looked at.

More and more good books will continue to be self-published, self-agented, and even self-edited. Maybe an author should embrace this new model. For those who can do it profitably, “way to go!” It’s all in our hands now. Writers are able to do things never before possible. 

The old publishing houses are having the same cash flow problem as the rest of the world, and predictions of their apocalypse fill the search engines.  Well, everything fills the search engines these days.

It’s probable that the traditional publishing model will hang around awhile, morphing as it has to, to maintain appearances.  Workers and words and money will flow. Job descriptions will change. The holey Trinity of author/agent/publisher won’t just break up and melt away in the light of a new day. It might take a couple new days, but new days seem to be coming quicker and quicker.

Writers and readers will win in the end.

Brian Cool

RELATED LINKS

Whether it’s a book on spirituality, a cookbook, or fiction, if you are fairly sure of the potential for moderate book sales on a ‘completed’ MS, take it to Heather to hedge your bets.  Check out her services and upcoming classes at:  http://heatherleeshaw.blogspot.com/

For ingredients to a recipe for a delicious writer-reality-check soup, start here: http://ninabadzin.com/2011/07/05/are-you-addicted-to-finding-a-literary-agent/

Oh boy is this hot stuff! There is actual steam rolling off this next page.  This will have the agents looking both ways: http://lmmartin.hubpages.com/hub/Are-you-looking-for-a-literary-agent-Want-to-vent-a-little

Wow, this woman has let a nest of bald-faced hornets loose in the kitchen.  EVERYBODY RUN!   “WHERE?!!”  EVERYWHERE!:  http://maryww.wordpress.com/2009/04/14/the-talent-killers-how-literary-agents-are-destroying-literature-and-what-publishers-can-do-to-stop-them/

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Do I Believe in Ghosts! Part Two; Happy Birthday Marian

Midnight.

Outside, it is crisp and clear, cold, and beautiful. Old Jupiter hangs overhead, with the Milky Way a boundless river of gems to carry his chthonic majesty sailing over his kingdom, which is for the moment dark sweet night, kingdom of dreams and chance.

It is your birthday, Marian.

You are 192 years old, Lady.

You have lived to haunt us. As surely as did your ghosts in Marner, for those of us, what can smell ’em, ‘at is.

You played a man’s game and beat him at it so squarely. Write as a man indeed! Ha! I’ll show you all what a silly woman can do.

It’s a night rather like those you wrote about when the Cliff’s Holiday ghos’es cracked their horse whips and howled their madness to the cold infinite night sky that is our window on the glorious unforgiving universe.

If only it were always daytime. One could even tolerate the moon then, even learn from it. But oh night. It’s no wonder we turned out such confounded creatures when we lifted up our curious eyes in ages long forgotten. It’s no wonder so many modern folk are so ‘lighting oriented’, dependent really. Keeps the ghosts down, and oh so convenient. The electric company loves all you ghosts, no doubt.

I have an idea about you, and spirits, Lady Evans. I suspect you were resting, a tad uneasily, on the high shelf there in my father’s office—for who knows how long—nestled comfortably between the pages of Silas Marner—until his eyes rested on your tattered spine, and he heard a whisper, and he pulled you down. The book was an old blue cloth-bound volume, well read. It was a high school textbook from a hundred years ago.

He turned to the lamplight, looked wonderingly at your worn and stained cover. Tipping you open gently, he saw that several pages were gone. No matter. He left the book lying open to the missing pages, while he retrieved a pair of scissors and a paperback copy from his desk.

He had just finished the paperback, and could now justifiably mutilate it. He extracted the pages to replace the older book’s torn ones. Then for good measure he took the front cover with the painting of Silas and young Eppie. Then the afterword, then the biographical sketch. He trimmed the pages a bit on top and bottom so they would fit, and finally, when he had restored the old book to his satisfaction, he took a postcard, wrote ‘Brian’ on it, and slipped it inside. The inside cover and facing page were scrawled from top to bottom with names, most of them Cools, who had read this book. My father added his own name there in 1987. Then he slid the old book, with your ghost still alive and well, back up between Macauley’s Essays on Clive and Hastings, and Heydrick’s Types of the Short Story—all three, books once owned by my aunt, whose name also was Marian. They were books she’d left behind on the farm when she married away. Books from her high school days in Plymouth MI that she’d brought north with her. Books that seemed to show her early interest in literature, and particularly in one George Eliot, one Marian Evans.

The question that has long haunted me is this, what did young aunt Marian think about the fact that this woman had been obliged to write as a man? And! And you were brilliant! Beyond all measure. When I read your words, lines like garland on the page, reality falls away, and I am swimming in your dream.

I was to have the old book with my name in it upon my father’s death. I had known it since I was a young man, so I became acquainted with the George Eliot/Marian Evans thing. I read the book’s first chapter, decades ago, and I knew that I was not ready for this. It was in part the strange old English references, that were old even when you first wrote the tale, as it takes place in an England that may have only existed before you were born. But also because I would need to expand my vocabulary, but more, because I would need to live some measure of years, seeking wisdom enough to approach your waters, for a swim in your words.

The deal was; I would stay away—not only until I was ready to read you properly, but until I was able to use my own words, to remind as many people as possible, not only of your genius, but also of man’s ingrained tendency to treat women as lesser creatures, to steal from them, take their glory, undervalue their contributions, and much much worse.

Lest it ever be said that I tried to steal from you, to ride on your coattails, or any other such nonsense, when I used the name Marian Evans in the title of my book—was in fact contemplating using it as a bona fide pen name—you and I both know, that theft was never the objective, only respect.

I waited all these years to open the old book again. Waited until my own book was at publication stage, so no one could say that I tried to imitate you. No one could imitate you.

One question I usually get from people coming into contact with my book for the first time is, “what’s with Marian Evans?” This is of course not the first time a book has been titled similarly, as ‘kinda’ written by another—a sort of pseudo-pen name. I hope the book speaks for itself as to that question, but I also relish the opportunity to introduce you, or reintroduce you, to yet another reader.

The Marian Evans of my title is an amalgamation, inspired by you, or by my ideal of you, and in memory of an aunt I never got to know. And so, since I was writing of Earth’s sister planet Aerda, my Marian Evans became your twin, worlds removed.

I hold the old book in my hands tonight. Are you still in there? Have you gone on elsewhere, to kindle a fire in another’s mind? Jupiter smiles his grim best along with me as I scrawl my own name on the inside cover, directly beneath that of my father, Melvin Cool.

Again, happy birthday. May your ghost live long.

Brian

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, LAUNCH

                                                                                                                                              

My plan to market RESET by Marian Evans includes; doing a number of interviews for various media sources (which I will post here), a stint in December as artist of the month at Entity in Marion, Book Signings (to be announced), and a hundred other little things, but first . . . I want to give credit where it is due by holding a Prelaunch Party for those who have helped.

Like any good book, it has taken the efforts of many people to make it a reality, as the following excerpt from the print version will show.

LOVE AND APPRECIATION    

Thanks to Mom for religion–to Dad, for the freedom to question it; to both of you for my life, and for your guidance and love.  

To my team of beta-readers, for encouragement, but most of all for your criticisms: Amanda, Blake, Charles, Christina, Elaine, John, Julie, Karen, Larry, Liz, and Mike. Thanks again. I’m sure it wasn’t easy with those early drafts.

Cover Magic: Linda Smith of Traverse City MI for the use of your painting Sunset on the Bay. I was impressed when I first saw it, stunned actually. Your work with metallic compounds can cause ghostly optical effects when viewed in different lights. I was visiting friends up north, and right there on their diningroom wall was Willow’s little boat on the beach, and seagulls in a different sky. Photographer/Designer Elaine Edstrom, owns and loves the painting, so it became rather obvious who should do the cover design. Thank you ladies.

In the small town of Reed City MI, lives a big man, Steve Mann, a relatively unknown artist, whose natural talent I’ve long admired. Steve, I can’t tell you how happy it made me when you agreed to do the illustrations. But, had I gone ‘mainstream’, would I suggest to the publisher that we use your work? Well, it’s just not done that way. Their loss. I hope we can do it again soon.

Thanks to Ms. Belgowan, now Mrs. Maskill, for trying to teach us Pine River kids to write right, and for providing the spark all those years ago (through one of your homework assignments), for Willow Walker.

Thanks to Roger Peel of Luther MI for tech-help.

Thank you Karen and Christina, for your infinite patience and love. Also for all your help on this thing, past present and future.

And thank you reader. Marian says thanks too.

(I have one Matthew Davis to add to that list for help with the e-book version.)

What a team to have on my side! Now to try to get them all under one roof.  

prelaunch party invite

Do I Believe In Ghosts! Part One; The Proof

Another Halloween is just over, peanut butter appreciation day is just around the corner, and sandwiched in there somewhere is the publication date for RESET by Marian Evans.  Karen and I are meanwhile out working (so say some — playing say others) in the pine bough fields these days.  I love it for the time spent out of doors, and for the chance it gives me to think.  Think about things like, “did I just publish a ghost story?”

Which of course leads to the question, “do I believe in spirits?”

Uncomfortable silence…

Umm…

Well, first off, I don’t believe that you have to believe in something to write about it, but you do have to believe you can make it believable.  You just have to accept that you may never really know what you profess to believe in, whether or not there is merit in that notion.

Yep, I believe in ghosts.  Since dad died, for sure. Not because I saw him moving in his coffin, at the funeral, and before that at the viewing — something that I attribute to the mental distortion caused by my deep grief.  Not because doors ajar would be heard to close on windless days, and lamps would get turned off by an unseen hand in an empty room when they were no longer needed, (two of his biggest pet peeves were those very things).  And not, certainly not because I see him in some of my most treasured dreams, and they seem so real that when I wake to a world without him, I just want to go back to sleep.  These things taken together might conceivably lead one to wonder…

Sure, call me impressionable and you’d be in with a company of others.  That’s fine, but I could cite two seemingly inexplicable personal occurrences for every call to reason that the aforementioned company might offer.  Suffice it to say that I probably believed in ghosts all along, just more so lately.  More so since writing RESET.

One thing about beliefs — you can adjust them to reflect new information, they are subject to change.  They may get stronger or weaker, according to any given marginalia.  They may become unassailable with the weight of years, or seem to.  In the case of ghosts, I find my point of view to be ever-expanding, starting with the definition of the word, and all of its synonyms.

We went to a far out Halloween celebration Saturday before last, at the Plump Pumpkin; John and Elaine, Karen and I.  There were giant flaming balloons aloft and fireworks in the road when we arrived.  There was a walk in the haunted forest.  There were costumes of great variety and imagination.  Poe would have been proud.  It was a modern day Masque of the Red Death, minus the actual death. Talk at the bonfire out front ranged from neighborly chat to the pitfalls of socialism.  While at the bonfire out back, Tiyi (pronounced tee-I) told ghost stories, but they weren’t just stories, they were her personal experiences — to which I found I could relate.

I thought about the ghost of Mrs. Chronski in Karen’s parent’s house.  Victim of a hideously abusive relationship, ending in murder and suicide, Mrs. Chronski was known to haunt the house for years after, sometimes turning off the diningroom stereo mid-song, and ejecting the cassette with force enough to flip it out onto the floor.  Her way of telling Karen and her siblings that they belonged in the closet?  Like all good children?

“I felt like a ghost myself the other day,” I told Tiyi when she finished her last story. “I walked into mom’s kitchen.  She was doing dishes.  She looked up as I opened the door and stepped through.  When she looked into my face, she screamed aloud and grabbed the edge of the sink to catch herself.”

“Ohh!” said mom, “I thought you were your dad!”

“I assured her that it was only me.”

That’s the short and sweet version.

The truth is, I’d had the old man in mind when I stepped through the door.  Dad was a storyteller, by nature, aspiring to poetic expression.  He wrote alot and had a few small things published throughout his later years.  Alas, he died too young, shortly after retiring from GM.

So, I was walking into mom’s with a ‘proof’ copy of my new book in hand, wishing dad had lived to see it, lived to write his own book, to enjoy his retirement, to meet my grandchildren (his great-grandchildren).

Was he with me?  Was he standing there looking through the window for that brief moment outside their door, watching my dear mother, his ‘Punky’, bent over her dishwater?  It is comforting to imagine him still hanging around, watching over the farm and family, offering his wisdom as a whisper on the breeze… until I stop to wonder, “what comfort is there for a ghost?”

I had just gone down to the mailbox to get the daily junkmail, there was my book proof, which I was to review and either approve, or upload a revised copy.  I hadn’t expected it so quick, but I was happy to see it when I peeled open the package and there it was all glossy and new.

Karen was at mom’s house, helping her clean, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to show it to both of them.  They were as excited as I was, and proud.  Mom insisted on getting a picture of me, ‘new author with his first book’. When the fuss was over I left them to their cleaning, to go home and curl up with a good book.  I’m happy to say that I found it even better than I thought it would be.  B. Cool

I’M HERE

“Go forth little blog post, be brave, make us proud.”

“Testing . . . testing . . . 1 2 3, Brian here calling from the GreenPole . . . anyone out there? If so, an ass is an animal.”

Today was an eventful day. Karen and I finished our work at the Maple Hill field, on Patsy and Fagan’s place, harvesting evergreen boughs. We totaled our weights, and did so-so if we can sell it all to Patterson’s. Then, since we finished early, we figured we might as well press the last of our apples, which makes for our tenth and last pressing of the year–a small task at only thirteen gallons. Still too much. Shared some with neighbors. Apples galore this year. Tomorrow the press goes into storage till next summer.  

Sandra stopped by in the evening to bring us some books, one of which was an old Foxfire Book, bless her soul. While we were visiting, Christina called us with the news that my book, Reset by Marian Evans, is now for sale on amazon.com. Exciting, and quick! I hope people like it, on the whole, though I know there’s probably a little something in it somewhere to engender the criticism, maybe anger even, of some. I trust.

I find it somewhat ironic that as I publish this story, in which a comet passes between planet Aerda and its moon, wreaking unforeseen events, asteroid 2005 YU55 will sail on by earth tomorrow, nearer than our own moon. It’s only a matter of time and, SPLAT! Which takes care of all of our petty seven billion problems rather tidily, but, I just can’t shake this hunch that we could really be something, us humans, rather than a plague on this planet.

We are long overdue for a meteorite on par with those famous dino-killers. Let’s get our heads out of our animals brothers and sisters, and get to work on the reality of that eventuality. Get that in the bag, turn this climate change thing around, then let’s get us a real purpose. Let’s be the best thing that ever happened to this planet. It’s us or the ants. Actually ants aren’t so bad. They might do better than us, if ants wore the pants.

We are celebrating tonight with some cider gone hard, sending thanks to CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing, looking forward to getting book in front of people now. Goodnight. B.