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/