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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The Afterword for RESET

 

“I wrote this story to poke a bit of savage fun, by comparison, at our dangerously presumptuous society, and at man’s tendency toward willful and widespread forgetfulness.”

EX POST FICTO: THE END OF THE OLD WORLD, AND THE NEW JERUSALEM

A green world, home to thinking beings, and ruled by unseen forces: so like Earth–Aerda.

Sexually conflicted, black, and a woman: the perfect antihero(?)–Willow.

Stories have a life all their own. Originally planned as a long short story, Reset took hold of me and did what it would, causing me to set aside several other projects, as it grew and grew into this little book. I’m glad it did, I enjoyed (almost) every minute of it, but it left me with the odd question of, “what to do with it?” I liked it just the way it was. I look at its brevity as one of its virtues. There’s no shame in taking only as much space and time to tell a story as is necessary, quite the opposite.

What then does one do with a book–technically an over-long novella–a hair over 43,000 words? Same as with anything just outside the mainstream publishers box; let it moulder and die, self-publish, or go to the good old Vanities.

A born do-it-yer-selfer, I was led to self-publish for several reasons, artistic freedom being not the least of them. I was aware of the concept through our town’s farmers’ market committee, which is opting to self-publish a cookbook. Also, our family is putting together a book of my father’s stories, poems, and letters, as a bit of our family lore.

Many self-published books fall into some wayward niche–a small subculture of readers prefers the novella, over any other length, for instance–and sales aren’t always the driving force. They may be passionate, some are good, many are comparatively bad. Something plagues them; a lack of this, too much of that . . . .

A writer ultimately seeks to create that which will be deemed classic, maybe something Ray Bradbury’s firemen would love to torch. In aiming for timeless-ness though, I am often aware that an equally important goal is timeli-ness. One without the other–while achievable and admirable–was not my idea for Reset. While I will always write to produce works aimed for my grandchildren’s grandchildren, bless their unborn hearts, perhaps none will be as ‘now’ as is this story.

One reader described Reset as the perfect post-apocalyptic dream. We’ll have to wait for Armageddon to verify that, but by then it may be too late. Another said that the only thing I should change about it is to get it published. Keeping in mind that speed is ofttimes a mix of blessing and curse, the quickest way I saw to do that happened to be self-publishing.

Reset was cooked up partly as ‘welcome to my world’, which is really Marian’s world (more about her in a bit), and partly in response to the challenge to “write something better,” when I complained to several people about the mildly nauseating storyline from the movie ‘2012′. So I started with a plausible disaster recipe, pulled a couple of old but still edible plot lines out of the brain-dump, stirred in some well aged legend, added spices, let it simmer, and here you have it.

I wrote this story, to present the Great Spirit, or God, whoever, as a mostly mechanistic force, ultimately unknowable, super-instinctual, neither good nor evil, functionally all-knowing and all-powerful, but somehow unthinking, and even unfeeling. And to hint at some of the qualities that this Great Spirit might favor in a person–in addition to the simple likelihood of their survival, in the wake of comet El Vaca–when It chooses to reset the game on one of Its living planets.

I wrote this story to poke a bit of savage fun, by comparison, at our dangerously presumptuous society, and at man’s tendency toward willful and widespread forgetfulness. I wrote it to further the argument against all future war, and to advocate for some sort of planetary defense against killer comets, as a much worthier objective.

I won’t apologize for use of the metric system throughout. They say the United States is the only country in the world not totally committed to adopting it, but that we encourage the voluntary use of it. I guess I have to appreciate not being forced to use one particular system over another, and I do wish that tendency toward choice might proliferate deeper into a few other areas of the government. But so few Americans use the metric system, so few volunteer. Maybe in a hundred years. If we’re not all using it by then, I shudder to think why.

I mentioned the passion found in the self-publishing crowd, which is what I was talking about when I said that this story took hold of me. ‘Willow’ Walker, one of a few survivors of a worldwide catastrophe, comes to accept it after she finds herself stranded on the island of a technologically advanced group of descendants of the ancient Far Seers, who have come back from an alternate reality where they have dwelt for two thousand years. For me it was several months of taking another woman to bed, and watching her story unfold on the backs of my eyelids.

RESET is my first novel, several others are in early stages, and several shorter stories are going into submission stage now. Much of my writing experience comes from a year as news reporter for the Waterfront of Missaukee County, Michigan. Recent nonfiction work includes, writing newsletter articles, and producing the notes from meetings for three different organizations, one of which is a paying gig.

Yes, my name really is Cool. German immigrant ancestors adopted the spelling because they thought it would be cooler than K-u-h-l. 

I originally wrote and planned to publish this story using a pen name, Marian Evans, for several reasons, but decided to publish it under my own name for several others. The perceived benefits of using a pen name, compared to the real complications involved, are hard to balance. Growing up with a name like Cool, I knew it was likely that some people would think my real name a pseudonym anyway. I mostly wanted to avoid any limelight that would inevitably follow someone who writes as well as I hope to. I also wanted to avoid any controversy provokeable by the uneasy thoughts I might put on paper.

So, I created Marian, and she wrote Reset. I think she’s good, if a little strange. But alas, “words weren’t made for cowards,” says Happy Rhodes. Heeding her advice, I must take the credit, the blame, and any fame, if people recommend this story to others.

—What’s that? Umm . . . Marian asks me to note that she was NOT conceived and created by me.

Fine fine–I don’t think I need to point out that (shhh) her initials are M.E. In return, she may be kind enough to refrain from explaining, yet again, that it’s just as likely that she created me, and that I am but a crazy dream of hers.

Her name sounds like another writer, whose name and works are as liquid on the page, who was obliged to publish as a man, that her words might sell. I always wondered what that says about a man, which is all I meant to point out through the similarity to the late great Mary Ann Evans-Cross (one spelling). She had skill and grace with the written word that far exceeds my own.

Writing is my therapy for being human–after all, writers aren’t cut from perfect cloth, so there are many things I do not know. One more thing I was trying to do with Reset was to answer myself the riddle; why do we have this universal fascination with doomsdays? Precognition en masse? Or is this morbid obsession linked by some strange dynamic to the instinct of species preservation (the granddaddy of all instinct)?

There is no real rationality behind the gut feeling that it would be a bad thing if our species ceased, at some future date. Though we would understandably prefer the end, if it is to be messy and inevitable, to come after our own, preferably natural, passing. In reading speculative tales, we experience mourning for even the implied death of humankind, even if it is presented as a billion years away. Looking to the past or the future for meaning, we may think it would be a waste of all that we think we have accomplished, or may accomplish. But would it? Really? Will we ever know?

I don’t know that we have ever accomplished anything, or ever will, or if we are even meant to. We may be the meaningless byproducts of an infinite meaningless, a possibility not easy to meet head-on. The end of our own species by our own hand would then be as unimportant as all the other extinctions that we continue to cause.

Whatever the case, we are driven to bring meaning and purpose to our own lives, in part because we can’t answer the big questions definitively, so we speculate on our own potential, and most of us find a reason or two to live and love, and to have hope for our species. Maybe that isn’t easy, but I wouldn’t wish for it to be–not because a God wouldn’t grant it, nor would an infinite meaningless–but because of the obvious and simple fact that instinctual behavior is tied so intricately to survival. There seems to be reason enough in that. No matter how instinct developed in us and all other animal life, and regardless of the fact that it may exist for no more than its own sake, the will to live at least gives us the opportunity to ask the big questions. If there are unknowable answers to some, so be it.

One question leads to another and twenty, as usual, and I am not much closer to answering myself about, why the doomsday obsession? I will try to take what cold comfort I can from appreciating all the more, the questions I can answer. And to be thankful for, as an aspiring writer, the stories born where our reason meets our instinct.

Now it’s done, but other questions remain. Like: why would the bears in the story wear collars? And, what was happening off the island with the scattered seeds of humanity? And why was there no contact with two of the other three hidden islands? And—

Wait—

Marian is telling me another story.

Gotta go!

Free Tools for Writers: First Batch of Free Tools

MANU-TRACKER

I hope that you find these tools useful.  I’m glad to give them away. Just don’t redistribute them as your own.

Over the years I’ve created a few tools to help me write. These aren’t computer programs, or fancy smartphone apps. They are PDF’s. Print them off and integrate these into your filing cabinet.  I’m fanatical about conserving paper, but there are times when you want, crave, and need, a physical piece of paper in one hand and a pencil in the other.  Thanks to the Egyptians, we can do that. Now write.

The downloads below provide one system for writers to track their submissions.  Use it to follow every piece of work you produce, from its first draft, through the submission process and beyond.  Simple, fast, self-explanatory, effective, and free!             Brian

Manu-Tracker set

Publication Submissions Sheet for One Shot Deals

Individual ms Submissions Sheet

General ms Submission Sheet

Publication Submission Sheet

Introductory Post to The Real Marian Evans.

It’s Thanksgiving day here in America, and it is in the spirit of giving thanks that I offer this. Part tribute, part educational project, here’s my contribution to the Marian Evans Memorial, which is embodied in the totality of information about her to be found in print and on the web.  There is no definitive source, and that is as it should be, so this is not an attempt to be that.

Don’t expect scholarly.  I’m just a common guy.  I’ll include something old and something new about Marian with each post.  Old as in, from before a century ago—new as in, anything I might find interesting.

Here’s a bit of both, for starters.  I’ve already mentioned a certain old book left me by my father–a century old copy of Silas Marner— The Weaver of Raveloe, that belonged to my aunt Marian when she was a schoolgirl.  Here’s an excerpt from that book.  It’s taken from the introduction, page 18, and is written by Cornelia Beare instructor in English, Wadleigh High School, New York City.

George Eliot began her literary work as a translator, essayist, and editor—novel writing was at first a side issue.  When she did take it up, her habits of thought were already formed; the translator’s exactness, the scholar’s careful and minute analysis, the critic’s care for perfection of form are all found in her work.  Brought up as she was among the middle class and with plenty of opportunity to know the working class from her father’s position, she is at her best in presenting to us the thoughts and lives of the workers.  No other writer has quite her gift of entering into the personality of the character and interesting the reader in the seemingly trivial details, the sordid tragedies and comedies of peasant life.  Nor is this all.  Her works deserve to rank as classics to be placed among the truly great examples of modern art, because they never lose sight of the fact that literature, fiction, though it may be, has a higher aim than merely to entertain—its true purpose should be to teach and guide, to put before us the working out of the great truths which shape life, that, by seeing this, we may guide our own lives aright.”

That was from Merrill’s English Texts, published in 1908.  This is what my aunt Marian was reading as a 10th grader!  Wonder what they’re reading these days?  More from that book in a later post.  I promise.

Here’s an excerpt from the afterword to my recent book, Reset by Marian Evans.  Keep in mind that I was not trying to portray the Marian of my title as being the one, the only, the real and true Marian of Victorian England, but yes, she is definitely the inspiration. Quirky title and all, I hope it helps to introduce more people to the work of the girl that was George Eliot.

“Yes, my name really is Cool. German immigrant ancestors adopted the spelling because they thought it would be cooler than K-u-h-l. 🙂

“I originally wrote and planned to publish this story using a pen name, Marian Evans, for several reasons, but decided to publish it under my own name for several others. The perceived benefits of using a pen name, compared to the real complications involved, are hard to balance. Growing up with a name like Cool, I knew it was likely that some people would think my real name a pseudonym anyway. I mostly wanted to avoid any limelight that would inevitably follow someone who writes as well as I hope to. I also wanted to avoid any controversy provokeable by the uneasy thoughts I might put on paper. 

‘So, I created Marian, and she wrote Reset. I think she’s good, if a little strange. But alas, “words weren’t made for cowards,” says Happy Rhodes. Heeding her advice, I must take the credit, the blame, and any fame, if people recommend this story to others. 

“—What’s that? Umm . . . Marian asks me to note that she was NOT conceived and created by me.

“Fine fine–I don’t think I need to point out that (shhh) her initials are M.E. In return, she may be kind enough to refrain from explaining, yet again, that it’s just as likely that she created me, and that I am but a crazy dream of hers.

“Her name sounds like another writer, whose name and works are as liquid on the page, who was obliged to publish as a man, that her words might sell. I always wondered what that says about a man, which is all I meant to point out through the similarity to the late great Mary Ann Evans-Cross (one spelling). She had skill and grace with the written word that far exceeds my own.”