November 2nd, 2006

An author is not an editor or an agent

My husband was recently at a charity function. Someone there asked if would read his manuscript. My super-sweet husband said yes. (I was not so sweet when he came home.)

No, no, no. I am not an agent. I am not an editor. I don't have any magic fairy dust that I can sprinkle on this man's manuscript to get it published (after what sounds like a decade of trying). (Full disclosure: if I had magic fairy dust, I would use it on me.)

If someone wants to pay me for a critique, that's one thing. But it didn't sound like this guy wanted a critique, even a free one. I think he just wants me to read it and see how wonderful it is and somehow ensure it gets published. The topic did not sound like anything I read OR write.

Anyone who makes a little effort can figure out who my agent is and query her if they think they have written a book that would interest her. (Full disclosure: she doesn't take on many new folks at all. So if she says no, don't take it too personally.)

I remember years ago, before I got published, I sat next to Elinor Lipman's cousin at a conference. Her first book of short stories had just come out. I wrote her a letter asking her advice about how to get published. She sent me back four pages suggesting I go to Bread Loaf and saying that her agent hardly ever took anyone new on. As predicted, I did query her agent, and the agent did say no. And I never went to Bread Load. Instead I sent out dozens of query letters.

A couple of years ago Elinor was in town and I came to her signing at my local bookstore. I showed her the letter. She didn't remember writing it, but she marveled that she had written four pages BY HAND.

People who want to get published should learn all they can about the publishing business. Then they can figure out who plays what role (and who doesn't play what role). Read Miss Snark's blog. Read every book you can get your hands on. (But check first on Amazon to see what kind of critical and reader reviews it's getting. ) You don't have to buy these books – go to the library. Just use Amazon to help you find them. Once you look up one book, you'll see what other folks who bought that book are buying, and you'll find other books to read.

Even as a published writer, I still read books on writing and publishing. I've read everything from The Complete Idiots Guide to Publishing to the Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book. I leaf through writing magazines. I figure I can always learn something about craft, and writing, and the publishing business.

But don't think a published writer is going to help you get your book published.



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Cool interview with MT Anderson, author of Feed and Octavian Nothing

Here's a cool interview with MT Anderson. He says (possibly jokingly) that he uses MT Anderson "Because I can disavow my books. If I’m at a party, I can always say, 'Oh, yeah, that M. T. Anderson book… whew! I can’t even stand sharing the same last name with that guy!" [Full disclosure: I believe that one should always publish under their full name so they can make everyone they went to high school with jealous.

He also talks about the inspiration for Feed:
"At a party at one of the New York libraries, David Gale, an editor from Simon and Schuster, asked me if I would contribute a story to a collection benefiting a literacy campaign. The one stipulation was that there had to be a book featured in the story.

"On the way back to Boston on the train, despite the fact that almost everyone in the car was reading, there was a constant clack of inane cellphone conversation as (1) Nancy set up her weekend with Luke, Carrie, and Thayer; (2) Andrea discussed equipment for her home office with her husband; and (3) Lieutenant Jock-O - yes, true! - serially recounted his lively sexcapades to fellow officers from his regiment: “Remember that chick from San Diego? If you run into her, can you like not tell her I’m out here?” By the end of the journey, I had a whole story about irritating future connectivity and illiteracy in place.

"Thinking about it, I realized that there were years of teen resentment waiting to burst out - anger about all the things the media demanded we become - and it was much more than just a short story."

Feed is a fascinating book about what our future might be like. One word for you: dystopia. There are books I read and think "I could write that someday maybe." And there are books I read and think, "Wow! That was great and I could never write that in a million years." [Full disclosure: and there are books I read half of and think -" gak, this is terrible, I wouldn't have written it this way at all."]



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