Guest Post…Literary Agents: Bane or Boon?

I just got an email from a friend of mine who’s also an author. She’s been on the hunt for a literary agent for several months now and was bemoaning the fact it’s been a long time since she sent off a packet to a NY agent. I didn’t have the heart to tell her not to hold her breath. She’s a good writer. That’s not the problem. The problem is an industry where common courtesy to authors–theoretically the lifesblood supporting agents and publishers–has gone the way of the dodo bird. All you have to do is pull up guidelines from any literary agent to see what I mean. There’s a long list of don’ts. I started in this business like most everyone else. I tried to find an agent. That was a little over three years ago. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t bother anymore. Would I like someone who could open NY doors? Sure I would. But I also know when to trim my losses.

At the top of the don’ts list is “don’t call us”. Some are honest enough to tell you if you haven’t heard from them in six weeks (or six months) it means they’re not interested. I do understand they’re innundated with material and probably understaffed since indie publishers and self published authors have taken a percentage of the publishing dollar, but still, the current modus operandi places the author in a serious “one down” position.

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I honestly have no idea why one story of mine is accepted and another that I saw as equally well-written, isn’t. Some of it is akin to chasing a moving target. I try to read webzines and magazines and anthology guidelines before I submit to make sure my material is a good fit. Sometimes an editor agrees with me, sometimes not. I’ve  been told that having ten short stories accepted in a little over two years is a great track record. Maybe. But what about the ten or fifteen other stories. The ones I either never heard back on, or where I got nice, polite rejection letters? That is one thing I’ll say for the webzines and magazines I’ve submitted to: they send me very nice rejection letters with invitations to send them more stories. That is way more than I’ve ever gotten from a literary agent.

Generally, my responses from literary agents come in the form of “Dear Author”. I took months of my time to write something and hours of my time to make sure I sent the agent exactly what they wanted and I either get nothing back, or a “Dear Author” form letter. Occasionally, for those agents still insisting on snail mail, that “Dear Author ” letter comes on half a sheet of paper. Guess those rejected authors aren’t worth the quarter penny a full sheet of paper would cost. Or, maybe those agents are being environmentally conscientious. Though, it seems if that were the case, they’d go to web-based submissions. Okay, I’ll trim the sarcasm.

Literary agents have become such rigid gatekeepers that an entire new cottage industry has sprung up. For a fee, they’ll share the secret of how to get an agent to ask for your manuscript. What’s that old saying about a fool and their money???

Kristine Catherine Rusch, a well known and respected SF/F author, says she thinks the industry is running scared. Maybe so. But still, a little dash of courtesy would go a long ways. I don’t mind rejections. I’m still new to this business and know I have lots to learn. But there must be a better way than ignoring authors or treating them as an inconvenience. If a magazine can send me a couple of sentences with something constructive about my writing, why can’t a literary agent do the same? SF/F magazines get just as many subs as agents–maybe more.

This seems like it could be a mutually beneficial relationship. Older authors, who became established before the indie rush, didn’t have any problems finding agents. Under the “new” model, agents seem to be working themselves into anachronisms. When I mentioned something about this to the small press that publishes my novels, one of the principals looked at me, raised an eyebrow and asked, “Why would you even want an agent? It’s just one more person to give money to.”

Does anyone besides me have feelings about this?

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Today’s guest post is from author Ann Gimpel and originally featured on her own blog 25th April, 2012.

If you’d like to see more of Ann’s blogging or find out more about her books, visit http://anngimpel.blogspot.co.uk/

Guest Post…To Kill Or Not To Kill: That Is The Question!

Many of you probably remember the Artemis myth. She’s one of the most widely known of the Greek goddesses. Her Roman counterpart is Diana. Artemis is a departure from the maiden/mother/crone depiction of women in that she was a virgin goddess. Women who attended her also had to be chaste. What she’s probably best known for, other than tending to the moon with her brother, Apollo, is righting wrongs.

Years ago when I was in Soundpeace, a metaphysical bookstore in Ashland, Oregon, I plucked a silver pendant off its black velvet backing. It was about an inch-and-a-half in diameter and had a woman with a dog by her side and a bow behind her, carrying a light. This was long before I’d studied much in the way of mythology. All I knew was that I was drawn to that pendant and had to have it. It’s been around my neck for most of the thirty years or so since then. In the intervening years, I’ve come to recognize my pendant goddess for who she is: Artemis. 

 

So what does that have to do with my life? Or with writing? To answer the first question, I’ve always had a finely etched sense of what’s right and have fought many a losing battle because I didn’t want to see the other side, mostly comprised of big businesses like pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies win. While my ideals may have been admirable, retrospectively, I never had a chance. The magic of writing is you can make everyone an Erin Brokovich. Remember? She took on a big corporation that was polluting water and won the largest class action suit ever.

It probably won’t surprise you to know that in real life things like that don’t happen very often, which leads us to the answer to the second question.  In fiction, they happen all the time. I think that’s why people read. At least it’s why I do. To transport myself to the world of the possible. To have heroes I can root for.  A skilled author can scare me half to death that things won’t go well, even when I know in my heart of hearts they won’t kill off the protagonist. Or, maybe they will. George R.R. Martin is quite good at that. Though, I must admit I didn’t like the series nearly so well after Eddard lost his head. It started feeling like a Greek tragedy after that.

There is a fine line to who to kill off in a story so you don’t alienate your readers. That’s something I struggle with. I might add maim and traumatize to kill. There are lots of ways an author can stress his/her characters. Each stressor adds depth to a character, but only if you can tie the wounding back in with how the character acts after it happens. The character shouldn’t overreact, but they can’t underreact either. 

To put a finer point on things, it’s easy to kill off a character no one liked in the first place. Face it, even the author didn’t particularly like them which is why you, the reader, saw them as vapid and shallow, too. This is why drawing three-dimensional antagonists is just as important as creating fully developed protagonists. The reader has to feel something when a character dies or gets hurt—other than relief because the character seemed superfluous and annoying anyway. 

To the extent fiction mirrors real life as much as possible, we can relate to it. That’s one of the reasons I set my novels in “real world” settings rather than a more typical, high fantasy world. I want that dystopian, near-future to feel real enough to make readers think. I suppose that’s my Artemis complex creeping in, but there’s not much I can do about that. One of the reasons many of Stephen King’s books work so well is they start out feeling fairly normal. The creepy, crawly elements often don’t intrude till near the end, like in Bag of Bones, for example. I don’t think the ghouls came out until the last fifty pages. By then I was so caught up in the reality of the world King had drawn—because it was my world—the addition of fantastical elements felt perfectly logical. 

What have some of your favorite books been? Why? 

What drew you in and made the world feel real? 

Who are some of your favorite fictional characters?

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Today’s guest post is from author Ann Gimpel – you can find out more about her books and blogging at:  http://anngimpel.blogspot.co.uk/ It was originally published on her blog 19th March, 2012.