Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tuff Writer Luv

I’ve gotten some questions/comments offline about my last post, a long time ago, on the Harlequin Matter (sounds like a great book title, doesn’t it?) that can only be characterized as…interesting. I know the situation has evolved over time, but I would like to address it. The general consensus was something along the lines of me being insane or possibly evil, or a combination of both, and perhaps I am. I am a literary agent after all. lol

However, I am also a writer. One who has enjoyed writing as a career and as a hobby. One who views writing for publication realistically even through the romantic haze that clouds its true nature. One who doesn’t believe that scribes are somehow gods, though some still do grant them that status. Because of that, I feel it’s time for some tough writer love. It’s for your own good. If you like living in the illusion wherein published authors wear black turtlenecks, smoke pipes (except the girls, who iron their hair instead), and espouse the virtues of using skulls for candle holders, stop reading right now. If you want a little dose of reality, keep going, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Writers serve a purpose. We are, for the most part, the flunkies of human existence, cursed or gifted, whichever way you choose to look at it, with the desperate need to communicate ALL THE FREAKING TIME through the written word. We record the human condition and display it for all to see and analyze, either in a fictional or nonfictional context, from the lowest lowly journalist to the lowest lowly novelist (we never get above lowly). In either case, we are valuable only so long as the stories we tell please or satisfy our audience. We are the jesters at the royal court of human nature, entertaining our audience so we can continue to entertain them again and again.

It is How We Are Made.

It is Who We Are.

It is What We Do.

Let me explain it a different way. Picture yourself on an airplane that finds itself in a bit of jeopardy. Maybe the wing fell off, and the pilot decides to do a water landing in Lake Michigan. For those who will worry, I will tell you right up front that the landing goes well and everyone makes it, okay? But let’s get on that plane, in the minutes before everything is okay. Let’s look into the mind of Passenger A for a moment.

Wow, that guy in first class is a doctor. With his training, he can save lives. Maybe he’ll even save mine.

Now let’s spin on Passenger B’s cognitive wheels for a second…

Wow, the person in the cockpit flying this plan is a trained pilot who’s practiced this sort of thing. With his training, he may save all our lives. Maybe he’ll even save mine.

And now for Passenger C

Wow, I’m glad that woman in 24 D is a nurse. With her training, she can save lives. Maybe she’ll even save mine.

And Passenger D

Wow, that man in 13F is a firefighter. With his training, he can put out fires if we crash and save our lives. Maybe he’ll even save mine.

Passenger E, your turn…

Wow, there’s a United States Marine in the exit row. With his training, he can take control and handle any intense situation, therefore saving lives. Maybe he’ll even save mine.

Passenger F, please weigh in…

Wow, there’s a minister in 10B. With his training, he can pray for all of us. He can help save our souls. Maybe he’ll even save mine.

And, finally, Passenger G

Wow, there’s a woman 20A scribbling away. Must be a writer. Wait, what’s that? We need to lighten the plane? Hey, you there in 20A…

You get my point?

I guess one of the last developments in the Harlequin Matter was that not only had the RWA revoked the publisher’s approved status until it straightened up and flew right, but the MWA had as well. All sorts of bad things happen to de-listed publishers, including werewolf attacks in broad daylight and surprise trips through wormholes to other dimensions where (fill in your least favorite president’s name here) is still in the White House. Also, the publisher’s authors’ books are not eligible for the Edgar Awards, which, like all book awards, is one group of publishing people’s way of telling another group of publishing people that they should pay attention to an author, if they haven’t figured it out already. Being de-listed, especially after years of being on the approved list, is not supposed to be in the publisher’s best interest. It’s supposed to be a big deal to be removed from a writer organization’s Nice list and put on the Naughty list.

I’m not fooling you, am I? You know, by now, that I’m going to, without hesitation and in a blatant manner, right here for everyone to see, state that it doesn’t matter. I might even write that when I read this tidbit, I rolled my eyes and snorted in an unagent-like manner that scared my cat. Oh, I know. I know! As an agent and a writer I was supposed to be all twisted in knots over this, but A) I’m not that kind of agent or writer and B) let me ask you one question: Do you honestly think that a reader searching for something to read will put down a book once she/he discovers that the publisher is not on the okey dokey roster of some group with W in its name?


I’ve read Harlequins for years. I practically teethed on them. I read them with my sick mother. I traded them with family members. I stuck by them even when a bunch of Gen-Xers obsessed with relationship slapstick who made fun of their moms’ Harlequins grew up and demanded something hipper and more relevant to their lives, which led to the dreaded chick lit trend until someone threw all the chick lit books in a pile in a stadium and…wait, that was Disco albums. Nevermind.

Anyway, at no point in time did I, Ms. Reader who spent my hard-earned money on books, give a flying rat’s bottom parts as to whether Harlequin was deemed suitable by the RWA, MWA, CIA, FBI, or any other acronym-monikered organization.

Readers buy books, and even if all the members of both of those groups had decided to boycott Harlequin for, well, I’m still not sure what the real gripe was, but if they boycotted them, that means Harlequin could potentially lose what, maybe thousands of readers? That leaves only a few hundred million around the world to keep their profits up. Sure, writers could try to enlist people who care about them and the cause, but I don’t see too much potential in that being successful. Not a lot of sympathy there (and if you don’t know why, see above) Can you picture that conversation?

Writer: Hi! I’m a writer and I would like you to refrain from buying Harlequin books.

Reader: Why? They’re my favorites!

Writer: Because of their non-standard business practices that offer authors the choice to publish their own books as opposed to finding a real publisher.

Reader: Huh?

Writer: They offer services to writers to self-publish their books.

Reader: So?

Writer: Well, some writers might think that they’re published authors when really they’re really not.

Reader: If they’ve got a published book, aren’t they published?

Writer: No! To be considered a real author, you have to be paid an advance by a traditional publishing house.

Reader: Why do I care if I like what I read?

Writer: Because some authors may be taken advantage of.

Reader: How’s that?

Writer: They may think they’re real authors when they aren’t.

Reader: Why wouldn’t they know the difference if that’s their profession? And who decides who a real author is?

Writer: Well, important people in publishing.

Reader: I thought I was the “important people” in publishing?

Writer: Um, it’s complicated.

Reader: Like on Facebook? Or in that Meryl Streep movie?

Writer: Well, er…

And on that note, and in the grand tradition of Atticus Finch, I rest my case.

If You Attach, Go Phish.

In this morning’s inbox messages I have already received five queries with something attached to them. I call what’s attached “something” because I have no idea what was attached as I deleted these queries and their attachments unopened.

The only reason I even mention unsolicited attachments in this post is that it still amazes me, with all the information about how Trojan Horses and other computer virus forms that infect computers, writers still insist on sending unsolicited attachments to their query letters.

Of course, those who do insist on attaching things actually make it very easy on us. They make our task easy because all we do is delete the query, unanswered. Some might wonder why we can’t just send a canned response. What would it hurt to answer and let these folks know that they shouldn’t do this? Wish it were that simple. However, those who would infect computers with malicious thingies also hope that human nature will drive us to do exactly that. That’s exactly the natural, kind and helpful, response they want. They expect a response. They expect the innocent computer user to try to educate others by answering these messages so they can see if addresses are active. This process is called phishing. Phishers (pronounced fishers) mass mail addresses, some with attachments, hoping to get returns so they can do other naughtiness to those who take their bait.

Some who phish do so to send out spam, but others also phish to initiate virus attacks. As has been said, venturing out on the internet is not for those who aren’t aware of the dangers that lurk beneath the surface. So next time, as a writer looking for representation, you are tempted to save time by attaching your hard work to your query letter, consider what you send will be treated as spam mail and quickly deleted by its receiving agent or his or her assistant. Also consider that not only will you never know whether your query reached its destination, but you’ve wasted valuable time in and of itself, not only in the sending but also in the waiting for a response that more likely will never come.

Ever agent I’ve spoken with and whose blogs I read regularly treat unsolicited attachments the same way we treat them—as spam. They delete unopened. So if you don’t mind screwing up your querying process, please continue sending unsolicited attachments.

Disclaimer: If you put your mind to it, you will find spelling and grammar errors here, so please do us a favor and read for content and not for unintended errors.