Getting an Agent and Making a Living as a Writer

By | on July 2, 2009 | 32 Comments
Jonathan Evison and Jason Rice talk about getting a literary agent and making a living as a writer.

JR: I wanted to start a conversation about getting a literary agent. Jonathan you’ve crossed over to the side of getting published. Most aspiring writers never get that chance. Right now I’m trying to get an agent or editor to read my novel, you’ve given me advice, which is sound (results have been slow and disappointing)…but it is different than the traditional route of writing a query letter and sending it off to agents who represent books like the one your trying to sell. I think it’s a timing factor, getting exposure, hype and marketing yourself and the prose has to be stellar. But some writers I’ve talked to think query letters are a facade for aspiring writers to hide behind.

I’ve found over the years that it is impossible to get an agent to read a manuscript in its entirety and report back to the writer in a timely honest fashion, they themselves hide behind rejection letters and sometimes I think they never read unsolicited stuff (or the first two pages), or do more than read what their own authors have suggested they read (untrue…I know…but it certainly seems that way). Is it because they have too much to do? As we know…all agents wear more than one hat, they sell cars, insurance, run a day care, mow lawns and work as a literary agent, so it’s a lot to handle. All kidding aside, can you shed a little light on your journey to getting published? And to be honest, how long should aspiring writers be persistent in their search to get published…forever…? Which works in theory, but its practical application it is very difficult to endure.

JE: First, I’m compelled to remind all the spurned and frustrated writers of the world that the work itself is the real blessing and reward, and that any writer worth his salt would do well to remind himself of this fact daily. In fact, I’d go so far as to say, these are the only writers worthy of an audience. I can honestly say that publication has not changed my approach to writing in any way, I am no more or less committed to the occupation whether or not I’ve managed to break through with some degree of success. I’d still be writing novels the rest of my days even if I had to starve myself, and I’d still feel damn lucky to be doing it. Secondly, let me say that I fully empathize with both the writers and the agents where these matters are concerned. JR, think of how many galleys and manuscripts you and I receive on any given week, and how few of them ever get the benefit of our consideration. God knows, some of them are probably good, too. Multiply that number by twenty, and you get a taste of agenthood.

The elusive search for an agent is, in my mind, overrated. I had four agents, including a couple of luminaries, before I found a home with Mollie Glick. Our friend J.P. Othmer, author of The Futurist, and the forthcoming Adland, about whom we’ve posted on numerous occasions, also had a number of agents before he landed with David Gernert– one of whom left agenting to go to clown school. I love that. It illustrates perfectly that finding an agent in most cases doesn’t mean squat. You need to find a champion, somebody who passionately believes in your work. And quite honestly, it doesn’t have to be an agent. In my case, it was an editor, Richard Nash at Soft Skull. I went straight to Richard with “All About Lulu,” and when he expressed enthusiasm, I was able to turn the tables, and interview six different agents about the possibility of repping me. It was apparent within five minutes, that Mollie was the clear choice, not because she was the biggest name, but because of her enthusiasm for my work, and her longterm view of my career. JR, you are probably correct in assuming that a lot of agents don’t read more than two pages, which puts the onus right where it should be, on the writer, to write two kickass pages. Frankly, I don’t think that’s too tall an order.

JR: I think agents should be champions. But what if you write everyday and it is the heart of your life, and you still come up with just your voice in a room by itself? If your two pages are GREAT, and everyone but an agent and editor says they are, what do you do? Wait? Obviously keep writing, that’s a given, shouldn’t even be discussed at this point, you and I wouldn’t be doing this if we thought otherwise. Getting an editor’s attention, how is that done in today’s climate? Fiction, literary, is a dying breed at most publishers, money is tight, lay offs rampant, and still fiction gets published, just not at the majors. Which goes back to the talk we had about indies. Is it a matter of finding the right person? What if you can’t do that? But is getting a book published a “careful what you wish for” syndrome? What happens when, like you said, your book is dismissed by 100% of the buying public? You’re right, agents mean squat, but a champion means everything. Is there a list somewhere? If not…how do you find a champion if you’re an aspiring writer with 7 novels in the drawer?

JE: I’ve got six early novels under my hip-waders in the basement, and a couple more buried in the earth behind a trailer in Oregon. One thing should be clear to anybody querying agents: Finding a champion is NOT a numbers game, rather a game of positioning. Carpet bomb every reputable agent in midtown and you are no less than guaranteeing your failure. There IS a list of champions, and it’s up to the writer to compile that list, whether or not he has an agent. A writer in the 21st century ought to be able to say to his agent: “I think Gary Fisketjohn at Knopf would like this.” Or “David Rogers at Picador seems like a perfect for this.” And the agents should say back: “That’s great. I’d also like to try John Williams at Harper Perennial, and a few other editors I have in mind.” To position oneself, the writer must profile prospective editors and agents as though he were a CIA operative. You need to know exactly why they should connect to your work, who they’ve published, how they found said authors, and if you can network those agents or writers through a third party. It’s no secret that most agents draw the majority of their clients upon recommendation, and who can blame them? The agents are overwhelmed. They need somebody to act as a filter for them, just as they act as a filter for editorial staffs. There’s just too much crap glutting the slush piles.

Most writers in a slush pile have no business being there, as far as I’m concerned. They ought to get their asses back in the basement for six or seven more years and learn how to write. Those writers that’ve already put in their time on the craft, those that may actually be ready for publication (and for the record JR, that’s you), I think you gotta’ get out of the basement and start mixing with as many book people as you can in whatever capacity. You already do this. That’s good. It will serve you in the end, mark my words. You just need to be patient. I know you think you’ve been patient, but you need to be more patient. I think you’re really close, but hey, I
was really c
lose in 1993. The key is to just keep writing great stuff, keep pushing yourself as an artist, and quit looking for external validation. The bottom line is, publishing, even publishing well, doesn’t change much in the quality of an author’s life. In fact, sometimes the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Shit, I’ve sold a lot of copies of Lulu, sold another book to Algonquin, and optioned three books to film–and I still don’t have dental insurance. But if you’re determined to try to make it a living, I would recommend to any aspiring debut novelist (read: anybody who has already written at least three unpublished novels and doesn’t have dental insurance) that he look for his champion among the small presses, where he is more likely to get an education, and a fighting chance of survival beyond book one. Quit reading publishers lunch and dreaming of six figure advances. Accept that you’re only going to have to work twice as hard and the stakes are higher.

JR: You’re right about it being a positioning game. I’d say before we started the 3 Guys Blog I was singing in an empty room. Now there has been more exposure to what’s going on in my world, but it’s a double edged sword. Writers write, buy they have to work, too, day jobs are more of a reality than anything. I’ve done a million different things, film, TV, worked at Random House, BN and done a shit load of odd jobs, but it’s all of that stuff that makes you write what you write, or draw from at the very least. I know hundreds of writers who are just pecking away and haven’t done what you mention, write three books, and learn the craft. With that in mind, do you suggest finding a champion or an agent at a writers colony, or in a group of your peers? And or course it’s foolish to expect the six figure advance, but what about writers who are mid-list, who churn out books every year and never rise or fall. As an unpublished writer that can be deceiving. But there was a hell of a lot of work that went into getting to that point.

I see myself trying to find a foothold in the indie world, especially in online literary magazines which seems to break my fall every time I sit down, they’re everywhere. When you see the wealth of content out there, you know there are millions of people like you trying to get a leg up. I think the best advice you ever gave me was to write in a the short form, 500 to 1,000 words, and I really felt like things took a turn for me. I was able to get my work out there to more people, faster, (you know me, faster than a speeding bullet when it comes to output) which did two things, helped my self esteem and depressed me, as I want to get more exposure…again it’s a double edged sword. Even if you subscribe to your idea of profiling editors, it doesn’t really work unless you find that third party (so far editors I’ve known have written lovely rejections, but my detailed profiling did squat, so there is no trick to it), and do it without looking like your in it for yourself, (which everyone is) and all of that can be exhausting and after a while you think, why am I doing this…again? It’s cliche to say it all goes back to the writing, but it does. I think there are an incredible amount of challenges out there for writers, most people don’t have it in them to solve that puzzle, but to be honest, getting a book published is harder than quitting drinking, smoking, and over eating, I know cause I’ve quit them all.

JE: Getting a novel length work of literary fiction published is statistically harder than playing baseball on a professional level– that is to say, all levels of professional baseball. And if we’re to believe the numbers agents and publishers use with regard to how many people actually make a viable living writing fiction– I’ve heard between 100 to 200 writers– it is statistically harder to make a living writing literary fiction than it is to play Major League baseball. In fact, it’s seven to fourteen times more difficult–so, we’ve got that going for us! JR, it’s just too early in the game for you to say that your profiling hasn’t done squat, because those editors and publishers who wrote you those lovely rejections, may still be the folks who will one day publish one of your books. As far as finding champions, let’s use Brad Listi’s online writer’s collective, The Nervous Breakdown, as an example of an excellent way for a writer to build a network, and find a champion. Dozens of really talented writers post blogs on TNB, and I know at least a half dozen writers who have been approached by agents and publishers as a direct result of their involvement in that community. Yes, involvement.

It’s not enough to simply post stories or blogs, you have to pay attention to other writers, support and perpetuate them in their pursuit of publication. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is more instrumental to your personal success as a writer to promote other writers than it is to promote yourself. Because you know what? They are your audience, other writers– other writers, and educated middle-aged women. They’re virtually the only people who read literary fiction. Writers are helping each other at TNB, critically, promotionally, and otherwise. Greg Olear is helping D.R. Haney, who is helping Lenore Zion, who is helping Rich Ferguson who is helping Aaron Dietz. Maybe these aren’t household names YET, but some of their TNB predecessors are on their way– Ron Currie Jr, Tao Lin, Roy Kesey, ahem, me. It’s like a music scene, where there’s a lot of crossover, and you see a lot of the same faces here and there at shows. Sooner or later, some of these folks are gonna’ break through, and chances are, they’re going to do their best to help the people who helped them get there. They are individually forging connections and paving inroads that will benefit the whole scene. Also, more importantly, they’re bouncing off of each other creatively, drinking beer and corresponding and commiserating.

Lastly, to address your comments about the mid-list author, I would say that the mid-list author who has managed to survive for more than two books is an endangered species. In the current climate, if your sales record isn’t decent out of the gate, there’s little to no chance anyone is going to publish your second book. But the good news is this: 4000 book sales is considered decent in the literary fiction market. This is where it becomes imperative for writers to start sorting out their demand even BEFORE they have a publisher. You have to find an audience.

The difference between 500 sales and 4000 sales is hustle. Luck helps, media coverage helps, but mostly it’s hustle. Maybe that doesn’t jibe with the literary genius who wants to sit in his ivory tower and let everybody else do the heavy lifting in terms of sales and publicity, but whatever– those writers are gonna’ starve in their ivory tower in the 21st century. Hustle is a matter of survival now.

-JR & JE

32 Responses to “Getting an Agent and Making a Living as a Writer”

  1. July 2, 2009

    Kathryn Magendie Reply

    What a comprehensive, informative, and interesting post…thank you.I nodded my head many times, and not because I was falling asleep, but in agreement *laughing* I went with a small press – no agent. Do I want an agent? I don't know – but I'll figure that out with the second book I suppose.Good stuff—

  2. July 2, 2009

    Kathryn Magendie Reply

    What a comprehensive, informative, and interesting post…thank you.

    I nodded my head many times, and not because I was falling asleep, but in agreement *laughing*

    I went with a small press – no agent. Do I want an agent? I don't know – but I'll figure that out with the second book I suppose.

    Good stuff—

  3. July 2, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . keep the heat on, kathryn! . . . and congrats for breaking through!

  4. July 2, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . keep the heat on, kathryn! . . . and congrats for breaking through!

  5. July 2, 2009

    Himself Reply

    Great discussion, JE & JR. And yes, the clown school story is true. What's also true is that every one of the agents I had prior to David Gernert worked hard on my behalf. Was any one of them a great fit for me? No. One took me on based upon the recommendation of a friend and each of the others were a case of me "settling" because many other agents higher up on the "In a Perfect World Who Would be JPO's Agent" list had passed on my queries, my chapters and my pithy follow-ups. The reason for this — both the top of the list agents passing on me and the others being unable to sell my work — I have come to realize, is that the work they were selling was not good enough for an editor at a large or small house to love, stake their reputation on, and spend countless hours reworking and championing. Were the other novels publishable? I think so. But they weren't special. I was restless and ambitious but the fact is I really hadn't found my voice, which is a nice way of saying I hadn't yet gotten my shit together as a writer.If publication is your goal a good exercise after you've written a book is to imagine how your editor would present or pitch it — whether it's a literary novel by an unknown or a book about advertising by the author of a literary novel — to a savvy, overworked sales force who has seen this movie many times before and will ultimately have to pitch it, alongside the Dan Brown's, Margaret Atwoods and Malcolm Gladwell's, to hardworking, time and resources-pressed booksellers.For what it's worth, I filled notebooks over the years with the names of agents and editors who might be right for me. I found their names in the acknowledgments of books I loved, in mentions in the trades, in articles in Poets & Writers. I also tracked down the names of agents and editors who worked with writers I admired, and had (I thought) a similar sensibility to mine. Without the help of Google, this was not the easiest task.I also bugged writers with whom I'd had a passing professional relationship: Dick Yates, Vonnegut and Doctorow, to name a few. What I realize now is these guys must have been inundated with manuscripts from aspiring writers; plus, again, my stuff wasn't all that good. continued below…

  6. July 2, 2009

    Himself Reply

    Great discussion, JE & JR. And yes, the clown school story is true. What's also true is that every one of the agents I had prior to David Gernert worked hard on my behalf. Was any one of them a great fit for me? No. One took me on based upon the recommendation of a friend and each of the others were a case of me "settling" because many other agents higher up on the "In a Perfect World Who Would be JPO's Agent" list had passed on my queries, my chapters and my pithy follow-ups.

    The reason for this — both the top of the list agents passing on me and the others being unable to sell my work — I have come to realize, is that the work they were selling was not good enough for an editor at a large or small house to love, stake their reputation on, and spend countless hours reworking and championing. Were the other novels publishable? I think so. But they weren't special. I was restless and ambitious but the fact is I really hadn't found my voice, which is a nice way of saying I hadn't yet gotten my shit together as a writer.

    If publication is your goal a good exercise after you've written a book is to imagine how your editor would present or pitch it — whether it's a literary novel by an unknown or a book about advertising by the author of a literary novel — to a savvy, overworked sales force who has seen this movie many times before and will ultimately have to pitch it, alongside the Dan Brown's, Margaret Atwoods and Malcolm Gladwell's, to hardworking, time and resources-pressed booksellers.

    For what it's worth, I filled notebooks over the years with the names of agents and editors who might be right for me. I found their names in the acknowledgments of books I loved, in mentions in the trades, in articles in Poets & Writers. I also tracked down the names of agents and editors who worked with writers I admired, and had (I thought) a similar sensibility to mine. Without the help of Google, this was not the easiest task.

    I also bugged writers with whom I'd had a passing professional relationship: Dick Yates, Vonnegut and Doctorow, to name a few. What I realize now is these guys must have been inundated with manuscripts from aspiring writers; plus, again, my stuff wasn't all that good. continued below…

  7. July 2, 2009

    Himself Reply

    PT II (sorry for rambling)At work in the ad world my colleagues used to tease me about the lemonade stand I ran in the mornings between the hours of 7 and 10 (when the creatives rolled in). That's because when not writing in the early morning I could often be found making copies and stuffing envelopes with work for agents and, later, literary magazines.Interestingly, when I started experimenting with short stories, taking risks with voice and subject matter,I began having some success with literary magazines, including The Madison Review, The Crab Orchard Review, Chattahoochee Review and finally, in the case of the first chapter of THE FUTURIST, The Virginia Quarterly Review.I was surprised and delighted to be contacted by several agents who read the story in VQR, asking for more. When I shared it with them, and several others on my latest version of the forementioned list, for the first time in my "career" I had a choice. Why? Because the work was the best I'd done yet, and the people who read it, I imagine, could see themselves successfully selling it.Not having a choice, or settling on an agent, is a difficult decision for a writer to make. The relationship with someone who was not your first or even 10th choice may improve and your work may even quickly find a home. But if it doesn't feel right from the beginning, if you feel that he or she doesn't "get" you, in all likelihood the experience will not end well.JR, call me a sentimental yet cynical old bastard, but I believe that great work will always find a home and shitty work may find an estate with a tennis court and petting zoo. Sure, publishing has it's problems and the world is not a fair place. My advice is block that shit out — the chains, Nora Roberts, Kindle and the death of all media — and keep writing, keep sharing, keep, in the spirit of JE, building a coalition. And if the work is powerful enough it will find a home.

  8. July 2, 2009

    Himself Reply

    PT II (sorry for rambling)

    At work in the ad world my colleagues used to tease me about the lemonade stand I ran in the mornings between the hours of 7 and 10 (when the creatives rolled in). That's because when not writing in the early morning I could often be found making copies and stuffing envelopes with work for agents and, later, literary magazines.

    Interestingly, when I started experimenting with short stories, taking risks with voice and subject matter,I began having some success with literary magazines, including The Madison Review, The Crab Orchard Review, Chattahoochee Review and finally, in the case of the first chapter of THE FUTURIST, The Virginia Quarterly Review.

    I was surprised and delighted to be contacted by several agents who read the story in VQR, asking for more. When I shared it with them, and several others on my latest version of the forementioned list, for the first time in my "career" I had a choice. Why? Because the work was the best I'd done yet, and the people who read it, I imagine, could see themselves successfully selling it.

    Not having a choice, or settling on an agent, is a difficult decision for a writer to make. The relationship with someone who was not your first or even 10th choice may improve and your work may even quickly find a home. But if it doesn't feel right from the beginning, if you feel that he or she doesn't "get" you, in all likelihood the experience will not end well.

    JR, call me a sentimental yet cynical old bastard, but I believe that great work will always find a home and shitty work may find an estate with a tennis court and petting zoo. Sure, publishing has it's problems and the world is not a fair place. My advice is block that shit out — the chains, Nora Roberts, Kindle and the death of all media — and keep writing, keep sharing, keep, in the spirit of JE, building a coalition. And if the work is powerful enough it will find a home.

  9. July 2, 2009

    Gina Frangello Reply

    Great discussion, guys. Jonathan, I, too, have had 3 literary agents (am still with the 3rd) but as much as I've loved two of them, their help plus 5 bucks would buy me a Starbucks latte, if you know what I mean . . . getting an agent is only the beginning, not the end, and too many new writers out there don't realize that. My second agent, who was also repping NBA winners and Pulitzer finalists, tried for two years to sell my first novel in New York to no avail, and I ended up placing it myself at a small indie press (Chiasmus.) My current agent tried to sell my next novel around NYC and that, too, hasn't happened yet, but in the interim I've placed a short story collection with another indie, Emergency Press, and a novel with Impetus Press (which unfortunately went bankrupt, but that's another story) on my own. This will not get me dental insurance but it has helped me do what most writers crave more than money/fame, and that's forming community and actually having some people reading your book. Yes, a "big" deal the sort of which an agent can get you (or that Richard Nash can sometimes swing solo!) would get you MORE readers–but some readers are better than none, and a jump start is better than total stagnation, and the indie presses are also not just a "stepping stone" but a real community and world unto themselves, producing some of the best books out there, and it's perfectly legit to keep your day job and make your home at the indie presses for the long haul.My agent is about to try to sell novel #4, which I'm currently putting final touches on this summer, and sure, I hold out hope for some money and all that. But if it doesn't work out, I'm not going to cry about it and let it sit in a drawer for 5 years–I'm going to send it to some indies. Thanks for an honest back-and-forth on this.

  10. July 2, 2009

    Gina Frangello Reply

    Great discussion, guys. Jonathan, I, too, have had 3 literary agents (am still with the 3rd) but as much as I've loved two of them, their help plus 5 bucks would buy me a Starbucks latte, if you know what I mean . . . getting an agent is only the beginning, not the end, and too many new writers out there don't realize that.
    My second agent, who was also repping NBA winners and Pulitzer finalists, tried for two years to sell my first novel in New York to no avail, and I ended up placing it myself at a small indie press (Chiasmus.) My current agent tried to sell my next novel around NYC and that, too, hasn't happened yet, but in the interim I've placed a short story collection with another indie, Emergency Press, and a novel with Impetus Press (which unfortunately went bankrupt, but that's another story) on my own. This will not get me dental insurance but it has helped me do what most writers crave more than money/fame, and that's forming community and actually having some people reading your book.
    Yes, a "big" deal the sort of which an agent can get you (or that Richard Nash can sometimes swing solo!) would get you MORE readers–but some readers are better than none, and a jump start is better than total stagnation, and the indie presses are also not just a "stepping stone" but a real community and world unto themselves, producing some of the best books out there, and it's perfectly legit to keep your day job and make your home at the indie presses for the long haul.
    My agent is about to try to sell novel #4, which I'm currently putting final touches on this summer, and sure, I hold out hope for some money and all that. But if it doesn't work out, I'm not going to cry about it and let it sit in a drawer for 5 years–I'm going to send it to some indies.
    Thanks for an honest back-and-forth on this.

  11. July 3, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . thanks for the comments, gina! . . . and congrats on the collection! which, btw, is entitled "slut lullabies" and is awesome– i should know, i blurbed it! emergenct press is putting together a nice list!

  12. July 3, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . thanks for the comments, gina! . . . and congrats on the collection! which, btw, is entitled "slut lullabies" and is awesome– i should know, i blurbed it! emergenct press is putting together a nice list!

  13. July 3, 2009

    Dan Wickett Reply

    Great conversation by you gentlemen as well as the comments from everybody.Some things jumped out at me – JE is dead on – I'd say close to 80% of the material has been submitted too early. There might not be anything more disappointing than realizing that an author had a great idea for a novel but the writing is nowhere near ready to be read.Though, while those might be the most disappointing, the close second is that manuscript that is very well done, but just doesn't grab us by our collars and refuse to let go. Good idea, good writing, maybe even great on both ends, but not one that screams in our faces Don't Let Anybody Else Ever See This! Make An Offer Today! It's a bit difficult to tell somebody that you're not interested in publishing their book but no, don't change a thing about it.But that happens. Richard Nash, when at Soft Skull, had a different literary sensibility then the one we have at Dzanc, or that Fred and Greg have at Unbridled, or Gary does at Knopf, etc. There are an incredible amount of books I read a year that I truly love, but probably wouldn't have published – there is a limit to the number that our indie house can afford to publish each year. And I'm right with JE on community building. I think we've gone beyond the days when that was simply a good idea, it's a necessity.

  14. July 3, 2009

    Dan Wickett Reply

    Great conversation by you gentlemen as well as the comments from everybody.

    Some things jumped out at me – JE is dead on – I'd say close to 80% of the material has been submitted too early. There might not be anything more disappointing than realizing that an author had a great idea for a novel but the writing is nowhere near ready to be read.

    Though, while those might be the most disappointing, the close second is that manuscript that is very well done, but just doesn't grab us by our collars and refuse to let go. Good idea, good writing, maybe even great on both ends, but not one that screams in our faces Don't Let Anybody Else Ever See This! Make An Offer Today! It's a bit difficult to tell somebody that you're not interested in publishing their book but no, don't change a thing about it.

    But that happens. Richard Nash, when at Soft Skull, had a different literary sensibility then the one we have at Dzanc, or that Fred and Greg have at Unbridled, or Gary does at Knopf, etc. There are an incredible amount of books I read a year that I truly love, but probably wouldn't have published – there is a limit to the number that our indie house can afford to publish each year.

    And I'm right with JE on community building. I think we've gone beyond the days when that was simply a good idea, it's a necessity.

  15. July 3, 2009

    Aaron Dietz Reply

    Nice discussion! Jonathan Evison's analogy to being a CIA operative is so appropriate; Evison, sometimes you scare me.I always want to clap, though, when Evison speaks about this stuff because focusing on the love of writing is just about always the first thing he talks about.I'm lucky: I have a deal with Emergency Press, a growing group of loving people that read my stuff on the Web, and a tremendous wealth of wonderful connections through TheNervousBreakdown.com – wow. But none of that is as important as loving what I do, and having fun writing. So many writers describe their process as tedious and overwhelming, but to me it just sounds like they're doing it wrong (if it's not fun, you're just not doing it right – and that applies to all things). However, that being said, if you're out there and still focused on "breaking through" or getting an agent, or whatever, I recommend this: break the rules. Sure, at first, follow advice, and then if it doesn't work, don't follow advice. And whatever you do, don't do the same thing over and over and over–try something new, and if that doesn't work, try something else. The publishing world is changing rapidly and anything's possible. Use the Web. Use your unique skills. Use your flip-flops. Use your rejection letters. Use your Appalachian Sphinx coffee mug. Whatever you got, try it. The query letter is worth a shot, but don't repeat the process ad infinitum. Network. Become a monk. Stand on top of Everest. Whatever. And have fun.(I'll stop now. I don't want to challenge Othmer's word count.)

  16. July 3, 2009

    Aaron Dietz Reply

    Nice discussion! Jonathan Evison's analogy to being a CIA operative is so appropriate; Evison, sometimes you scare me.

    I always want to clap, though, when Evison speaks about this stuff because focusing on the love of writing is just about always the first thing he talks about.

    I'm lucky: I have a deal with Emergency Press, a growing group of loving people that read my stuff on the Web, and a tremendous wealth of wonderful connections through TheNervousBreakdown.com – wow. But none of that is as important as loving what I do, and having fun writing. So many writers describe their process as tedious and overwhelming, but to me it just sounds like they're doing it wrong (if it's not fun, you're just not doing it right – and that applies to all things).

    However, that being said, if you're out there and still focused on "breaking through" or getting an agent, or whatever, I recommend this: break the rules. Sure, at first, follow advice, and then if it doesn't work, don't follow advice. And whatever you do, don't do the same thing over and over and over–try something new, and if that doesn't work, try something else. The publishing world is changing rapidly and anything's possible. Use the Web. Use your unique skills. Use your flip-flops. Use your rejection letters. Use your Appalachian Sphinx coffee mug. Whatever you got, try it. The query letter is worth a shot, but don't repeat the process ad infinitum. Network. Become a monk. Stand on top of Everest. Whatever. And have fun.

    (I'll stop now. I don't want to challenge Othmer's word count.)

  17. July 9, 2009

    joshua citrak Reply

    the word is hustle. you can't be afraid of it. like any good street dealer, pimp or wall street broker–flip your "rock".thanks for this.

  18. July 9, 2009

    joshua citrak Reply

    the word is hustle. you can't be afraid of it. like any good street dealer, pimp or wall street broker–flip your "rock".

    thanks for this.

  19. July 9, 2009

    joshua citrak Reply

    i would also like to add to the "how do i attract attention to my work" files:read. in public. wherever, whenever. pitch yourself to all the reading salons, groups, literary death matches, etc in your area. not only will it do wonders for you (that is, if you're good) it will also do wonders for the way you write.

  20. July 9, 2009

    joshua citrak Reply

    i would also like to add to the "how do i attract attention to my work" files:

    read. in public. wherever, whenever. pitch yourself to all the reading salons, groups, literary death matches, etc in your area. not only will it do wonders for you (that is, if you're good) it will also do wonders for the way you write.

  21. July 11, 2009

    scrimp Reply

    What do you think about authors who give their books away by posting then on a website or blog in hopes of garnering interest via the web? Lyn LeJeunewww.beatitudesinneworleans.blogspot.com

  22. July 11, 2009

    scrimp Reply

    What do you think about authors who give their books away by posting then on a website or blog in hopes of garnering interest via the web? Lyn LeJeune
    http://www.beatitudesinneworleans.blogspot.com

  23. July 13, 2009

    Lorra Reply

    Thanks to Ron Hogan's GalleyCat, I traipsed over here to take a look.Where have you guys been all of my life? This is great stuff.I can't wait to dig into the archives.

  24. July 13, 2009

    Lorra Reply

    Thanks to Ron Hogan's GalleyCat, I traipsed over here to take a look.

    Where have you guys been all of my life? This is great stuff.

    I can't wait to dig into the archives.

  25. July 13, 2009

    Margaret Reply

    Galley Cat led me this way too. Very nice blog you have going. I look forward to reading more.

  26. July 13, 2009

    Margaret Reply

    Galley Cat led me this way too. Very nice blog you have going. I look forward to reading more.

  27. July 18, 2009

    Drinks with Tony Reply

    you guys give away for free what should be taught in writer's workshops.great, great information.what strikes me as important as JE mentioned is working with other writers. personally, i have a passion for all things literary, i write fan letters to authors of books that blow me away….and i was surprised to have them write back….then i did podcast interviews with writers which turned into my radio show focusing on interviews with writers…..and how i met JE.the writing community is amazing on every level. writers need to be in the community and doing their part to build the community further. oh, and write some damn good stories.what really worked for me on my novel that's getting published in feb. 2010 was putting it away for six months or so between drafts. i also had to workshop it extensively since it was set in a world i was familiar with but it's not common knowledge to most readers….so i really had to find the balance of sneaking education into the story while keeping it moving full steam ahead.keep up this great blog…i love it.

  28. July 18, 2009

    Drinks with Tony Reply

    you guys give away for free what should be taught in writer's workshops.

    great, great information.

    what strikes me as important as JE mentioned is working with other writers. personally, i have a passion for all things literary, i write fan letters to authors of books that blow me away….and i was surprised to have them write back….then i did podcast interviews with writers which turned into my radio show focusing on interviews with writers…..and how i met JE.

    the writing community is amazing on every level. writers need to be in the community and doing their part to build the community further.

    oh, and write some damn good stories.

    what really worked for me on my novel that's getting published in feb. 2010 was putting it away for six months or so between drafts. i also had to workshop it extensively since it was set in a world i was familiar with but it's not common knowledge to most readers….so i really had to find the balance of sneaking education into the story while keeping it moving full steam ahead.

    keep up this great blog…i love it.

  29. April 13, 2010

    Mike Fook Reply

    It’s 2010, you don’t need an agent. Pay someone skilled with marketing your ebook on the internet instead. If it’s good you’ll likely make more over time than you would paying an editor and a paper publisher to create the book for you in hard form.

    It hurts agents to hear it – but, we don’t need them anymore. Game over.

    Writers need to start figuring out the online game. The online game is infinitely more lucrative and available to the average writer/author.

    Create a website that talks about you as a writer, and write about whatever you want. Write to an audience. That audience will buy your books. Give away a free book online… I’ve had one book downloaded over 130,000 times. Free. Why? Because the pages of the book are filled with links to my other sites… other books. Is your paperback publisher going to pass out 130,000 copies of a paperback for you for free so you can market yourself?

    Writers that are attached by umbilical cord to agents and publishers are going to be sucking air as time goes on… Make the jump now. The jump will put you in control of your rights as a writer, an owner of the words you wrote. Jumping now will help you in 20 years when you have something that has built up over time. Publishers don’t market you forever… but you can make a life of marketing yourself.

    Some say that books will incorporate more multimedia in the future – not just words, but video, audio… and interactivity will be built into the top selling books. If that’s right, as it probably is, where will you be with your agent and paperback publisher?

    Fire your agent and take control of your life.

  30. April 13, 2010

    Mike Fook Reply

    It’s 2010, you don’t need an agent. Pay someone skilled with marketing your ebook on the internet instead. If it’s good you’ll likely make more over time than you would paying an editor and a paper publisher to create the book for you in hard form.

    It hurts agents to hear it – but, we don’t need them anymore. Game over.

    Writers need to start figuring out the online game. The online game is infinitely more lucrative and available to the average writer/author.

    Create a website that talks about you as a writer, and write about whatever you want. Write to an audience. That audience will buy your books. Give away a free book online… I’ve had one book downloaded over 130,000 times. Free. Why? Because the pages of the book are filled with links to my other sites… other books. Is your paperback publisher going to pass out 130,000 copies of a paperback for you for free so you can market yourself?

    Writers that are attached by umbilical cord to agents and publishers are going to be sucking air as time goes on… Make the jump now. The jump will put you in control of your rights as a writer, an owner of the words you wrote. Jumping now will help you in 20 years when you have something that has built up over time. Publishers don’t market you forever… but you can make a life of marketing yourself.

    Some say that books will incorporate more multimedia in the future – not just words, but video, audio… and interactivity will be built into the top selling books. If that’s right, as it probably is, where will you be with your agent and paperback publisher?

    Fire your agent and take control of your life.

  31. September 16, 2010

    Tyler Knight Reply

    Outstanding article. I’m glad I read it at this early stage of my writing career. It gave me a clearer perspective, and will help me to avoid mistakes.

    Thank you!

  32. September 16, 2010

    Tyler Knight Reply

    Outstanding article. I’m glad I read it at this early stage of my writing career. It gave me a clearer perspective, and will help me to avoid mistakes.

    Thank you!

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