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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Waiting to Reject You?

Poets & Writers features a cover on the four new young hot agents....who are waiting to reject you.  Two of these four have rejected me in years past, and one has written in to this blog.  
Also regarding this edition of P&W, I received an anonymous note: "Is it worth registering to see Jake Appel's obsequious tribute to writing contests? I suppose it is if you're obsessed with him...............isn't this what you've always wanted, Dr. Rejected? A glimpse inside of the prince of darkess? If he is one man, of course, and not a consortium of desperate graduate students." (I don't find the article.  Do you? If so please send link.) I believe the clever doctor reference has to do with this article.


Anonymous said...

I can't find the article online, but the new print issue does contain a piece by Appel on contests & why he loves them.

John Bruce said...

I'm somewhat puzzled at the agents vamping for an audience of what are effectively wannabes here. Maybe if an agent sees this, he or she can comment and clarify what these folks think they're doing with their time. What these agents are doing, it seems to me, is trying to get a bigger slush pile. OK, fine, though a bigger slush pile also means a huge exercise in time and effort for a very, very meager payout, from everything I hear.

Yet there are many agents -- let's call this the Miss Snark model -- who are spending a great deal of time with wannabes/slush pile candidates. I suspect someone finally sat on Miss Snark and told her to get back to work and stop running contests on who can write the best query letter.

I'm very, very curious as to how agents justify spending so much time on the wannabe circuit. This would include writing blogs, going to conferences, posing for cutsey-pie photos, trying to get on some 25-best list. If you're one of the 25 best, why are you wasting time this way? None of this can be the most productive use of time -- or maybe an agent can explain how it is.

It strikes me as a little like the stock picker's advice that says if the CEO of your company is on the cover of Business Week, it's time to sell.

I played the query letter game several years ago and came away with the impression that I need to write and submit, write and submit, and eventually the agent thing will take care of itself, because I just can't see the way this thing is set up now as a route to success for anyone, agent or prospective client.


rmellis said...

I see a hilarious (or maybe not so hilarious) new sitcom here...

E. said...

I'm not an agent, but it seems pretty clear to me (doesn't one of them say this in the P&W interview?) that agents spend time looking for new writers because turning up new talent is gratifying, and makes agent careers. Bigger the slush pile, more likely there is to be a diamond in it.

Anonymous said...

that was a great article, and good advice they give about keeping your internet profile clean. i couldn't help but notice the subtle dig they make at certain rejection letter posting blogs ;)

they all seem really smart and realistic, though the kleinman dude sounds like a space cadet/spoiled brat. maybe that's just him drunk. i wouldn't want him as an agent in any case.

@rmellis: the photo sort of reminds me of "Friends", is that what you were thinking too?

John Bruce said...

Aren't I cute? Don't you want me for an agent? I'd rather have a bald-headed middle aged guy who can recognize talent and sell books.

The slush pile is pretty overrated. The vast, vast majority of input is semiliterate and hackneyed. If nothing else, even the most perceptive reader is going to be bleary and miss the gem after going through 600 things about my pet hamster Furry and the day he died. There's got to be a better way.

Anonymous said...

what did they say about an internet profile?

Anonymous said...

How to fix the problem with literary fiction in three easy steps:
1) The public will have the desire to read good fiction and will pay money for it.
2) People without any talent will realize that and STOP SUBMITTING.
3) Editors will be endowed with the ability to recognize quality work and that will be the ONLY criteria for publication.

As for the slush pile now, the editors of the top magazines could care less about it. It's processed, that's all. No searching for diamonds! The work they publish comes directly to their desk.
Right, Junot?

John Bruce said...

Sounds like basically keep your nose clean. Don't get the likes of Darin Straus ticked off at you! But here's what puzzles me about this: think of the number of professions where you can keep your nose clean and make big bucks! Corporate lawyer! PR flack! Politician! These folks think you should keep your nose clean for the minimal amount you'll ever make as a writer??? I hear the faint seismic stirrings of Bukowski turning in his grave.

Anonymous said...

John: In the LROD post about the Village Voice article on Strauss, you wrote, "One thing that interests me about this episode is how he [Darin Strauss] hasn't let it go." And yet here you are bringing him up yet again. WHO can't let it go, buddy? I followed your blog on Strauss, along with your hatchet job on Chang and Eng, and what I found creepy was how much you seemed to be enjoying yourself. And then I read your own fiction. Really, it's no mystery as to why your work appears in places I've never heard of or why you probably can't get an agent. (I'm assuming you don't have one.) I want to say that you're jealous of Strauss (but, no, "obesessed with" is more accurate), but I think your invoking Bukowski in the comment above actually speaks volumes about you and your work. (Does anyone past the age of eighteen really think Bukowski is a good writer?) Anyway, your theories on agents and slushpiles don't hold much weight when viewed in the context of your own work and the hole card you imprudently revealed when you started blogging about Mr. Strauss. Perhaps a little more self-analysis, as opposed to snarky self-righteousness, would serve you better in the long run.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least Junot Diaz is one of the few editors who can actually write, and does. I feel better getting rejected by a big shot than I do when a little bb gun pellet editor says no. And at least with the Boston Review you know you're getting passed over in favor of someone more established, and quite probably a better writer. (yeah yeah, i know BR uses intern readers and Diaz doens't read everything)

But with the podunk indie punk reviews, you get passed over for someone in the editor's circle of friends. Those editors are just failed writers and definitely not "endowed with the ability to recognize quality work." (But they can certainly recognize their buddies' bylines.) Meh. Nobody reads those stupid zines except people looking for measly pub creds anyway.

Maybe you feel that you are among the talentless and you should stop submitting. I'm not giving up. I'm going to keep improving and work my way up the hard way, the only way, by writing and submitting.

Merry Christmas WR, and may you have a happy new year of rejections! I know I will.

Anonymous said...

duncan yoyo, John said as much in his first comment that he doesn't have an agent. So what if he's a obsessed with Strauss? John adds to the local color of LROD commenters and he makes a good point now and then.

I agree with the idea that agnets who have the time to do these little PR stunts (let's call it what it is), blog, and comment on blogs are wasting their time. And their clients' time. I don't want an agent who does all this bs either. I read the whole interview and also agree with the anonymouse who thought kleinman came off like a douchy dude.

Guess I'm feeling agree-ish today. I even agree with the 3-step program above, though I don't get what's so bad about Junot Diaz. Something out of left field there.

Writer, Rejected said...

Did you read Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize winning new novel? It took him ten years to write that thing; it was brilliant. Dude is my hero. He can (and has) reject (or accept) me any day of the week.

John Bruce said...

One thing to keep in mind about Darin is that he often posts (and sends e-mails) under other names. I wouldn't be surprised if duncan were in fact our boy.

Here's another thing that interests me about the agents under discussion here: in effect, they're advising aspiring writers to play it safe. They look like folks who play it safe themselves, for that matter, adopting the mode of a passe sitcom. But isn't the essence of creativity risk-taking? Reminds me of Cheever's remark, when prodded at the Iowa program that his work was insufficiently experimental, that every stoy he wrote was an experiment. I don't think these pipsqueaks would understand any of that.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that it crossed my mind too that a few comments lately seemed like they could be from Strauss himself or friends of Strauss'. But I hate to be that cynical.

Anonymous said...

Nope, I'm not Strauss, and I don't know him. Never met him and haven't read any of his books, either. Sorry to disappoint. Believe it or not, sometimes perfect strangers are likely to point out hypocrisy when they see it. (I realize that me not being Strauss or a friend of his doesn't jibe with the paranoia that this site spawns, but there you have it.) Oh, and calling D. Strauss "our boy" -- as John just did and has on his own blog -- is a really patronizing, assholish way to refer to anybody.

Keep fanning the flames, LROD. That's what this site seems best at doing. (Oy.)

Writer, Rejected said...

Feel free to express yourself here Yo-Yo, as you like, but please watch your language. No need to use the word "asshole," even when cleverly turned into an adjective. I prefer we not use name-calling, even if it's disguised name-calling. Thanks. And thanks for coming by and joining in the discussion....whoever you are. :-) (Just because people are paranoid doesn't mean someone here isn't pretending to be someone else and posting under false pretenses.)

You guys crack me up.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I'll watch my language, even though I find directly calling someone (an adult) "our boy" far more offensive than someone (me) referring to the behavior (not the person) as "assholish." (John was not what the adjective was modifying, if you want to break it down grammatically. And I'm assuming John wouldn't want his peers to start derisively calling him "our boy," would he?) But...your house, your rules. I'll wipe my feet next time before entering.

Anonymous said...

A few posts ago (the Strauss one) two commenters (attack dogs, actually) used the words "circle jerk" and another used the word "limp-dicked."
They may all have come from one person (who knows?) -- someone with a peculiar fixation.
I wonder why this passed scrutiny.

Writer, Rejected said...

Yes, you're right.

I was on deadline, and so not reading as carefully as I might otherwise do when my brain is less crunched.

Clean it up everybody. Please. No limp dicks and circle jerks, not dirty language, or euphemisms for dirty language....and as always no name-calling.

Also, snitching (i.e., pointing out what others did) is frowned upon, although not strictly forbidden.

John Bruce said...

Reflecting on duncan's complaint that he'd never heard of any of the places I've been published -- this may also go to the conuncrum of the slush pile. If I were an agent, given the inefficiencies of expecting the next Steinbeck to turn up there, I'd in fact go searching on places like Duotrope (look that one up, duncan!) to see what's being published these days.

A lot of this stuff isn't exactly Steinbeck, but it's certainly better than the slush pile. If I were an agent looking for new clients, I'd want to make it my business to find the up and coming zines and see who the up and coming people were getting published there. Then I'd want to be finding out, of the best ones, who had agents, who had novels sitting in their files, etc. Apparently it's "unethical" to solicit someone directly to be their agent, but I would imagine there are ways around that, which many of the power agents themselves have no doubt used.

Anyhow, since I read agents saying how useless it is to go to conferences, since all you meet are people who are good at promoting themselves and their unwritten MSs, and how useless the slush pile is -- heck, then if you've got all this free time, why not read the latest issue of Why Vandalism? and see if you can find a possible client there??

Anonymous said...

"I wonder why this has passed scrutiny."

I don't. Who cares if it was 1 or 2 or 6 people writing LROD comments by committee. Don't let some anonytard pen!s jokes get to you. (is "anonytard" ok WR?)

Wasn't the original thread of conversation about the 4 agents? I don't see it as a big deal that they sat down for an informal interview. There is something to be learned from it, they have some inside knowledge about the publishing biz and shared it with writers. I think they genuinely care about fiction and want to help writers of fiction.

ps: i'm not really kenny g, but my upstairs neighbor is a huge fan.

Writer, Rejected said...

Anonytard: offensive, yet ingenious.

Anonymous said...

I've had three agents over a twenty year period (two left the business), and two of the three found me because of stories I'd published in magazines, so I don't think John needs to worry about them not reading magazines (or zines, even): If your work is getting published in literary magazines, and if they like it (and if they think they can sell it -- and that's really the key word here: sell), they'll contact you. I've received probably another half-dozen letters from agents who found me by reading my stuff in magazines. As for John and Duotrope...congratulations. However, if I were an agent and saw your blog, several red flags would go up. That's all I'm saying. You should think twice about what you're putting there, including your D.S. diatribe. I'm not an agent, but if I were and I saw your blog, I would take a pass, no matter how highly I thought of your writing. (For starters, I wouldn't represent any writer who calls another writer "our boy." It's...ugly.)

John Bruce said...

Dunkin says, "if I were an agent and saw your blog, several red flags would go up." We're back to the cuties in the photo at the top of the thread, play it safe. It's worth pointing out that Bukowski (gasp) never had an agent. Things work themselves out,

Anonymous said...

What's with the obsession over "our boy"? WR calls him "our friend," which I'm pretty sure, given the Voice article, he is not. I think it's just a short-hand term handle for a writer who has made some claims and connections here at LROD. Why make a mountain out of a mole hill? Unless you're here to prove how bad we are and how bad we've been to Darin Srauss. Frankly I think it's mostly been all in good fun with a little bit of tough love concerning how to be a better public figure.

John Bruce said...

I'm with heynonny.

On the sidewalk, Sunday morning,
Don't you know
Lies a body oozing life
Someone's sneaking round the corner
Could that be our boy, Mack the knife?

But understand, my reading of our boy Darin is that if someone said there was a tricycle down the street that was better than one his kids had, he'd be equally bent out of shape and out to show that neighbor was a dirty scoundrel.

Anonymous said...

Okay, John. Okay, okay. I look forward to the publication of your first book. In fact, I'll be sure to request a review copy. The name's John Bruce, right? Good enough.

John Bruce said...

So that's a threat, huh? Goes to my reading of Dunkin/Darin (see above).

Anonymous said...

why, oh why?

it has been pointed out before. on this blog, i think. no agents working now are like the amanda urbans of 20 years ago. in fact none of them seem to want to be like that. the cry of "who will be the next binky urban" has not been heard for at least a dozen years. there used to be talk about editors - who would be the next max perkins, the next arnold gingrich. that talk is so old that it is universally acknowledged (and almost gleefully so) that "there will never be another max perkins." soon they will gleefully say the same about binky urban. as for gingrich, only magazine veterans seem to even know who he is. rust hills? matt bruccoli? don't even ask. mainstream publishing today, they don't want any of that. now turn to the writers. you'll never see talk of "another beat generation" or "the next brat pack" or "as good as any of the lost generation" because it's a different game now. nobody wants a john steinbeck or a dos passos or jay mcinerney or whomever. what's it now? there's nothing. males dont even read fiction (of course, can you blame them? look at a men's mag today. there's no fiction in it. it's all neanderthal crap. stupid writing. what's a guy to read? "best american poetry"? no thanks.)

and these agents are perpetuating all this. they have no taste. they're all the same, not diverse at all. they can't hide that. they aren't out there to make things better. you confront them and they'll start to squeal, tell you it's not their place. no they are definitely not cut from the cloth of the binky urbans or the volkenings or obers. they don't even know who these people are, and frankly they don't care. i've heard them say it a thousand times that the past is not relevant, that the "classics" are not relevant now. hogwash, lamers. oh, and who's the great that all these agents compare everything to? stephen king. that's all they know. i think even stephen king himself would yell at these people.

at least jeff kleinman had the guts and honesty to admit in this interview that all agents today are followers. they're yesman, they can't think for themselves, and they aren't literary mavericks looking to publish the world's greatest writers. they want to make a lot of money and be thought of as bright and clever and that's about it.

E. said...

John, rejected --

In your last paragraph, you've conflated agents with publishers. Agents don't publish; they sell. If publishers aren't buying what agents are offering, all the superb taste and good intentions in the world won't get the book published.

I think it's awful that one of the agents said she can't represent the type of fiction she really loves -- the eighties-era, Ann Beattie-style suburban realism -- because publishers aren't buying it anymore. Regardless of whether you like that type of fiction, it's clear this agent WOULD stick to her literary guns if it were possible for her to do so. She's in the dicey position of being unable to sell the kind of fiction she loves -- just like a lot of writers.

Blame the publishers if you like, who'll turn around and blame the reading public. Supply/demand and all that. But don't confuse agents with the people who publish books. Agents can neither create the demand nor control the supply; all they can do is respond to what the market will buy.

And apart from a handful of uber-agents representing uber-writers, I don't think anyone goes into agenting to make a lot of money. 15% of a meagre advance usually adds up to nothing much.

I'm not an agent, or a publisher, by the way.

Anonymous said...


How many agents are offering great stuff that publishers aren't buying?

How many agents are complaining that publishers are only buying shallow/stupid/politically correct/lowest-common-denominator material, and trying to do something about it?

Anonymous said...


You're looking at the problem back-asswards. E is right. Nearly every agent I know represents at least a few writers whose work they love -- whose work is good -- but whose work they know will be an uphill challenge to place. But the reality is that the agent, in order to remain an agent, must represent stuff publishers buy. What else are they going to do? You can be idealistic and out of work, or you can balance the two: commercial projects with, say, literary novels. My agent complains all the time about what publishers are buying, but what's her recourse? It's naive to think that agents somehow hold the power in this equation.