Sometimes I have to remind my old, jaded mind that there are still things to learn. Professionally, I want one thing: to write books and have them published.
Okay, so I’d like to earn a living at it, too.
So far, it hasn’t exactly worked out the way I want it to, even though I’m still working at it. Sometimes (often) I carry a chip on my shoulder. I like to think I’m the best novelist you’ve never heard of. And, though I know I have some talent, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated and, well, angry, at my inability to land with an agent or a large publishing house.
In my mind, it becomes a me-versus-the-world battle. That mentality drains me and leads me to wonder if I should ever write anything at all — even a grocery list — ever again.
But last week I had a very fun conversation via Twitter with agent extraordinaire Jenny Bent, of the Bent Agency. I said something funny that she retweeted, and we had a quick back-and-forth that I guarantee you meant more to me than it did to her. Those few lines of communication reminded me of something: This isn’t an adversarial process. It’s. NOT. An. Adversarial. Process. Agents WANT good fiction. Agents WANT clients who produce good, professional work that’s salable to publishing houses.
I haven’t hit that mark yet. I have to keep trying.
There’s a difference in being determined, in putting your head down and writing until your fingers bleed and your eyeballs warp, in pushing on to write the best fiction you can until an agent and/or publisher notice you. I carry that passion for my work — and I think any writer worth his word processor does. But there’s no need to be bitter. Bitterness doesn’t do any writer — published or unpublished — any good at all. In fact, bitterness can really screw up your fiction. Unless your name is Charles Bukowski, of course.
So I came to a new understanding of agents last week — along with a couple of other neat things:
1) Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering is an amazing book about the mechanics of writing and storytelling. He’s put into words things that I knew instinctively but could not articulate. And his work is showing me incredible stuff I never considered about structure and pace, as well as character and backstory. This book should be required reading for all aspiring novelists. It’s changing the way I approach fiction writing. And reading, for that matter.
2) Did you know authors don’t get royalties for remaindered books? You know, those books that have been marked down to six or seven bucks in dump-bins at chain bookstores? Yeah, I love to haunt the remaindered aisles for last year’s bestsellers or non-starters. Sometimes you find great fiction in there that simply didn’t sell for whatever reason. But one of the reasons I always pick up something from the remaindered aisle was that I wanted to support authors I like whose work may have just missed the mark for the masses. Unfortunately, I always thought they’d be getting a little money from me. Instead, it all goes to the publisher. I’m not sure how I feel about that, though my first thought is that I’m not a fan.
Anyway, it’s been a continued learning curve over the last week. Here’s hoping I learn even more THIS WEEK!
Up next, on Wednesday: A review of Donald Westlake’s “lost novel” The Comedy is Finished.