If you haven’t read my last post on this topic (Monday, June 6, 2011), this one won’t make sense. Just so you know.
What I found was, most the agents and editors in the world didn’t have a standard. They set their own standards. Personal ones. “Check our (my) website for submission guidelines” is the common gatekeeper mantra, and it echoes through all the hallowed halls of that first level (yes, it’s only the first level) of the gatekeeper castle. Problem is, you can’t write a great query letter. That’s the primary thing I learned from reading agent blogs – there’s no such thing as a “great” query letter. Know why?
Because no two agents will consider the same query “great”.
So an author spends all this time banging their heads against the keyboard and firing off the query letter. They won’t receive any guidance on what’s wrong with their letters if something is indeed wrong; they simply won’t get a response. They are to assume from silence there’s something wrong with their letter.
This used to infuriate me. Literary agents are constantly shrieking about lacking time, and how busy they are, and how much work they have to do, and how they don’t have time to read every manuscript, every sample. “We [and yes, in this matter they always refer to themselves collectively as a group rather than as individuals] don’t have time to read every submission in our slush pile!” (Note your work is “slush”, nothing more, to those individuals.)
I railed to my wife again, “But that’s their job! That’s what they f@#cking do! They read! How can they sit around collecting commissions from writers and then say they don’t have the ‘time’ to do their jobs?!”
To no avail. Still the mountains of comments poured into every agent blog, kissing their a$$es and making a$$es of the writers-cum-sycophants who suckle at the teat of their “wisdom”. The bile in my throat grew.
By late summer 2008 I’d made friends with several other writers on DA and in cyberspace. Most of the people I knew where seeking publication. Some of them claimed it was the only way they’d go, because self-publishing is what writers who stink do because they can’t get through the gatekeeper system. (That’s not true, by the way, and never was, but that’s another story. Another post. Another time.) And I’d lost a few already too, because of childish antics. But of the writers I associated with, most of them were serious about the craft, serious about seeking publication, and most of them expressed no knowledge or frustration at all with the current system of publication.
I didn’t understand that. At all. I still don’t.
When I lost my contract job at the end of November of 2008, I had nothing but time to write. I met some more writers. I dumped some of the industry blogs I followed so I could spend less time reading about what I wouldn’t do right and focused more on getting serious about writing again. Unfortunately, life had other plans. And by the time 2009 drew to a close my life became a montage of worry and fear again. On the upside, nothing horrible happened, but nothing good happened either.
I had, by that time, given up on the idea of understanding the gatekeeper system. I’d have no choice but to write individual queries for each agent and simply hope I hit their “hot buttons”. But then, I noticed something. I’d started following Joe Konrath on Twitter because he was funnier than heck, but suddenly, his blog posts changed. He started talking about ebooks.
I’d never given ebooks much thought before. I didn’t expect the Kindle to become the force it is in the industry. But with the economy tanked, and with the publishing industry floundering, I noticed a few other things too. For one, the gatekeepers weren’t talking about ebooks. They were busy telling writers to keep feeding them manuscripts they didn’t have time to read, because the industry wasn’t failing, no, not at all! It’s just … changing! Yeah, yeah – that’s it! Changing!
And they were right. It was changing from a tenuously surviving industry which couldn’t show a decent sales forecast to save its life, to a dying one. People didn’t have disposable incomes to toss at books anymore. Paying $9 for a paperback became objectionable. Times were hard; unemployment numbers kept climbing and being misrepresented, but I knew a lot of good people were out of work. God’s hand kept us safe and going through it all, but it was a scary time, and not just for us.
I guess the gatekeepers didn’t pay any attention to the tsunami of change headed their way at supersonic speed, because they didn’t then – and let’s face, they don’t now – acknowledge that this is their 1999. In 1999, the music industry was hit with a similar tsunami of change when digitally formatting music broke onto the music industry and mp3 format became easily producible and exchangeable. Oh, there was scrambling to get legislation done that year! But with the publication industry, there’s more denial. There’s more resistance just to acknowledge the format. But there has already come a change in how literary agents and agencies deal with authors, how they word their contracts, and how they predate on their talent (you writers).
Those changes mean bad things for writers, and most of them are too stupid, naïve, or deliberately obtuse to see it. A few voices crying in the wilderness are there, but largely ignored, which is both sad and stupid. I’ve written about a couple of ‘em here on my blog, which seems to angry-up the blood of a lot of folks.
But in 2010 I discovered a method of publication which perfectly suited the new technological changes at hand, presents an ideal way for writers to reach readers who are suited to their work, is easy to do and cheap, and is, in my opinion, the best way to publish written work and get it into the hands of someone who might want it since Gutenberg revolutionized it the first time in the 15th century.
I’ve never been so excited about publishing my work. Never. Not even when I was a doe-eyed wannabe running around with hopes of getting through that gatekeeper system somehow, and believing those “agents” were there to help me do that, not stop me from doing that.
Ebooks. Oh, yes. Kindle provided a cheap, easy and free way to produce books meant not for the computer, but for their Kindle device (which won’t use PDF files, which was the previous preferred method of turning print to digital). And in fact, the only thing I had to do to make my work digestible by Kindle was format it as HTML.
In the meantime, I’d been introduced to a man who later became my literary agent. With his help, I wrote and published a technical book through the gatekeeper system in late 2009, and again in 2010. (I’m currently working on a third for the same publisher through this same agent.)
I’d been through the process of getting my work published. I knew the ropes there. But the siren song of the ebook called me.
So I decided to answer.
Copyright 2011 DarcKnyt, All rights reserved