Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My Agent/Big Six Hang-Up

They say that the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem. Thing is, I don’t know if what I have is a problem or not…or a symptom of a problem. Maybe you can help me decide that.
I have this book. (I have three actually, but only one that matters for the purposes of this post.) If friends, family, an agent (who regretfully passed), and random readers on Authonomy can be trusted, it’s a good book. I would like to publish this book.

I’m a patient person. I can wait out the query process long enough to find an agent. I can wait out the submission process for an agent to find an interested publisher. I can wait out the production process. I have a background in graphic design and print production…I would break through my wall of shyness and annoy anyone necessary to be in the press room when the book ran. My point is that patience with the publishing industry’s apparent sloth is not a problem for me. And given my general lack of assertiveness where business is concerned, having an agent would be in my best interest.

To properly frame my “problem,” I do have to go back to my print production years at Northwest College. Actually, I have to go back even further. Last week, I mentioned that I identify with people diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and confessed that I’ve always found socializing difficult. In addition to interacting with other people, I also found difficulties in excelling at any one thing. (That is not to be confused with interest in any one thing.) I was good an almost everything I ever tried, (math is my kryptonite), but not great at anything. Changing my major from journalism, which I hated, to graphic design was a fluke.  I got an idea that I would transfer to Montana State University because I was sort of dating a guy going to school there, and MSU had a graphic design program. I broke up with the guy a few weeks later; graphic design remained a big part of my life for the next eight years.

And in my second year of the program, I discovered something at which I was naturally gifted.  It’s called Stripping.

Before I go on, I have to share a memory this just sparked. I was talking with some church friends one night, checked my watch and then excused myself. “I’m late for Stripping,” I said, jogging out of our dorm.

This sweetheart of a girl, Evelyn, got the wrong idea.  She asked our friends David and Holly, “They teach that here?!”

Those two had the benefit of being photography majors.  The lab where they spent all of their time was across the hall from prepress production, so they knew what I meant. They’re also both quick with humor, so they decided to tease poor Evelyn.

“Oh, yeah,” David said dismissively.

Holly added, “They’ve got tables that light up and everything!”

This is lithographer's tape. It's very cool stuff.
They then explained to her that stripping is part of the process of preparing printing plates. Twenty years ago, it was a skilled that I would likely be working in today if not for the desktop publishing revolution. What was once accomplished with prepress cameras, dot screens, and layers upon layers of vinyl masking sheets and litho tape is now done with printers that burns directly to film or plate. At the very moment I found my calling, the vocation was dying.

I’ve found myself in a similar situation in the past year. The indie presence in publishing is bigger, stronger, and louder than ever before. It’s gaining respect. Yet, I’m holding back…just like I resisted the news that direct-to-film, direct-to-plate, and waterless press technology was going to reform graphic arts.

The Slush Pile.
The truth is that I would really LOVE to see my book on a shelf when I walk into Barnes and Nobles. I admit it. I’m vain.  I don’t know if an agent or a Big Six publisher could give me that, but I’m reasonably sure they could pull it off easier than I could. And that’s it. That’s all I’m holding onto, really. Well, that and the satisfaction of landing an agent in today’s submission climate. Just wading through the slush pile and out the other side would be an accomplishment because I know their screeners reject 99% upon receipt. Getting an agent is like winning the lottery, except you can actually do something to win the prize. I really want to say, “I got an agent.” Is that so wrong? Am I being stubborn? Am I being silly?

Well, I’m not a silly person. Not really. If I can throw out sixty-pages of prose because it’s not working, then surely I can toss a daydream. That step has finally made it onto my calendar. January Black is with an acquiring editor at the moment. I have one agent in New York that I want to query should that editor pass. And should the agent also pass, then I’ll probably go it alone.  If it’s a process I can handle, maybe I’ll start my own press.  (The mere thought kinda freaks me out!) Oddly enough, that decision would bring me back to my roots.


  1. You're about where I am, although I've barely started the query process. I worked so hard on getting mine down to the Nathan Bransford 4 sentence formula before the last agent wanted more. I wanted to shout, in your face, Nathan. But that wouldn't be nice. I'm just glad other agents want a deeper look into plot and character. I posted the whole story on my blog. Maybe my reject will be your accept.

  2. I just want to be read. I'm not particularly convinced that agents are the best way to go about that in an efficient manner in the current climate. I've stopped querying for now as I explore different whether self-pubbing or small press would be better.

    I've had friends who have SPed and done great, and those who haven't. I've had friends who SPed and then got an agent. I've also had friends who went with small ePress and subsequently got an agent to handle their print deal.

    I have no problem seeking out an agent should the climate change in such a way that I think that is the best way to go about it. I've been writing a while, honing my craft, I've written my million words and all that, and I have enough books in me to keep writing for decades, but for now, I'd think I like to get there and start maybe gaining some readers.

    If the climate changes, I'll revisit the agent option. The one thing that is obviously different than even a few years ago is that self-pubbing (or going with a small press yourself) is not writing career suicide or anything.

    The thing is, it's not that on particular path is better or worse than the others, as it all depends on the individual writer and their career, it's just now we have options--and accompanying options paralysis. :)