Friday, May 16, 2008

The New Black


Aholibah,
Anthony Flowers ( 1792-1875)
watercolour,
The Windsor House Collection, N.B.

This week the ladies at BookEnds opened a "vent post," wherein writers - sensibly anonymous for the most part - could post horror stories about their treatment by agents and editors.

The number one writerly complaint tallied seems to be "we'll respond only if we're interested" attitude toward queries as advertised by some houses, followed by irritation with a form reject after an agent had requested a partial or full.

One of the persistent rumours that pervade the industry is the existence of a Black List, a rumour which -- despite vigorous denials along the lines of who-the-hell-has-the-time? -- is given life each time some agent makes the omnious announcement that " publishing is a small society and people talk."

I think it's fair to assume that while there is no industry-wide master list, some people in it do keep one. And from the occasional nut-case samples posted on blogs, with good and sufficient reason.

After reading various tales of authors, agents and publishers Behaving Badly on such sites as Dear Author and Karen Knows Best, Absolute Write, etc., I wonder if a writer might be wise to compose his/her own list of places and people to avoid. Some remarkable scandals come to light from time to time.

We usually approach due dilligence research of an agent or house in a "good fit" positive light.

I'm too lazy to create one, but a negative list also might have value. People move. Houses and agencies combine, change names.

As a minor example, I recently read a blog comment by an agent to the effect that "most first person stories are not well-written." The reason given for this opinion was relatively sound -- that often other characters in the story suffer from lack of development.

Since my WIP is in first, that agent should go on a do-not-query list, for the simple reason that the comment implies a prejudice against first person POV. Since agents already approach query slush with a general bias about quality, I'd be down two strikes, automatically.

Another clip from my X-files:
Agence France-Presse reported (1999) that "a total of 143 garden gnomes were discovered lined up in from of the city hall in Sarrebourg in eastern France, apparently the work of the mysterious Garden Gnome Liberation Front."

I loved that scene in the Beasley garden in the second Harry Potter book.

37 comments:

Aimless Writer said...

I'm picturing the Garden Gnomes! I think I'm going to carry the picture with me all day now. lol
I think sometimes I do get turned off by what agents say. I used those desk top post-it notes and when they say something I think might fit my WIP I make a postie of it. When I'm ready to submit I look them over to remind me what was said about their preferences.

Ric said...

It's Friday. And, instead of sex, we're talking about gnomes?

If there is a blacklist, I'm sure I'm on it, even though I don't do (anymore) some of the stupid things I hear about.

writtenwyrdd said...

I doubt there's a black list, but as you observe, people talk and swap agencies a lot.

Getting a form rejection seems standard, even for a partial. So although I find that sort of neutrality rather rude emotionally, I understand the business reasons behind it and try to be a big, grown-up girl about it. Of course I fail, but still...

BernardL said...

One agent stated on her blog she’s a card carrying feminist who could never see herself representing anything ‘Republicanish’. Now, that kind of bias is very funny. It’s also an up front clue if you are ‘Republicanish’, it would be best to query elsewhere. Active participation by a block of agents and publishers in some form of black list I find no humor in. I’ve suspected a bias against pulp fiction for quite some time; but I’ve always thought it was more a shortsighted vision of literature than a conspiracy. I could be wrong though. :)

laughingwolf said...

i'm sure there are 'lists' in the pub biz, same as there are on patients in the med biz, and other lists elsewhere....

Bernita said...

Those incidental insights can be very valuable, Aimless.You're wise to do so, I think.

Ric, I gave you a picture of a half-naked woman, she said plaintively.
I would think those lists, if they exist, have a shelf-life, say five years or so. People quit, people move, etc.

Doesn't sound all that professional when they've asked for a full, Written, though I can ( sort of) see it for a partial.

Always thought the houses that publish "pulp" were those who don't require an agented submission, Bernard.On the other hand, a few books I read last year of the chick lit/vampire variety certainly qualify as pulp.

No reason why writers can't create their own, Laughingwolf.

Robyn said...

"We'll reply only if we're interested" would be easier to take if a time frame were included. I submitted a partial to an editor at a big house, got an acknowlegement of receipt, and never heard from him again. After six months, I e-mailed to ask after the status; nothing. It's been two years of lovely chirping crickets.

Bernita said...

Robyn, I'd be tempted to call that totally disorganized and unprofessional.

Chumplet said...

I suppose some lists aren't exactly 'black'. Writers can always construct an 'ain't gonna happen' list.

Ric said...

Obviously need to adjust the resolution on my screen.

Bernita said...

Sandra, I'd recommend three lists: white/gray/black - oh, Baby!/well, maybe/not even from my cold,dead hands.

Though you kept a magnifier handy, Ric!

Ric said...

That was cold. Bit frosty up there this morning?

Bernita said...

I didn't mean it cold, Ric.
Just teasing back. Sorry.

Ric said...

no offense taken, I'm all about having fun today.

couldn't find any pictures of naked gnomes?

Dave F. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave F. said...

When I was involved with a video rental store, the independent stores shared the names of the deadbeat renters who kept videotapes extra long and lost them, etc...

These people would beg for the latest movie, rent it for two days, keep it a week and show it to all their friends. That cut out any chance at profits on a new release.

But this was only three stores. Then came Blockbuster and Supermarkets and huge rental stores that killed the business.

(ooops, I hit the wrong button before I finished the comment)

My guess is that some agents share their horror stories with other agents but most share their successes. That seems more human nature - to share the success. An agent is liable to be so busy with the real work, that a writer that sends an angry email after a rejection is most likely forgotten after a few hundred new queries.

Dave F. said...

I wanted to make a seperate comment about "political" leanings and the comment that an agent wouldn't represent "republicanish" authors.

Gee, it's not like there aren't politically-minded publishers out there... Regnery Publishing is a respected publisher with a political POV. There's nothing wrong with that.

I look at this in the same way I look at agents who represent only SciFi or only Romance or only non-fiction or only Christian Lit. This is a business decision made by the agent and doesn't reflect on the author.

Jaye Wells said...

I kept notes on my submission tracking excel spreadsheet. Little notes for myself about my experience with each agent. It wasn't about sour grapes, but instead information on who I thought I could work well with. An agent who lost my submission three times wasn't someone I wanted to enter a business relationship with. The first impressions rule goes both ways.

BernardL said...

I never said it did reflect on the author, Dave. I stated what the agent put on her blog, indicating it was a nice, plain guidepost of who she did not want to represent. Nothing more and nothing less was insinuated. :)

Dave F. said...

Sorry, I didn't write that as critical of you or the agent. In fact, I don't see anything wrong with an agent saying "I represent THIS/THAT and only THIS/THAT." It's their business and that's the way the cookie crumbles (to borrow an old saying).

And to emphasize the point more, I'm sure that Regenery Pub sells secular and non-republican books and does a good job of it.

Sorry for my poor choice of words.

Bernita said...

Ric, a clothed gnome is bad enough.

Dave, I don't think agents are any different in that regard than authors. Some writers shrug over a nasty rejection, others burn for years.
I appreciate it when an agent is up front not only about the genres they represent but their particular preferences within the genre.
Saves everyone time and trouble.

"wasn't someone I wanted to enter a business relationship with." Exactly, Jaye.
Everyone should track their submission experience.

Jennifer said...

I was usually on my mother's shit list, as she'd angrily inform me when I'd failed to do something right. (more often than I'd care to admit, lol!) How dreadful to think there is an agent / publisher black list circulating with authors' names.
As for the publisher/author black list - there is Preditors and Editors, and Victoria Strauss's wonderful site as well.

Sam

Bernita said...

Right, Sam, those two are first call for the out and out scammers.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

I read through the Bookends blog comments and there certainly was a theme to the responses and some horror stories, which made you wish you knew the name of the agents concerned. One of the bloggers mentioned a private yahoo group where they told their personal agent stories including names. That, of course, happens on an informal basis between writer friends and I definitely have my black list based on other people's experiences. This happens in all areas of life - we make many decisions based on word of mouth every day.
There's much to be said for both sides of the agent/author story.

Bernita said...

Suzanne, I've always considered word-of-mouth/gossip, properly assessed, to be prime intelligence!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

My experience is often the same with first person stories submitted to the magazine. In short stories we've very little time to develop even the main character, much less a supporting cast. I also find a lot of telling in first person short stories. But mostly, it's a voice thing. Either the protag has a voice I like or not, and it often overwhelms the other aspects of the story.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I, too, disagree with the no-rejection policy, but I know a few zines who do that too to save time and agony on the part of the authors and editors. As the sender of many rejections, I can attest that it's not easy. It's damned depressing sometimes, because I know what it is to be on the other end. And let me tell you, when I've held a story for voting, sometimes as long as for three months, it's really tough.

Rejection sucks on both sides of the table, but there's no reason not to be kind and professional about it. On the other hand, sometimes folks have bad days.

And when reading something online, be it horror story or whatever, you're only getting ONE person's unadulterated take on the situation.

ORION said...

It just goes to show that this business is totally subjective as we say often.
Gnomes now...
EVERYBODY loves gnomes...

Rick said...

I'd generally be glad to know that an agent didn't want to see "republicanish" stories. Any tipoff to an agent's tastes is helpful.

Even so, perhaps the lady limits herself. I am a yellow dog Democrat, but I dare say that I have written stuff that might be taken as "republicanish." 16th century lords do tend to be on the conservative side, even the progressive ones.

spyscribbler said...

I totally have a no list. I figured everyone did. Sometimes an author will mention what their agent said, and I'll know automatically I wouldn't enjoy working with them. True, I could tolerate, but ...

I keep it in my agent list. Mostly, it's just name, why they got on my list, and sometimes a big YES, PLEASE, UNIVERSE, and sometimes a big NO.

If I didn't write it down, I wouldn't remember. :-)

raine said...

Interesting. I've never made a list...but then I have a distinctive memory for certain things (wink, wink).
I'm sure both sides of the fence have their horror stories to tell. There are authors I avoid, two agents I'd never consider again for love or money, an editor I had submission problems with, etc. But I doubt anybody gets through unscathed. Maybe it's just a matter of which side of the fence you're riding at any given point.
(Patiently waiting for the picture of the naked gnomes...)

Whirlochre said...

Just to let you know that I've tagged you with one of those ridiculous meme things.

Apols if you don't want to play - it's a bit like kiss-chase for would-be intellectuals. Or dimwits.

Details are posted over at my blog.


Re: your post — I'm not sure what the solution is to form letters in this instance. They must be deluged.

Bernita said...

SS, I've found the degree of "telling" is distributed equally between first and third.However, if one doesn't like the "voice" it may irritate more.

One person's take: which is why it may be useful to keep notes. Because one person's experience may be just that. If several people remark on the same experience, it's time to take notice.

Gnomes? Not me, Pat.

Rick, hopefully she meant the more overt contemporary stuff. I would hate to think she sifted all submissions through a political sieve.

Sounds like good sense to me, Natasha. One can get a feel for compatibility.

~shudders at the idea of naked gnomes~
I haven't had bad experiences yet, Raine, probably because I've made so few submissions.I imagine that might change when I finish the WIP and gear up.

Whirl, what did I ever do to you?

Charles Gramlich said...

Go figure. First person stories are often the "most" fun to read so it stands to reason publishers would be skeptical of them.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I really believe only the most accopmplishd writers can write well in first person. So in that case, Charles, you're probably reading the cream of the crop.

Whirlochre said...

Whoops.

BTW — Chris Eldin has a great anti-meme icon to protect you from further attacks.

Bernita said...

Charles IS cream, SS.

Whirl, please don't be offended if I decide not to.