Sunday, April 27, 2008

I'm in awe of you

Yes, you.

You, the writer in the back of the room at Muse in the Marketplace's Agent Idol this weekend. You who carefully typed up the first page of this, your first novel, spell checked it three times, read it aloud at least twice, and then printed out three copies with no name on it just to make sure you'd have the one you needed. You carefully placed it in the basket with pages from all the other people. I couldn't see if you said a quick prayer for mercy; it certainly wouldn't have been out of place.

Then you sat in the back of the room and you listened. You listened while your page was read aloud and three of us critiqued it in front of a hundred people. Yours may have been the one where we stopped the reader after one sentence and said things like "cliche" "dreams" "sleeping" "driving" and then wagged our fingers.

Yours might have been the one where we debated about how much detail is too much, or the one that was good but not good enough. Yours might have been the one where we said "been there, done that. You're a good writer who needs a new topic."

You listened, and you didn't scream. You listened and you didn't stomp out of the room murmuring "troglodyte." You bound up those thousand small cuts, and thanked us for our help.

You were gracious when it would have been really easy not to be.


You were gracious enough to thank us for coming to Boston, for critique your work, to talk on panels.

In fact, it is I who must thank you.

I've said it before, and I'm saying it again here. I'm profoundly grateful for those of you who write. Your work, your effort to improve, your willingness to listen and try again, all those things allow me to earn a living and live in the city I love more than any other.


Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

28 comments:

Julie Weathers said...

I wasn't there, but this makes me mist up a bit.

I know agents understand the angst of writing and dreaming of being writers. Even so, I sometimes wonder if agents, like other professions, develop a certain shell that insulates them. It's nice to know you still understand the pain.

As to the writers who were brave enough to undergo this exercise, salute.

Josh Everett Ryan said...

That was lovely. Eloquently said, too.

Mags said...

Word.

k said...

awww! ;-)

Sher said...

I loved that.

And because you have shown yourself to be human, I am inspired to remove the voodoo curse I paid a large breasted, one-eyed, gypsy woman the sum of $8 and a Member's Only jacket to inflict upon all agents everywhere.

You've redeemed your kind.

;-)

Oh_bother said...

I've been trying to get 250 words to behave- only 250! I was losing the battle ... and procrastinating to boot.

I needed to read something about keeping at it. This'll definitely do.

Many thanks...

ChrisEldin said...

That's Ms. Reid in the shark's mouth, isn't it? And you're her assitant....

:-)

This is very nice. Always good to have a pick-me-up when you're swimming around the slush.

Fred Limberg said...

It wasn't me in the back of the room with the driving and the sleeping...I swear!

kitty said...

When it comes time to submit to Janet Reid, I'm still pasting my first page on a bottle of McCallan and wearing a Yankee's cap.

...

Susan Adrian said...

YAY to the brave writers!! (and you for recognizing them)

And sometimes...sometimes you can even make a connection with the right agent that way. :)

Linda said...

Thank you, Janet... for the thank you. The M and M was a fantastic conference. I was one of those souls who placed her piece in the box and am grateful for the opportunity to have caring and consummate agents and editors take the time to listen and comment - and even provide encouragement.

Never thought of myself as brave... desperate perhaps? Peace, Linda

Heidi the Hick said...

Nuh uh... thank YOU!

I've never been to a conference, but this post makes my day.

Would anybody considering broadcasting Agent Idol? I'd watch that. Seriously.

Susan-marie said...

What an amazing post! What an amazing Agent Idol! I was there yesterday, and I learned so much from the panel's feedback. It can be very, very hard to put yourself out there (I am still shaking in my shoes a day later!), but for those of us writing in relative isolation, it's invaluable to have a window into an agent's thinking as she encounters a new manuscript. So c'mon, everyone, polish your 250 words! It's hard, but it's worth it! And to you, Janet, thank you for showing us all that you understand what we go through.

Chiron O'Keefe said...

Wow. Tears in the eyes...

You bound up those thousand small cuts, and thanked us for our help.

What grace.

Thanks for a brilliant glimpse into the heart of an aspiring writer. That is my soul I glimpse in the mirror. The insights shared also reveal the soul lifting up the glass...

Wow, again.

--Chiron O'Keefe

ICQB said...

We know you try to hide it, but you have one of the biggest hearts in the business. We appreciate all you do for us, and we'll keep your secret.

corine @ Hidden In France said...

Is this as close as I will ever get to having an agent say something nice to me?

beth said...

Thank YOU for this beautiful post!

Heidi said...

Beautifully said.

I think I will print this out and hang it on the fridge. Or tape it to the top of my laptop. Or memorize it for those days when the odds seems to be stacked against me.

Thank you.

Daniella said...

This would be a lot more believable if you hadn't so gleefully and noisily Bronx-cheered everyone's work.

Janet Reid said...

Not quite everyone. There were the two I practically demanded pages from, the three I liked a lot, and the several that were ok, just not my taste.

It's hard to have someone say they'll stop reading your pages after the first sentence. It's hard to have someone say, in public no less, that you write stuff that makes her want to vomit. I realize that. What I also realize is that if you think I didn't like anything, you either left VERY early or you weren't listening.

Since I designed the Agent Idol Panel, maybe next time we'll all just hold up signs that say "not right for me" and go on to the next one with no feedback.

Oh wait, you WANTED feedback? But only if we like it a lot, right?

Okedokey.

AnnaClare said...

Thank you for your appreciation of writers. It was needed. I was at Agent Idol, and it was brutal --not just the critiques themselves but the delight and force with which they were delivered, like a barrage of bullets (friendly fire?). Although I learned or had confirmed some useful things, I left feeling quite wounded, not just from the panel's critique of my work (helpful, but I'm not quite sure where to go with it) but from the collective experience of so much negativity. You don't need to be warm and fuzzy (we know this business is all about rejection), but perhaps there is a constructive middle ground that will let us dust ourselves off and start all over again. FYI, if you had allowed the reader to read mine a little while longer, you would have delighted in hearing the word "underpants!" And FYI2, handcuffs in Japanese love hotels are hung from all manner of surfaces. I did my research beforehand. Check out wired.com's piece on love hotels for some illustrative pictures.

Mags said...

Your skin is thin. That's cool--keep at this and it's going to toughen right up.

There isn't a way to hear that your writing still needs work that's going to feel okay. It isn't about the agents' styles or the particular adjectives they chose to knock it, a hard crit hurts.

And without that invaluable pain you'll learn very, very slowly. It's awesome you threw yourself into the fire--that's just brave as hell--but don't complain now that the fire gave you a blister. Put some ice on it and think about what you've heard. There's a lot more there than the words that hurt.

Janet Reid said...

If you thought Agent Idol was bad, you're complaining to the wrong person. Complain to the organizers at Grub Street and ask them not to invite me again.

The point of this exercise was NOT to read until you found something you liked. It was to show you how agents read query letters, and when they STOP.

You saw EXACTLY how I read them, no more no less.

Now, one thing you both learned is that you don't care for my style. That's good. Don't query me. You also learned you probably liked the other agents on the panel. That's good. Query them.

There are a LOT of agents. Find one who isn't impatient, cold, sarcastic and brutal.

Katie said...

I was at Agent Idol on Sunday and really enjoyed it. (Incidentally, you were the only one who didn't raise your hand for mine- so thank you!) I learned a lot about how agents read, and it was kind of a wake-up call to know how fast they often stop reading.

Dachary said...

Janet,

I thank you very much for reaching out to us in this post (and you kept saying Katharine Sands was the 'friendly' agent - you just outed yourself, madam.) I also want to thank you, and all of the agents, for the opportunity to get a look inside your head. It was invaluable to me as a writer. I'm somewhat relieved that you didn't get to my piece, as it was fantasy and none of the agents seemed particularly interested in the genre, but that one panel was probably worth the entire cost of the conference in terms of insight into the industry. It was brutal, but it's the kind of brutality that we need - a real reality check that most aspiring writers never get. Thank you. (And I will always remember the look on one writer's face when you practically demanded a manuscript from her - her eyes were huge and round - she looked absolutely floored and a little panicked. It was priceless.) While some of it was hard to hear, it also gave me hope for my own writing. I'm stubborn, and after the Agent Idol session, I'm convinced that if I revise, revise, revise and polish up my piece - it will find a home. That was a great gift.

Janet Reid said...

from this morning's email inbox:


I’ve been unsuccessful in trying to post a message to your blog, but wanted to thank you for your comments about Agent Idol. Your post about the writers who attended that session was moving and, I must admit, surprisingly sensitive (given that you played the Simon Cowell role on Sunday). I happened to be walking alongside Katherine Sands later on, who also outed you by telling a third party there that you actually had one of the biggest hearts in the business.

I was one of the fortunate ones who had their writing read at Agent Idol. I say fortunate, not because my work was read most of the way through (although you started to raise your hand early on because you hadn't yet heard the word 'penguins' which had been in my title, then generously lowered it again once you heard the magic word), but because it provided an invaluable lesson regarding what motivated you and the other agents to either read on or want to throw my first page into the trash.

It was an eye-opening experience, and it made me realize just how quickly you must make a decision about someone's work - and just how hard I must work to instantly capture your attention and imagination. For those of us out there trying to navigate our way through this mysterious publishing world, that session alone was worth the price of admission. I've been working feverishly on my opening chapter since Monday morning, taking into account the comments made by you and the other two agents on Sunday. I’m now more hopeful that it will pass muster upon reaching an agent’s experienced hands. I cannot thank you all enough.

The Writers' Group said...

For those of you who weren't there, here's an article from the Boston Globe: http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/05/04/novices_peek_at_literary_world/

maryfpl said...

Dachary, thanks for the description of bug-eyed me in a state of shock: "her eyes were huge and round - she looked absolutely floored and a little panicked." I was certainly floored, prepped as I was to receive (gratefully, I hoped) useful if difficult-to-hear commentary about my work's flaws. Janet's, Brettne's, and Katherine's pointers during the workshop will save me from many otherwise inevitable mistakes in future work; no character of mine will ever sleep or dream, at least not on a first date.
Mary