Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Friday Night (if you're in Auckland) at the Questiom Emporium


The agent I am following on twitter, and hope to be to represented by some day, recently made a post, saying how excited she was to sign on a new client, and then went on to describe the highlights of my work in progress (folklore based, YA, romance, etc.).


Now, I'm not naive, I understand that all stories are reinvented, and I am not claiming my story has been stolen. However, I do feel discouraged and bummed out a bit. I planned on sending her a query in just a couple of months. What are the chances of an agent taking on two projects in one year that are that similar? What are the chances of a publishing house choosing two books that are that similar?


You have taken a tiny smidgen of info (140 characters no less!) and interpreted in the one way that will make you feel bad.

Knock that shit off.

The world is a hard enough place for writers without being the instrument of your own torment. Besides, that's MY job.

So let's look at why this particular instance is you being Author Crazypants.

1. Just because something is based on "folklore" doesn't mean it bears any resemblance to your work.

2. Even if something is based on the exact same piece of traditional story telling as your novel, remember everyone tells/writes differently. Just look at all the interpretations of The Front Page, or A Star is Born.  And for that matter, Star Wars is just a cowboy movie set in space. Sort of like a Jack Reacher novel without aliens.

3. This agent might not end up signing you, true, and there are a myriad of reasons that could happen. S/he ain't the only agent in town, and that means  STOP this utter horseshit of thinking of a dream agent and get realistic. Your dream agent is the one who loves your work with a passion and begs you for the chance to take it on submission. Thus you don't know who your dream agent is until YOU GET AN OFFER.


You can spend a lot of time fretting about things you have zero control over. You can do this so much that it blocks you creatively and disturbs your inner peace. OR you can understand to the core of your being that you are a writer, and every minute you spend fretting is a minute you're not thinking about your work, reading the work of great writers you want to emulate, or visiting art museums to see the work of artists in different media, or going to the movies to see great directors and screenwriters ply their craft, or just doing the damn laundry so you can write in clean underpants. In other words, when you start to fret about this stuff, it's a prime facie evidence you are NOT WRITING.  Get back to work. It's the one thing you can control, and it's the one thing that will get you moving toward your goal.






24 comments:

JeffO said...

Great, ass-kicking pep talk! Tough love in action.

Regarding the Dream Agent thing, you're right, we don't know who that person is until we get an offer, but we *think* we do. It's not necessarily bad to elevate one or two agents above the rest (it's like any other sort of goal setting); the research process is likely to turn up a few that just seem better for you than others, for various reasons. The key is to not hinge your entire query process on those one or two 'Dream Agents': don't hold off on all until you hear from them, and don't get utterly crushed if rejected.

RB Ripley said...

You see, straight forward talk and honest is just one reason why I have so much respect for JR.

theblabbermouthblog.com said...

I can't help it. I really want to grow up to be you, if I ever become a grown up agent. Great advice and well-said.

David Jón Fuller said...

Great post, Janet! I totally agree.
Inside every writer is a voice telling him/her that everything he/she writes is crap and will never amount to anything. It's the author's duty to tell that voice to SHUT UP. It's not the voice of useful criticism; it's the voice of fear.

Jennifer said...

*applause*

alaskaravenclaw said...

I so agree with #3. Having a dream agent is like having a jr. high crush on a guy you've never actually talked to... based on fantasy and very limited info.

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

Twitter is a strange thing. I follow a lot of agents who put stars in my eyes. When I query one of them and am rejected, I move on. Just because I like someone's personality on twitter doesn't mean they're the perfect agent to represent me.

I can still enjoy their online personalities and fantastic advice, and I can even see stars once in a while. I will, however, try my best not to be a Crazy Pants about it. Query WIDELY. The "Perfect Agent" for any author is the agent that loves you back.

Thanks for another fantastic bit of advice, Janet. This is why we all follow you! :)

Amanda Capper said...

O.k., I've got the clean underpants under control...forging ahead...

Mister Furkles said...

We great unwashed ... er unpublished … writers have a practical reason for keeping a dream agent in mind. It is a stand in we can plan with.

When I was a teen taking dance lessons, our dance instructor told us to practice with a pillow. But you must pretend that the pillow is a real partner and that works best if you have a “dream” dance partner in mind.

So it is with the dream agent. We need to learn the process without ever engaging in it. The dream agent is a useful mental image we can use for planning.

Problems arises if we believe the fantasy. Then either the dream agent doesn't react like our fantasy – and we are discouraged – or we miss getting a real agent because she doesn't fit our image of the dream agent.

Teddy Bellay said...

First you need to be very different. Think of something that never has been done before. I came up with an idea for my crime book I just finished, and I researched everywhere just to make sure what I was writing isn't out there. It's a beautiful story, and I've sent them to some agents, just have to be patient and wait. Keep faith, my quote "I can't draw, but I can paint beautiful pictures with words".

Elissa M said...

Janet,

I am going to copy the final paragraph of this post, print it out, and keep it by my computer. Most of the time I don't fret about things over which I have no control. But for those times when the negative thoughts start creeping up, this is a great kick in the pants.

j. a. kazimer said...

This is why I keep reading your blog. Us crazy authors need a kick to realize how insane we can be. Thank you.

Jennifer McAndrews said...

sorry.... what's this about doing laundry? Should I mention in my query letter that I do laundry?

totally kidding. top notch blog topic, as always

Bukash/ Lyudmyla Mayorska said...

By the second line I choked on my late afternoon coffee. Thank you for that.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Star Wars is also a samurai movie in space. This implies that samurai movies and cowboy movies can have similar elements. However, nobody would confuse them for being the same thing, and if anything, it shows how differently stories with the same core elements can turn out.

And, dear writer, you know what? It's very possible that agent could reject you if she feels your story is too similar to the one she has in mind. But somebody else might love it, and a publishing house might want it as a competitive title in that market. Or it's possible that agent might know exactly where to sell it because she works with an editor who wants more of that type of thing, or it's a hot trend, or something else. There are too many variables. You can't get too attached to one.

Jemi Fraser said...

I really should know better than to be drinking my tea when I read your posts! Thanks :)

Augustina Peach said...

After many a post, I think, "Gosh, she's wonderful," but I figure if I keep saying it I'll come off as a creepy fangirl. But...gosh, you're wonderful.

The Writer Librarian said...

A very much needed kick in the pants for me too. Been fretting about that "missed opportunity" with "perfect agent." Not only does this post give me the motivation to keep writing, but also the courage to keep putting my work out there.

Oh, and very well said, Mittens!

khaulamazhar said...

I end up doing that. I thought I was the only paranoid person wasting time, glad I am not. And thank you for such a great lecture to stop wasting time,we need it. Often.

Judith Gonda said...

LOVE this post! Great advice. Author Cleanpants should always trump Author Crazypants.

Jodi R. said...

Favourite Post. Ever.

Though I would argue "(140 characters, no more!)"...

CKHB said...

And, don't forget just how many "similar" ideas can kick ass independently.

Kid travels through magic portal. Are we talking about Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, Coraline?

Girl falls in love with vampire. Buffy, Twilight, Sookie Stackhouse?

Don't sweat it.

http://heimbinasfiction.blogspot.com/2010/02/that-was-my-idea.html

Diana Peterfreund said...

Okay, I can only speak for myself here, but my "dystopian YA Romance" was one of approximately thirty that my big six publisher (Harper) put out last year. My "Jane Austen retelling" (same book), was one of at least a dozen I can think of off the top of my head.

My "YA retelling of the Scarlet Pimpernel" out this fall is one of TWO that Harper Children's is putting out this year. Mine is a futuristic spy caper, and Aprilynne Pike's is a contemporary ghost story. I haven't read it, but that's the way she describes it on her website.

How many YA romances will be out this year? How many YA high fantasies or YA paranormals or YA retellings or YA dystopians? How many regency romances where the hero is a Duke will be out this year? (hint: it's more than there actually WERE Dukes in the Regency period -- especially hot young rakish ones).

So stop assuming that your book is like someone else's, or that a publisher is going to think that the book is too similar. All you can do is write your book.

Ramakant Pradhan said...

Very well put. There's never any point in wasting your effort and resources on things you don't have any control over. Rather the same effort can be channelized towards more creative work.