Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dollars, Dreams and Delusions

Somebody recently said to me that the publishing industry is driven by ego. Ego? Yeah, it certainly drives one thing in publishing...writers. We authors are arrogant enough to believe others will actually want to read our "inspired" words. Let’s call a spade, a spade. That's pure ego. Self-publishing through vanity presses and overpriced books from POD publishers provide ample evidence of the desperate egotism of writers. The rest of the industry, however, is not driven by ego. Rather, profits move the industry.

Literary agents, those gargoyles who restrict the entrances to the big publishing houses, they follow the money. They set high literary standards and reject all submissions that fail to meet strict expectations. Why so tough? Capitalism. It's all about the buck. Authors face brutal competition imposed by literary agents, but are these demands fair? In truth, it's no different than college. Not all students earn top grades. Some even flunk out. This process of meeting high standards assures quality in the final product, regardless if that is a great book or an advanced degree in physics. The same theme applies to big publishing houses. They select and promote books solely based on potential for economic gain. Ego drives writers and money drives the industry.

What is my motivation? Okay, I admit being attracted to the ego side of writing. I want everyone to love my stories, and someday, I crave for my book to make the New York Times bestseller list. Then again, I’m an old guy. I’ve been around the block, and I’ve learned that ego can be pretty well satisfied with material things like, say a new guitar, or, better yet, a new bass boat. Heck, my ego would be delighted with a mansion, or private jet, or a villa in...sorry...starting to slip from dream into delusion. The most important lesson for aspiring authors is that the magic happens when the successful release of a book meets both needs, ego and profit. Now, where did I put those real estate ads for Homes of the Rich and Famous?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Making Your Literary Agent Cry?

When I started writing novels, I wanted to make people happy. I envisioned readers who stayed up past their bedtime because my story caught their fancy. That motivation gave me all the energy I needed to spend countless hours in front of the computer, writing and editing. It’s still the most important source of my inspiration...happy readers.

My current manuscript, Jihad: The Breath of God, has been accepted by a great New York literary agent named Marisa Corvisiero. When I signed the contract with her, I wondered what would happen next. She sent me a list of hoops to jump through in preparation for developing a presentation package for publishing companies. That’s called a “pitch package.”

Marisa had previously sent my manuscript to two of her subordinate “readers” for their impressions. Both said they could hardly put the book down and gave it a big thumbs-up. I was thrilled with the feedback. Now, all that remained was for Marisa to review the book for final edits before the pitching can begin. A couple weeks went by. I heard nothing. Marisa’s comments on her Facebook page told me she was tied up with lots of agent-related activities. I wondered how she would even find time to read my manuscript with all the demands on her schedule.

A couple questions on the “to-do” list needed answers. During the conversation, Marisa mentioned a few observations about the story. Something was wrong...dreadfully wrong. This was the first time anyone had “read” my story and did not find it compelling. She actually put it down. Warning claxons went off in my head. Is it possible she was having second thoughts about signing me? Why was her experience with the book so vastly different from everybody else?

Last Friday, my private phone line rang in my insurance office. Must be my wife, I thought. Imagine my surprise when it was Marisa...and she was rambling on like a person possessed. She said she was calling from a taxi cab in New York, in between appointments, and just had to tell me that her husband got frustrated with her “last night” because she could not put down my manuscript. I thought, “She finally ‘connected’ with the story.” She said the terrorist attack creeped her out so much that she didn’t want to touch anything in the taxi for fear of contamination. The realism of my terrorist plot hit home with her, as it had with others before her. Little does Marisa know that the next few chapters are even more intense!

My mental alarm bells switched off, but this experience taught me one powerful lesson about the publishing process. Of all the people in the world who are fans of a writer’s work, the number one fan needs to be the literary agent. An agent can’t “like” a story. The agent must LOVE the story to pitch it with enthusiasm and conviction. I can’t wait for Marisa’s next phone call. It will probably be after she reads about a little boy named PJ. Marisa has twin boys about PJ’s age, and that sub-story is a real tear-jerker. I can imagine the call, “You jerk! Why did you do that to PJ?” What can I say? It’s all about making an emotional connection with the reader, especially a literary agent reader. Muahahahaha!