Fuck the Forest, Let’s Talk about Me: A Writer’s Advice to Agents –GUEST POST by AUGUST
1) Never forget that we’re children. Needy, needy children.
2) Never say ‘draft.’ Nothing we give you is a draft, because everything we give you is perfect. Say ‘manuscript.’
3) Never say you ‘haven’t finished reading the manuscript yet.’ First, because it’s a lie. You haven’t started. And second, what we hear is, “I abandoned your novel without the slightest hesitation, because it defines ‘putdownable.’ I can’t remember a story that affected me less.”
4) Practice the ‘shit sandwich’ form of criticism. First a tasty hunk of bread: “You’re a genius. This is what Shakespeare wanted to write, but never did.” Then move to the shit. “But readers are morons. They won’t understand your intent, when you start referring to Frederick as ‘Joseph’ halfway through the manuscript. They’ll think you need rising tension instead of 100 pages of Anastasia’s journal from the 16th century.” Then finish with more bread. Favorable comparisons to famous writers is a plus. “After reading this, people aren’t gonna say you’re the next Harper Lee. They’re gonna say, ‘Harper Who?’”
5) Don’t explain. There is no good way to tell me I need to lose the melancholy bus driver, but the best is, “You need to lose the melancholy bus driver.” After that, any explanation just sounds like a wasp crawling around my ear canal, preparing to sting.
6) When you explain anyway—you can’t help yourself, you’re a special kind of idiot who believes that forthright, honest communication actually solves problems—keep it bone simple. Otherwise I’ll pore over your comments, trying to decipher the imaginary code. If you say you don’t like the bus driver’s moustache, I’ll delete the chapter about the Treaty of Versailles.
7) Underpromise and overdeliver. If an editor tells you she’ll know in a month, you know she’ll tell you in two months. So tell the shmuck of a writer it’ll be three months and thrill him by being one month early.
8 ) There is a good way and a bad way to use social media. The good way is to sing my praises. The bad way is anything else. I don’t want to know you’re on vacation in Nantucket. I don’t go on vacation. I don’t go to Nantucket. I write in a garage with an extension cord running in through the window. And think before you tweet that you just finished the best manuscript you’ve read in five years. Think about every one of your clients hoping you’ll lock your babies in an overheated car.
9) Hate with us. When I slam the door and flop onto my bed shouting “I hate him,” because my editor queried my use of semicolons, don’t explain his perspective. This isn’t about grammar, I’m trying to make you choose between us; there is only one correct answer.
10) Lie to us. The agent/author relationship is like a happy marriage: based on supportive falsehoods. Tell us you love us. Tell us nobody’s ever made you feel that way before. Shudder a little. Maybe weep.
After writing half this post, I realized I’d written it before. I searched, and sure enough, it was my second or third post on Betsy’s blog. Then I cannibalized. I’m my father; my stories aren’t done until I’ve repeated them so often that no meaning remains.
What stories do you repeat? What subjects won’t leave you alone? What axes do you grind?
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