Friday, September 5, 2008

Five baffling things writers do

I’ve done some ill-advised things in the past when it comes to writing – for instance, working on a lengthy series before selling the first book (when the first book wasn’t saleable in the first place). And there are a few things that I haven’t done but which I understand – signing up with a vanity press, or querying before the manuscript is complete. I don’t agree with them, but I can see why the writers would do them.

But there are a few things writers have tried which leave me baffled. Not only do these fail, they could never have succeeded.

1. Publishing fanfics.

Another Hope, by Lori Jareo, is a Star Wars fanfic that is no longer available on Amazon, although both the customer tags and the first pages can still be read. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is more entertaining. The author is one of the principals of the POD micropress which printed this lawyerbait, and she defended her decision to publish it by saying,

I wrote this book for myself. This is a self-published story and is not a commercial book. Yes, it is for sale on Amazon, but only my family, friends and acquaintances know it’s there.

Then there’s Austin P. Torney, who published Star Trek : The Death Wave, through Amazon’s own CreateSpace. I couldn’t even find the ghost of that one on Amazon.

2. Faking an agent.

I’ve heard of writers either doing this themselves or getting a friend/family member to do it. It comes off like something George Costanza might try. Editors aren’t likely to be taken in by a fake letterhead or a name they’ve never heard before. Of course, if this were a Seinfeld episode, the editor would call the fake agent, pretending to be taken in, and much Schadenfreude would occur.

3. Enclosing bribes with a submission.

The first time I ever submitted a requested full, I included three maps of various lands (thankfully I didn’t send the characters’ family tree as well). Some writers go a little further, sending flowers, candy, toys, photographs, glitter and even jewelry.

The impression this usually gives agents isn’t that the writer is generous, it’s that the submission cannot stand alone (therefore needing support from the props) and that the writer is not a professional.

4. Responding angrily to rejections.

It’s normal to feel disappointed or even annoyed at the nth rejection letter – especially if it’s something like a form letter rejection of a requested full. What’s not so understandable is why anyone would send angry or sarcastic replies to an agent or editor. Rachel Vater gives an example of such a letter here.

"Unless you have ESP how would you know what my novels
are about?

Thanks for nothing."

What goes through someone’s head when they send this – a hope that the agent’s feelings will be hurt? Don’t they realize that this only means the recipient of their ill-will is likely to recall them as unprofessional, to say the least? Sarcasm may help the writer feel better, but this can be done without dynamiting any bridges. Write some snarky reply on a piece of paper and burn it, for instance. That’s less detrimental to a career.*

5. Surprise visits.

In my line of work, I’ve often had to explain to people that no, we could not release their medical test results to them without their doctor’s authorization. In return I’ve been yelled at, sworn at and threatened with lawsuits (to which I say, Bring it on, because the company I work for has Deep Pockets and a Legal Department). But only once has someone said he was going to meet me in person. And when he learned that I was in a city three hundred miles away, he presumably changed his mind. I didn’t even get a chance to mention the access-controlled doors and security guards in the building.

Even if literary agents and editors have the same measures in place, that doesn't seem to deter a few people from dropping by, showing up or just hanging around in the lobby without an invitation. Never a good idea. Maybe that's why some agents and editors bring their dogs to work.


*When I was living at home, we had a system that operated any time my father wanted to send emails of complaint or remonstration, since when he got emotional, he was not the most grammatical or tactful person. First, I had to edit the email for spelling and grammar. Second, my mother had to check it for content. Finally, it would be sent. The system worked well until one night.

That night, my father came back from a church committee where an election had taken place, and his side won by one vote. Twelve Angry Men never got so heated. It was late, so everyone else was asleep, but he sat down before the computer and vented. He composed a scathing email to the pastor, denouncing the opposition, then felt better and tried to click “Save”.

Know what was right next to the “Save” button? You guessed it – the “Send” button. That email went out as-was and the church descended on him like all the horsemen of the Apocalypse. After that, I always composed sensitive emails in Word.

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