Brilliant post over at Agent 007's blog, which gently puts the smackdown on whiney writers who don't feel they get a fair shake from editors and agents. Go read it.
Are you back? Excellent.
I don't get to the bookstore very often (the nearest one that has enough stocked that I don't have to special order is an hour away,) but last week I did. I went in not really sure what I wanted – I was considering looking for some books on architecture (a new interest for me) and then remembered that someone at the conference had recommended China Mieville as someone I'd enjoy reading. So off to Sci-fi/Fantasy I went, and found one, choosing the title more or less at random. I chose The Scar – the title didn't do much for me, but the cover is right up my alley. (Note to cover designers: While our mothers told us not to judge a book by its cover, we do anyway.)
Then I went looking for something that I'd never heard of, but that sounded good. I found one, and I can't even remember who it's by or what the title is, but I know that based on title, cover, and back cover summary it sounded unique enough that I was willing to spend seven bucks for it. I also picked up a book of Kelly Link's short stories, and then put it back, because I felt like it was closer to required reading – and therefore work – than reading for pleasure. But that's another story.
I'm almost done with The Scar, and it's the best thing I've read in a long, long time. I keep backtracking to see how he handled certain things. The only things that bother me are his unconventional use of space breaks, and his overuse of two words (and all of their forms): ossify and puissant. Those words have become stumbling blocks in my reading now. I'm hoping that they thin out in these last few pages. (I had the same problem with Anne Rice's use of “preternatural.” I grew to hate the word so much that I will go to great lengths to not use it, and as far as I know I have successfully avoided using it except to bitch about her use of it.)
Anyway, Agent 007's point is that editors and agents choose books in much the same way that readers choose books. Based on a title, a cover (letter), and a summary (synopsis, or outline maybe) they decide whether or not it sounds like the same old thing (see Miss Snark's blog) or something interesting enough to read.
And we must remember – they don't just have to *like* it. They have to *love* it. They have to love it enough, and believe in it enough, to put all of their energy behind it. 'Good' doesn't cut it. 'Well written' doesn't cut it. We have to be absolutely brilliant and fresh. Our grammar has to be spot-on, our style consistent, our voice strong and engaging. And our story has to be perfectly suited to the agent or editor's unique, personal, subjective taste. That's on *us.* They do not have to be accomodating. They do not have to read the whole thing to know that it doesn't suit them, any more than I have to know that a book with a dragon on the cover is not coming home with me. (Sorry. It's probably a really good book. I just don't like dragons.)
They do not choose based on whether they think someone, somewhere will buy it if it's published. They choose based on whether they think *they* would buy it.
And it *is* fair.
Other posts from agents do indicate that there are exceptions, such as the Celebrity Memoire/ Sure Thing. We're not celebrities, though, so that exception does not apply to us.
During the last three years I have spent a lot of time reading as much as I can from people in all aspects of the industry. I wanted to go into this with my eyes wide open, with my artistic self-indulgence already shed, and a clear idea of how big the pond is and how to avoid the sharks (freshwater sharks?) I knew what I thought a writer was, and what an agent was, and how books get made. I was dead wrong about all of it. Forward Motion and Holly Lisle's posts were my first dose of reality, and since then I've added dozens of other voices of reason and experience to the chorus in my head.
I do not expect to succeed. Does that sound strange? Self-defeating? Maybe. I think it's also practical. I *hope* to succeed, some day, but I'm aware that I am far from the level I need to reach for it to even become a possibility.
Voices like Agent 007 keep me grounded. I don't consider it at all discouraging to read things like that. I feel like I'm ahead of the game, because I have the information I need to make my work better, and to understand the business as best I can.