The Slow Death of a Literary Agent

Average American
You are an average American. You sleep 8 hours, eat 2.5 hours a day, work 40 hours a week, and commute a quarter of an hour each way.* The rest of your time is split pretty evenly between things you Have To Do (cooking, cleaning, fixing things, buying things...) and things you Want To Do (watching TV, reading, playing guitar, having a social life, etc).

* Those last two are actually below average, but I'm being generous with the numbers in this post to make a point.

No Response Means No
You decide you want to be a literary agent. That means, in addition to your regular work hours which make money, you have to read query letters. Thinking a query letter is something like a resume -- you send it out widely and only hear back if you get an interview -- you adopt a "no response means no" policy.

Still, it takes you an average of 3 minutes to read and make a decision on each query. Getting through 200 queries a week, plus partials and fulls, means 12 extra hours of work. Fortunately you weren't very good at guitar anyway. And you probably don't have to see a new movie every week.

Form Rejections
Writers, you discover, are needier than the average job seeker. Without a response, they pester you endlessly wondering if you've gotten to their query yet. After talking to your agent buddies you adopt a form rejection policy. Copying/pasting everything, including the author's name and their book title, takes an extra minute per query -- over 3 hours more each week. No big deal, but it does mean you have to stop watching those reality shows.

Improved Form Rejections
After a few years of interacting with writers on your blog (which you do now instead of going out Saturday night), you decide form rejections aren't enough. You're eager to give writers what they want, so you personalize your rejections -- not all the way, of course, but since a query usually gets rejected for one of a few reasons, you create five "personalized" form rejection letters.

What you didn't realize was how difficult it is to stop and analyze every query for why it doesn't appeal to you. And some queries don't even fit into your categories. It ends up taking another 2 minutes per query, leaving you with only 4 hours of "Want To Do" time a week. You survive though, trading sleep so you can play Halo or read a book occasionally.

Personalized Rejection
It's still not enough. Instead of being thankful for your help, the writers are arguing with you over why you didn't like their story! Years later you'll learn it's just human nature, that it's hard NOT to defend your work even when faced with hard evidence. For now, you decide you'll write truly personalized rejections. It takes a while -- about 10 minutes per query, actually -- but it's worth it if it helps writers improve their craft.

Of course everything you eat is ordered online now, weekends are something that happen to other people, and cleaning is right out (and you can't afford a maid, of course, because you're not getting paid for any of this). But finally the writers will be satisfied.

Won't they?

Books I Read: The Graveyard Book

Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: YA Horror/Fantasy
Published: 2008
Content Rating: PG for scary situations

An orphan grows up in a graveyard, raised by ghosts, but is the man who killed his family still after him? (This, by the way, is what we call a high concept novel).

I love Neil Gaiman. Love, love, love, love. He's got this gift of turning the mundane into something magical, while simultaneously making the fantastic seem perfectly reasonable. So even when the climax felt slightly predictable -- essentially each element of the boy's life came into play to help him win -- it was so much fun I didn't care. (Besides which, the resolution mattered more to me than the climax. It's not like I ever thought Bod would lose.)

I'd recommend this to pretty much everyone. I'm even going to read it to my kids, but... probably not until they can handle scary better. I'm still having trouble telling the Passover story in a "this is scary but it's okay" kind of way.

The 3 Laws of Critiques

Often I'll have doubts about some section of a story, but I'll send it out for critique anyway. I hope it's good enough and nobody will say anything. The First Law of Critiques tells us why this doesn't work.

#1: If you think a story has a problem, others will too.

Other times I send out work too soon because I secretly want my critiquers to do my work for me. Just tell me all the problems -- those I know and those I don't -- and I'll fix them. But no critiquer can identify ALL the problems of a manuscript. In a story plagued with bad characterization, a critiquer won't notice subtle plot holes, and they'll completely ignore line-edits (that will likely be rewritten anyway). Thus we have the Second Law of Critiques.

#2: A single critique can only tell you about the most glaring problems.

So a critique comes back with problems you knew about. You just fix them and send it back asking for more, right? Well, no. You already know that when you've worked on a story for too long, you become blind to what's wrong with it. The same thing happens to critiquers who are asked to read the same story over and over.

#3: A critiquer's usefulness decreases with each revision they look at.

This is why it's a good idea to have multiple critique rounds, with different critiquers each round. But there are only so many people in the world willing and able to critique your stuff, which leads us to the point of this post.

Corollary: If you fix all the problems you can BEFORE sending out your work, the critique will improve your story and your craft beyond what you are able to do alone.

If you don't, you're wasting both your time and your critiquer's.

* NOTE: Professional editors and agents are capable of reducing the effects of the Second and Third Laws. Though, I would argue they are still subject to them, in the same way space shuttles are subject to gravity.

Nothing Like a Fat Man Dancing for His Dinner

For some reason, our culture has it in our heads that when we give somebody money, they are then in our debt. If I deign to grace a restaurant with my service, they sure as heck better do everything I ask. My taxes pay the salary of my kid's teacher, so they need to give my kid a break when I tell them to.

And I've invested time and money into [Famous Author's series], so they'd better deliver the story I want.

Guys, it's not like that. All the restaurant owes you for money is food. If you don't like the way they serve it, you leave. If you don't like the way your kids are being taught, you take them out of public school (or suck it up, because seriously, the teacher also pays taxes; that's just like the worst excuse for entitlement ever).

And if a book disappoints you, or a sequel isn't out and you've been waiting for years and oh my gosh doesn't the author realize how much you personally have invested in this series and WHY THE HECK ARE THEY BLOGGING ABOUT A BASEBALL GAME WHEN THEY SHOULD BE WRITING?!


You get it, right? The author does not owe you anything. They are not your personal entertainer singing for their dinner. Unless you paid them a four-to-six figure advance, they're going to write what they want to write, and you are welcome to buy it or not when it's done.

And if you don't like it, return it. I mean, as long as that stupid system is in place, might as well use it, right?


It's been a couple of months since I posted any drawings up here. I haven't been drawing a lot in that time, but I started practicing again recently.

I've been watching these amazing how-to videos by Mark Crilley. They've really made me want to draw again (although every time I see what I come up with, I get that same stupid, "I'll NEVER be as good as he is!" feeling; I hate that). Among other things, I'm learning that there's no One Way to draw -- not even to draw manga. There are thousands of ways to draw a face, and they're all right!

It's very freeing, and (as I've said before) a lot like writing. Anyway, here's what's been going on in my sketchbook lately.

Air Pirates: Plan B

Heyya, mates. Sam Draper here again on account of Sunday's another Talk Like a Pirate Day. Like last year, Adam asked me to give you folks a lesson on speaking skyler. He...

Okay, you know what? I can't do this. I haven't written anything remotely Air Pirate-y in over 6 months. I've totally forgotten how to speak skyler.

But it's a good opportunity to tell you what's been going on with the novel, aye? (And for those of you whose hopes were dashed just now, I promise I'll let Sam write a post when I've got my head in the world again. Breezy?). First things first though. I've gotten a lot of new readers since the last time I talked about this novel, so here's the idea:

Hagai, a cowardly bookworm and the shame of his ship-building father, receives a package from his mother -- the mother who's been dead for 18 years. The package is a stone that gives him visions of the future. It leads him to an air pirate named Sam, and to more adventure than he ever really wanted. (More in my original query, here).

I've gotten no offers yet obviously, though I have gotten some partial and full requests (which is way better than last time). And while I still have material out there awaiting a response, it's time to execute Plan B.

Multiple people -- including an agent or two -- have said this story feels like YA. It's not (Hagai is 21, Sam a few years older), but it could be with a little work. Just a couple rewritten chapters and a few overhauls (though when I first thought of this plan, I thought I'd only have to change Hagai's age, which required no rewriting at all).

Point is, I'm excited. Really the only way to get over rejection is to work on something new!

Books I Read: Mockingjay

Title: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Published: 2010
Content Rating: R for violence

Thanks to Susan Kaye Quinn, I got to read this book in the same year it was published -- the same month, even, which never happens. (Even better, I got to read it with my wife, who got hooked and caught up in less than a week).

I figure it's kinda pointless to tell you what this book is about, yes? Either you've read the first two, and you know. Or you haven't, and the last thing you want is a summary that could potentially spoil the earlier novels. I also don't want to spoil it, so I'll just tell you how I felt.

Overall, I liked it as much as I did Catching Fire. Everything fit, and there was plenty of tension to go around (especially towards the end). There were only a few times where I could see the author's hand nudging the plot in a specific direction. In the end, there were things I wished had happened, but it felt right.

I'll talk more in the comments, but with spoilers. So don't go there if that's not what you want.