Doc McGhee, literary agent

Hang with me for a series of seemingly unrelated factoids. 

  1. Y’all know who Doc McGhee is, right? He was Mötley Crüe‘s manager way back in the day and pretty much made them rich and famous. (Oh, shut up. You know I’m a Mötley Crüe fangrrrrl. But Mick Mars does look a little, um, ready for a nursing home, doesn’t he?)

  3. In early November, Amazon “suck[ed] up to literary agents” in a bid to kill its monsterly image. Really? They need literary agents to kill its monsterly image? Who’d’a thunk it?

  5. Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette all announced they would be holding off releasing ebooks of new (hardcover) titles by six months. The brilliance never ends.

  7. Stephen Covey just told Simon & Schuster to fuck off.  Well. I’m pretty sure that’s not exactly what he said.

  9. There is one thing an unknown or midlist self-published author can’t get that s/he needs most.

  11. There is only one thing a bestselling name-brand author has but doesn’t need at all.


I’m not going to explain any of this stuff. The graphic should make it, well, graphically obvious. Take the above seemingly unrelated items, throw it in with this, and see what you come up with. Assume the writer has not himself arranged for the actual production of his manuscript into print and electronic:




Pop quiz: What word is nowhere to be found in the above flowchart?

I think there’s one agent out there who already knows all this and is slowly, steadily—over weeks, months, years—training his blog readers to start thinking this way.

The difference between how agents work now and how this could work is that a writer would interview agents and hire one (as s/he would an attorney or CPA), as opposed to becoming a supplicant for the agent’s approbation/validation. Agents who now work as if they’re doing writers a favor may not deal with this system well.

On the other hand, even though this is my own plan, I can see that it could land us right back where we are now if writers won’t let go of the thought that they’re powerless and/or only incidental to the book creation process.

Writers, listen up: You’re the creator. There’s power in being the originator of content. Use that power and take control of your own destiny. It’s your work. Take responsibility for its dissemination.

The unmentionable alternative

I am constantly struck by the idea that writers “give up.” What does that mean, exactly? They stop writing? They stop submitting? Or they stop writing because they’re so disheartened by the submitting? My bet’s on that.

Keep on submitting and you will get published.

By “writer,” I mean good, unpublished novelists who don’t, for whatever reason, catch an agent and/or editor’s eye. I’m not talking about the people who don’t hang out on agent and editor blogs, learning every query trick in the book (some of which are flat wrong to some agents and golden to others). These are the writers who assume that the problem is with them, not with the odds.

Write a better book next time.

Oh, fuck that. It’s odds, folks, whether you want to believe it or not—and the odds get worse every week. And that write a better book bullshit? How do you know the one you just wrote is bad?

You don’t.

And then some of you will crack under the discouragement and say, “I write crap.” And you’ll stop submitting. You may even stop writing.

I did that.

I didn’t write crap, per se. I wrote slightly off-tick that didn’t hit the romance formula bullseye exactly right. Yeah, I said it. There’s a formula. I couldn’t hit it, and the misses were near enough that it was sickening.

willworkforfood243x301This is not an anti-traditional-publishing rant. This is about writers, about you and your work and how much faith you have in it.

Why are you basing your goals on decisions someone else has to make? And, by extension, why are you waiting for validation based on odds that aren’t in your favor? And why are you acting like a job applicant?

You’re not powerless.

But somehow the idea of taking control of your work and presenting it to the public/the readers/the (gasp) curators is “giving up.”

Because “money always flows to the author.” Fuck that, too.

Yeah, you’ll have to assume some risk. Deal with it.

It pains me to see good writers on agent blogs talking about “when I’m published someday,” because “it will happen if I submit enough and don’t give up” and “I just have to write a better book next time.”

Stop thinking that way and start believing in your product.

Stop thinking you have no power.

Stop thinking like an employee and start thinking like an entrepreneur.

Go make your own damned job.

Update: To clarify, I’m using the term “curators” to describe the self-appointed task of the people who consume the work, like it, and recommend it to others, i.e., the readers/fans, the people who make being The Lone Artist all worth it. I’m not using the term as it has been tossed around the internet for the last year.

Moratorium on manuscript buying

From Publisher’s Weekly:

It’s been clear for months that it will be a not-so-merry holiday season for publishers, but at least one house has gone so far as to halt acquisitions. PW has learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books. […] Another agent who had also heard about the no-acquisitions policy at HMH called the move “very scary” and said it’s indicative of an industry climate worse than any he’s ever seen.


1. Expect this to keep happening for a while at other major publishers.

2. More independent publishers will spring up, particularly in the ebook arena.

3. Major publishers will start mining their backlists for ebooks. Oh, wait, they already have. Credit for innovation coming right up!

4. Revisions in the advance/royalty system. E-presses blazed this trail, but Harper Studios has taken up the cause (and may end up reaping the credit for that, too).

5. This may be the death knell for the consignment system of selling books. One can hope, anyway.

Yeah, it’s depressing, but A) everybody’s having a hard time, so boo hoo at you too, publishing and B) everything is cyclical.

Quite frankly, the economic downturn and the rise of the ebook couldn’t be timed better. You build up the low-cost or free alternative in the downswing (coupled with instant gratification), something people can afford and are open to, then you see it explode once the upswing begins.

Dead tree books will NOT be a thing of the past (knock on wood), but the smart publishers and booksellers will find cheaper alternatives to bring those to market too. If you want to survive after an economic downturn, you must start thinking in the long-term instead of the short-term; you sure as heck aren’t making any money now, so figure out how to make money when everybody has some again.

Pssst, publishers and booksellers:

It’s called the Espresso.

In kiosks.

At Wal-Mart, Target, and smack DAB in the middle of your chain or independent bookstore.

Ah, homogeneity!

So I saw this in Publisher’s Weekly online yesterday and bookmarked it to blog about, but then Janet Reid beat me to the punch.

Recently, funny things have been happening in my slush pile. I find myself receiving well-written, correctly formatted, professional-looking query letters from bad writers. Imagine my chagrin: one minute I’m intrigued by a smoothly crafted query letter, the next I’m staring down at a crackpot writing sample.

I wondered how long this would take.

I will always and forever remember a story my dad told about Hardee’s barbecue sauce and a taste-tester he met. The point wasn’t to make a standout barbecue sauce. The point was to make the barbecue sauce as inoffensive as possible to the largest number of people.

So I’ll call it the Hardee’s BBQ Sauce Query.

One comment on Janet Reid’s blog summed up my thoughts quite nicely:

Post Summary: In the 21st Century, people can Google query on how to do something and find carefully composed instructions. Thus, the prior vetting process is no long efficient for the Literary Agent.

My 2 Cents: Awesome. Adjust or die.