Tuesday, February 16, 2010

'The Black Hole, or Looking for a Literary Agent'

I've spent the last two days exploring the dodgy and secretive world of the literary agent. It’s a very strange world indeed, each agency having their own maze of protocol, probably with thousands in pursuit. Most of them have an answering machine or voice mail, and so you leave your black hole of a message, which probably really does go into a black hole in the universe. I finally did get a hold of someone live, who as it turns out was a woman who, (for a fee) will prepare you to 'talk' to an agent. I really did like her though, she was extremely informed of all the 'ins and outs' of agent hunting, but came away very discouraged because it seems so impossible. For two hundred and fifty bucks an hour, she would coach me over the phone. I can see, however, how she makes her living, as she seemed genuine and knowledgeable. Still, I really can't fork over two hundred and fifty bucks for her to coach me. She did say that really, your talent doesn't have anything to do with it, rather, its how you 'pitch' yourself. I've always known that this is part of the game, but do I really want to play?

As I've mentioned, I had an agent at one time, Susan _________ from NYC who fervently championed me, and then suddenly dropped me for singing a contract with Samuel French while she was on vacation. I had a deadline on signing, but this didn't really matter to her. I'll never forget how I felt when I hung up the phone, my self esteem spiraled into another black hole. Now that I really know the percentage I signed up for, I can understand why she was upset. Still, it was a cold and callous feeling. After a few years, I sent her other manuscripts which she would send back unopened. Put that in your self-esteem.

Several times in fits of action, I sent query letters to every agent in NYC, only to be rejected with usually a form letter that said, "We are currently not accepting any clients…" This is BEFORE you send any of your work. Just so you know, I also just got CAA on the phone, (Creative Artists Agency), which was pretty unusual to get a live person on the phone. The person, (a receptionist) said, "We don't except any query letters. The only way for you to speak live to us is through a referral from a client or another agent, then and only then, can we set up a ten minute meeting for your 'pitch'. Of course, this is in Los Angeles. Most of the Austin talent comes from agents in Los Angeles, who I suppose set up auditions or meetings either here or there. All of this has one or two results with me. Either I will get easily discouraged and 'just do the work', or I will get very determined and find my way through the maze. I hope it is the latter. I left a voice mail with Kurt, (who interestingly enough is in DC today interviewing the head honcho of The Bureau of Land Management about wild horses) letting him know that he has the best chance of getting an agent in Los Angeles. He has a 'book' agent in NYC, who can probably score a referral. So, if he can get a referral, he would have to fly to LA for that ten-minute 'pitch' meeting. Good Lord. He can meet with the head of the BLM but probably cannot get an agent in LA. We'll see.

From yesterday's talk on the phone with the 'pre-agent' woman, I did sit down last night and put all my projects, plays, screenplays, young adult fiction, non-fiction, and even television into a succinct one-paragraph synopsis. So, I suppose I will continue my attempts. I feel pretty alone this morning, as I have left about twenty-five voicemails to people, (music as well as writing) who are not returning my calls, and it looks doubtful that they will. I posted an ad on the bulletin board at my local AA house, stating that I was looking for other singer/songwriters to practice 'pitching' songs. One really encouraging thing though about Austin is that I meet a musician here about every two days or so, which is always encouraging, especially if they are 'working musicians'.

Even with my semi-discouraging last 'open mike', I will return again this Thursday and attempt to get to the clipboard early and sing three more songs. I don't think there is anyone there who can really help me, but I need to keep performing somehow. I've also been planning to go up to a Bar and Grill up the street from where I'm living and see if the owner is interested in having live music. (I stopped in for some soup on Super Bowl Sunday to watch the first half of the game and met him).

I finished 'Crime and Punishment', and found an Elmore Leonard novel, 'Out of Sight' in one of my crates. Quite a contrast, from Dostoevsky to Elmore Leonard, in fact, it is a polar opposite experience. Even though Dostoevsky did get 'some' money for his work while he was alive, it wasn't near what Elmore Leonard gets on every book he writes. I find I can read his work, (Leonard's) and pick up some of his grammar techniques. In fact, you can read an Elmore Leonard book and probably play a guitar at the same time, or make chicken soup. He writes very short 'punchy' sentences, and has a real command of the criminal vernacular. I'm not sure, but I think the majority of his books have been made into movies. I also read an article about the passing of J.D. Salinger, which was interesting. 'Catcher in the Rye', was written in 1951, and really did change the way young adults saw the world. I remember reading it as an adolescent, but it didn't really change my trajectory, I was already doing far more dangerous things than Holden Caufield. He was an interesting man, however, (Salinger), much I didn't know about him. (He actually fought in D-Day in WWII).

After I'm finished here, I'm heading to the dog park and to the offices of The Texas Writer's Society, which is an organization of well, writers. I think they mostly put on conferences and the like, still, I may be able to find a group or connect up with other writers that are in the Texas loop. I have about eight weeks to get something going folks.

Oh, another interesting thing did happen. I got a call from Zane________, who said he had some people who were interested in the 'Caffeine!' series, (investors), so I called Dan to get a budget proposal together. I also talked to Kurt who has an entertainment lawyer who would be willing to draw up the proper paper work for a prospective company. (Whoever gets on board with this project will do very well), as I've mentioned before, it’s the only project God has given me and said, "Raymond, this will make everything else possible…" It will, but everything takes capitol. So, I get hopeful about the rhetoric, and the possibility of investors, but I really don't get to excited until I've actually talked to them. I do however, have the 'pitch' on that one down to a science.

I need to hear from some of you who usually 'don't comment', to let me know you are still reading and getting anything out of this….'blog'. I enjoy doing it, but it takes time and energy, just want to make sure it's worth doing…

8 comments:

Cheryl said...

Of course I'm still reading your blog. What else would a retired person like me be doing when there's two feet of snow on the ground. I am trying to make myself write something before I distract myself from my own writing by enjoying yours.

Dolly said...

Ray, ask Lavinia if she thinks her agent might be interested in you. However, right now she is in the midst of moving, starting a new job, still working her old job, preparing for a trip to Zion (workshop) and then Canada in March, so you might want to wait a bit.

Gerry said...

After going through some of what you are doing now which included sending stuff to the Scott Meredith Literary Agency for a number of years who charged a set fee for reading and always sent discouraging results, I finally swore off ever sending him anything else just like you would stop dating an abusive boyfriend. My suggestion is that you write the memoirs, publish and sell them yourself through blogging, etc, that way maybe blogging can pay off. I think for anyone who has something unique to say trying to get an agent will kill you before it helps you. To me agents are for those who write genre novels like romance, crime fiction, etc. For them, they will get the job done, for you, they are not going to believe in you, you are too hard to sell. They could go broke and be poor just like you, believing in you. Always look at the list of work that agent has sold and then you will know what they will do for you. They will usually stick pretty much to the kind of work that makes them a regular living.
I know from long experience my issues are a tough sell. I don't think yours are as tough as mine so that's why I say write the book and sell it yourself, just don't aim for a best seller. That's what agents want. If you sell enough of your book on your own an agent might then want to represent you. In case you thought you needed one still.
I still think there are places you can perform your play and make money as you are writing and publishing your memoir of Life in Theater. I think you have a unique story to tell in that one that could sell for years. I hope eventually to write my memoirs which may only benefit my kids as a publication. I will try to get famous enough in other ways for that to happen as that is all I have to leave. If you don't like an agent or even the idea of agent I doubt one will work for you. You are not commercial enough. Another price to pay for trying to be a certain kind of writer.

Becky said...

I read it every time you post.

Chuckh said...

I've had agents actually read my stuff only to get rejected. The pitch was good but the reading wasn't what they were looking for.

caroline said...

yes, more plz...
And about agents, I understand that if they charge, they're basically scammers. true? not true?

Chuckh said...

Never pay anyone to read your stuff!

kanyonlandking-annk.blogspot.com said...

Is the book whipped into shape just the way you want it? Is it ready to go to press? I applaud you for calling every agent in the world, but when it comes down to nuts and bolts and not one bite..
there is still always a way. We will gang up and make it happen!
Do the work. Don't lose the faith!