Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bad Agent Sydney Answers Your Writing Questions

Steve here: A while back I happened to mention that my Cat, Sydney, was as well-suited to be a literary agent as many of the self-selected people out there claiming the title. I expected this would make people laugh at the absurdity of the idea.

Shows you how stupid I am. What I got was a bunch of emails from people asking if Sydney was taking clients, where people should send their queries and manuscripts. It seems that people are so eager to sign with an agent, any agent, that even a highly obese and self-centered calico short-hair with an IQ that's pretty low, even for a cat, can be successful in the agent business.

So successful, in fact, that she's hired me.

You see, readers are your audience. The real reason you should be writing books. But the reality of the business is that publishers have long been the gatekeepers between writers and readers.
Problem is, that whole gatekeeper thing was really cutting into their time, so years ago they outsourced most of that to agents.

Meaning that the gatekeepers then had gatekeepers.

That worked for a while, but anyone whose been on a writer's web-board or writer's conference lately knows the feeding frenzy associated with signing anybody who calls themselves an agent. It's really hard to be so popular, and its really wearing on agents. Sometimes just processing all the highly-paid speaking engagements, conference appearances, tours hawking their own books, consulting and editing gigs, gifts, flowers, and offers of sexual favors is just exhausting!

It's a wonder any of them find any time at all to try market books, make deals, or take care of their clients.

In fact, some of them don't. For a lot of them, it's not really the profitable part of their business anyway (which doesn't seem to deter people from wanting to sign with them). Those agents who take their jobs seriously and focus on their clients and the selling of books have clearly missed the boat.

Anyway, that's why Sydney has hired me. Clearly she doesn't have time to deal with the lot of you, and needed an assistant to handle the mail and deposit the checks in her account. So here I am, the gatekeeper to the gatekeeper to the gatekeepers.

Kind of a sweet position, when you think of it. I'm wondering if I should milk it? Why restrict myself just to Sydney, when there are so many even-less-qualified "agents" out there I could be fronting for? Of course, I'll need a new job title for it. Can't be an "agent agent," can I? Hmmm. How about "Bgent," which is naturally what comes after "Agent."

If it works out, I could start a whole franchise, "Cgents," "Dgents," "Egents," until we roll around and have to start over again at "Aaents." (Though some people I've talked to want to skip directly to "Ygents," and they seem to imply a question-mark on the end. I don't get it.)

Anyway, as promised, I've been opening Sydney's mail so she can answer some of your (to you, anyway) very important questions about agents and/or publishing. I turn it over to the very busy ("it would be an honor for you just to touch her cat-sand") Sydney T. Cat, Bad Agent.

Sydney here: Just a minute while I get comfortable, darlings. Pillow. Check. Blankie. Check. Warm, sunny spot. Check. Greenies...


Pion! Where the hell are my Greenies!

So sorry, darlings. It's so hard to get good help these days.

Anyway, let me put my paw in the mailbag, and...

Brandie T. writes:

What is the usual wait time for hearing back on submissions? How often and when should I check back to see if my story is accepted?

Well, dear, that depends. Are were talking about submissions to agents, or to publishers?

If you're one of those sad, pathetic, deluded people trying to send your work directly to editors and publishers, then you simply have to be prepared to wait forever. You see, nobody does that any more, which is why publishers are just stacked to the rafters with unagented-yet-publishable manuscripts. So much so that on the rare occasion they do publish one, it's just done on a lottery system.

Of course, if you go this route (idiot!) then you need to make each submission exclusive, and then you must never submit it again until you hear back from the editor. This is important, because putting a manuscript in the mail is exactly the same as a binding exclucivity contract. You must mail, and then wait.

Forever if need be. Because you can never, under any circumstances, after any period of time, ever ask the editor about it. Even if you meet them at a writers conference, and really hit it off, and becomes great friends, and swear a blood-oath, and then go back to his/her hotel room and have, wild, monkey-sex!

It is forbidden!

And until they release you, either by word or rejection, you are trapped. Like Sleeping Beauty behind all those brambles and that cartoon dragon. You must not submit it elsewhere. You must not stop thinking or obsessing about it. In fact, I wouldn't recommend working on anything else while you're waiting either. For that matter, even sleeping is bad. Just prop your eyes open with toothpicks and pretend like you're in one of those "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies.

Now, you may be saying, "Sydney T. Cat, you beautiful and intelligent creature, what if they've lost it? Or for that matter, what if they just decided it wasn't for them and used the manuscript as part of the landfill for the artificial island in the Hudson River where the 'Publisher's Castle' will be built surrounded by a magic forest full of unicorns, talking typewriters, and dinosaurs? And having done that, they didn't bother to send a rejection?"

You're quite right, dear. Often they will reject things without responding, and your manuscript (and the SASE you sent, after they steam the stamps off) will end up in the landfill for "Publisher's Island." (But you forgot to mention the dragons, the fairies, and the Sharpie-pen rain from the Post-it Note clouds.)

But what you don't know if that that keep a random sampling of manuscripts they will never buy, as a test and a warning to upity writers!

So that some day, at some writer's conference, an editor may casually say, "aren't you Jane W. Writer, who submitted "Bon-bons of the Manatees" to me back in 1993? Did you ever do anything with that?" And if you answer, "why yes, I sold it to your competitor and it spent 32 weeks on the New York Times Best-seller list."

Then you will be banned! Banned and scorned! Banned and scorned and ridiculed! You will be thrown into a burlap sack and burned at the stake during the annual All-editor's Barbecue and Writer-roast!" And all because you couldn't wait! Wait till the end of time!

But this is only because, darling, you are an idiot. You need an agent.

A submission from an agent, any agent, is a completely different thing. I can get a response like that! (I would be snapping my fingers right now, if I had fingers. Imagine I have fingers, and I am snapping them. But really, I will just claw the couch instead. Scritch. Scritch. Scritch. Aaaaaah!)

Of course, the problem is that first, you must get a response from me, and that's going to take a while. A long while. I can't be a gatekeeper if I'm not keeping the gate, and that is a time-consuming business.

But unlike an editor, you actually will hear back from me. Usually. Eventually.

I do like to take my time, even with writers are already clients. Especially with those, actually. Because when I take forever to respond to people how want to become clients, I may never know exactly how they've suffered. But my clients, well, news of their squirming, pain, and deprivation usually get back to me eventually. Purrrrrrrrrr!

Of course, when I do respond, it will usually be a rejection (I even reject my clients! It's so fun!) or if you're really lucky, a rewrite request. Because, never having written or sold a novel of my own, I know far more about writing than you ever will. (Also, I've discovered it's a real time-saver when I'm backed up on my reading. A stack of form rejections and boiler-plate rewrite requests full of vague suggestions will take care of a mountain of backlog in no time at all!)

Actually, I never send out anything unless I'm certain I can sell it. I've got many techniques for predicting the future in order to make this possible. Crystal balls, tea-leaves, watching the birds fly at sunset, aura-reading, fortune-cookies, and of course, the Vulcan Mind-Meld. (Hey, my ears are pointy!)

But I'll be honest. None of it works. Certainty is pretty hard to come by in this business. That's why I never actually send anything out to publishers. Hmmm. Maybe that's why I've never actually sold a book? Interesting theory. I guess I'd better reject this mountain of manscripts so I have more time to think about it....


I'd intended to answer a bunch of questions today, darlings, but this took a lot longer than I expected, so I'll answer one more quick question and call it a day.

Cindie G. in Reno writes:

Am I being rude if I ask to see my contract?


Oh, hell, yes, you unmannered bitch!

Your contract is right in this pile under me (I'm keeping it warm), along with all your royalty statements and foreign-rights agreements, and you'll never lay your rude, grubby, little writer's-fingers on them!

If you ever need to see anything in that pile (and I'll be the judge of that), I'll certainly show you.
Like that would ever happen! I mean, don't you trust me? If you can't blindly trust your agent with your money, contractual obligations, career and future, who can you blindly trust?

(Raise paw. Lick. Lick. Lick.)

Are you still here?

Bgent Pion Steve:

That's all the time Sydney has for questions today. She'll be back soon to badly answer more of your questions about agents, writing and publishing. So even though, she still has more in her mailbag, she'd be glad (well, not really, but I know saying so makes you feel better about your pathetic self) to see questions from you. Send them to me, her Bgent, at

Also, be aware that Sydney is not taking on new clients at this time. She's got her paws-full abusing -- uh -- servicing the ones she already has. She will however accept bribes, via the donate button below, or you can butter her up by buying one of her tee-shirts or other items from her Cafe Press store. (Sydney has heard a rumor that some of you are worried she will be offended if you wear one of her shirts, what with the "Bad Agent, No Catnip!" slogan. Sydney only laughs her little cat laugh at this. She doesn't even really like catnip! Just don't mess with her Greenies!

Anyway, she knows you don't mean it.

she will smother you in your sleep!)

If you found this post useful or fun, please be aware that Sydney has NEEDS! Toys. Catnip. TUNA! Support Sydney (and her people) by digging deep and sending a "thank-you" donantion her way. PURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! (You cannot resist my hypnotic "pay up!" purr! PURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

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