Friday, January 21, 2011

When to Keep Your Trap Shut? Almost Always.

An editor friend (who wishes to remain anonymous, but um, you would totally know who it is, and no I am not going to tell you) writes:
I admit that when I’m considering a project, I google the writer (sometimes I don’t have to because the agent volunteers blogs and such).  A couple times recently, I’ve watched writers lament over how long it’s taking their agent to sell something (making me wonder if the agent knows their client is whining about them on the blog) but most often, they just talk about how close they’ve come and, in reading the posts, I realize the project’s been out on submission for some time. And then I go: Hmmm. I wonder if the agent wants that known. Especially when the pitch I just got says, “Hey, I’m just going out with this great new project….”  Nothing wrong with that. I know it’s part of the game.  Still, I’m just curious if an agent has ever said, “Listen, I know you’re anxious about this but let’s not talk about this too much on the blog until it’s sold….”
Obviously I can't speak for every agent. But personally, it makes me cringe when I see writers publicly discussing where they've been rejected, how many times, how long a project has been on submission, and the like. (AFTER the book is sold, if you want to share war stories, that is a different matter - I am talking about while a book is actually on submission). Worse, I've seen blogfuls of complaints, real rejection letters posted, rants about how long the wait times are and how idiotic editors are and how useless agents are and how publishing is going to hell. Yikes!

See here's the thing: Part of what I am selling when I sell your book is the promise of something special. I try to target editors pretty darn specifically. They are one of the chosen few that is reading this book. When they choose to buy it, it will be a coup, because it is something fresh and new that hardly anyone else got the chance to see, that they discovered.  I am also assuring them that you are a pleasant person, easy to work with, with a good attitude. Please don't undermine that.
(ETA 1/22: I also want to point out a bit of basic psychology: If editors know that there is little competition and the book has been rejected by a thousand other people... why should they pay good money for it?)
For me, the same goes for putting sample chapters of unsold material up on your blog or website.  I'd rather see nothing, or at most, a one-paragraph description of the work, rather than sample chapters. My concern, again, is that when I am sending stuff out to editors, if they google you and see that this chapter has been up on your blog for the past two years, it makes you look wedded to an old, tatty, unedited story. Sorry, but it does. Yes, I know that there are some people who have gotten editor and agent interest that way. There are also some models who were 'discovered' at age 13 by scouts at the mall... but that isn't MOST models by any stretch.
(ETA #2 1/22: Some people seem to be confused by the preceding paragraph. I am in no way suggesting that you never put teasers up, or little descriptions of your work, or other fiction, stories, or the like. Certainly you can whet people's appetite with a snippet of the work, or put up stories like the Merry Sisters of Fate do, etc.  Before you get an agent, writing samples may well get you interest. And once the book is sold and edited, your publisher may want you to put up a sample chapter.  I am only suggesting that while you are on submission to editors, you consider limiting the amount of the actual project that you share.)
I understand that you have the best of intentions here, and no, I'm not the blog police. I do ask my own clients to be circumspect about what they post while we are on submission. And that might be something for you to consider, too.