I was reminded recently about how I came to the decision to self-publish Jackrabbit. Basically, I didn’t want to beat my head against the wall trying to go the traditional publishing route. It was summed up pretty well in a recent episode of the Simpsons (S30E05; yeah, I’m a huge Simpsons geek). I the episode, a salesman is trying to sell Homer on the merits of a self-driving car:
Salesman: Yeah, you’re free to do whatever you like, Homer.
Homer: Can I text while it’s driving?
Salesman: You can write a novel while you’re driving.
Homer: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! In today’s publishing environment?The Simpsons, “Baby You Can’t Drive My Car”
I laughed my ass off at that line, and had to explain to my wife why I thought it was so funny: because today’s publishing environment sucks.
Shortly after the first draft, I made a semi-concerted effort to find an agent to sell the manuscript. I quickly ran up against two obstacles: the query letter, and the literary agents themselves.
The query letter is the letter you send to a prospective agent to get them interested in flogging your book to a publisher. Apparently, they get a ton of these things a day, and you really have to put together something compelling to get them to read past the first sentence or two.
In fact, I found a website run by an agent that does nothing but critique people’s query letters. However, in order to get your query letter considered for a crit on the site, there were a whole buncha hoops you had to jump through first. So, in order to supplicate an agent to get help so you could supplicate another agent, you had to write and re-write. Good practice, but the whole process was too “meta” for me. My interest in this fizzled quickly.
The thing that put the nail in the coffin was when I actually met a couple of literary agents. I’ll tread softly here, since it would be counterproductive to alienate some of the parties involved.
There is a fairly prominent writers group in the area, that hosts an annual conference here in town. The admission price is pretty steep, but if you volunteer to work there, they’ll knock 50% off the price. Being a cheapskate, I went the volunteer route. The only drawback was that I had to work four hours a day as part of the commitment.
It became pretty obvious to me that one of the main focuses of the convention – if not THE main focus – was the paid pitches. For twenty-five bucks, you got eight (8) minutes of face time with an agent to pitch your book or screenplay. There was an extensive catalog of agents, and you could pick ones that repped your genre, etc. This went on all day long throughout the conference. Then every ten minutes, they would usher a herd of would-be authors into the same room they used for the lunches, you would find your agent’s table, and give your pitch.
At that point, I did not have a whole lot of extra cash to throw around, so I was reluctant to spend more money than I already had. Still, it seemed like a good thing to at least try, so I found an agent who seemed like a likely bet (repped crime fiction, specifically), signed up and waited my turn.
In the meantime, there were other sessions where people would help you refine your pitch I went to a couple of these, and came up with what I thought was a pretty good pitch. (It ended up being the basis for the blurb for Jackrabbit, actually.) So I was psyched to go and pitch my book, as any agent who was worth half a damn would immediately recognize my brilliance and the book’s sales potential and sign me on the spot.
So I rolled in and gave my pitch, and the agent responded by saying, “Why should I care about John Dillinger? He was a killer.”
I was so blown out by this response, that I really didn’t know what to say. I think we ended up arguing for the rest of the eight minutes, although the details are still hazy. I just remember leaving the session in a stuttering rage.
It was one of those situations where you come up with the perfect response ages after it’s too late to employ it. And the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. My response was, basically: “Yeah, people hate reading about killers and criminals. That’s why the bookstore shelves are crammed with bios of Mother Teresa and Albert Schweizer! Not a single book about Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy to be found!”
I mean, this person was an agent that allegedly repped crime books; she should know good and damn well that murderers sell, big time. This realization made me even angrier – she had gotten me with a “gotcha” question that was completely counterproductive. Fuck that noise! I was paying for her time to the tune of $150/hour. I should not have been treated like I was a student at an MFA crit. If she wasn’t interested in representing that book, she should have at least had the professionalism to say so, and perhaps recommended me to another agent who knew that killers sold books.
Also, Dillinger was never convicted of murder. Accused, yes – but not convicted.
Anyway, that episode pretty much poured piss on the last ember of my desire to pursue a traditional publishing route. Perhaps it was for the best, although I sometimes have to forcibly remind myself of that when I’m going through the promotional paces required get a self-published book in front of readers’ noses. Then again, if it means I don’t have to deal with literary agents, it’s probably worth it.