Sophomore effort

Your first novel is fueled by passion for your craft, belief in your talent as a storyteller, a fire that burns in your belly, a head full of imaginary people speaking to you, millions of collapsing waveforms of narrative possibility, and entire days that pass like mere minutes. Not to mention liberal doses of caffeine, adrenaline, sugar, alcohol, and endorphins.

Your second novel is hampered by crippling doubt, self-loathing, a paralyzing fear of failure, a head full of imaginary people screaming at you, hundreds of words of uninspired narrative dross, and minutes that pass like entire days. Not to mention excessive doses of caffeine, alcohol, and empty carbohydrates.

posted 9/15/09 at 2:11pm to Writing · 3 replies · permalink

The Passive Writer, #3

Agents: Who Needs ‘Em?

The answer, my dear aspiring scribes, is no one. Agents are a vestigial luxury enjoyed by established writers of a higher order, but they are hardly mandatory; don’t let yourself think for a moment that you need one when you are just starting out.

I’m sure you are aghast, and ready to point out to me that every book about writing you’ve consumed so far (and let’s be honest, you’ve read a lot of them) has asserted rather authoritatively that acquiring an agent is an absolute necessity if you intend on selling your novel and/or screenplay.

This, of course, is complete nonsense.

All of those aforementioned books were likely written by authors who themselves had agents, and therefore had to state in the book that agents were essential. Would you throw your agent under a bus by not mentioning her in your book about writing? Of course you wouldn’t. Having said that, it should now be clear to you that they are featured in writing guides merely as a professional courtesy and not as a sine qua non of the publishing world.

Obviously we must now address the question of how to bring your work to the attention of a publisher. The answer is a simple one: direct solicitation. Package the most recent draft of your hush-hush manuscript1  in a large envelope and send it directly to the publishers you would most like to print your novel.

You’re a whip-smart bunch, so I’ve already anticipated your next concern. You’re going to tell me you’ve researched the major publishing houses and noticed they all have a disclaimer on their websites to the effect of “no unsolicited materials accepted”. Of course they need to say this, or else they’re going to be drowning in drafts from every amateur who ever put pen to paper. But they obviously don’t mean anyone reading this column; statements like that are just a wink and a nod to professionals like you who have read a large number of writing guides and have worked feverishly for the better part of three entire months on your manuscript.

It may take some time to receive a response from the publishers – don’t get discouraged! Acquisitions editors have a lot of work to do, and they may not get to your submission for at least a few days after you send it in. If you’re really concerned about time, and you have a little bit of extra money to spend, you might want to consider services like FedEx Overnight, USPS Express Mail, or even UPS Next Day Air. In addition to rapidly getting your manuscript to the publisher’s door, packages that exude a sense of urgency and importance tend to find their way to the top of the editorial pile more quickly than a plain brown envelope.

Hopefully this week’s column has helped clarify why expensive professionals are not necessary to your success as a first-time author. Also, if you have any topics you’d like The Passive Writer to cover in future essays, please send them directly to my agent.

  1. Remembering the advice given in last week’s Passive Writer column, “Your Secret Genius: Why You Should Never Show Your Work to Anyone Before Submitting for Publication”: there is no need to make sure your copy is clean and letter-perfect; once your manuscript gets bought, you will have to go through a long editing process anyway, so why spend the time doing all that work right now?
posted 8/10/09 at 7:48am to Writing · 2 replies · permalink

Infinite Summer

Are you participating in Infinite Summer? If not, you should be1

Infinite Jest is an enormous yet rewarding read, and is one of my top five favorite novels.

Yes, it looks intimidating, but as Jason Kottke explains in his excellent forward to the project:

It is a fact that Infinite Jest is a long book with almost a hundred pages of endnotes, one of which lists the complete (and fictional) filmography of a prolific (and fictional) filmmaker and runs for more than eight pages and itself has six footnotes, and all of which you have to read because they are important. So sure, it’s a lengthy book that’s heavy to carry and impossible to read in bed, but Christ, how many hours of American Idol have you sat through on your uncomfortable POS couch? The entire run of The West Wing was 111 hours and 56 minutes; ER was twice as long, and in the later seasons, twice as painful. I guarantee you that getting through Infinite Jest with a good understanding of what happened will take you a lot less time and energy than you expended getting your Mage to level 60 in World of Warcraft.

So, go out and get a copy right now, and dig in. You won’t be sorry.

  1. Mostly because it’s a wonderful idea, but also because my good friend Avery is a co-founder of the project.
posted 6/22/09 at 8:05am to Books, Writing · 0 replies · permalink


For the record, I don’t play Scrabble. I know it’s a classic and beloved game, but I personally don’t care for it. Not one bit.

It’s not that I don’t have a passion for words, because obviously I do. But Scrabble is a game, and games are for leisure. Since I spend all day, every day, drenched from a rain of letters, the last thing I want to inject into my leisure time is another downpour of letters.

I suppose it’s somewhat like being a surgeon, in that the last thing you’d want to do at the end of the day is come home and relax with a game of Operation.

posted 6/19/09 at 4:20pm to Uncategorized · 0 replies · permalink

Fuck no.

Fuck no.

That’s what I said to someone on the phone this morning when they asked to reuse a piece of my work, for free, in a commercial project.

He’s a friend of mine too, and knows that I don’t write for free, ever1. After the call, I started writing an email explaining, again, why I don’t give my work away. But instead I decided to point him to this video, because Mr. Ellison does a much better job making my point for me.If you write, don’t give away a word. Ever. It won’t give you exposure, it won’t help you down the line, it won’t get you “started”. All it will do is leave a huge label on your forehead with the word “sucker” on it.

If you write, don’t give away a word. Ever. It won’t give you exposure, it won’t help you down the line, it won’t get you “started”. All it will do is leave a huge label on your forehead with the word “sucker” on it.

  1. For the nitpickers, I’m obviously not talking about personal projects or blogs and such; by “free” I mean only “giving your words away to someone who plans on profiting from your work”.
posted 6/18/09 at 11:19am to Uncategorized · 0 replies · permalink