This site, EntertainingWelseyShaw.com, is going away in just a couple of weeks. I want to thank all of you who’ve hung in with me during the very long time it took me to write Entertaining Welsey Shaw.
I have started a Facebook author page and I encourage you to join me there and follow along for future projects I have in the works. That site is here. It’s new, but in the near future it will be filled with posts, articles, and photos. Also, just like it says at the top, my novel will be coming out in paperback and ebook on August 29th.
Also I will be launching an author site in a couple of weeks. The address will be authorjohngrabowski.com. Please bookmark it now and look for it to appear around the same time the ebook and paperback launch.
Both of these new sites will have news about upcoming projects, commentary, and some giveaways, so stay tuned. And again, thanks for reading this blog, and reading Welsey. You guys and gals make it all possible.
Best, and see you on the other side…
My wife Dana has been my helpmate and my biggest supporter throughout the writing of this novel. For some reason, she believed I could actually do it. Now that it’s finished, and it’s headed out into the big unknown world of editors and agents, I have to pause and be thankful that, with her help and encouragement, I was actually able to accomplish something that turned out to be bigger and tougher than I’d expected.
My wife has been there through all seven drafts. She has made sacrifices so that I could spend my days finishing this thing. And she’s never complained about it. Not once.
I have, mind you, but she never uttered a discouraging word, not even when I was convinced I was a talentless hack. (That’s on alternate days that end in “y.”)
She knows when to pull me away from it to have fun, so that I don’t get too frustrated. She has arranged some wonderful vacations so that I could forget about Welsey Shaw and Callicoon.
She has taught me patience, that the best things often take time. Without her my life would be so much less wonderful. I owe her a lot.
Did I mention she’s whip-crack smart? She finds solutions to complex and difficult matters faster than many people with professional training in the relevant fields, and seeing her acumen in so many areas has made me wary (wisely, I think) of those who bill themselves as “professionals” and cite their years of experience. And she consistently demonstrates that brains beat fancy parchment every time.
Many novels, possibly some really great ones, never get written because the writer doesn’t have the support that I do. In this day and age of diminished advances and falling profits, it should come as no surprised that talented wordsmiths are quick to make a buck elsewhere. Which explains why the writing in a 30 second TV commercial can be better than that in a 300 page novel.
Because I am blessed with a patient and understanding wife, hopefully my book will be better than a lot of drek out there. If it’s not there will be no one to blame but yours truly. But if it’s good, make no mistake about it, it would not have come about without the help and encouragement and support of the person I look forward to seeing every day, the love of my life, my Dana.
This site, Entertaining Welsey Shaw, was supposed to disappear last month, but so far it hasn’t, so while it’s up I thought I’d add one more post.
For those who still want to follow me, my new site is https://www.authorjohngrabowski.com/. I’ll be attaching a blog to it when I can. I also have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed,
But back to the topic in the headline, agents.
I hate them.
I hate them because they are literally nothing more than arbitrary tastemakers and interpreters who know little more about what will sell than Morris the Cat. But they make or break writers.
Their web pages are frustrating. They all state the same sorts of things:
I’m interested in writing that grabs me, leaves me wanting more. I like a strong narrator, compelling characters, surprising twists that stay with me after I’ve finished the book…
Then you see they list Twilight as one of their favorite novels…
Aside from their obvious bad taste, who doesn’t want “writing that grabs me,” “leaves me wanting more,” and “compelling characters”? I mean, really, that puts you, dear agent, in a different pile from all the other agents I come across who say they want dull writing, flat characters, and forgettable plots. That helps me so much.
Another one I love is the agent who says they’re looking for unique writers writing unique stories. Then on their site’s submission form, they ask something like, “Name Five Comparable Novels for Your Manuscript.” And they put a asterisk, meaning you can’t leave this blank.
Really now. Why don’t you just admit you’re looking for the next YA hit, something that can be marketed in the same breath as Hunger Games/Harry Potter/Gone Girl?
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I realize the world does not read James Joyce every day, and an agent or publisher who only publishes such material will disappear quickly. But don’t represent yourself as looking for originality and brilliance when you really want something you can present as the next Insurgent.
So many agents’ sites seem to be more interested in using your material as movie rights fodder as well. And I’ve heard from people inside the industry who admit they worked for agents—especially younger ones, Millennials—who really aren’t interested in books but who want to get someone’s work optioned by a studio so that they can piggyback on as a producer and leave the word-gig for Fox or Showtime or Netflix.
Which again is fine if that’s what you crave, but be upfront about it. You’re not looking for a Tom McCarthy, you’re looking for an E.L. James.
Honestly, here’s the thing: I strongly suspect most agents have no idea what they want. So they cast a wide net, looking decisive while being broad enough to include nearly everything. They love YA and magic and fantasy because everyone else does—right now. They say they don’t consider short stories because, so the popular mythos goes, short stories aren’t popular. Yet I’ve personally met so many readers who say they love short stories more than long books. Publishers just rarely push them.
A few years ago there was such a hubub over a book, City on Fire. It broke records for an advance offered for a novel. A movie deal was all but guaranteed. Pre-release reviews were RAVES.
As you can see, it did okay among readers, but just okay, probably not earning back its $2 million advance. The movie deal seems not to have happened. The same is true other much-heralded novels. Agents fought it out over Beginner’s Greek, a comedy of manners for the modern day, and again a movie deal was in the works. I believe, if memory serves, Tom Hanks are being looked at for the male lead. Never happened. Beginner’s Greek turned out to be just another upmarket fiction book, and did about average, I believe, despite the agent believing with all her heart that it was the best thing since the invention of whipped butter. Something similar happened with a trueish-to-life story, How Starbucks Saved My Life, by the son of famed New York social critic Brendan Gill. Big expectations for this book, and again a movie deal, and again, if memory serves, Hanks was to play the part, though maybe his name just keeps coming up because everybody loves Tom Hanks, and just attaching his name to a project could be seen as a way to increase its odds of being born.
At any rate, it too disappointed, despite all the high hopes of Those Who Know What The Public Wants, and despite lots of money changing hands, the book didn’t meet expectations, and the movie deal evaporated like the coffee at the bottom of an espresso cup.
I know one can cherry-pick the successes, too, but my point is exactly that. The agents and editors know about as much as you or I do. You know that trick they do (or used to do) every year where they ask top stock pickers their opinions and also have a monkey throw darts at a board and later see who picked the best stocks, only to find the monkey did about as well as the Wall Streeters? It’s no different in publishing. I often wonder how different things would be if the marketing push that went into tired favorites and trends were instead moved to new, untried ideas. Very possibly some new favorites and trends would be created, that could then be mined, but few today want to work the way a Maxwell Perkins or a Frank Norris did to advance careers when they were moved, and not worrying about “comparables.”
I suspect how difficult something is to market largely determines how much (or little) agents and publishers like them. Short stories are a tough task for the marketing department, a group usually hired based on their youthfulness and looks. YA in the style of Outlander, however—my pet monkey could market that.
I think eventually, except for blockbuster projects with an eye to movie or TV rights, agents will be seen as superfluous. They’ll always be there, of course, but so are typewriter repair services. Maybe agents should try to make trends instead of following them. But that is a lot to ask…
Ellen Page. Shailene Woodley. Anna Paquin. Elle Fanning. Dakota Fanning. Julia Stiles. Jessica Chastain. Maggie Gyllenhaal. Jennifer Connelley. Virginia Madsen. Connie Nielsen. Many others I’ve no doubt forgotten. Female stars in Hollywood have a disturbing tendency to be around for a few films, and then disappear into either minor roles or, at best, franchise series.
Of course this happens to the men too, and there are plenty of hot new leading male stars who have disappeared. But it seems to me the phenomenon is more common with young women.
Women seem to be more dispensable in modern filmmaking. Their parts are often more stock—yes, even if they’re an ass-kicking superhero or supervillain like Scarlett Johansson or Kate Beckinsale or Margot Robbie. Face it, it’s easy to replace one with another. Margot won’t do it, call Charlize Theron.
That makes a great payday but at the same time building a career is tough. How many actresses recently have, after their breakout picture, gone on to varied performances lately, besides Jennifer Lawrence, and that may be only because David O. Russell loves her. A few others come to mind—Michelle Williams, Keira Knightly—but not many.
Some say this is deliberate on the part of studios. It helps keep budgets down. Productions are less inclined to pay $15 million for a Julia Roberts when they can have a current “it” girl for four or five. Though they still spend upwards of $180 million on epic films, they aren’t doing it as often as they once did.
The biggest reason is simply it’s hard to find well-written lead roles for women—roles where they aren’t arm-candy to the male leads, or the damsel who has to be rescued. Sure there are a few bad-assers out there, like Michelle Rodriguez and Daisy Ridley, but those bad-assers have no depth. They’re as two-dimensional as the action figures they help sell.
So every few years we’re treated to a string of new “breakout” talents who take the world by storm with a tremendous performance in what I’m going to controversially call a legitimate film—Jessica Chastain in Zero-Dark-Thirty, Ellen Page in Juno, Shailene Woodley in The Descendants, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Sherrybaby—and then they either don superhero outfits or disappear altogether. Or both in succession.
It’s hard to develop acting talent when that’s your talent pool—superhero characters. It leads to a very infantile set of options for serious artists. And maybe that’s why the stars in Hollywood don’t quite shine as brightly—or as long—as they once did, not long ago. Hollywood today caters to teenagers and overseas box offices. And both are very fickle.
I read Amazon reader reviews (and if anyone, hem, wants to review mine, it’s available from Amazon and I would enjoy reading a review), and I don’t know why I do, because it’s torture. I’ll be blunt: a lot of readers have peanut butter for brains. The things the write make me scream as I read them. I click on the link that lets me tell Amazon their review should be removed and when it asks why I want to write “Because reviewer is an idiot.” But that doesn’t actually work. Trust me.
The single biggest comment that drives me bananas is, “I didn’t like the main character” (or sometimes “I couldn’t relate to anyone”). So many great books get one star reviews because “None of the characters were likeable.”
What boils my blood is, did it ever occur to the reviewer that maybe the character(s) was (were) supposed to be unlikable? Or to do it another way, why must all main characters be likable? Don’t we learn more from characters who are unlikable?
When reviewers say they want likable protagonists, they’re telling me they want to insert themselves into the role of the main character so that they can feel heroic and good.
I can’t think of a more shallow reason for reading. Or writing, I thought we passed the superhero stage when we were children, and we realized no one was as squeaky clean and all American as Clark Kent.
Don’t get me wrong. Clark’s a great guy, but can we, as readers, ever learn anything from him? No.
The wonder writer Francine Prose says this is why she doesn’t cotton to anyone who tells her how she should feel. The purpose of good writing is to discover how you feel yourself. The writer is a guide but not a dictator.
It means the journey isn’t pre-decided and pre-digested for you before you start.
I’ll repeat that.
It means the journey isn’t pre-decided and pre-digested for you before you start.
For some reason this is so hard for so many readers—particularly American readers—to get. Actually I’m being disingenuous (look it up) when I say for some reason; I know the reason. It’s how reading is taught in American schools.
Anything controversial isn’t touched anymore, for fear of backlash. So children are given pablum (look it up). College isn’t much better these days. And when people read on their own, well, look who the most popular writers are: Stephen King. Dean Koontz. Dan Brown. J.K. Rowling.
All these writers give you “reliable narrators.” Whether it’s a first person or third person narration, we’re supposed to take what they say at face-value. We’re not supposed to exist on a layer higher than them, evaluating what they as protagonists or guides present. But ladies and gentlemen, that’s where the fun is. That’s where you really learn to read.
“But,” someone said to me just the other day, “in Melville’s day people weren’t carting Moby-Dick to the beach either. They liked easy reading back then.” They did. The difference is they knew it was easy reading. No one would have called
great writing, unlike today where people smugly post that “they know what great novels are” because they teach Stephen King and Stephenie Meyer in colleges. People who carted this rather than Moby-Dick around knew they were reading escapism, and didn’t think “all things were equal,” but in our egalitarian world of today that is the mantra. It sells merchandise in the short run, but it does overall growth of any art long term.
For those who retort by citing examples of material that was considered junk in its own time but is now revered, I’ll just point out that for every one example of that there are countless more examples of junk that is…still considered junk.
You should always want to be challenged, at least a little, when you engage in culture, any culture. I want to be challenged when I write. When I start something I often don’t know what I’m going to write, how I’m going to conclude. Readers who diss works because the author didn’t hold their hand aren’t doing themselves a favor. It’s like a diet of nothing but sweets.
And we know what that does…to the teeth and to the mind.
Another post I wrote a while back about this same topic is here.