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Thursday Reading FUNdamentals: Hey Jealousy

March 17, 2011

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, or St. Me Day as I like to call it.  Usually on holidays I post a clip from a story, the last one being an explicit sex scene on Valentine’s Day.  I could probably find something from a story where people get drunk, but since it’s Thursday I’ll do a real entry.  Maybe I can find a good drunken brawl for Sunday Smackdown.

Anyway, a week ago I finished this book.  In the review I talk about how I sat down to write the review and was going to say it was pretty good and give it 4 stars.  But as chance would have it, nature called, and while taking a dump I got to thinking that the end of the book was a real letdown.  The biggest letdown was that for all the digging and probing our hero does to try and unravel this conspiracy threatening to destroy the city, none of it mattered because in the end the villain called the hero and told her exactly where he was.

So that got me thinking:   what was the point of all that other stuff?  All that looking for clues and the bad guy just CALLS you and tells you where to go?  What the fuck is that?  He could have done that 300 pages ago and saved us all a lot of trouble!

Also for about 2/3 of the book the hero was getting into a relationship with a police detective.  Then this is cast aside and she ends up with another guy instead.  So what was the point of the other guy?

The more I thought about it, the more I thought how badly plotted the story was, because in the end most of it was just filler.  This could easily have been a short story.

But this isn’t an entry about good plotting or even an entry about taking some time to think before writing reviews, though those are both good topics.  No, as the title suggests, this is about jealousy.  Because as I was lying bed that night, I thought, “Jeez, my story is better than this!  And yet no one’s going to ever publish it.  No one’s going to read it.  It’s not going to be in the Vine program for people to score free copies.  Goddamnit, that’s not fair!”

Of course I know the world isn’t fair.  That doesn’t make it any easier when I read a book I know isn’t very good, especially when that book has sold a lot of copies.  Like when I read a couple of Nicholas Sparks books and later a Dean Koontz book that was laughably bad.  Despite how awful these books are, they’re published and I’m not.  They’re real “authors” and I’m just a hobbyist.  Is that fair?  You’re goddamned right it’s not fair.  But that’s the world for you.  It’s probably the same feeling any wanna-be filmmaker has when he/she sees how much money the latest Adam Sandler piece of shit has made.  What kind of world is this where dreck makes millions and quality can’t even get out of the starting gate?  Well, that’s the real world.  Obviously.

My jealousy is so bad that if you said you landed a book deal or an agent my first instinct would be to punch you in the face.  My second instinct would be to ask you to hook me up with said agent/publisher.  My third instinct would be to call you from my jail cell to apologize, congratulate you, and then subtly ask you again for a hookup.  I should probably get some therapy or Prozac–or both.

Of course I know I shouldn’t be jealous.  Everyone, even Nicholas Sparks or Dean Koontz or even Snooki is part of the fraternity of literature.  So I should be glad for them.  So should we all.  It takes a lot of hard work (and luck, mostly luck) to have a really successful book.  Good for anyone who does that.  But that doesn’t make me feel better.  I doubt it makes anyone else feel better either.

The other part of the jealousy thing is that I really hate when I hate a book and see all these reviews of other people loving it.  I think, “What the hell are you thinking?”  And I really get jealous when I see on Amazon these people have 50 Helpful votes and I have 1.  How is that someone who got fooled so badly, who has no freaking taste is getting all these Helpful votes–is being listened to–while my far more accurate and well-written review is being ignored?

It’s frustrating.  More so because all I can do is whine in a blog about it.  I know I shouldn’t think my word is the law the be-all, end-all on the subject, but it’s so HARD!  I’m very self-centered.  And neurotic.  Which is obviously why I’m writing.

Still, I’d love to issue a public challenge and say, “Anyone who thinks After the Golden Age is good, read my book and if you don’t think it’s better I’ll give you your money back!”  (Or I’ll come to your house and club you senseless with a baseball bat.)  I’d love to do that because I don’t just think it’s better–I KNOW.  Because when I plot a story the things that happen actually have a freaking point!  They aren’t just there to add to the word count!

Also I’d say that my redheaded hero could kick her redheaded hero’s ass.  Which is absolutely true because my redheaded hero knows kung-fu and hers is only good at getting kidnapped. Though my redheaded hero would never kick her redheaded hero’s ass because she’s way too classy for that.  Unlike her creator–obviously.

Now wasn’t that as good as any drunken scene I could dig up from a story?  And I did it sober, which is the scariest thing of all.  If you don’t mind, I think I’ll go down a few pitchers of green beer.

Tomorrow, a great drunken scene as a 17-year-old terrorizes a bar.  I’m sure it’s way better than Snooki’s book.  (Don’t they say the first step to curing a problem is admitting you have a problem?  Too bad it’s not the last step.  Damn it.)

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12 Comments
  1. I hear ya. Sometimes, it’s the painful books that keep my ass in the chair, as in “if people bought this, then surely I can make a career of it.”

  2. I think we (writers) have all felt this way at some point. I use the green-eyed monster as a means to push me to better my writing.

    Of course, I may grumble along the way, but that’s why I listen to music and drown myself out, LOL! ;)-

  3. I know lots of people disagree with me on my own views of publishing, but I may not have told you so here it is again. I don’t think publishing has anything to do with writing talent. Now just to be clear, a lot of writers would stop reading right there and say, “This person clearly has no idea what he’s talking about because the only way someone can get published is if what they write is really damn good and a work of genius (thereby creating a standard by which their success can be measured i.e. they are geniuses too–even though they aren’t).” Allow me to elaborate.

    Publishing is about marketing, sales figures, and profit for those involved. The decision to publish is not made based off of the writing, it’s based off of what can sell. Some debut authors would really do well as commission salesmen in a huge appliance store (sorry to say) but yes, they can also string two sentences together. Now these debut authors have kapow…they have spin…many of them live in huge population centers where they network with a gazillion friends on Facebook, Twitter, you name it. They have blogs–the only difference is that their blogs collect huge amounts of followers and hit 1000 and above really quick. Charisma…the ability to go up to an eskimo and sell that person a pile of snow… these are the people that the industry is publishing.

    I read somewhere that the first thing many agents (not all) do when they receive a letter is to look at the name of the person on the letter. They google that person to see what kind of web presence that they have. If the person’s name doesn’t come up in a solid google search, it’s considered an “automatic” rejection. You can take this unsubstantiated rumor how you will and say…”there’s no way Mike is right…no f’ing way.” I, however, suspect that I am correct on this. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and people want to make money. They don’t want to saddle themselves with a difficult sale…no profit…no money in that. So anyway mutt, that’s my two cents on that. I guess what I’m saying is that really, I don’t think it’s what you write. I think that the impulse is to abide by what authors from earlier generations had to do to get published…you had to have skill and talent. I’m sorry my friend, but this is 2011. The climate in publishing has changed from even what was the norm ten years ago. Look around you and see what is on the shelf. All those books on how to get published that are approaching five years old and older are seriously out of touch with the industry. Again…just my opinion. Probably worthless anyhow.

    • I agree with everything you said, Mike. In publishing like most industries it’s not WHAT you know, so much as WHO you know. Especially in this day and age, if you can cultivate thousands of “fans” on Facebook, Twitter, etc you might not even need an agent or editor! You can just put your book on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents or $2.99 or so and sell thousands of copies.

      • Ethan Cooper permalink

        Hi Mike and Roguemutt,

        It’s not really a constructive response. But my coping mechanism is to simply ignore the realities of publishing and focus on my writing. My thinking is:

        o Well, established writers… there’s only so much that they can really do. Not everything they write appears in The New Yorker or garners huge advances.

        o Facebook and Twitter… sure, do it if you’re comfortable in these communities. But they are really just the 21st century’s equivalent of the slush pile and are huge distractions and energy sinks.

        There is no solution.

        EC

  4. It’s nice to know that someone agrees with me. I think that’s what gives me comfort and keeps me from getting jealous to be truthful. Here’s a little story of mine that taught me that you are either born with it or not (life isn’t fair).

    I competed with a really charismatic guy once for a job (this was about five years ago). I knew more than this guy did about the job (because he was coming from a different agency and I’d worked in the agency to which he was applying for three years prior). I was even worker’s comp certified (it was a goverment job) and he would have to have that training which would be paid for by the state. So I had all this stuff on my resume…needless to say, it came down to a choice between him and me.

    So I thought it was a shoe-in to get the job. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it. The hiring person that got the final say was female, straight, and had a reputation for liking good-looking men. This guy was really good looking, charismatic, funny. I’m not good looking (chubby and about ten years older than this guy)…he had movie-star looks really. Blond, blue-eyed, probably six-pac (I mean this guy really was in-shape and kudos to him cause his body was beautiful from what I saw on the outside) had an all-star family…young wife, three beautiful kids that he brought by the office, etc. Anyway, in scientific terms he had great genes.

    Here I am the overweight homosexual with great qualifications…needless to say, the blond guy became my boss. Anyway…my point is that I wasn’t bitter. I knew why they picked the guy and it was just a signal that I needed to move on. So I packed up my stuff, quit, and moved to a different state. That’s the way life goes and it will always be that way and will never change.

    Writing to get published is a lot like this. I think that one of the keys in having a good query letter that goes “unsaid” is you need to inject charisma in those two paragraphs. It’s not enough to follow the formula and have perfect spelling.

    No one writes about that…now to be fair…they kinda skirt the issue…Nathan Bransford and Tahereh offer “tips” in getting an agent with a query and they say you have to write well and stuff emphasizing the importance of certain key elements that need to be present in the letter.

    However, waht they don’t say is you need charisma which is the real issue. They don’t want to say that because, well, you either have it or you don’t. It’s not really something you can learn. You need to put on those dancing shoes and tap-dance on that damn page…charisma charisma charisma. It’s not enough to say what your book is about…you gotta say it in such a way that you exude funniness…tap tap tap TA DAH!!! /rounds of applause. Now I say funniness because that seems to be a lot of what people associate with charisma outside of having a nice picture to look at. But I’m sure there are other forms of charisma, however, humor seems to be the one to most easily wrap my head around.

  5. OMG…mutt you’ve got to read Nathan Bransford’s blog entry today. It’s scary but he’s talking about the same thing that we are talking about with our comments.

    Here’s a quote: “In Cory Doctorow’s uber-prescient novel DOWN AND OUT IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM, money has been replaced with “whuffie,” a reputation-based currency that rises and falls based on what people think of you. Basically, if people like you you’re rich and you can get all the best tables in restaurants. If they don’t like you, an unfortunate scandal can send you to the poor house.”

    Later in the same post, he says, “whuffie has essentially become real”.

    It’s exactly the kind of thing we are talking about. He says that you’re presently not being judged on your Twitter following but who’s to say that this won’t change in another five years (that’s me inserting that and not him)?

    Anyway, it’s another validation that I may be on the right track of thinking.

  6. Whew, this is the most exciting comments section on any of my blog entries!

    I agree, Coop, that Facebook and Twitter can be huge energy sinks. I try not to follow too many people on Twitter because it gets to be way too much noise. I try to follow people who are interesting and people who follow me. Facebook these days I’m using mostly because my brother uses it to post pictures of my niece on it. That and following some people I know from another writing site is pretty much all I do with it. (And my crappy “Fan” page I put no effort into except recently I had to reactivate the Network Blogs thingy.) It seems like this was so much easier back in the days of the Fitz and the Nab and Hem when you didn’t have “queries” and so many “agents” and you could just mail stories straight to the publisher and an editor might actually work with you to make the book better. Makes me nostalgic for a time before I was even born!

    Mike, it’s funny you mention that because last night I was trying to work up courage to work on a query for a novel. It got me thinking that the problem here is so much advice they give you is bogus. You don’t need to write it like a book jacket because book jackets are written for the general public. Your query is being written for an agent–or agent’s intern. So you’ve got to write it so impresses someone who is probably a woman in her 30s-40s, who lives in New York, and probably once dreamed of writing books but couldn’t so she decided to sell them or got burned out on editing and thought agenting would be easier. (Or if it’s the intern make that a woman in her 20s who lives in a crappy apartment somewhere in New York and thought interning with an agent would help give her connections to sell her book so she could give a shit less about yours.)

    That’s my target audience for the query. So basically I should imagine it like I’m trying to chat her up in the bar, only I’m selling her a book. What can I say that will impress her and win her over to my side? Shit, I don’t know. If I did I’d be married by now. (That or hanging around snorting coke with a few bimbos like Charlie Sheen.) That’s where all that charisma you mention comes into it. Some guys are playas and some are not. I am not. Thus every query winds up sounding like a bad pickup line, the literary equivalent of “Hey baby, what’s your sign?” It’s like my Email is wearing a leisure suit and cheap cologne.

    Maybe I should open with a joke: A priest, a rabbi, and my character walk into a bar…

  7. I hear what you’re saying Patrick. But thing is, you gotta sell and not write. Those two are nothing like each other. You’re a good writer…I can attest to that from reading your book. However, that isn’t going to get you an agent. You need to dance baby, moonwalk, make that agent laugh, etc.

    Here’s the catch…you got maybe ten sentences to do that in. Best of luck. And yeah…it’s so frustrating that you’re not going to be judged on your actual writing skill but on your social ability.

    Oh and another postscript to this comment…if you land an agent, you’re still not guaranteed to get published. You’ve only impressed someone that now needs to impress someone else. So hope that the one you impressed can dance dance dance baby with your manuscript.

    • Yeah, in the end the agent is just the middlewoman in the process. When I was a dumb kid I never realized that to sell a book you have to sell it to an agent first. I thought you just hired the agent and they did the business for you. But then I learned there’s a whole evil System involved that like politics realizes more on graft than good ideas.

      So many blogs out there are just Selling the Lie too, that if you work hard and follow these “rules” then you can succeed. It’s not that simple and it never will be. It’s very depressing overall. But at least nowadays even a schlub like me can sell hundreds of copies of his book on Kindle.

  8. “My jealousy is so bad that if you said you landed a book deal or an agent my first instinct would be to punch you in the face.”

    This made me lol. I loved the whole post and the post-post commentary. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of any of the ideas you and Michael have going about agents and publishing, especially since I think you guys have missed mentioning some of the more crucial stages of getting representation. For example, the fact that in a large aquarium behind the average agent’s assistant is some kind of random number generating octopus: if he pulls an “8” out of his magic hat, then you might get asked for a full manuscript based on your query. When it arrives they put your manuscript into the mystical tiger’s cave and if it doesn’t get urinated on, you pass to the next stage. Finally, the attic clowns have to perform their dance of joy. If they do it successfully in one go, you might get representation.

    On a more serious note, I think it’s okay to feel jealous or sad or upset or any number of things as we try to get published. A lot of people will tell you to stuff your feelings / rejections are somehow a good thing / you shouldn’t feel that way, but I think it’s human and normal to respond to rejection / lack of opportunity in this way. So long as you keep going despite being upset, you’re still in it.

  9. I may eventually put my book up on the kindle store. I tried a few times with agents and never got one (got a request or two but that’s it). Since it’s sci-fi, I’m shopping publishers with no agent right now. Presently my manuscript is at Mundania Press. If they say no, I’ll send it to Double Dragon. If they say no then it’s off to the kindle store. Anyway…that’s the path I’m takin.

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