Thursday, December 20, 2012

Taste the Rainbow...

by Allison Pang

So here's the thing - I don't know if I really have a list of questions that bug me all that much. I think it's usually the timing. When I'm on a blog tour, for example, and doing a lot of interviews, it can get a bit frustrating when I'm getting asked the same question over and over (e.g. "Where do you get your inspiration?", etc.).

I worry more that readers will start to get bored - but as long as the questions are asked in good faith, then I can't really complain too much.

For me, the hot button issue is when I answer a question and it's not what the asker wants to hear, particularly when it comes to inquiries about how to get published.

"Well, I wished on a shooting star, and then a unicorn came and we rode off, farting rainbows, and thus, my book was born. The end."

Some days I wish it was that simple.

But you have to consider your audience. The average person doesn't want to hear me wax poetic about query letters and contest wins. Believe me, I've tried...and watched the eyes glaze over. Other writers get it, sure...but then you've got the whackjobs.

A couple of years ago I ran into a coworker I didn't know too well. Once they discovered my book deal, they asked me out to lunch to "pick my brain" about getting published.

(I should have run screaming into the night, but you know. Sometimes, I'm sorta nice.)

So I said yes. And I talked about it and she listened very politely and I thought that was that. Now, keep in mind, at various times during the conversation she did ask a few questions - about how I got my agent, for example. Because, she had a friend who was writing a book and she wanted to help get them some information.

Uh huh.

I know what you're thinking. And you'd be right, mostly.

The questions started to take a much more personal bent, and eventually she admitted that it was her brother who was writing the book. Which had a lot of Hollywood potential, of course. (Don't they all?)

A little more probing on my part and I discovered that it wasn't written in English. He was writing it in their native language and she was translating.

Which might be a harder sell, but it might not - good writing is good writing, after all. And I told her - get it finished up and work on some query letters and see what happens. She wanted to see my query letter, which I sent to her later - along with links to some resources like absolutewrite and other forums that might be helpful with the sort of book they were writing. She also wanted my agent's contact info - I directed her to the submission guidelines, because honestly, that's about all I could do. (Aside from sending a warning note to my agent in case something showed up.)

So where's the kicker? Well, the more she talked about it, the more it became clear that they weren't really writing anything. They had an idea. They wanted to sell that idea. Her brother didn't want to waste time writing a book if they couldn't sell it to Hollywood.

And I gently explained to her that it's exceedingly rare to be able to sell a book on proposal. You have to be a name, or an expert in the subject (and it's got to be a timely subject, at that.) In short, she needed to have a written manuscript ready to go.  With hundreds of queries coming in each week, agents were swamped with books that were finished - they certainly weren't going to waste time on a book that wasn't even written.

But why? Surely when the agent sees what a fabulous idea this is...

Agents can't sell ideas. (Usually. Never say never, and all that, but yeah...)

But it has so much Hollywood The Kiterunner, etc. 

Well, you can try - but I'm pretty sure you'll get rejected. At the very least, you're going to piss an agent off who might get excited by your idea/potential/magical farting unicorn. When they ask to see it and you've got nothing?

But I don't understand why can't they just agree to represent us and wait for it to be done? It has so much potential...


We talked in circles for a few more minutes and then I was able to escape. I was a bit shocked honestly. I'd always heard of slushpile horror stories, but I never thought I'd be confronted directly with one. Particularly the aura of entitlement. She just couldn't understand why the rest of the world wouldn't be throwing itself at her feet for this marvelous idea.


While I'm all for "not taking no for an answer" at times, there is a limit. Sometimes you really have to do the time to reap the benefits. If you can't buckle down to work on a project that might never sell, then chances are a career in the creative field probably isn't for you. Like just about anything else, publishing is an odd combination of luck and skill and hard work, but luck can only take you so far. Eventually it's going to give out and if you don't have anything to fall back on?

Well, you better hope that unicorn you're riding has some mighty powerful farts. (Especially when the world ends tomorrow. *Then* we'll see who's laughing.)


  1. Wow. Just wow. And I thought I was clueless when I started out. At least I had my book finished and edited and re-edited until I thought it was perfect before I sent it out into the world. The clueless part was me thinking it would be snapped right up and I'd be all set. :snort:

    I don't have a unicorn and even if I did, my luck would have it farting toxic waste instead of rainbows. So I guess I'll just have to stick with working hard and hoping.

  2. It's really interesting that people have this concept of "I don't want to waste my time doing X thing unless I know it will be rewarded." Do we really get that with anything in life? And what about the value of doing something for the experience of DOING it? Feh.