From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
I just got back from MileHiCon in Denver. Not only did the con committee and the attendees treat me well, I had an absolute blast. I met a lot of people—readers, fans, wannabe writers, published writers—and I saw a lot of old friends.
. . . .
I have no idea how to talk to a room full of writers any more.
I know that sounds weird. I talk to writers all the time. Just before I went to MileHiCon, I helped Dean teach the first four days of the week-long Master Class for professional writers that we hold here on the coast.
. . . .
It used to be that everyone on the panel would give the same answer to basic questions. On the basic how-to-get published questions, there was only one answer, and it was the same for writer after writer after writer.
In fact, those of us on the panel were interchangeable. It didn’t matter if I sat there or another writer sat there or a relatively new writer sat there, we all gave the same answer. So did editor after editor, agent after agent.
Everyone who had the smallest bit of writing experience stopped attending publishing panels at cons because those writers had the basics down.
Now, the basics differ depending on who you talk to. We all agree on craft issues. To sell, whether traditionally or direct to readers, writers have to tell a good story. A good story includes all elements of craft—good plot, memorable characters, a clearly defined setting, and so on and so forth. Writers need to learn all of that, and never stop learning. We all can improve our craft and we should work at it, day after day after day after day.
When we move to how to get published, writing panels actually get contentious now. When Dean and I spoke at a writers conference in Idaho in May, we debated whether or not we would say what we really believed. Because if we said what we believed, we would anger half the room. And (bonus!) we would piss off every agent in the place.
I have a lot of trouble fudging my answers if I believe someone will get hurt if I don’t speak up. And on the topic of agents, my beliefs have shifted strongly. I believe (and have seen) most writers get seriously harmed by having an agent.
I can’t, in good conscience, recommend a writer have an agent for any reason.
Before I accept a writers conference request, I always explain that I will anger every agent and book doctor who shows up. I anger agents because I think they’re no longer useful. Some agents I’ve met at writers conferences are not only no longer useful, they are actively harming writers. I know this, because I’ve seen it or experienced it.
. . . .
The book doctors who show up at mainstream writers conferences fall into two categories. Those book doctors are either scammers who want to make money off writers who don’t believe in their own work or the book doctors are well-intentioned souls who have never sold a book of their own yet somehow believe they can make a book marketable.
Both types are complete and utter waste of money. There are real book doctors who work in traditional publishing. They’re hired (for a minimum of five figures—usually more like six) by a traditional publishing house to either improve a manuscript or to write it from scratch. Generally, those book doctors work on guaranteed bestsellers, whether they are written (or should I say bylined) by a celebrity like Snooki or whether they are written by a former bestselling writer who has gotten ill or has writer’s block or a wide variety of other problems.
If a publishing house has spent millions on a project and that project suuuuuuucks, then a book doctor gets brought in to make the project acceptable so that it can recoup its investment. If it wasn’t fixed, the project wouldn’t last longer than a day or two on the bestseller list before word-of-mouth put the book out of its misery.
Those book doctors never show up at writers conferences.
. . . .
I sigh, and say that with all honesty, I can’t recommend any agent. I mention the fact that it’s illegal in all 50 states to practice law without a license, which most agents are doing, and I mention that you just don’t need them for anything, and on and on, trying to keep my answer relatively short.
The woman who worked for the agency was incredibly cool. We agreed on most things. She’s bright and is a writer herself, and handled me with aplomb. Of course, she rebutted some of what I said, but not all of it (turns out, I learned after two panels with her, we agreed more than we disagreed), and she ended her statement with a sentence that I hate.
I’m sure Kris can do these things because she’s Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Hell, no. I can do these things because there’s this thing called “the internet” and writers I know who do not have the credentials that I do have done the same things and more because they have a “contact” button on their website. Good books are good books, and foreign rights offers as well as movie/TV offers follow the good work, not the big names.
. . . .
The 1995 answers don’t really work any more. It’s a shark tank in the traditional publishing world, and if a minnow enters, it will become chum within the first five seconds of its attempted tenure in the tank.
So many writers are minnows with no desire to swim with the sharks. And the problem is that in today’s publishing environment, the writers have to be able to swim with the sharks comfortably and easily to survive.
Writers who’ve gotten their feet wet in the publishing industry, writers who’ve finished more than one book, who’ve submitted more than one short story, who are driven and work hard, know this. They’re coming to panels and conferences to learn how to become sharks—at least when it comes to business.
But the minnows, they don’t want to learn anything except how to be sell that one project. And the poor things, they’re going to get screwed.
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