Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Agent Talk Back

After being rejected, writer Jackson Bliss had this to say to Nat Sobel's assistant:
Thanks for taking the time to read a partial of my near-finished novel. Since we will never work together, I guess I can be frank and come out and say that I'm sad and disappointed, but it's a business, so I'll do my best not to take it personally (though it's hard not to). Yes, I've certainly heard the Junot Diaz comparison before + I query Nicole Aragi annually but she only takes referrals. I will say, though, that I've never heard someone suggest that Junot Diaz, or a writer who has certain stylistic similarities to Junot Diaz, has a limited readership though. I haven't checked his Nielson bookscan stats in years, but I have this feeling that Junot Diaz's sales are probably very good. If I can achieve half the success that he has, I'd consider myself a prodigy. Since I am myself of mixed Asian ancestry (a quarter Japanese) but I don't look Asian (much like Hidashi), I feel that I have an awesome platform for ". . .", which, as Nat himself has pointed out, is becoming more + more necessary, even for fiction writers + I want to find an agency that will support my (future) career of writing Asian-American fiction with strong male characters that defy stereotypes of Asian masculinity while also challenging the cliché of minimalism in Asian-American literary fiction, which has become the norm. I know now that Sobel Weber Associates isn't the right literary agency for me but I thank you wholeheartedly for your honesty + your willingness to read partial of two of my novels. I wish you and Nat much future success. I also look forward to proving you wrong.
Seems like a trend to write back to agents, though maybe not a very productive trend. I mean she compared the dude to Junot Diaz. What do you think about the idea of sending a note back to someone who rejected you?


mercury rising said...

In my fantasies, my responses are non-verbal, but in the genre of an action movie.

(I am the bad guy.)

Anonymous said...

I just don't get a) why you might send anything but a positive, "Gee, I really appreciate all the consideration you've given my manuscript!" respons. For all you know, that agent's assistant might someday become an editor somewhere. Do you want to her to remember you as an overly picky picky type? and b) why you would publicize your sass on an openly accessible blog? I mean, any agent who might seriously be considering this guy is going to read that and think, "wow. This guy might have too much of a 'tude. Do I really want to work with him?"

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous above. While it might be tempting to mentally cheer at the "I look forward to proving you wrong" part, I don't see how this email is appropriate. But while it could be forgiven, I agree the larger issue is posting correspondence, including full names, on his blog. This confuses me. Does he get permission first? Not saying he needs to, just that it does not seem wise. He's done this more than once and now if these people (mostly professionals in the industry) google themselves, they'll find their correspondence to him on his blog. If this doesn't piss anyone off, it will likely encourage someone to take him less seriously.

I say this not to snark but out of concern, not only for this writer but for anyone else there making rash decisions that could, potentially, come back and bite them later.

Cari Hislop said...

We all do dumb things in the heat of the moment. When I was going to college one of the teachers who could pass or fail me did something that made me really mad. Without thinking I opened my mouth and called him an a** ***e to his face. He liked me even less after that, but I got my degree (probably so he wouldn't have to see me again).

If the writer can write he'll find his readers one way or the other.

L said...

"Since I am myself of mixed Asian ancestry (a quarter Japanese) but I don't look Asian (much like Hidashi), I feel that I have an awesome platform for ". . .", which, as Nat himself has pointed out, is becoming more + more necessary, even for fiction writers."


Why in the hell to fiction writers need a platform to write fiction. It's made up. I am a Black female writer who was adopted by a White family, and I have successfully sold short stories with protagonists of different races/cultures. A writer needs some kind of inquisitive sensitivity about life in general in order to write about characters outside of her cultural sphere; she doesn;t necessarily need to be of that culture.

So what? If I conceive of a story with an Asian male main character, I have no business writing it because I have no "platform" to do so? God gave me this creative brain and I create what I want with it, "platform" be damned.

Sorry for ranting off topic, but this rebuttal was irritating overall. Arrogant male writers are a penny a dozen, and this guy is only making himself less attractive to future partners who can easily pluck another Junot-Diaz-come-lately out of the slush pile.

jackson bliss said...

(part 1 )

I see what all of you are saying, but from my point of view, I'd argue that:

1. My writing blog is about transparency + honesty. I post every good rejection, every snarky rejection, every acceptance + whatever else comes to my mind. You don't have to agree with that, but for you to assume I haven't considered the consequences of what I'm doing is slightly insulting + also untrue. That's just how I roll with my blog + many aspiring fiction writers have thanked me for my honesty, so i feel like i'm doing something right.

2. Personally, I'm sick of all the kowtowing that aspiring fictions are expected to do in this industry. We're supposed to shut up + just take it until we're too famous to shut up. But I think we have important things to say BEFORE we ever become famous, which will probably be never anyway. Also, I wasn't writing back to Nat Sobel's assistant to be an asshole, I was just being honest with her + communicating to her how I feel, which honestly, people don't do ENOUGH in this industry for fear of being blacklisted. I was sincerely grateful for all of the time she spent reading my partials, but look, I don't have to agree with her analysis + I don't. I have enough friends who have already made it as literary fiction writers so I'm not being speculative when I say that I have issues with anyone suggesting that Junot Diaz has a limited readership.

3. As for platform, though I don't agree with it, writers of color are given a "writers of color" platform by predominantly white editors. They're usually categorized as an ethnic writer, a black commercial fiction writer, a female Asian-American novelist + that's the market they target. I have nothing to do with that, but the reality is that I have a WAY better chance of selling my shit as an Asian-American writer (which I am, though only hapa) than I do as another male writer. Beyond that, a little context: In one of Nat Sobel's interviews, he argues that not only do non-fiction writers need a platform-- a position that many agents agree with, by the way--but that these days, considering how non-fiction sales have overtaken fiction sales by like a lot, now even FICTION writers need a platform, so that's what I was referring to when I talked about platform. If you read a few more of my entries, you'll see that. Also, I personally think that a fiction writer should be able to write from whatever cultural perspective s/he wants, but I think the market expects platforms: They want Asians to write Asian stories, they want the former heroin addict to write a memoir about being a junkie, not about his love of plants. Don't believe me? Pick up a copy of almost any Asian-American writer + scan their publishing history? How many of them are writing stories about white people? While I may not agree with this, I do acknowledge the market, so I'm simply trying to figure out the best way to place my own writing, nothing more.

jackson bliss said...

(part 2)

4. If an agent was seriously considering me + then s/he dropped me because I had too much attitude, then that agent wasn't the right agent for me, pure + simple. Great agents want great art + someone they can work with. I work so fucking hard on my writing, I'm dedicated + open to editorial suggestions + I don't have unrealistic expectations for what agents/editors do. I feel like you guyz are making a lot of assumptions about me as a writer knowing almost nothing about me + based on an entry or two. You don't fucking know me at all. And also: Your critiques of me almost suggest that the publishing industry is without flaws, but it's totally fucked up. Even my friends that are editors for commercial publishing houses are discouraged. Prominent agents are scared shitless about publishing fiction from debut authors. It's a hostile landscape to art, + yet you're criticizing me for feeling (expressing) that the industry is fucked up + that I have issues with it? That's insane. Dudes, I've interned at a major publishing house, so I know a couple of well-known editors. I have friends who are agents, literary journal stars, total unknown writers with unbelievable talent + everything in between, so I'm not talking from some solipsistic perch here. The industry is in bad shape + it's ripe for critiquing. And if you knew me + if you'd read my blog, you'd know that.

5. For many years, I played the diplomacy game. I took each kind rejection, shut my mouth + hoped that my hard work would be enough, but now I don't want to + that doesn't make me dumb, or arrogant. It makes me human. I simply want to express how I feel + not censor myself just because I think it increases my chances of getting it published--I really don't think it does, by the way. You need talent intersecting with luck intersecting with people with power. There are tens of thousands of aspiring fiction writers who will never be published EVER + it's not because they're not talented enough, it's because some of them give up, some of them lose heart, some of them find other media to publish their voices + only a few actually make it. I'd rather hold on to my stubborn confidence, which has kept me in this game for awhile now, + by the way, has given me some fantastic responses from agents + some decent publications + a lot of hope for the future. If you disagree with my approach, I can respect that, but to call me arrogant, dumb + irritating because I have the gall to simply communicate anything besides "thank you ma'am" to an agent's assistant seems very harsh + judgmental to say the least. Additionally, I'd argue that the reason I'm getting my PhD at USC in Literature + Creative Writing is precisely it's one of the best ways to try + find a job teaching CW + finding patronage for my own art. I'm hardly unrealistic about what it takes to live/breathe as a fiction writer.

Anyway, I thought you were creating a strawman of both me + my writing blog, so I just wanted to present the other side. I hope you'll be open to some of the things I said.


--Jackson Bliss

Anonymous said...

One freedom above all others, freedom of speech. Anyone can say anything they like, as long as they are prepared for any response good, or bad. Sounds like this blogger has made that preparation. There is no need to judge him. Everyone has their limit, he has met his.
Conversely, if he was shooting his mouth off and being a puss about the backlash... He should not publicly give his opinion. Just as the freedom of public peech stands for the speaker, it also stands for commentary.
Leave personal diggs for a different industry. We are writers, poets, and artists of the written word. Let us be kind. The future is uncertain, the stronger our bonds, the stronger our write.
One last thing, this is a very subjective industry. Like it, or not.