Behind the Scenes
Q & A #1
I interned for a literary agency for a while. Do you think that agents are necessary for all kinds of writing, or that in some cases you can go straight to the publisher? (With fiction, I think it’s pretty well established that you need an agent no matter what.)
It sounds like this is referring to big house publishing. Publishing with one of them is just total luck and being in the right place in the right time. Yes, you always need an agent to get a book of prose done with something Rupert Murdoch owns, which is 2/5 of the big houses (the other 3/5 are owned by the Bertelsmanns in Germany and then you can break it up a bit from there, I think Nike owns something). Poetry with the bigs, who knows how that gets done. Billy Collins has to meet with Garrison Keillor once every five years and they go over a list. It includes Yusuf Komunyakaa, John Ashbery and Robert Pinsky, that’s it. I think the Supreme Court weighs in. Anyway, no one we know will get there and if someone did none of the rest of us would be able to afford the $27 book, so stop thinking about it.
Wasted too much time on this question, which I have no real advice for, because I’m not interested in publishing. Seems like a self-centered and worthless question. Don’t publishers seek-out writers that don’t suck and offer them money? Feel like if you have an agent, there should already be money involved, and in that case, this question has already been destroyed. All forms of writing don’t require an agent, unless said form of writing is making you a reasonable amount of money. I’m probably wrong and have shown myself to be naive by answering this question.
There’s no doubt that an agent helps. I sold my first book, an anthology, without an agent, but I’m also pretty sure I should have negotiated the contract more effectively in terms of the advance/royalties and an agent would have helped with that. There are all kind of urban legends out there about writers who land huge book deals by being discovered in some random, amazing way but those are the exceptions to the rule. At the indie level, you can sell a book without an agent but the bigger the publisher, the more likely it is that you will want an agent at your side. I think agents get a bad rap. A good agent is all about helping you advocate for yourself with people who want to give you as little money as possible. They understand where to send your work and why and they handle all the annoying stuff that writers generally aren’t good at.
I’ve always wondered what the accepted etiquette is regarding sending more work to a magazine you’ve been published in.
Some mags put this kind of information somewhere on their website. And some editors will say “please send us more work in the future.” Or whatever.
I never really know with magazines that don’t do either of these two things. Does a general etiquette for this even exist.
I must know.
This is a good question. I never thought about it, though I have rejected subs based on the fact that I had published them recently. When in doubt, send. The magazine might clarify their policy for you at that time. For Publishing Genius, it’s case by case. I might not accept a repeater for Everyday Genius, but if someone published in EG wanted to submit a chapbook for consideration, it would probably receive a warm welcome based on my familiarity.
I’m not Miss Manners, but I don’t think a general etiquette exists in this regard — except the common sense one, which is to keep in mind that the publisher does not exist for your benefit. You and the publisher both exist for the reader, so treat the publisher as a colleague who is buried under a heavy workload.
If a magazine has accepted your work previously, you should feel okay about submitting again. You’re likely still a good fit for the magazine, unless you’ve abandoned the writing style they previously accepted. It’s okay to do that.
At PANK, we love fostering relationships with the writers we’ve published. We generally want to put at least one or two issues between each instance of a writer’s work but you can and should submit again. Just don’t be crazy about it, sending something new every day.
sometimes i think something is done… i’ll even give it a couple of days to breathe and i’ll be like, yeah, this is really weird but it’s done (especially true of spontaneous pieces that involve very little thought given to meaning, etc) and so i’ll send it out to a bunch of people. then a week later i read it again and think i was out of my fucking mind.
so my question is, should i give it longer before submitting? or am i just second-guessing myself?
i suppose this is a personal question but it’s something i think about a lot and i’d like know what the experts think.
YES! What? Holy shit, yes. A few days? You should just now be starting to submit work you wrote a year ago, ignored for six months, and have been revising slowly for the last six. This is old guard policy, but if you want to be taken seriously you have to take yourself seriously. I know there are people having great success who are quick submitters, who “finish” something and send it out for the editors to actually finish or pass on. I think, if I was an active submitter, I would be like this because it probably feels protective, like I would be able to say, “Oh, rejection, no problem I just pounded that out.” But everyone should know that editors shit talk people who aren’t doing their due diligence.
Absolutely wait. Wait just a little longer than you think you should wait, and have a good chunk of waiting where you don’t even look at the piece. This doesn’t even really have much to do with submitting. It’s like the same thing as letting your kid go out alone, finally. You need to look at him when he comes back. You can’t be with him, fixing his hair the whole time.
What you’ve done is normal. Also, it’s annoying. My advice is to write like four or five things over a few weeks and look at all of those things together. Three of those things have no business ever being published. One of those things is likely acceptable somewhere. This process will save you some embarrassment, and editors will respect you and your work for going through some sort of evaluation process that doesn’t involve other people.’
I think you know when your work is done and if you have that feeling in your gut that the work is ready to be seen by a critical audience, by all means do send it out. However, I think it’s always a good idea to let writing rest a few days after you experience that sense of completion because sometimes, you’re just giving in to a moment and upon further reflection you will find that, as you note in your question, you were out of your fucking mind. I see a lot of submissions where the writer clearly has finished something and sent it out into the world without even bothering to re-read their writing. It happens, and I get it, but there’s no harm in waiting, is there? Sometimes, the best stories emerge from writers who have taken the time to wait then revisit a “finished” story.
If you have questions about writing or publishing or whatever, leave them in the comments or e-mail them to roxane at roxanegay dot com and we will find you some answers.