Friday, June 3, 2011

So that’s done…

Hey there. I know, I know. It’s been awhile and last time I was rather cryptic, huh? Well, here’s your explanation. Read on.

Basically, it went down like this.

So, as some of you may or may not recall, I sent out a new batch of queries for my book Gunslingers of the Apocalypse at the beginning of last month. I think I sent them out on a Saturday or something like that. Anyway, come Monday night, I am working down at Filmzilla. I had switched shifts with Beth so that fellow Scribblerati Agent Mark Teats and I could make the Wednesday night showing of Stake Land (meh...) during the Minneapolis International film festival. So, Monday night wasn’t exactly a hoppin’ video rental night and I eventually wandered back to the computer overlooking the porn room and checked my e-mail just like any other red-blooded, 21st century American Internet addict is wont to do and sitting there at the top of my inbox, above the seemingly never-ending pile of fucking Goodreads updates (I gotta remember to turn that Goddamn notification off) was a response…

From an agent.

Hmmm… I thought, it doesn’t look like an auto-reply telling me that they’ll get back to me at some point (liars…). No this was definitely from an agent. A real live agent. And her e-mail? In a word? Complimentary. Ridiculously complimentary. She had read my query and she had liked the title, no, she had LOVED the title and so she read the included twelve page sample. She loved that too. She FUCKING loved it, is the actual the quote, every word. She loved it so much, she wanted to read the first three chapters and she was hoping to hear from me that night. You see, she was going to be unavailable all Tuesday, but if I got her the sample that night, she’d be able to print it out and read it on Wednesday… AND, if that wasn’t enough, and it felt like I was trying to read this part through the sudden post-lightning bolt strike like haze of an aneurysm, the first line of her e-mail seemed to read: “As I said in my phone message, I thought this was fabulous…”

Phone message?

I dug out my crappy little pay-as-you-go Star Trek-esque flip phone. I had somehow accidentally turned it off vibrate and it had been on low volume.

One missed call. Well, fuck me.

The phone message was even better.

She loved my stuff.

I was giddy.

Breathless.

Of course, I was at Filmzilla too, with its recently upgraded and fancy-pantsy new computer system, which means it's no longer using dot matrix receipt printers and running the oh-la-la brand spankin’ and shiny new IE 6. That’s right… IE 6, bitches… eat my dust, Internet (you may remember the set up from when it was prominently featured in the red hot Matthew Broderick blockbuster: War Games.). So despite that bit of good luck (sarcasm), there was an issue, (trouble, oh trouble set me free) I didn’t have any pre-set up 3 Chapter Samples in my Google Docs, and there was no Word program on the Filmzilla 64 bit Master System. Luckily, there was Notepad! (More sarcasm…)

(Sudden aside: Why do they still make Notepad? I mean, granted, I’m taking about IE 6 here, but it’s on the current versions, too. Who the fuck uses Notepad? And for what?)

So anyway, Notepad… what the fuck? So, no Word program and no ready sample means I can’t send anything off. Shit! I’m sweaty and agitated and dancing from foot to foot and whining slightly ala Homer Simpson. I can’t send anything off! And I’m stuck here until midnight! If she gets it tonight, she can have it read by Wednesday! Fuck! Fuck. Fuck… Then I look at the e-mail. It was sent 9 minutes ago! The voice message was only about 15 minutes ago!

I’m calling her back!

This is a "Seize the day" moment, man.

So I call. I reach her at home. We chat. We bond. We get along famously. We both love the Wild Bunch and the Road Warrior (perfect for my book). We talk about me and my writing shit. We talk about her and possible possibilities. It’s all good. It’s awesome, in fact. Everything works out, big time. I can get her the sample by morning, so I do, late that night. She writes me on Wednesday and says: I love the way you write. Beautiful. Vindicating. My chest puffed out. I strutted. Send me the whole thing, she says. So I do. I print it out and I mail it and she lets me know she has it a week later. After that, all I have to do is sit back and wait until the end of the month for her to read the whole thing and get back to me.

It’s a long month.

I’m cautious. And quiet. Optimistic, but cautious. I try to maintain a perspective. She can still say “no”, but she had such a strong and positive reaction. We bonded. We liked the same stuff. I tell a select few. They agree with me, it’s such a strong response, this could be it… It’s a long wait. Could this be it?

Nope.

It’s not.

She said no.

…So that’s done. Sucks, huh?

She said: too wordy, too indulgent, too whatever. Most of all, she said: What does it add to the genre? Is it new enough? She questioned whether or not this is the novel to break me out in a crowded marketplace. She did say I was talented and showed potential, and there is that great title…

Great. That and a couple of bucks can get me a cup of coffee.

Yeah…

So, now what? After the long fall, after the height of heights was just within reach, what next? After I pick myself up again and dust myself off, where do I go from here?

I honestly don’t know. I could go back and re-read it. Cut. Edit. I know I could probably get it down more. I’m sure there’s probably some repeated stuff, some indulgences, some overly-dramatic flourishes and some unnecessary fat, sure. And it’s been awhile since I’ve really looked at the thing, so my eyes could be pretty fresh again, maybe. But I don’t know. It’s not that she’s wrong. That’s just it, I don’t think she is. I know I could get meaner with the edits, I was hoping I wouldn’t quite have to or that I could get some new insights as to where to begin, but yeah, I know I could definitely cut more.

The problem is: Is it worth the effort?

That's the question, because she’s right, the marketplace is crowded, really crowded, and not just the zombie genre, but books as a whole (although that’s another rant for another day, one about barbarians in the city and self-publishing and quality and pride in your work, blah, blah, blah…) and no one is reading any more or buying books… or more honestly, they are buying books, but only really famous names or $.99 e-books. It's the big current concern. No one gets any money anymore. Nothing sells. The whole industry is changing and how will it look on the other side? No one knows and everyone is scared.

Also, for awhile now, I’ve started to wonder if maybe I missed the zombie zeitgeist wave, if it might not be too late, if the surf might not be a bit overcrowded at this point, that there's no more room unless you're extra flashy. And worst yet, there's a lot of bad in this particular field. You want proof? Type zombie into Amazon and then count the dregs. Zombie shit is everywhere, people. TV, movies, books, comics… it’s everywhere. Now, everyone’s an expert. Now, everyone has a zombie apocalypse plan. Now, the zombie pub crawls are to douchebags what critical mass is to douchebags on bicycles.

Or maybe I suck.

It doesn't matter, because now everyone seems to be saying the same thing: Zombie Apocalypses are old hat. What’s the new thing?

I’m not even sure what that means, but I think they mean like running zombies or talking zombies or funny zombies or stories told from the zombie’s point of view or whatever. Maybe the people who were obsessed with the idea of how the virus started, regardless of how pointless a plot point that seemed to be to me, are the right ones. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that all those “new” things being “added to the genre”, the things that I think of as hollow gimmicks, they are the key to success. That’s what people want. Fucking Avatar and Transformers 2 were the highest grossing films in the world last year, right? With ease! People want the raz-ma-taz and the easily identifiable. And I’m not bitching because my story is so amazing and so individual and so literature-y either. It’s not. It’s just an adventure story: Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead. That’s it. Like a noir modern day western, but with zombies, and to me, that was the new thing, that was what I was “adding to the genre”, the story itself, the adventure in that setting, but that’s not what they look for. Who knows, maybe the story isn’t that new, either. I don’t know. Maybe that’s not what gets classified as new. It doesn’t matter. The fact remains, what the market wants as far as zombies are concerned and what sells well and what gets a lot of good Amazon reviews and all that, is not what I want to write about and since that shit is what gets picked, maybe it’s time for me to admit that I’m sitting here on a big unsellable shit of a project and just trunk the fucking thing and move on.

Meh...

Maybe the zombie zeitgeist wave broke while I was paddling out to it and now it’s just time for me to find a new beach, one with better waves and fewer tourists…

I don’t know.

I don’t blame the agent. She’s been around awhile; she is successful and respected and she knows what works and what sells. She was very nice and accommodating. And honestly, if they’re not crazy for it, then they’re not the agent for it, right? And there are other agents out there, too, I could keep querying. But I don’t know, all that: the saturated market, my storyline, considering all that shit I listed above, I feel like I’m on that game show, the one with the briefcases and the bimbos? It’s called: Fuck you, Howie Mandel or something. Anyway, you pick the cases and each one has a different dollar amount inside it and I think you pick one at a time, hopefully leaving the biggest amount for last, it’s like a million dollars or something, and if you do, you win that amount. I think. I’m not really sure how it’s a game show since it seems to be nothing but blind picking and dumb luck, but anyway, if you pick the million dollar case half way through, then that case is out of play and you won’t get a million dollars, no matter how the rest of the game goes.

I feel like I just picked my million dollar case.

She called me! Off a 12 page sample pasted into an e-mail! That never happens. Where do you go from there, but down? Who’s going to have that level of interest again? Is it reasonable to expect that it could happen again, or is it delusional? I mean, come on, to go from that level of interest down to “no”? There’s something there that I can't ignore: Something is wrong with the book, the story, with the timing of it all, maybe all of the above. I could try to fix it, but... if it's at the back-end slide of a trend, as well, why bother?

Unsellable, unwanted at its core, isn’t fixable.

Trunking it may be the only option. I’d hate to, I mean, there goes my whole book and three more I had waiting on deck with prep time under them and 6 years of work and a bunch of sweat and agonizing and planning and fuck-all, everything I had, gone, turning me into that poor fucker who comes in last at the Olympics. You know what I mean? The guy who gets last in the Olympics practices his ass off for four years, he makes it to the Olympics and he gets dead last? The son of a bitch could have eaten twinkies and sat on his ass for four years and done exactly the same… Dead last? Fucking waste of four years.

You know, the end of this coming September, I will have been querying for two years... Here I sit, broken hearted. Tried to shit, but only farted.

Oh sure, there were skills gained and lessons learned, but right now? Looking down at the wreckage? That and a couple of bucks, man… that and a couple of bucks… So what next, I ask, sitting here at this horrible fucking temp job, not working, clock watching like a mother fucker, the stretch of hours and days and weeks stuck here made all the more suddenly looming and nearly unbearable?

What. Fucking. Next.

I don’t know. I’ve still got some short stories to finish. I’ll get back to them, I guess. I've still got some queries out there, as well. And I was going to work on turning Monster into a novel, but… I don’t know if I’m feeling that one any more. I know they say you shouldn’t write to trends, but Jesus, man, right now the idea of spending a couple of years on a story set in a dystopian and post-apocalyptic future wrecked by the sudden, wild return of magic and monsters, the story of a bunch of convicts given a chance at freedom if they perform one job, a kind of magical, grim and gritty fantasy/sci-fi Dirty Dozen versus a Dragon in the ruins of Minneapolis…? Only to find out that people would rather read a vampire detective story?

Ppppppppbbbbbbbbhhhhhhhhhhhhhhttttt…

Fucking hell…

We'll see, I guess,

Jon

3 comments:

David said...

Fuck.

However. A few questions. Have you ever passed it through an editor? I ask because, while it's not the book deal you may be looking for, if you could get it edited and ready to go (I'm thinking that your friends are literary enough to be able to do a decent job, especially that Jessica chick) that I could help get it shot up to Amazon as a self-published book. If you have some artistic type friends that could bang out a cover image, and I could get it all formatted properly, I think you could do a lot worse. Charge something not too bad, especially for digital...people are making real money that way.

It's not a "quit your job, you're published" deal, but it could be some regular income...

If the alternative is shelving it...

the library bird said...

I'm sorry, Jon - that beyond sucks. I don't blame you for feeling like throwing in the towel, and everything you say about writing and the book market is accurate and depressing - BUT and that's a BIG BUTT, you are talented, you have amazing story ideas, and in this book, you do have a unique turn on the old zombie tale (despite her assertion otherwise). The agent is a business woman - interested in making a buck. You're an artist. Don't let a businessman kill your impetus to create. There's no market for a Dirty Dozen VS a dragon or Mad Max in a zombie apocalypse? Who cares. Write it because the act in itself is noble. You're creating something from nothing - a world concocted in your incredible imagination that you let the rest of us inhabit for awhile. And there are many of us who are amazed by the worlds you create - and have loved reading every word you've written. FUCKING loved every word.

I agree with David - if the alternative is to shelve it, at least put it out there for people to read. Momentum can build from that - and then the agents will come looking for you.

Or, let's buy up some hours on your crappy pay as you go cell phone and get to work editing. I'm game if you are.

Love you, cuz. You're awesome.

Jon said...

Thanks for the support. Don't worry, I'm not contemplating totally quitting, just moving away from this project and focusing on a new one and the idea of starting at square zero is daunting.

And I'll probably print out the book in a couple of weeks and dig into it. Critical response is critical response and it deserves consideration. Especially considering that here was someone pre-disposed to liking it and they passed. They were ready to like it and I changed their mind. That says something I can't ignore. So, I won't leave it hanging, I'll try to polish up the old turd some more, but...

The question of where it goes after that is the tough one. Self-publishing is a different route with many different considerations. It requires a butt load of time to drum up notice. For every millionaire, there's a million penny-aires, you know?

Plus, I have to admit, I have my own issues with self-publishing. I mean, just because you CAN publish, doesn't mean you SHOULD. And I'm not the only one who feels this way. Future or not... there's a stigma. Going the self-publishing route, I mean, never say never, but you automatically relegate your book to second class status. What's the old joke about being the kid with the highest scored F in the class? Sure, you got the highest score, but you were competing against a bunch of failures...

I'll be working on the short stories in the next couple of weeks. I'm still mulling ideas.

Onwards and upwards,

Thanks again for the support,

Jon