1) Avoid agents at all costs. If you have one, fire them now unless your agent is also an attorney. No reason needed. A writer in this new world needs a good IP attorney on board. And not an agent who has other clients with the same publishing house that you sell to. That agent will NEVER fight for you. Ever. An attorney will fight for you and cost you a ton less money. (I do not have an agent and can see no reason now to ever bring one back into the picture.)
It is so important to remember that no two writers—or writing careers—are the same. The best agent for me (who is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Kate Garrick at DeFiore and Company) might not be the best agent for everyone. And there are definitely writers who can get away without an agent—just as there are writers who can get away without the promotional machinery of a major publishing house or writers who are better served by non-traditional advance/royalty structures.
But let me tell you just a few things my agent does for me:
Works with me from the very, very beginning of a project. Together we hash out the foundations for my ideas, and because I trust her implicitly and know her to be honest and insightful, I am always able to strengthen the bedrock of my work—which pays off immeasurably down the line.
Reads everything I write.
Helps me make everything I write better.
Is able, because of her experience and industry connections, to negotiate far, far better deals than I would ever be able to. I would like to point out here that she wants to negotiate the best deal possible for a few reasons. Sure, she gets a commission. (But let’s remember that the 15% agents take isn’t just good for her—it’s good for writers, too, because it aligns our incentives.) But she also just cares. About me. About publishing. About the things we create and put out into the world.
Doesn’t think in the short term about deals or commissions. The real money—and satisfaction—isn’t to be found in a one-off big-time advance. It’s to be found in a steady and growing career. I know that if I were ever to get two offers, one for more money but with less enthusiasm and another for less money and more enthusiasm, she’d counsel me to take the latter.
Talks me down from the eight thousand cliffs per day I think about jumping off.
Find me a lawyer who does all these things and I’ll show you a lawyer who works as a literary agent.
Now, to be fair, not everyone’s agents are like this. There are charlatans out there, for sure. So if you don’t think your agent believes in you enough to fight for you, yes, absolutely, find new representation. Because there are also lots and lots of awesome agents.
So think about what’s best for you. Don’t sign with a big agency just because they’re a big agency. Sign with the agent who gives a shit—or don’t sign with an agent at all
The same applies to publishers. Educate yourself about the industry and ask yourself hard questions about what you want, both financially and artistically. Sign with the publisher who gives a shit—or don’t sign with a publisher at all.
And, sure, again: if you think it’s best for you, hire a lawyer. There are certainly writers who don’t need the insightful, informed, and up-close-and-personal and editorial approach that so many agents can offer. There are also writers who are perfectly able to do it all on their own, managing their own careers and contracts or finding publishers who will help them do so.
But whatever you do, don’t buy into reflexive and misleading generalities. Instead be thoughtful. Be critical. Be yourself.
This isn’t easy, of course. It’s something I struggle with every day.
Luckily, I have an agent who’s always there to help me out.
“So then, sometimes you are not out of ideas. Sometimes you are afraid of the idea you have. This idea, it is an imposter. It will ravage your life. Undo all your hard work. Destroy you. You’re sure of it. At the least it will humiliate you. Are you really not inspired or are you afraid of being the person who will write the thing that will come if you sit down with the idea you have? Who do you need to love you so much that you will hide this idea from you and act like it doesn’t exist? Which is to say, sometimes you need to be destroyed. The person you are is in the way and the person you will be is waiting on the other side of the shell that you call you.”—
The first time I heard Alex Chilton sing, I was unimpressed. I was 23 at the time, that treacherous, liminal age when the line between good ideas and unbelievably bad ideas is more or less impossible to make out, and I thought I might be falling in love. The few serious relationships I’d had up to that point had been with men of a certain ilk: bright, sensitive, maybe a little bit gay.
This guy, though, was different. Intellectually engaging and emotionally indirect, he was a cipher from the start. Did he like me? Did he tolerate me? Did he hate me? Did he adore me? Who knows? I had no idea then, and frankly, I still couldn’t tell you with any certainty now, however many years later it may be. He was an impenetrable morass of earnest implication and studied dispassion, a tour de force of neither here nor there. Naturally, I was enthralled.
Because—in case this hasn’t already become abundantly clear—I was a fucking idiot.
He was particularly good at the game of exasperating me just to the point of breaking and then coming up with some touchingly awkward romantic gesture in order to ensure he would have the opportunity to exasperate me some more.
One such gesture, inevitably, involved a mix CD.
The second-to-last track was the song Thirteen, performed by a band I’d never heard of. It’s a lovely little song, sweet and trembling and plaintive—like a Judy Blume book before all the life lessons come into play. But I missed all that the first time through. Because I was too busy wondering why he had chosen some obscure cover instead of the—in my mind—vastly superior Elliott Smith “original.” God help me, I even said as much to him.
And that is how I learned about Big Star. By suggesting that they kind of sucked.
Anyone who has yet to receive a straightforward declaration from the object of their affection—and, even more, anyone who has ever experienced the growing certainty that a favorable declaration is not about to be forthcoming—is familiar with the divinatory frenzy of romantic limbo, when even the most insignificant words and gestures seem riddled with intimation. Rational, proportionate interpretation has no place in the all-consuming quest to suss out Where, Exactly, You Stand.
Suffice it to say, in the week and months that followed, I listened to Thirteen a lot. Naturally, I was particularly preoccupied by the final verse:
Won’t you tell me what you’re thinking of Would you be an outlaw for my love If it’s so, well let me know If it’s no, well I can go I won’t make you
At first I heard intention. Then, equivocation. And finally, in the end, advice I should have had the sense to take.
It wasn’t until much later that I understood that the genius of a great love song like Thirteen relies in part on its emotional versatility: the music and lyrics are equally affecting whether you’re falling in love or falling out of love. The song’s sunny nostalgia makes it a perfect accompaniment not only for your big dopey grin, but also for your four-hour crying jag, because nothing cuts quite so deep as a reminder that things aren’t complete shit for everybody, they’re just complete shit for you. Basically, it’s the musical equivalent of a Frosted Mini-Wheat.
Eventually, I grew to love the Big Star version of Thirteen—and even to prefer it to Elliott Smith’s. I also grew to love Big Star, full stop. I bought #1 Record and Radio City in 2004, and they’ve been in heavy rotation ever since. For a long time the two albums actually made up a full 40% of my in-car music library, which means that over the past six years, I’ve probably spent more time with Big Star than I have with most anyone I actually know. And after hours upon hours of playback, there still isn’t a single song I like to skip over. Not even Thirteen.
Not anymore, anyway.
When I got married I was subjected to all sorts of rhapsodic waxing regarding the joys of committed relationships, mostly platitudes of the “everyone needs a co-pilot” variety. No one mentioned the deep satisfaction of being able to write off whole lifetimes of crap in the service of something you love. I don’t mean the glib thrill that comes from coupling up when people who’ve dumped you horribly are lonely and miserable—although I wouldn’t discount that pleasure. I’m talking about the simple fact that each day with my husband makes my past fuck-ups a little less fucked-up. If you love something well enough, immediate pleasure can be compounded by retrospective solace.
I didn’t figure this out when I met Dylan, though. I actually figured it out when I was refusing to listen to Thirteen.
Obviously, things between me and the mix-master didn’t exactly work out, and for quite a while afterwards, I found myself reeling. Not from heartbreak, though—no, nothing so noble as that. From humiliation. The only thing worse than being rejected is knowing you’re going to be rejected—and then going ahead and letting it happen anyway. I didn’t beat myself up about it, but neither was I looking to rub it in. And listening to the song that served as more or less the pathetic soundtrack to my even more pathetic infatuation was very definitely rubbing it in.
So I decided that maybe I kind of hated it after all.
But I didn’t stop listening to Big Star, just that one Big Star song, and after the initial sting wore off, I once again was forced to reconsider. Thirteen may have had some thorny associations, but at the end of the day, it was the song that had led me to Way Out West, September Gurls, Life Is White. Ultimately, Big Star made me happier than that ignominious farce of a relationship made me sad.
I stopped skipping the song. And soon enough, I stopped feeling so stupid about it, too.
Would I have ever thought about this if it weren’t for Big Star? Sure, probably. It’s not like these are particularly novel avenues of self-discovery. Nor are such meditations unique to this song or this band or even music as a whole. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chuck Klosterman had a whole book detailing how midwinter evening episodes of Scarecrow and Mrs. King taught him tough lessons about love and loss and regret. The insight isn’t really the point.
The point is that I didn’t know Alex Chilton. But he has, even so, been a part of my life. A good part of my life. And I’m glad, today, that I can remember that.
A charming (if small-sample look) at the different names we have for Lego pieces.
1. Legos are way, way more complicated than they were when I was a kid.
2. Depressingly, I don’t actually have any naming conventions of my own (apart from your basic 1x4, 2x4, etc.), despite the fact that I was obsessed with Legos until I was way too old to be obsessed with Legos. I blame this on:
Old news, right? I know. I even heard about this in Montana. However, in case you read this when it first appeared, might I direct you now to the comments? Things got a little batshit up in there.
This is my favorite part: “Perhaps I’m not making myself clear, so here’s another example. Your response to me is hostile and a bit angry. If I were writing an article about ‘hostile and a little bit angry’ comments I’ve received on this blog recently, this one would be included.”
Thank God NPR Now was playing Prairie Home Companion today, because if they’d been airing something listenable-to I might not have browsed through XM’s news channels and stumbled on this segment.
Description as per the BBC:
"Hundreds of thousands of people have fled from Somalia since civil war broke out there in the early 1990s.
Many of them go to refugee camps in Kenya, others to Tanzania - and many have spent more than 15 years living in those camps. But one group has been more fortunate than others - the Somali Bantu, whose ancestors were taken to Somalia as slaves from southern Africa in the 19th Century.
In 2001 the Somali Bantu were recognised as an especially vulnerable group by the United States and two years later 12,000 of them were airlifted out of the camps and flown to new, permanent homes in the United States.
Assignment’s Tim Mansel visits one group of them in the western city of Boise in Idaho.”
When I’m driving through parts distant and rural, I’m extra-careful about trying to avoid encounters with the police (or what I think of as the My Cousin Vinny Scenario).
Which is how I found this site. I recommend it highly for anyone else road-tripping this summer to parts unknown. Because I like to be servicey like that.
(I have yet to find a similar chart with regard to the placement of GPS devices. Windshield mounts used to be illegal in California, but you can now put a GPS either on the lower left-hand or lower right-hand sides of the windshield. And I think it might be illegal in either New Jersey or Minnesota. Or maybe both. This is why I don’t use a windshield mount.)
The first news I ever heard about original programming on Starz related to the television adaptation of Crash, so I can only assume that I subconsciously instructed my brain to ignore any further mentions of Starz, which is why it took me until this weekend to start watching catering comedy Party Down.
It might also have something to do with the fact that this show is getting practically zero publicity.
But this is a tragedy! Although the first couple of episodes are hit-or-miss, by the fourth episode the show kicks in with some Office-level laugh-while-you-kind-of-want-to-cry heart—which is nothing less than you’d expect given the people working on this thing. To recap:
The show was created by Rob Thomas (of Veronica Mars fame), John Enbom and Dan Etheridge (also of Veronica Mars, but not so much of fame), and Paul Rudd (of Every Movie Made in the Past Year fame). And it stars Adam Scott, Lizzy Kaplan, Ryan Hansen, Jane Lynch (!), Martin Starr (!!!), and Ken Marino (!!!!!!!!!!!).
Which means that as far as I can tell, this is how Party Down came into being: Freaks & Geeks and Veronica Mars and The State had a baby. And then that baby grew up to become a group of disillusioned actors working for an LA-based catering company that only works parties hilariously populated by other Veronica Mars and The State alums.
I have to admit that part of the pleasure for me is seeing all of the familiar faces (and, in the case of Enrico Colantoni’s episode-one appearance, much more than that) from shows that I’ve loved. But I’m also increasingly impressed with the way the show manages to balance being almost cripplingly dark with having a big old sappy heart.
It’s not by any means perfect, and it’s almost shockingly low-budget, but it feels fresh and surprising (if a bit uneven) in an early-days-of-30-Rock sort of way. And it’s heartening to have some evidence that Hollywood still occasionally allows enormously talented people to get together and make something lovely and unexpected.
(If you don’t have Starz, there are a few episode you can find online. Or you can watch it for free via Netflix Instant.)
An incomplete list of works recommended by David Foster Wallace. (Via The Rumpus, a site whose title actually made me grind my teeth with envy the first time I saw it. This unnerves me because — let’s be honest — there’s something really messed-up about the idea of being jealous over a URL.)
(Another thing that unnerves me? My inability to figure out how to enter an em-dash outside of Word … oh! Wait! It’s option-shift-hyphen! Look: — — — — !!!)
EDITED TO ADD: Tumblr apparently automatically converts double-hypens into em-dashes. I feel significantly less accomplished now.
“So if we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere?”—John Shimkus (R-IL), member of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment (via The Baseline Scenario)
This is one of the best online language tools I’ve stumbled across in maybe ever. And it’s far and away the best site I’ve ever found for learning to write Chinese characters.
Skritter combines modern “tests you more on the bits you always forget” flashcard technology with what I can only describe as a Nintendo DS-style input method and then wraps it all up in an interface that’s fresh and sleek and even occasionally witty.
If you’re interested in learning how to read and write Chinese - or if, like me, you studied Chinese for years, promptly forgot it all, and are now looking to review - I cannot recommend this site enough.
(Particularly because it’s still in beta and therefore free.)
“It is possible and often customary in Nootka to imply in speech some physical characteristic of the person addressed or spoken of, partly by means of suffixed elements, partly by means of “consonantal play.” Consonantal play consists either in altering certain consonants of a word, in this case sibilants, to other consonants that are phonetically related to them, or in inserting meaningless consonants or consonant clusters in the body of the word. The physical classes indicated by these methods are children, unusually fat or heavy people, unusually short adults, those suffering from some defect of the eye, hunchbacks, those that are lame, left-handed persons, and circumcised males.”—Edward Sapir, Abnormal Types of Speech in Nootka