Monday, April 23, 2012

Thank the Gods for the Publishing Industry

by R.S. Mellette

Yes, that's right, an unpublished writer who is between agents and has been through the hell of notes from Big Six editors just got down on his knees to bless the crankity, old, slow, 1800s-built steam engine that is the publishing industry.

Why? Because a television agent came to talk to my writer's group the other day.

Before I say another word, I have to tell you that not everyone in Hollywood fits any particular stereotype. This agent was pleasant, intelligent, cared about writers, etc. Having interacted with both development executives in major studios and editors at the Big Six, I can tell you that they are comparable. Some have brilliant insight that can turn a good writer into a great one. Most are just pretty good at their job—like the rest of us. They mean no harm. They are Salieri to their counterpart's Mozart.

The problem is in the way the Hollywood machine has evolved. What The Industry calls "Literary Agents"—meaning they represent film and TV writers, and have nothing to do with books—don't read new writers. When asked where he finds new writers, this agent had a rambling answer that amounted to: writer's assistants, script coordinators, managers, personal references ... anything but, "Send me a query and I'll take a look at it."

When asked where managers find new writers, the agent didn't know—which is fair, he's not a manager, but still, it's frustrating. Yes, the bottom line in writing for the big and small screen is still "Write a good script," but after that there is no well-worn path to success. The machine is too new. Parts wear out from overuse and are replaced so quickly it's hard to tell how the machine works.

So, my fellow literary-as-in-books scribes, let us take a moment to thank those gatekeepers we usually curse. We thank them not for keeping us out, but for having a gate at all. Yes, there are hurdles and obstacles between us and the gate, and our gatekeepers are relentless in making us master these impediments—but they are there. We can see them.

You write a good manuscript and polish it to perfection. Then you write a good query letter that pops off the page. Then you query hundreds of agents. You query until fingers bleed, and if your work—and your work alone—is good enough, one agent will say yes. And together you head off toward the next gate.

Compare that to: You write a good script and polish it to perfection. Then ... well ... I don't know. Some people say you should get a manager, or ... maybe you want to find a production company, but you have to make sure they have a housekeeping deal at a studio. Depending on the budget, you might want to ... and of course, you have to be liked, or no one is going to want to work with you ... and so on, etc. yadda yadda yadda.

So cheer up, struggling artists. The beatings will continue until morale improves.

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Blogs film festival blog, and on Twitter.


E. M. LaBonte said...

All of a sudden I feel much better about querying. I never thought that would happen. Thanks RS! :D

Lynn Proctor said...

haha all of a sudden i feel better about just sticking to my blogging and maybe one day i will be discovered, in a soda shop, while writing my stuff--great post

RSMellette said...

Glad I could ... help?

Jean Oram said...

Good point. It is nice having a path we know we can take and that if we are 'good enough' will lead us to success. Thanks for the pep talk and for putting it all into perspective. :D

DeniseCovey_L_Aussie said...

The beatings will continue until morale improves, love that. Had it on the wall at work once.

Well, nothing really new. We all know it's hard and the big publishing houses prefer to stick with their established authors these days. I guess that's why the stampede to epub.


Jemi Fraser said...

Yikes! That would drive me bonkers. I like to be able to at least see the path/gate/whatever it is in front of me and know that taking steps is at least pointing me in the right direction!

RSMellette said...

Stampede to e-publishing... We talked about that a lot in AQC recently and a good conclusion was that authors seeking traditional route had to do their hard work prior to the book going public, and self e-published authors have to do it afterward. Same amount of work, just different types.

Searching for the Story said...

As an aspiring agent this made me feel all warm and fuzzy!

I know that we are not always kindly regarded by authors--our rejection rates, after all, tend to be astronomically high. The reason behind that, though, is that any manuscript requires a huge amount of effort on the part of the agent and in order for him to best serve his clients he needs to keep their numbers as small as possible.

I've rejected hundreds of manuscripts, but more often than not I'm torn rather than cavalier. There are so many more stories we want to take on than we have time for.

RSMellette said...

I completely understand. Even as we speak Dances With Films festival is sending out acceptance notices to this year's fest. Shortly, our pass letters go out.

For some, that's not a big deal, but for movies that I truly enjoyed it's hard. They need to be seen as much as the next film - but we only have so many screening times and too many movies.

Hey, spread the word in agent world. You are appreciated.

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