16 January 2015

Bluto's Bouncing Brain

I don't behave like Bluto Blutarsky,
though some say there is a physical resemblance.
By Dixon Hill

My brain ran away with a book I was using for research, the other day, and I haven't seen it since then.

In a way, I'm glad.  Because I needed this.

REALLY needed it.  The way Bluto Blutarsky needed a good toga party.

My latest novel manuscript had come back from another agent.  I had been stuck in the doldrums for several weeks, not able to turn out very much that pleased me.  And, I had this nagging feeling that there was a problem in that novel manuscript, staring me in the face, which I couldn't fix because I couldn't see it.

As I often do, in such cases, I read a book I'd enjoyed years ago.  And, to my joy, it unlocked an idea in my brain.  Almost at once, I felt I'd identified the problem in my manuscript.  And, within a short time, I was fixing things.  Once I had them straightened out, I sent the thing off to a new agent, but have yet to hear back.

Meanwhile, a book I'd been looking for, to conduct research for another novel idea, arrived in my mail box.  That's the book my brain ran away with.  Because that book -- though others may not find it as wonderful as I do -- just reached inside my chest, scooped up my heart and soul, and took flight with them.

Naturally, my brain followed suit.

So now, my brain is off gallivanting, just where I wanted it to go, flying around the late-1930's Pacific Ocean in what was then nearly a state-of-the-art aircraft.  My fingers, consequently, have been dancing joyfully (but professionally, I assure you) over the keyboard.  And, a work I've long been dying to write has begun to take shape.  To grow and develop a personality all its own -- a key indicator that my ghostly little writing train is roaring down the right track.

Some of you, reading this, know already what I'm talking about.  Because you helped me get my hands on the book in question.  I owe you a large debt of gratitude, and I don't want you to think I'm going to ignore that.  Or you.  But . . . I haven't had time, or the requisite brain (Remember: it's off with the book, in Fiction Land, and it's not answering my calls or letters at the moment.) to properly compile the NON-fiction story of how this came to fruition.  That post will come, but I can't write it now.  I simply don't have the faculties.

Instead, I'm blogging, today, about a conundrum I face whenever I work on a longer manuscript: The Question of Sales.

It's always hard to convince myself that I'm not wasting my time when I work on a novel-length piece, because I know it will be that much harder to sell.  And I don't see myself as being very good at selling longer manuscripts.

I'm not quite sure why.  I mean:

I'm good at selling cigars.
                       So, why can't I seem to sell a novel?

I sell short stories fairly well.
                       So, why can't I sell a novel?

I'm undaunted at having landed a part-time job, in which I'm supposed to sell windshield repairs and windshield wipers.
                       So, why do I feel so "daunted," when it comes to selling a novel?

There are some obvious physical reasons, I suppose.  After all, I don't need an agent to sell cigars, short stories or windshields.  But, an agent certainly seems to help when it comes to novel sales.

Unfortunately, I don't seem to be selling anything to any agents.  At least, not yet . . . though the theory of the sale seems as if it should be similar.  I mean: when I sell cigars, I don't really sell "cigars."  I sell the "love of cigars" to people.  I tell them a story, and let them fall in love with the thing I love: a good cigar.

Selling a short story, I do my best to get my cover letter out of the way fast -- and let my love for the story sell itself to the acquisitions editor, when s/he reads the story.  I always figure the best way to sell a short story is just to let it sell itself.  It doesn't really need me muddying up the waters, if I've raised it right.

And yet . . .

And yet, I haven't landed an agent.  I've begun to think that maybe what's missing is some personal touch.  I don't mean something stupid: like writing letters on purple paper, or sending flowers to an agent.

Instead, I've been sitting in a class for much of the last week, that focused on selling those windshields and wipers.  And that has me realizing just how much my tonal inflections are involved, when I start selling.  I've never been a big believer in writer's conferences, where writers pitch manuscripts at agents or editors.  But, this has me wondering if that might not be such a bad idea.

And, I'd like your advice on this, dear reader.  Because many of you are much-published novelists.  Do you think a pitch conference makes sense?  Or is it really just a big waste of money?

Anybody can give me their take on it, too.  Don't have to have gotten a novel published, to give me your two cents on this thing.  I'm just interested in what folks think.  I'll be tied up for much of the day, but my brain has promised that it will fly in for comments in the Arizona afternoon.

See you in two weeks!


  1. Dixon, I'm not so sure about the pitch sessions because though I had one of those thirty-second talks about my first book prepared, I never got the opportunity to use it with an agent or publisher. What I do suggest is not being embarrassed to ask for recommendations from friends with agents and realizing that the whole agent business is subjective. A rejection doesn't mean what you're offering isn't good, just that it's not the right agent for that particular project. Good luck!

  2. I've found that getting an agent is actually as hard or maybe harder than getting a publisher. I realize that part of this for me is my age- I still haven't been able to replace my last agent- but if you think about the economics of the business, very few writers are ever going to earn enough to pay an agent's bills even at 15%.
    So, don't think of your manuscript as a terrible waste of time. It's probably pretty good but in economic terms, unless it is a big commercial property, chances are it's going to take a long time to find an agent.

  3. Dixon, I can tell you from my experience as an organizer of the Bloody Words Conference in Canada, that agents go to conferences to steal A-listers. They are less interested in picking up new writers there. We got a shock, when we actually saw the results of a survey we did a year ago, which gave us this info. The conference pays for the agents to travel there, hotel and meals, and we couldn't find a single new writer who actually got picked up by an agent at the conference.

  4. >That's the book my brain ran away with. Because that book -- though others may not find it as wonderful as I do -- just reached inside my chest, scooped up my heart and soul, and took flight with them.…

    Damn, that's quite a compliment, Dixon. I can't wait for your follow-up!

  5. See, this is what I LOVE about our exchanges here at SleuthSayers. Fran explains that she was prepared for the face-to-face, but found it didn’t come to that. Janice provides a long-term view of the situation, not only reminding us that agents feel forced to look for block busters, but also clearly explaining why they have to — in order to survive! Then Melodie drops a bombshell of true “insider information,” concerning the statistical results of pitching at a recent conference, and what those results spelled out. Priceless information — every last bit of it! Where else could I get this stuff—and rest so assured that the info came from reliable sources—except at SleuthSayers.

    And, Leigh, I’m looking forward to that post about the book, myself.


  6. Dix, I parted ways with the only agent I've had because he didn't want to represent anything I'd written. Whatever project I put before him, he dismissed as unsaleable (and he was probably right). The stuff he wanted me to write didn't interest me. Eventually I came to the conclusion that he had mistaken me for someone else, so I bid him adieu. A case of, I think, the agent only wanting material that some best-seller (Grisham, King, etc...) had already written. I could not be that writer.

    If, and when, I can contribute something useful as regards agents and writers, you will be the first to know.

  7. David, what you contributed WAS useful. Very useful! I've read quite a lot of your work, so I've seen how good it is. Therefor, the idea that you've written novels that were "unsaleable" would shock me.

    Instead, I think your comment serves to illustrate an issue that Fran alluded to in her comment, which I would verbalize as: "You've got to find the right agent for what you write, or s/he won't do you any good." These are important words to live by, I think -- words that, in my rush to land an agent, I tend to forget.

    I thank you for reminding me, and making the reason so clear. Much appreciated, buddy!



Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>