Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Book "Blind Submission"

All of my life, people have constantly been recommending books to me. I don't if there's something in my genetic code that sets off a pheromone that causes people to instantly think of a book I must read or what, but let me tell you that it is extremely annoying. I read books for fun, for school, for research, and for a living. One can safely assume that I am fully capable of creating my own reading list and do not need any assistance.

Since I became an assistant literary agent, people have not been able to shut up about Blind Submission, a thriller about an assistant literary agent being stalked by one of her prospective clients. Not only that, but they would check back in a few weeks (or days) to ask if I'd read it, even though I'd given no indication that I had any interest in the thing. Eventually I gave in and bought it - and at full price, too - and today I actually gave in and read it.

Debra Ginsberg is an author of several books and a professional editor, and according to her website has worked "in publishing" to some extent. I don't doubt this is true, though she gives no indication that she was ever an assistant agent herself, which you think would be kind of crucial to her sales pitch for the book. It's obvious from the text that she does have a thorough knowledge of what a literary agency is like, and there were several minor details that I snickered at because they rang true, but for the most part, this was a work of fiction. I don't think Miss Ginsberg would deny that; she has every right to change whatever details she wants for the sake of the story, but do not assume this is a 100% accurate representation of every agency. If it was, no one would work at a literary agency.

In the novel, Angel (the protagonist) goes to work for the legendary Lucy Fiamma Agency, which is based in California, not New York. All right, that's rare and mainly involves agents who have close ties to Hollywood, but there are plenty of agents in California. I'll bite.

Lucy is a bitch, which drives the plot and makes us all think of the The Devil Wears Prada, to which this book has been mercilessly compared. The humor is mainly in-jokes about publishing. She knows every editor in New York, of course, even though she rarely goes there and is afraid to fly. (Suspension of disbelief kicks in here) Even though she only seems to have one client who published one book, she is fantastically busy. Doing what, I have no idea, because the client stays in Alaska the whole time, so she's not even booking press tours or anything.

Lucy also has four assistants, which is an insanely high number for any agency, and pays them 25K a year as starting pay. That means she shells out 100k a year just to pay her staff, assuming none of them ever get raises (and Angel does - her pay is doubled). In the real world, a busy agent has maybe one full-time assistant working the phones for meager pay and one part-time reader (like me) working for basically nothing per week. If she really needs more help, she'll set up some elaborate internship program to get a bunch of young people to sort her files for free.

You don't want to have a lot of paid assistants working full-time unless you absolutely need them, and I don't know who absolutely needs them. A literary agency is a very nebulous business, with years where the advances are huge and dry years where even their stable authors are churning out nothing that will sell. If you hit a dry year (or a number of them) and you have a bunch of people part-time, you cut back their hours until they get the message. If you have them full-time, you have to fire them, which is awkward (and how I lost my first job. She did give me a stunning recommendation that immediately placed me elsewhere, though). Profits are not steady and agents get really uncomfortable if the money's not rolling in. In other words, Lucy would not have this staff and if she did, she would be in debt.

These extremely overpaid assistants also do multiple reads (and full reviews) on unrequested material, which we never do. We just reject. If it's bad, it goes. My boss doesn't look over my rejections, only the maybes. If I actually wrote why I was rejecting them before doing so, my hours would be tripled, which would be nice for me but a bad business decision.

The really starts when the agency starts getting messages from a person who says they are the next big thing several times through fax before actually submitting their unrequested material. They do not provide any personal information but an email address. Good for a thriller, but at this point we would have rejected this author just for being annoying. We don't want to work with an egomaniac unless they're already bringing the cash in (i.e. at least one client on our current list). A lot of people try to use gimmicks - submitting business cards with only their website address and nothing else, trying to be hilarious by obviously faking a recommendation from a super-famous author, etc etc. We reject all these people. Their prose would have to be Pulitzer quality for us to even consider them, and most of the time, we don't get that far.

As to the book I'm reviewing here, the plot was a little confusing because I was annoyed that I had to read it and therefore was reading it fairly quickly. I was also bothered by the things I just mentioned above to the point of not really caring about the book, but a lot of people seem to like it as a novel, so you might want to go with their opinion.


Anonymous said...

I'm being nitpicky, but: my business card only lists my name and website, nothing else. It would be insane to hand out my address and phone number.

The Rejecter said...

I'm referring to people who send an envelope containing ONLY their business card which ONLY has their website address on it.

XX said...

I gave up after the third chapter. Too much blathering about the new wonderful boyfriend. Nothing to draw me in and make me feel anything other than bored. I'm reading "Because She Can" right now. A bit slow at first but at least I find myself caring about this story.

Kitty said...

the client stays in Alaska the whole time, so she's not even booking press tours or anything
Sounds like Ann Heche in the tv show "Men In Trees" ("Sex & the City" meets "Northern Exposure").

No wonder why the writer-wannabes have warped expectations of the business.

Frances said...

I hated this book and was amazed at the amount of press it received. It was so over the top and poorly written. Ginsburg once worked for Sandra Dykstra and I gather she based the literary agent in the book on her. Ginsburg's book on Blaze, her developmentally delayed son, is much better

MaNiC MoMMy™ said...

Was the author in real life a literary assistant previously? That's the thing that peeves me--that the book is probably not that good, but the "who you know" got the author the "in" to get a book deal.

Thanks for the review. I will not be picking it up to read. : )

Speaking of books, (cuz when aren't we?) has anyone read Towelhead? Awesome, awesome book.

Anonymous said...

So out of curiosity, do you have any idea of how the book is selling (e.g. relative position on Amazon, for what that's worth)? I wonder if bad publishing decisions track bad business decisions. Or not.

Kanani said...

I like your OWN choice of books better.
This one sounds like it's rife with clich├ęs: from the overbearing bitchy boss, to setting in Los Angeles, which has all sorts of stereotypes that are just way too easy to use.

So... what is this? It's not Chick Lit... could it be Bitch Lit?

Anonymous said...

Actually, it almost sounds like one of the reasons (some, presumably) agents say writers conferences are a waste of time: the thing has clearly been so seeded with publishing industry stuff that it's calculated to make an impression/make a sale, but does little else. How easily are agents and editors fooled, Ms. R?

The Rejecter said...

Anonymous, I don't understand the question.

Saipan Writer said...

I'm probably one of those annoying people who are always saying "you've got to read this book" to friends and others--not this particular book (Blind Submission, which I haven't read). But that's the kind of thing I do when I'm enthused by a book. I'm not usually thinking it's the "right" book for a particular person, just that I love the book. And perhaps if I know the person reads a lot, I'll be a bit more pushy in my recommendations.

So, Rejecter, I'll apologize for the people in your life who do this to you. Until I read your post, I never thought this might be annoying! (Call me insensitive.)

I usually love when people tell me about books, even if I disagree with their choices. But now I know, not everyone feels the same.

So feel free to tell me when you see me that I simply "must" read some book. And I'll try to tone it down in my own life, try to gauge who's receptive to this kind of literary "foistiness" and who isn't.

Now back to reading!

ChumleyK said...

I have the opposite problem. I live in Japan so I can never find books in English. Since I don't have the option of picking up a book, reading the cover, and flipping through it before I buy it, I base almost all my book choices on other people's recommendations. I go around BEGGING for recommendations so I can find new books to read.

Craig Steffen said...

I'm being nitpicky, but: my business card only lists my name and website, nothing else. It would be insane to hand out my address and phone number.

Interesting. I guess that business cards must have different conventions in different industries. Anonymous, what industry/field do you work in?

I am a computer programmer at a national computer center. My card lists web site, e-mail address, phone and fax numbers, the name of my institution, and my job title. I don't know anyone in any profession related to mine who wouldn't print at least one phone number on their card. My cell number isn't printed on them; I write that on the back if it's somebody I want to have that.

If I get a card from somebody, I would like to have a few words about their organization, even like "world's foremost innovator of reconfigurable computing products" or something; to jog my memory about why I kept the card.

Kanani said...

Yes, there are people who always say, "Oh, you MUSt read this book." And while I understand their enthusiasm for sharing such a find, it does get tiresome. Well, how about telling me that I must read this or that, taking the moment to ask what I'm reading?

Like rejecter, my tastes run broad. From poetry to loads of stuff on Fred Astaire, the classics to Edward Abbey.

Business card? You get it all with me. You don't get a business card unless I've decided you're someone I wouldn't mind hearing from.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you're really mean. If i were as mean as you I'd keep it a secret. So the worst thing that can happen to you is someone recommends their favorite book to you? Don't be so lame.