Blogger: Michelle Ule
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
My favorite scene in the movie Shakespeare in Love is when Will jumps into a Thames River boat and orders the oarsman to “follow that boat,” as he chases Viola de Lesseps back to her estate. The rower recognizes him and confidently replies, “I’m a writer myself,” and brandishes a manuscript.
I laugh aloud every time. Because that’s exactly what happens when you tell people you work at a literary agency.
Rachel and I attended a church social event once where we both were solicited by would-be writers. After reading one of the manuscripts, Rachel told me, “I’m making a new policy not to read manuscripts from people at our church. I’ll never look at this guy the same again.”
It’s a tricky business being asked to read the words of people we know and like–only to discover . . . well, you’d rather not know.
I always listen to the pitch–no matter how nervous, inarticulate, or mind-numbing it may be. You never know, someone may have a glorious idea that causes the blood to thrum in your veins and your brain synapses to pop with excited delight. And that has happened, once or twice.
I try hard to be kind–and usually end up talking about the business of publishing. “If it’s not a salable idea, it doesn’t matter how well written it is, or how profound. A literary agency must make money to continue to exist. The writing, the art, is what we love, but the bottom line is, if we can’t sell it, we can’t represent it.”
That’s hard for everyone to hear; it’s hard for me to hear. Yet publishing exists as an industry–this is not a game. Some of us have patrons of the arts (hi, honey), but most of us have to work hard, and the writing needs to bring in some income to make it worth our time–all of our time.
It breaks my heart some times to read manuscripts because I know, too well, the amount of time it takes away from your family, away from your church, away from your livelihood, to produce a book-length piece of writing. And when I think about the hours of sacrifice people pour into a project which may never reap any financial rewards, I am sobered.
Your bottom line: Write because you love it, not because you want to make a fortune. I can say that because I’m a writer myself.