Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wednesday Whimsy: Mystery Agent

Wednesday Mystery Agent


UPDATE:

Our Mystery Agent is . . . writer (and former Book Roast roastee) Dennis Cass. Dennis is the author of HEAD CASE: How I Almost Lost My Mind Trying to Understand My Brain. He also regularly dispenses writing and career advice at his blog Dennis Cass Wants You To Be More Awesome.

Do you remember *this* YouTube which made its rounds a short while ago? Yep. He's famous!

A big thanks to Dennis for stopping by!!!!





Tired of reading the same how-to books on publishing? Looking for a fresh perspective on the business side and the creative side of being a writer?

Today's Mystery Guest is a former literary agent who spent his or her twenties representing clients, vetting contracts and selling film and foreign rights. Now he or she is a published author, writing teacher, blogger and all-knowing Oracle of Culture.

For today only, he or she will answer your questions the way they were meant to be answered: with three parts coffee and four parts rum. Tune in at the end of the day to learn his or her secret identity. In the meantime, if you have burning questions: ask (and roast) away!


Just for kicks- Another master of disguise, Jim Carrey: Jim Carrey Exercise Video


**PRIZE: After watching Jim Carrey, come up with a title for your own exercise show. Funniest title will receive a coolio music CD, "Eargasm." **


Disclaimers: Mystery Literary Agent is not Jim Carrey. Identity of Myster Literary Agent will be revealed at 9:00 pm Wednesday. Mystery Literary Agent may or may not be buff.

102 comments:

Kiersten said...

I'm not sure I'd trust an agent who was buff.

But yay for mystery!

ChrisEldin said...

Hello and welcome Kiersten!!!

If you read the small print, it says that the mystery agent may or may not be buff.
He or she may be a cow. Or rhino. Yanno...
:-)

ChrisEldin said...

Oh man! For some reason, I'm having technical difficulties with the video. If it doesn't resolve, I'll look for another video. But the contest still stands---funniest name for an exercise show...

:-)

Kiersten said...

Exactly--may or may not be. But I suppose that since said former agent is no longer an agent, it would be okay if (s)he were buff.

At this point, I'd probably take a rhino as an agent, provided it had a decent sales record.

Shona Snowden said...

Question for Mystery Agent: are you glad you're not an agent any more? And, why?

Kiersten said...

My question is: how does one become an all-knowing oracle of culture?

My other question is: it seems like a lot of agents are writing books and trying to get published/have written books and been published. Is it just the type of personality that is attracted to agenting, or is it that after representing and guiding the careers of so many authors you think, "Why on earth am I helping these idiots when I could write a better book myself?"

Which, clearly, you did.

ChrisEldin said...

Shona, my dear Aussie lass, you are so full of energy!

ChrisEldin said...

LOL @ Kiersten's question!

I'm surrounded by youth and vitality!
Where are the senior citizens? Hmm?

Diesel said...

My question is, how many people do you have to kill before you're considered an "agent"? James Bond had to kill 2, although of course he killed many more after qualifying.

So I guess this is a 2-part question: How many people do you have to kill, and how many people HAVE you killed?

ChrisEldin said...

Welcome Diesel!!!

That's a pretty funny post, especially placed next to your avatar photo!
:-)

Anonymous said...

ALERT: MYSTERY AGENT POST!

@Kiersten:

That agents want to become writers doesn't surprise me. Everyone wants to be a writer.

On the other hand, show me some writers who dream of becoming agents . . . .

@Shona:

I'm glad I'm not an agent anymore, but given how publishing works today I get plenty of opportunities to think like an agent.

@diesel:

I think you're confusing this blog with another. This is Book Roast. You want to be over at Spy Roast.

Josephine Damian said...

I guess I count as the senior citizen.

Josephine Damian said...

Mystery agent: Do you find that the size of the unpublished writer's ego is in inverse proportion to their talent; the more they brag about how great, how original, their book is, the more their book actually sucks?

Josephine Damian said...

Mystery agent: When do adverbs (say several on a first page) rate on your scale of "turn-offs"?

(For me, they're #1)

Ello said...

I would call my exercise routine the Famous Rhino Thong Butt Bufferama!

Kiersten said...

True. I just want to be an editor after a long and successful writing career. No agenting for me.

Thanks, Mystery.

Kaz Augustin said...

Actually, if I lived in a more publisher-friendly country, I think I would have liked being an agent...I was talking about it to DH only last week. So, y'see, there ARE weird types in the world. LOL

Shona Snowden said...

Mystery Agent

Please compare your day as an agent to your day as a writer and all-knowing Oracle of Culture.

Phoenix said...

So, does our Mystery Agent now have an agent him/her/themself?

And most importantly, EE has dogs, EA has a cat, what companion animal, if any, does, um, MA have? (Just looking for SOME common thread for success!)

Janet said...

Was there any concrete event that pushed you over the edge, to make you leave agenting and start writing? (I know, it wasn't necessarily sequential.) Did you just reach a frustration point where you said, "I can write better than my clients, so why aren't I writing?" Or had you always wanted to be an author, and agenting was a detour?

Should I be afraid that my future agent would prefer to join me than to continue representing me?

blogless troll said...

When I Google "oracle of culture" I get Athanasius Kircher, Alan Greenspan, and some guy named Alberti--all dead. At least, Greenspan's dead to me. How does one become an oracle of culture, Mystery Agent? Are there forms to fill out?

Chumplet said...

Omigod, I remember that character Jim Carrey did! The horse neigh always does me in.

Monsieur Carrey was born in the town I live in right now (Newmarket), at the same hospital in which my kids were born.

He never calls, never writes... I'm so not going to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner! ;)

Hmm... a title for an exercise video... How about "If it don't kill ya, it makes ya stronger."

Chumplet said...

Janet said...

Was there any concrete event that pushed you over the edge, to make you leave agenting and start writing?

Yeah, it was my last query letter.

Chumplet said...

I often wondered why agents have agents. It's like a therapist having a therapist.

kai said...

MA, Welcome. Thanks for being here.

Question: Do you have an agent now? Do you ever compare your ex-agent stylings and find theirs lacking? Okay, maybe you can't answer that since you will be revealed later. But if you have an agent, why? If not, why not?

blogless troll said...

Just so everyone's clear, is that "coolio music CD" as in "hey, that's pretty cool...io," or is it that Gangsta's Paradise guy?

Chumplet said...

Not sure what the CD is, but if I win it, I'll give it a listen.

If it's Johnnie Taylor from 1976, that was my senior year in high school. I mostly remember disco (yuk).

Is it Blues, Rock, what? I listened to Yes and Joanie Mitchell back then. My brother listened to Deep Purple.

Janet Reid said...

Agents have agents for the same reason that lawyers have lawyers.

Chumplet said...

And car mechanics never maintain their own cars.

Shona Snowden said...

And writers never write their own...

Oh hang on. Yup, we do have to do that.

I think Mystery Agent may have gone to bed.

Whirlochre said...

It's a long shot, but I'll go with The Medieval Catapult Flick Flack Plan.

Shona Snowden said...

What is it about Whirlochre's answers that always make me have to remind myself what the question was in the first place?

ChrisEldin said...

All of these great questions are tempting me to consult the Oracle as well!
:-)

I don't know if the Oracle is an early riser (Hey, I've been up for hours!), but he or she will be checking in all day today.

And don't forget the contest! Ello, you crack me up.

:-)

ChrisEldin said...

And Whirlochre
:-)
It's exactly like Shona said!

laughingwolf said...

wecome, ma! [thunk i'd not know ye, huh? :O lol ]

big Q: why are hard cover books so much easier to rip in two than are the paperback variety of the same book? ;)

title for MY show: aural sex, by the numbers

Bernita said...

"Oracle of Culture."??
Oh right, not a talking petrie dish, but a Delphic Pythoness with attitude!

I don't have a clue. Therefore I don't have a question.

ChrisEldin said...

*waves to LW and Bernita*

Bernita, You have more clues than anyone. I think you should start sharing.
:-)

Anonymous said...

ALERT: MYSTERY AGENT POST!

I'm awake and ready to play.

Before I answer the agent/writer questions, a note on the Oracle of Culture bit.

I love books and the book business, but I also care about television, film, video games, celebrities, fashion, design, etc.

In other words, if you were to ask a question about where the culture in general is going, I would hazard an answer.

More after a shower and an English muffin. (Was that a hint as to my identity?)

laughingwolf said...

hiya chris!

ol blighty COULD be a clue, methinks

new Q: any stew to go with that muffin?

Precie said...

Here's a culture question:

Considering recent surveys/studies about American reading habits (or the Lack thereof), what do you see as the future of publishing? of books?

Do you think technology like e-readers and educational video games can help increase literacy?

And an identity question, in case we're allowed to ask them...Do you, oh, Oracle of Culture, ever publish articles in, say, the NYT or Entertainment Weekly?

Kimberly Lynn said...

An egg, Canadian bacon, and a slice of American cheese are delicious on an English muffin.

Good morning, Mystery Agent!

Are you able to purchase American cheese from your local grocery store? Grin.

Have you ever tasted grits or Jimmy Dean Sausage?

Phoenix said...

Let's see ... an agent who follows a personal hygiene regimen and has a penchant for food. Oh yes, that narrows the field considerably! Just need to know MA's breakfast beverage of choice, and said MA's identity should be obvious.

Coffee, tea, orange juice, vodka or whiskey, MA?

On the cultural front: Episodic TV seems more frenetic these days (compared to, say, a couple of decades and more ago)-- lots of cuts and edits, multiple story lines, multiple characters, multiple plots. Is this due to our increasingly multitasking, ADD-type habits or is it a natural progression of entertainment, and what does this trend (if it is one) mean for book publishing?

Anonymous said...

ALERT: MYSTERY AGENT POST!

@Josephine D:

You have singed my eyebrows off with your Hot Truth Beam. Yes, the bad manuscript is often championed with unrealistic self-praise. But ALL writers have ego problems, so go easy on the noobs, k?

@Shona:

There are days when being a writer feels just like being an agent: phone calls, meetings, researching competitive works, worrying about money.

Then there are days when the world leaves me alone and I get to write.

@Phoenix:

Yes, I know have an agent. I also have a cat and a full-sized human companion.

@Janet:

I've wanted to be a writer since I was 19. (Before that I dreamed of being a film director.)

As for judging my clients (and/or other writers) I have unfairly high standards, but I try not to judge. Few of us live up to our artistic potential.

@Kai:

My experiences as an agent have definitely colored my relationship with my current agent.

Specifically, I expect my agent to get me a great deal. I do not expect her to act as a surrogate editor, or surrogate manager, or surrogate publicist.

This is not to say it isn't great when agents perform these roles (as many of the great ones do) but I also think that aspiring writers need to be careful not to ask too much of their agents.

Getting you a lot of money from the right house is a big enough job on its own.

Kimberly Lynn said...

Do you think an author/illustrator should have a completed picture book dummy before querying an agent? Will a few spreads for the manuscript suffice?

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

@Precie:

It's hard to get too worried about the Future of Publishing, when there is a whole new generation of readers coming up who love certain books so much they're willing to go to an all-night costume party at a bookstore.

That said, books have definitely taken a hit when it comes to cultural status. We're not at the top of the food chain anymore. I'm not even sure if there is a food chain anymore.

As for your question about literacy, all I have to say is that whatever the problem at hand, technology is a tool not a solution.

@Kimberly Lynn:

We didn't represent many children's books so I don't know what the protocol is. But I envy your position. As an author/illustrator you have the Web at your disposal. You could query, or you could got out and make something amazing and get yourself noticed. There's nothing better than having them come to you.

Anonymous said...

ALERT: MYSTERY AGENT POST!

Sorry. Not used to hiding my ID. That last one, in case you didn't notice, was from yours truly.

@Everyone:

You can guess at my identity, and I may drop some more clues, but I will not answer any of your questions. We have bigger fish to fry.

Kiersten said...

What kind of fish do you like best fried?

Okay, that's not really my question. Heck, I don't even really have a question, I'm too busy waiting around to hear back from non-former agents. Because waiting is very time-consuming.

Oh, I have one: once you have a book published, does it get easier?

ChrisEldin said...

I see the English muffin came with some caffeine additives.
:-)

Brian Jay Jones said...

You're Tim the Sorcerer!

No?

Charles Gramlich said...

Exactly how much booze does a potential client have to buy you before your intoxicated enough to sign them up?

Precie said...

You don't actually drink coffee with rum, do you?

I find that coffee with Frangelico and Bailey's is much more pleasant. :)

What's your favorite place to write? Or more to the point, what's your writing process?

Anonymous said...

ALERT: MYSTERY AGENT POST!

@Phoenix: I'm glad you brought up TV, because I feel like as an art form it's really coming into its own right now. I don't find it frenetic so much as becoming aware of what it can do that no other medium can do. Hence the long arcs, multiple characters, crazy style. And this is on network.

As for what this means for books, it depends on what kind of books you're talking about. Smarter people than me have noted that HBO's The Wire may be the best novel in recent years.

Still, the best books can ONLY be books. The question is whether or not as writers we're delivering on the unique promise of the form.

@Kirsten:

You ask if it gets easier once you're published. The answer is no.

@Charles:

NEVER underestimate the power of booze in publishing.

@Precie:

You ask about my process. Here it is:

Read. Think. Write. Nap. Rewrite. Repeat.

@Everyone:

Pardon me for all the typos in my previous posts. Going forward I will clean that @#$%! up.

Whirlochre said...

I'm guessing all agents will have fluctuating numbers of writers on their books at any given time — some on the way in, some on the way out, but most, somewhere in the middle in varying degrees of WANT — and the more writers they represent, the less time they can spend with/on each.

What would you have to start doing/not doing to conclude 'I'm cutting corners here?'

Kimberly Lynn said...

Are you Lucie Whitehouse?

Dave F. said...

A strange thread.

My most despised exercise tape was a CD of Christmas Carols set to disco beat. Just the thought ought to disturb normal, rational people.

A mystery agent, you say...

Well what genre do you represent? That's the best place to start because if you don't represent what I write, I won't waste your time and my query letter.

Precie said...

Considering your experiences as an agent, a writer, and a blogger, what do you think of the writer's role in the marketing of his/her work? And what marketing efforts in particular would you recommend?

ChrisEldin said...

Who's Tim the Sorcerer?
:)


A strange thread.
We aim to please!!
heheheh

Well, I had a strange morning. I have to go see what the Things have been building with the wood, nails, oil, glue, plastic dishes and power drill.

:-)

ChrisEldin said...

I have a question, if I may--what's the average length of time a person agents? It seems like a high stress, high burnout job.

Chumplet said...

Does anyone remember the 20 Minute Workout?

ChrisEldin said...

10 minutes to the deli and back?

AHAHAHAH!

Anonymous said...

ALERT: MYSTERY AGENT POST!

@Whirlochre:

Because their clients' projects are in different stages at different times, an agent can handle a larger list than you might think.

As for when it's time to expand your shop or stop taking on new clients, I imagine you'd start worrying about workload the day you weren't able to take good care of your A List.

@Dave F.:

I'm a former agent and current author so I can't answer your question about genre.

@Precie:

When it comes to marketing your book, it's not all on your shoulders, but if you pretend that it is I suspect you'll have more success.

As for what kind of marketing efforts, there are too many to discuss, but here's a thought for you:

I believe there is a difference (albeit a subtle one) between selling books and building audience. Tune your thinking toward the latter and you'll have better luck.

@Chris E.:

I have no idea what the average is in terms of how long a writer maintains a relationship with his or her agent. Some of us sleep around. Others mate for life.

Precie said...

Oh, I thought Chris was asking the average time a person works as an agent before shifting to some other career...

Julie Weathers said...

Good grief, I have to write well and be cultured? I'm doomed.

Julie Weathers said...

You have singed my eyebrows off with your Hot Truth Beam. Yes, the bad manuscript is often championed with unrealistic self-praise. But ALL writers have ego problems, so go easy on the noobs, k?

Interesting.

Barbara Rogan sent me a message a while back and gave me some words of praise and then told me I better start believing in my work and my ability. I didn't have confidence in my writing and it was going to be hard to take rejection with that attitude. Publishing is filled with rejection.

Now I have convinced myself I will get an agent and be published one day. I don't claim my work is the next blockbuster, but I do believe in it. And, if this one doesn't sell, there are more waiting to be written.

I hope I'm not coming off as an egomaniac.

ChrisEldin said...

Precie, I was.
But finding out their sleeping-around habits is even better.
:-)

Precie said...

LOL, Chris!

Julie--I HEART Barbara Rogan. I know her from Compuserve, and I'm saving up my pennies to take one of her Advanced Novel Workshops someday. :)

Precie said...

Meant to also say--Julie, if SHE said you're good, you damn well better believe it. :)

Julie Weathers said...

Precie, I'll blog about her tomorrow. I've been thinking about it for a while.

If you get a chance, her Next level workshop is worth every dime.

But, back to mystery author.

Do you write what you used to specialize in as an agent? Did you have a specialty?

Stephanie said...

Hi all. So MA, when you were an agent, what was the best quality a client could
have? And now, speaking as an agent's client, do you have that quality?

Anonymous said...

ALERT: MYSTERY FORMER AGENT/CURRENT AUTHOR POST!

@Chris/Precie:

I also don't know how long agents last before moving into another profession. There is probably higher-than-average turnover, but I doubt any higher than other jobs in the entertainment/arts/culture industry.

@Julia W.:

Your teacher is right that confidence is important, if only because writing is like any other profession. If you're sick, do you want to go to a twitchy, unfocused, openly self-doubting doctor?

As for the specialty question, I worked for an agency that did a little bit of everything. My career has involved a little bit of everything, but there is no link between those two facts.

@Stephanie:

The best clients were the ones who understood that an agent is part of a larger process, and not a magician who can wave a wand and make your professional (or personal) problems go away.

The best clients were the ones who did delivered the goods (on the page) with a minimum amount of fuss.

The best clients were the one who took their lumps when their books tanked, and spread the praise when their books did well.

Of course, these are all personal criteria. Sometimes the best quality a client could have was the ability to attract huge advances.

Taking all of this into account, I would say I'm a pretty good client.

Stephanie said...

Good answer:)

Kimberly Lynn said...

How did your family react to your career choices as a former literary agent and now published author?

I feel like a lab specimen in mine. Cheers!

Shona Snowden said...

Hello again mystery ex-agent.

How long did it take you to find an agent? Did you use your contacts or query?

Margay said...

Mystery Agent, coming at this business from both sides (agent and now writer), what advice can you give to aspiring writers on the process? What is the best way to attract an agent? And what can an author, once they find an agent and get a contract, do to help make their book a success, as in promotion? Thanks in advance. Margay

ChrisEldin said...

Awesome Q & A!!
:-)

BuffySquirrel said...

Well, an English muffin confirms you can't be English, cos we have never heard of them over here :).

Just make mine rum, hold the coffee.

No, I have nothing useful to contribute nor do I have a question. Why do you ask?

Robin S. said...

Hi, Mystery Agent,

I'd think hitting it off with an agent would be important - both in personality (don't have to be the same, of course, just compatible), and in confirming that we have the same vision for the novel that was 'in hand'.

When the time comes, I'd prefer to go to NYC (or wherever) and meet whomever I was going to trust in and work with. I like to look someone in the eyes, to make sure I see in person what I thought I saw (read that as: heard) over the phone, or read via email.

It would help me to confirm the aforementioned 'stuff', and I'd imagine, vice versa.

Would this have been okay with you?

Do you/did you do this?

JES said...

Exercise video... erm... let's see, what could I relate to...?

"It Hurts! Make It Stop!"

Most of the questions I can think of have already been asked and answered. Only one left is: So you've been an agent. You've been (are) an author. Any aspirations to edit (speaking of acquisition-type editor here)?

Anonymous said...

ALERT: MYSTERY FORMER AGENT/CURRENT AUTHOR POST!

@Stephanie and Chris E.:

Thanks. I'm glad this is working out for you.

@Kimberly L.:

In the very, very beginning my friends and family would have preferred that I take a safer path, and that's their job. People who care about you want to see you fulfill your dreams, but mostly they want to see you eat. Now that I've been doing it for so long it's a non-issue.

@Shona:

Before I made the jump to books I spent ten years as a magazine writer. I found my agent through a referral from an editor I know, so I didn't have to query. Depending on how you want to look at it, you could say it took me ten years to find representation, or that it took me a day.

@Margay:

You're question is too big to get the answer it deserves, so I will say this:

Publishing isn't perfect, but for the most part people find their level. Your job as a writer is to find that level both artistically and professionally.

@Robin S.:

I would have been honored to meet you. I think one of the big downsides of the query process is that it creates the false impression that publishing people don't are standoffish. Not true. If you've got the goods, then a meeting is definitely in order. Preferably with drinks and snacks.

Josephine Damian said...

Mystery Agent: Hot truth beam! Ha! I am so going to play up that image from now on.

I will go easy on the noobs, but only if they go easy on the adverbs, and do not violate the first rule of writing: Never bore, never confuse.

So, MA, what do you think of blogs/twitter/myspace, etc. as promotional tools for a writer, or are you afraid these all things scratch the itch to write, that they are just among the many things we do to procrastinate when we should be writing?

Kiersten said...

Three minutes! How exciting. Shouldn't there be confetti or streamers to fall from the ceiling or something?

Robin S. said...

Thanks! Looking forward to seeing who you are...

Kiersten said...

I'm bitterly disappointed at the lack of punctuality.

ChrisEldin said...

LOL Kiersten!!
:-)

ChrisEldin said...

I guess everyone's watching the Youtube.
Cracks me up every time.
Is it wrong that I've seen it about 14 times?
:-)

Kiersten said...

Well, that's it. I'm taking the food I brought for the party and going home.

Dennis Cass said...

ALERT: MYSTERY FORMER AGENT/CURRENT AUTHOR WHO IS NO LONGER A MYSTERY POST!

@Josephine D:

I feel like blogs scratch some itches, but not others. But in a way it doesn't matter. While you don't have to fall for every internet fad that comes along, I believe that in order to stay relevant you have to embrace technology.

@ChrisE:

Thanks again for having me. Book Roast is a wonderful site and I had a lot of fun.

@Everyone:

Thanks to you for your questions, your senses of humor, and your energy. I'll be around for the next hour or so in case people want to ask more questions. Then I'll be back tomorrow to read what the delightfully delightful Moonrat has to say.

Kiersten said...

Okay, I didn't really take the food and go.

Thanks, Dennis. You're a good sport, and this was helpful/fun.

ChrisEldin said...

Thank you so much, Dennis, for being our Mystery Man today!!
While this is a humorous site, your answers gave us a lot to think about.

And thanks to everyone who stopped by!!!!

BUT, there weren't really enough contest entries to warrant a prize, so I'm going to save the prize for either tomorrow or Friday... (slackers. Hmph!)
It's called tough love.
xoxox
:-)

Robin S. said...

Hey! Good to see know who you are.

Kiersten said...

Sorry Chris. I tried to think of something, but if I can't say anything clever, I prefer not to say anything at all.

ChrisEldin said...

Just joking, Kiersten!!
:-)

I'm so glad everyone dropped by with their questions. I learned a lot today.

Shona Snowden said...

Thank you Dennis!

Strangely, I thought today might be the day of daft posting; but it seems that EE and EA managed to exhaust everybody so we got all serious today.

Thank you, Dennis, for sharing your unique perspective with us.

Kiersten said...

Oh, wait! We forgot the most important question: are you or are you not, in fact, buff?

ChrisEldin said...

Kiersten,
Did you watch the YouTube?

:-)

Precie said...

Dennis--Thanks for being such a great Mystery Guest! And I guess I must be the last person on earth to see that YouTube clip...it's priceless!

Kiersten said...

Ummm...no. But I will as soon as the kids go to bed. I can't play any videos while they're awake or they want to watch them.

Robin S. said...

Well, Dennis, if you're ever in Northern Virginia, let those of us in the area know, please!

Kimberly Lynn said...

Minnesota, eh?

No wonder you wouldn’t answer my question about grits. Do you eat lefse? I am the last generation on my dad’s side of the family who knows how to make it. Delish.

Good luck with your book!

Janet said...

Dennis Cass? Way cool!

laughingwolf said...

thx for the fun, dennis :)

laughingwolf said...

so ok... who won?