Saturday, September 24, 2005

NYC literary agent Jeff Kleinman

I first learned of Jeff Kleinman at the 2005 ASJA annual conference, where he was a panelist. Then, a couple of months ago, he was a guest on my show. Last week I wrote to Jeff and asked him if he'd be interested in doing a Q&A and he was. Here you go:

BDB: I happen to care for my agent very much but agents, in general, it seems agents have a bad rap. Why?

JK: See how clueless I am--I didn't even know we have a bad rap. You probably shouldn't talk to me--I'm an agent and* a lawyer, so I guess my place is somewhere near the 8th or 9th Circle of Hell.

I can imagine, though, that we have a bad rap for a couple of reasons. First, writers have put us up on pedestals, so we (or some of us) believe that we're particularly special, so some of us are arrogant, difficult people to work with. Second, because there are a lot of unpublished (and not very good) writers in the world, they can't get an agent to represent them--but a lot of times, as I said, the projects aren't quite ready to go, yet. I don't know if there are other reasons that we're hated--it sure
would be intriguing to learn why!

BDB: What does being an agent do for you?

JK: Gets me free books, sometimes, from publishers.

BDB: You're funny. Okay, then, what sort of material do you handle?

JK: Nonfiction: especially narrative nonfiction with a historical bent, but also memoir, health, parenting, aging, nature, pets, how-to, nature, science, politics, military, espionage, equestrian, biography. Fiction: very well-written, character-driven novels; some suspense, thrillers; otherwise mainstream commercial and literary fiction. No: children's, romance, mysteries, westerns, poetry, or screenplays, novels about serial killers, suicide, or children in peril (kidnapped, killed, raped, etc.).

BDB: How do you think your clients would finish the following sentences: On a good day, Jeff __________

JK: ... wears a tie.

BDB: On a bad day, he _______

JK: ... wears a tie.

BDB: What is one myth writers entertain about agents?

JK: That *all* of us lead rich, glamorous, successful lives, jetsetting with all the Beautiful People and dining out hourly at impressive, fancy restaurants. I think only Kristen Nelson lives that life.

BDB: What do writers need to know about agents?

JK: Their favorite foods and home addresses. NO--I was joking. NOT home addresses.

BDB: What do you listen to, and when?

JK: NPR, pretty frequently. Otherwise lots and lots of audio books.

BDB: And what do you read on your own time?

JK: I don't have my "own" time, I guess--I read books that I've been wanting to read because the industry's been talking about them, for one reason or another.

BDB: How can people find you?


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Staying in the chair... Installment 2

Several things I've found: If you make yourself wait till a certain time, like at the top of the hour, to check your e-mail, this works--for a time...and especially first thing in the morning. As the day wears on, it's harder to do.

If you put off going online, or even turning on your computer, it's much easier to stay off line. Ha! It's like eating sugar...if I don't have any at all, I can stay away. But one sweet and the day is wrecked.

Freewriting helps. When I'm in the midst of freewriting, checking my e-mail is the last thing I want to do because I am caught up, in the midst of words swirling about and through me, out the tip of my pen. I'd be insane to want to think about e-mail when all that's happening.

When you're working on something you love, you don't tend to want to check e-mail, either, or surf around, checking out blogs. Today I worked on fiction in the morning, and a book proposal in the afternoon, and I must say, getting caught up in the work at hand makes e-mail less compelling. But you have to force yourself to dive into the work--at least I do.

It's like walking: I am reluctant to hit the pavement, and then when I do, I get caught up in the rhythm of moving down the sidewalk or street and there's nowhere else I'd rather be. But getting out there is the hard part.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Staying in the chair...and off the Internet

A comment by Patry to my last blog posting had to do with it's one thing to get your butt in the chair, it's another to stay off the Internet. Did I ever write about that? she asked.

I feel a little like Gandhi when he was asked by a concerned mother to tell her son to stop eating sugar. Gandhi said to give him two weeks. First he had to give up sugar, then he could tell her son not to eat it.

Dennis Palumbo (Writing from the Inside Out) said the Internet is death to writers and yes, uh-huh, for sure, it is. It is to me.

I seem to get work done anyway, despite the sucking action the Web has on me. I think I got more done before. Or did I just waste time differently??

I have, on occasion, used e-mail to get writing done. In Pen on Fire, I have a chapter on it. When you email, you tend to use your natural voice and so email can be a great way to find that voice. Of course once you find that voice, then what? Then you segue into a project or something you want to write, or you freewrite.

Everything in moderation, right? But it's hard to stay moderate when your computer is online, all the time.

I like going to cafes that don't work with my wireless because then I get work done without giving email or the Web another thought. And I swear I'm going to work that day every day--and then I don't.

I especially like going away without my computer. But how often do I go away?

Palumbo says that writers he works with in his practice will do that, work where they don't have internet access.

Let me say, right here and now, that I'm going to see about that, resisting the pull of the Internet. Then I can be true about how I did it.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Starting a writers' group

In Pen on Fire there's a chapter on critique groups that's pretty lengthy and informative, but I just received an email regarding tips for running critique groups so here's a few things to get you started:

* Meet the same place, same time, every week or every other week. (Once a month just isn't enough.) If you change places and times, it will become so confusing and people will start showing up the wrong day and wrong time at the wrong place, and soon everyone will quit.

* Someone needs to be in charge. This is why critiquing classes are good, because there's someone in charge: the instructor. Someone has to be the bad guy or girl, set the rules, man (or wo-man) the timer.

* Speaking of the timer....generally you will have three readers a night. They should send their work out a few days in advance of the meeting so everyone can read their work before coming to workshop. If you have a group of seven to ten people, give everyone two minutes to critique and at the end, two minutes to the writer to respond. The writer should not talk during the critique, nor should anyone else talk while the person critiquing has the floor. When the timer goes off, the person speaking should wrap it up.

* Screen people who want to join. This might mean a committee of three or so people read their work and also know their personality and how they'll fit in the group. You know that bad apple..... Writing you want to read is as important as personality, and personality is as important as the writing quality. A stellar writer with a lousy attitude will ruin the group.

* I wouldn't recommend just having an open group. You need the same people meeting regularly, which forms a bond and creates trust. If you meet at a bookstore, most likely you'll have to let anyone into the group who wants to be in. Better to meet at someone's house or find a room in a library or bank. Or get a restaurant to give you a room during the evening where you can buy food and hang out for two hours discussing and eating....

I hope this is helpful. I wrote a story for Poets & Writers some years back about the Fictionaires, a writers group I belonged to for a time. I'll see if I can find it and post it on my Web site.