At a recent pitch conference for people seeking to interest agents or editors in our manuscripts, we were given several helpful tips: mention any particular expertise, know your audience, what about your book might appeal to women, since women supposedly read the most in a non-reading world, know your genre, come prepared, what are your book’s comparable titles, is your book finished, how long is it?
I had been to one of these pitch conferences in Manhattan around a dozen years ago, but at that time my book wasn’t finished. I mistakenly failed to follow up with several editors who had shown interest. Sometime after that, I had actually acquired an agent. But I took so long to finish my memoir that by the time I did, my agent had died. And presently, as I grow older by the day, I’ve heard that the publishing world has changed, and not necessarily in a good way. Now I hear it’s impossible to get an agent at all unless you’re a celebrity or a well-known presence on social media. So, this time, as in the past, several editors asked to see part of my manuscript. The first editor speedily rejected it. I also find myself one of a frustrated group still waiting to hear back from a second.
But I’ve since heard some depressing emailed news from one of the members of our pitch group. He was one of a few of our 13 attendees who had flown from Colorado or other far-away places to attend the pitch conference. He wrote that since we’d met, his manuscript had been read by over a dozen agents. They’d all said they loved his book but despite their positive feelings, they all turned it down. They told him they’d rejected his book because he lacked the media presence he would need to justify their making an initial effort to sell it.
I found this writer’s remarks more than daunting. At my advanced age, I find it increasingly difficult just to sit down to try to read an old-fashioned paper book, let alone whip up the energy to post on social media day in and day out, just to float my name in the web as often as possible.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, a movie-going pal emailed me a link to a new Woody Allen story. Woody Allen is said to have written his own memoir and, like me, has been trying to pitch it to various publishers. And like me, I was surprised to learn, Woody can’t get an agent either!
You couldn’t find more of a celebrity than Woody Allen. And whether or not he is a social media presence in the blogosphere, he has created, directed and acted in countless films in the last 60 years. So I would think that just his amazing cinematic productivity makes him some kind of media presence nonetheless. But one by one, I’ve read that various publishers have turned down Woody Allen’s memoir, most reportedly without even wishing to look at it, let alone read it. (Even the weighty, obtuse Mueller Report has attracted a few readers!)
An often-published writer friend tried to help Woody promote his memoir but to no avail. The sex abuse accusations by Woody’s daughter, Dylan, fanned by her mother Mia and journalist Ronan Farrow—over Woody’s taboo-breaking by wedding one of Mia’s adoptive daughters—has taken nearly 30 years and the arrival of the #MeToo movement to finally cause his once luminous career to plummet. Now, however, Woody’s ostracism in the entertainment world is clearly complete.
I’m trying to figure out why this is so upsetting to me. Misery loves company, but does this mean there’s no point, as a non-celebrity, in my even trying to get published? I admit I felt briefly comforted to think of myself and Woody in the same plight, each of us repeatedly sending out our pithy little memoir distillations into that disconcerting void of no replies.
I recalled our pitch conference leader’s words. “This is standard behavior for today,” he said. “Publishers, agents—no one has the time to bother answering any communication unless they’re really smitten.”
What kind of a world would this be if everyone behaved in this passive-aggressive manner? was my first reaction. If Woody Allen can’t find an agent, how can anyone? was my second. Still, as one of his few defenders, I’m able to post another irate piece about Woody and the horrific destruction of a once-venerable career. But isn’t this just a distraction from my own publishing plight. Plus Woody’s situation is utterly unique and a whole separate kind of wrong.
Indeed, even as I write, Woody, as he’s done his entire life, continues to forge ahead. He’s just won his battle with Amazon and regained the rights to his long-blockaded film, A Rainy Day in New York. And even if he’s yet to find a U.S. distributor for the film, it will finally screen this summer in France, Italy and other parts of Europe. He’s also announced plans to start shooting his 51st film this summer in Spain, with the backing of the media group who produced my favorite Woody Allen film in decades, Midnight in Paris. So, while his memoir may be on hold, his creativity is definitely not. Whereas mine remains where it’s been even before the pitch conference. Waiting. On hold but still hoping to hold on.
Reading of Woody, I couldn’t help see the differences between us two octogenarians. Woody is a fighter. When dealt a defeat he just turns to the next project on his endless list and begins again. I, in contrast, am a wuss.