The Protagonist: The Literary Losers (So You Wanted to Be an Author?)

Written by Alissa Fleck on . Posted in NY Press Exclusive.


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A new age of equality is upon us, “losers,” and it’s time to start winning.

The Internet has for a long time been a great place for people to vent their literary frustrations, along with any other complaint they might have about anything. There’s perhaps no better platform for this than Tumblr. The English Grad Student Shaming Tumblr—tagline: “Because We Are The Worst”—recently cropped up on my radar as a place for people who look eerily similar to confide they find Shakespeare boring or haven’t actually read a single classic or still don’t know MLA style despite their PhD status.

When I came across SlushPile Hell—tagline: “One grumpy literary agent, a sea of query fails, and other publishing nonsense”—my mind jumped to a man with whom I formerly interned, one particularly curmudgeonly literary agent who bestowed upon me the responsibility of helping him avoid his clients, before he stopped showing up to his office altogether.

This agent devotes his Tumblr to query letters from amateur “authors” who have zero clue how to break into the game, and seemingly no self-awareness of which to speak.

On SlushPile Hell, the agent recounts particularly absurd, inane query notes that look like this: Dear agent, how are you? The Lord spoke to me again and instructed me to give you a continuation of the last manuscript I sent you. He then follows them up with his own commentary about how clueless these folks are.

A friend of mine who works closely with authors confirms this agent’s frustrations and those of my former “boss.” Authors—like anyone, though perhaps slightly more intensely, as creative types are wont to be—are crazy. There’s no comprehensive guide on how to be a successful author and those who wish to make it in the field are tossed around mercilessly by many brutal forces. Often these individuals get their preposterous ideas about publishing from the media, from films or television, even from books themselves and, sadly, probably just as often live their lives never hearing a peep from an agent, let alone a publisher, or, maybe worse, succumbing to the schemes of a vanity press (forking over loads of money to self-publish with no guarantee of returns or readership). They reach out an unsolicited hand for help and are met with public ridicule and disillusionment (depending on their level of self-delusion).

But they’re crazy, right?

I can’t help but empathize. Who but the most savvy of individuals hasn’t at some point reached out with a glimmer of hope only to be knowingly shot down as pathetic or never acknowledged at all? What hope is there for these fledgling artists (besides reading my past column on how to get published) when, frankly, even the most well-intentioned advice might not help them in this callous world?

I think the answer lies in the 21st century’s great equalizer. Yes, debates about Internet access equality and free networks aside, this is the time for losers to take their lives back.

Take to the Internet and get revenge, “losers.” The losing game is over. Start your own Tumblr. Garner a likeminded following. Your following is out there and it won’t be located in the office of an uppity, narrow-minded literary agent who sees only dollar signs. When you get big enough, wait for the opportunities to start rolling in. This isn’t the age of get up, get out and make it happen, it’s the age of reconsidering—and updating—your strategy.

Perhaps “the Lord,” or whomever, never intended you to be published by, say, Simon & Schuster. Perhaps his plan was different, but no worse. Maybe you don’t know about the Internet beyond email. In fact, chances are you don’t. But a new age of equality is upon us, “losers,” and it’s time to start winning. For all the losers past who never got a chance to leave their mark, for all the non-Shakespeares history churned out for every Shakespeare, it’s time to fill cyberspace with your respective virtual marks.

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