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hey, look over here
selling it without selling out
by joe procopio (@jproco)

i just wrote my first novel.

it is really good.

anyone want 2 publish it?

(painfully unknown writer's name withheld)

This is an actual post to an actual writer's message board on an actual Internet portal, the name of which shall be withheld. However, for the tech-savvy among you, the initials of said portal are A.O.L. If you are a novelist with even a modicum of experience in the publishing world, I could just stop here and let you stare at the pitch and laugh and then blankly wonder why the hell you're not published yet. That's what I did.

In fact, there are literally dozens of directions I could go. For instance, we could discuss the myriad ways that the emergence of the web has had an impact on the book publishing industry (which would be a surprisingly short discussion, by the way). I could debate the pros and cons of signing to an agent first over signing to a publisher first. I could stress the non-negotiable and imperative need for a well-written and informative query letter as your calling card to the literary world (and I'll indeed hit that at some point in this piece).

Instead, as usual, I'm going to get all lowest-common-denominator on you. This month's premise: Don't be a moron.

Look, confidence rocks (as we exposed last month in our fear issue). It's a necessity when you're an artist, whether the goal at hand is a column, a novel, a song, a performance, what have you. Over-confidence is tolerated in just about any artist of demonstrable worth. But here's the kicker; when you are an unknown, you are still just you, and, regardless of the type of media involved, you're much better off just acting like yourself.

I write above my station in life. Don't get me wrong, my life is interesting as all get-out, especially to me. But if my writing consisted of relaying the mundane aspects of what I do in a format that is meant to keep you from nodding off, then I would write a column every couple of months. Maybe. And I would never write a novel. Furthermore, if I didn't think outside of myself, I would never write a song (unless I was Matchbox 20 or Goo Goo Dolls). And I would most certainly not deign to be a rock star. It wouldn't happen. Normal-guy rock stars are about as useful as fiction-dabbling biographers.

So I write with confidence. I write famous. When I pick up my guitar on a stage, I play like I'm Dave Grohl. And I'm sure Dave Grohl plays like his own heroes. It's a necessity. Fact.

However, most artists, especially fledgling artists, make the common mistake of carrying this attitude over into their personal relationships in the field, and expecting the field to comply. I hate watching this. I hate it when we headline a show and the opening band acts all cool and snotty around us because they think that we think that they're dirt. But I also understand it. I've dealt with plenty of club owners, record executives, literary agents and publishers, magazine and webzine publishers and editors. Most of them are great, but every once in a while you run into a huge butthead, and that's where the reputation comes from. Even though my own skin has since grown thick enough that I can handle them, I can understand why someone just starting out would carry a chip. I would advise them not to go out of their way to impress anyone. Let the work do that. If the work doesn't, then it's time to either get a new lead or a new arsenal.

This role playing is even uglier when it goes the other way, as the anonymous writer does in our aforementioned message board post. This usually comes from a lack of security or a fear of rejection. Thus, an air of snobbery is adopted, an "I'm so cool I don't need to sell my work." Which makes the work even easier to reject.

When you have something to say as an artist and you want it repeated, you first need to sell it. Balance that with the fact that you need to sell it without selling out and you're left with a dilemma. How do you approach those with decision making powers and get them to consider your stuff? You can't do it flat. There's no time for that. It goes without saying that in order to be noticed on top of the big slush pile, you need an angle. I can't tell you how to do that. But I can tell you this. Don't be so cool. Be yourself.

The writing career starts with the well-thought-out query letter or pitch. Don't break format, editors and publishers and agents hate that. They've seen every variation on the theme. Find the best part of your work and describe it succinctly. Leave lots of contact information. Ask for what you want. Ask to be published, ask to be represented. Don't leave that to chance. Don't get too folksy. Don't assume that your target will throw your letter away after the first sentence. On the flip side, don't assume that anything you say will suddenly make them whip out a blank contract.

If you're in music, the only thing to do is pick up the phone and/or bang on some doors. Don't call the arts department of the local paper unless you have a show or product lined up. No one has an interest in your band until you get out of the garage. Until then, hone your skills until you can impress the booker at a local club. Go hang. See other bands and figure out how you are different and better. And treat every show like it's the Whisky.

It's an ugly and demoralizing process, getting noticed. One of the reasons I started intrepid was to provide both a podium and a forum for that process. Will we all get famous? Probably not. Will we all get noticed? Well you're reading this. Now we just have to go out and find a million more people like you.


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

more about joe procopio


it's the most horrible time of the year
how to beat post holiday stress disorder
by joe procopio
topic: general
published: 1.2.12

the guy that hates me
a lesson in showmanship
by joe procopio
topic: general
published: 11.1.06


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