Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Tales of a Reluctant Blogger

There are many wonderful lines in the 1991 film Father of the Bride starring Steve Martin as the title character, George Banks. A personal favorite arrives when George incredulously responds to the price of wedding cake quoted by party planner Franck (Martin Short). Laughing, Franck retorts in his thick accent, “Welcome to the 90s, Mr. Banks.”

My family has adopted this line and uses it (accent and all) whenever someone is behind the times.

Well, the 90s would have been a suitable time to start blogging. It’s December 7th, 2010. This is my First Blog Ever. Say it with me…

(caption “at 3:45”)

Why now? First of all, I had the opportunity to help out my friend and client, Anna Alter, allowing her a blogger’s maternity leave. Second of all, if I was going to be late to the party, at least I could join what I feel is the best online celebration of women in children’s publishing, The Blue Rose Girls.

Me & Anna Alter ALA January 2010

Why not earlier? The answer to this question is harder to answer. There are many reasons why I have been a hold out and am now a reluctant blogger.

When I was little I was given a diary and in junior high a journal and in high school a blank book. In all cases, my entries began steady, quickly became occasional, then infrequent, and all-too-soon stopped. The year between college and my move to New York, I worked at a dot.com and many of my co-workers maintained personal online journals; I had no compulsion to follow their lead. Honestly, don’t regret the lack of autobiographical material (I have plenty of “awkward phase” photos and bad high school poetry to induce cringes).

In 2005, after years of being an assistant at Writers House, I began taking on my own clients in earnest and making deals. Still, I had to get my name out to writers looking for an agent. Seeking advice, I scheduled a call with Steven Malk in our San Diego office. Passed 6:00 EST, after my boss had left for the day, I spoke to Steve. The first tip he gave me, in his slow Californian cadence? “Whatever you do…do not…get a blog.”

My elusive colleague, Steve Malk, trying to remain anonymous. SCBWI LA 2006

Good. I could check that off my to-do list. I already did not have a blog! I was one step closer to greatness. It’s what I wanted to hear; I was already working two jobs (1. assistant 2. beginning/aspiring literary agent), and I knew a blog would fall by the wayside. No other Writers House agents were blogging including Jodi Reamer, and her client’s book Twilight had just published and seemed to be doing pretty well.

Though it was unspoken, the reason why Writers House agents were not encouraged to blog was clear to me; the spotlight was not for us, it was for our clients. For years, I felt that if I blogged, I might as well shout “ME ME ME!” onward infinitely with some name-dropping peppered in on occasion. (Not to mention what would happen if I accidentally name-dropped one client and their books more that others).

In the years that followed my call with Steve, I’ve maintained a Publisher’s Marketplace page, attended many writers’ conferences, have been interviewed for websites, and logged into online chats about kids’ and YA books. Participation in all of these felt “safe” to me. In each case the time devoted to “putting myself out there” seemed small and clearly defined. When I put myself in a client’s shoes, I couldn’t imagine one would think “she’s spending time on this? Why isn’t that time going to my work?” For some reason, I feel authors and illustrators would see me blogging as a waste of time. I have made a commitment to them; they are my priority in my professional life. Is it fair to share so much of this resource to so many and so publicly?

Now, I’m not in the least bit concerned that prospective clients aren’t familiar with me (just ask my poor assistant who wades through the countless submissions I receive).
But somehow I worried more now than in 2005 about the message that blogging sends to the majority of potential readers. It seems to me that a publishing professional making his or her thoughts, opinions, and self accessible creates expectations that are hard to live up to; the more I say, the greater the chance that I will contradict myself or lead an unpublished writer astray. Writers rejected by an “accessible” agent seem to take it more personally. As an agent, does blogging mean that I owe something to my readers? I maintain that I only owe something to my clients. Does that very sentence written for all to see make me a bad guy in your eyes?

Maybe I am over-thinking it (I do have that tendency). I know you didn’t ask, but I hope this entry explains and justifies my long-running absence. I will do my best to fill Anna’s shoes and serve as a temporary Blue Rose Girl. I’ll try to stay up to date on your comments, so please do leave feedback. I’d love to know what you’d like to hear from me and your general thoughts on agents blogging. I hope that you will welcome my belated introduction to the blogosphere.

One more time. “Welcome to the ‘90s, Mr. Banks!”

From Dec. 2007


Anonymous said...

While I have learned a lot from blogging agents, it hasn't influenced who I query.

Instead I look at favorite books and others similar to my manuscript. Then I do research on those agents. If I find such an agent is open to queries, then she/he is on my list. (I'm not sure if all my research is good preparation or just procrastination.)

Right now I have queries out (one w/ you already Rebecca) so I'm going as Anonymous today.

My question for you is what about writer who blog? or those who don't? Does it make a difference to you when considering material? Offering representation? Especially for children/middle grade writers?

I appreciate this chance to pick your brain.

Word verification is "hopender." Not a good sign for my query;-0

Anna Alter said...

Welcome Rebecca!! And thank you for taking my place for the month!