Topical Tuesday: My Literary Agent Dreams – History and Sci-Fi for Past and Future

I find the past endlessly fascinating and the future filled with wonderful posibilities. That said, I live every moment in the present – it’s the only place to live – but if I could be any kind of literary agent, I would be one who specialized in history (nonfiction though historical fiction is cool too) and science fiction.

Both of my degrees are in history and comparative religion and they are the subjects that truly capture my heart. Therefore, even if I were to handle fiction, I would have to include historical works as well. Oftentimes, academic and scholarly work is handled by university presses, and professors and academics who write such material do not seek out agents, but only their contacts at the appropriate presses who are already familiar with their scholarly accomplishments. So I suppose it would be a little hard for me to become an agent of such things.

However, I do love quality historical fiction (though it’s quite hard to come by, I think – or at least very difficult to do well), and in fact, most of the television shows that I watch and enjoy are historical fiction. Mad Men, for instance, or the Tudors. I love the elements that a show or book can give you about characters and life that my knowledge of historical facts just doesn’t fill in.

Also, sci-fi. I love good sci-fi and would be honored to represent it. Dune, The Foundation Series, LOTR, etc. The reason I think it would be cool being an agent for such things is because I feel like I can read good sci-fi and know whether or not I would want it on shelves. Other genres I couldn’t do that with. For instance, women’s romance literature. Hell if I know what’s good and what’s crap. Sci-fi, however, seems to be something that I could pick up and know about its quality, a very important attribute of a literary agent. Plus, you’d get to read all sorts of crazy crap that gets in people’s heads and once in a while be truly inspired – though perhaps that’s true for all genres.

I could also do smut. I would like to be a literary agent for total, degrading smut. Though that probably wouldn’t be a healthy habit to develop – reading smutty lit all day.

What about you? If you could be a literary agent for any genre, what would it be?

For yesterday’s Fun with the Bible post, click HERE or for last week’s Topical Tuesday – what book I would have written if I could have – click HERE.

And don’t forget to check out Chandler’s Fumbling with Fiction for her thoughts on the literary agent type of her dreams.

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Topical Tuesdays: E-books, Kindle and Books Not on Paper

As many of you know, on Tuesdays, Chandler and I each take on an issue relevant to the writing and publishing world and discuss it. You are invited to comment on both of our blogs with your own thoughts and to blog about the topic and send us links to what you wrote.

This week’s topic is, as the subject line would indicate, e-books, Amazon’s Kindle and basically, the fact that many books and publishing are moving to formats that are not ink on paper. How do I feel about this? Well, it’s a mixed bag, to be sure.

On the one hand, reading is reading and whether it is facts or fiction, stats or imagined tales, history or futuristic sci-fi, it’s valuable for the information contained in those words to be in our heads (unless it’s, say, Nazi propaganda or something, though even that has its place in a history class). They work our brains and imaginations no matter how they get in there: visually, orally, through Braille, sign language or ESP. Stories are good, facts are great and both are fantastic. Should it really matter if we’re holding a book open in our hands and running our eyes across ink blots on pulp? No, probably not. Running our eyes across zeros and ones on liquid gel or iPhone screens or Kindles from Amazon (a handheld device into which full length books are purchased and downloaded) probably ends up with about the same results. But there are two issues to consider (actually plenty more but two that I will raise): the wonder of discovering something in a book and the effects on the publishing industry.

In my experience, it is exhilarating to discover something in the actual pages of an original book. Allow me to elaborate. When I wrote my thesis, which can be read online at http://repository.upenn.edu/curej/10/, I had two options for doing research on eighteenth century Unitarian writings: 1. I could read the scanned versions of the books online at a repository for like books or 2. Fly to England and look at original copies of these texts in the British Library. Well, after a scholarship that allowed me to pursue the research, the decision became obvious. I went to England and read these books for information that no one had before and wrote my thesis, partially inspired by my experiences reading the original published texts of these eighteenth century brilliants. I even opened the handwritten sermons of eighteenth century Unitarian ministers and saw the words they crossed out and what they chose to say instead. Of course, that could suck for many, but for me it was a great experience, and I think that in the world of research, the experience of sitting in the archives and pouring over old texts is very important.

On the other hand, that anyone has the ability to research what I did because the material is available online is incredible! Many (i.e. enough) of these amazing books were online and anyone could have done what I did. It would have been less enjoyable looking at them on a screen and because of a variety of other factors I probably found more relevant materials but people could still enjoy these books because they’re online. More importantly, the information will not be lost as quickly: though a fire or time could destroy the original texts, they are now online forever (presumably). That’s a great thing.

The second issue is the effects on the publishing world. More people, through online publishing, have the ability to get their books out there because the publishing industry – which is picky, slow, cumbersome and elitist – is kept out of it. So, while we as readers may have more crap to filter through, potentially, everyone gets a chance, which means that more people can be discovered.

This also coincides nicely with the Long Tail theory of Chris Anderson, who explains that 1/3 or more of the market today, in books, music and movies, due to the democratization of instruments and the low/no-cost availability of them because of digitizing everything, is in the long tail of products – that is, those things that aren’t mainstream hits. That is, if there are 10,000 books worth publishing and they sell 6 million copies, and another 90,000 not worth publishers’ time but that get out there online, 3 million copies of those 90,000 books will still get sold, and even though it’s way more books our there, if it doesn’t cost anything because they’re digital, that’s still a third of the books sold getting rejected by traditional publishers and making up 90% of the available material (numbers are invented though they scale). That’s incredible and ebooks and Kindle are playing their parts in this expanding marketplace and the democratization of instruments and access. I think this is wonderful and if it happens to force the publishing world (as well as Hollywood and the music industry) to rethink its approach to who gets made then great. Sure, it could shake things up for a while but ultimately, just because things have been done one way forever doesn’t mean it’s right. Tradition is not sacred – especially not in business. Innovation is king, and if ebooks are changing things, rock on.

How do you feel about ebooks’ effects on the publishing industry? Do you disagree with me? Why? How about the democratization of instruments? Pro or con? Do you like books in your hand or do you mind reading from a screen? Love to hear what you think!

And don’t forget to check out Chandler’s thoughts at chandlermariecraig.wordpress.com.

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