As most you of know already, I am writer (soon to be published), who wishes to eventually hold a fantasy novel in my hands with my name on the cover (and maybe a few World Fantasy Awards and Hugos as well...-_-;;). Well, I've been reading blogs written by people in the publishing world in order to stock up on tips on how best to go about shopping my novel around (once I get around to finishing one that I deem good enough, of course). And man, did I come across some different opinions.
The two writing blogs that I read the most these days are Miss Snark's (http://misssnark.blogspot.com), and A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss' Writer Beware blog (http://accrispin.blogspot.com/). Snark is a literary agent who doles out advice to writers about how best to win over an agent who will give their work the attention it deserves (or more than it deserves, on occasion). Ann and Victoria are science fiction writers who began the page Writer Beware (www.writerbeware.org) and the blog after that, in order to keep tabs on bad agents and literary scammers - the kind who ask writers to pay to be represented, then cut and run without producing any results.
Ann and Victoria, and by extention, Snark - give advice to writers so that they might not make the same mistakes that others have made before them. What proper materials to send to a agent, for example, or which writing contests are legit and which ones are formed just to collect the entry fee and cackle their little scammy heads off.
However, some people don't like the actions that Snark, Ann, and Victoria are taking. Personally, I like Miss Snark, because she's entertaining and gives out good advice without being completely patronizing. Personally, I adore Ann and Victoria because when I knew next to nothing about agents (to the point where I felt I had to find an agent who lived NEAR ME, instead of near New York or Toronto), they replied to my e-mail explaining why I didn't need to get a local agent, and that the local agent I was considering was not a very wise choice at all.
Well, SammyK, from A Gent's Outlook (http://agentsoutlook.blogspot.com/) also claims to be an agent. He, to put it politely, does not agree with Miss Snark (although he claims to know her 'true identity' and to have probably slept with her at some point or another). From what I've read of his blog, he's angry at Ann, Victoria, and Snark for several reasons - one being that, basically, he feels they're spoonfeeding the unwashed masses information they would be finding out on their own if they were really talented enough to be published.
Now, while I myself am rather annoyed at the picture of writers as people who are so engrossed by 'the crahft' that they are ignorant to how the real world works, it seems rather wrong-headed to believe that just because someone is ignorant, they can't be a writer. Ignorance, unlike stupidity, is easily fixed. Which would be better - the amateur who sent out her manuscript willy-nilly, convinced that the heartbreaking greatness of her work would be enough to get her foot in the door; or the amateur who did research, asked for advice, and gathered information?
Another vibe that SammyK gives off is that the scammers and bottomfeeders have their uses - namely, that if a person is stupid enough to fall for their bullshit, prideful enough to accept their empty flattery, and lazy enough to believe that his/her work of "staggering genius" will get noticed regardless of the reputation of the agent, these "writing wannabes" are obviously not qualified to write, and that somewhere in the world a real editor has been spared having to reject another awful manuscript, and a real writer now has less competition when shopping their novel around.
Basically, these scammers work as shitfilters, a net that lets the smart writers who research their field through safely while snagging the idiots who contribute nothing to the world but a bigger slushpile. In a way, he kinda has a Darwinian point, and one of his issues with Writer Beware and Miss Snark is that they are killing the scammer lions who used to thin the writer-herd by picking off the weaker, clueless writer-gazelles who were holding the writer-herd back anyway.
However - one of the reasons I like Writer Beware and Miss Snark is because they educate people on how the publishing world works so that they are no LONGER ignorant. That's the issue I take with SammyK. Stupid and ignorant are not the same, and just because someone is ignorant enough to get caught by a scammer, does not mean they aren't worthy of publication.
On the same note, even if a puffed-up peacock of a "writer wannabe" is spared the obstacles of scam artists, and given enough information to query an agent properly - if his writing still isn't any good, he's still not going to gain representation even if he goes about it the right way, is he? Sure, he can write a good query letter now, and he knows a good agent from a bad one, but if a good agent sees that his writing isn't going to pay out, he's going to be rejected. So I hardly think Writer Beware and Miss Snark are to blame for supposedly 'lesser works' being published while 'true genius writers' are starving in the streets.
Another issue that SammyK takes with Writer Beware and Miss Snark is that he believes they are using their watchdog groups and blogs to gain celebrity for themselves, to the point where they are no longer helping writers. From what I've gathered by reading his blog, the celebrity gained by their loud protesting and advice-giving garners them unfair book deals ("unfair" in the sense that they are "lesser" writers, and especially unfair to Miss Snark, whom SammyK insinuates is not as successful and intelligent as she leads people to believe) that fill up slots on publisher's books lists that could have been filled by the supposedly "better" writers these woman are giving advice to.
What? Considering the vague possibility that SammyK is completely right, and OHNOEZ! Three slots filled! No more room for ANY publishers to publish ANY books of ANY merit ever again! My knee-jerk reaction to SammyK was that he looks at the world through shit-coloured glasses, seeing selfishness and greed in the actions of every person he sees. Giving money to the poor? "She's only doing it so people can say how charitable she is." Building houses for the homeless? "He's only doing it for the self-gratification, and it looks good a college resume." Reading to the blind? "She just likes to hear the sound of her own voice." Maintaining websites that give advice to writers? "They're only doing it to get publishers to pay attention to their own books and literary pursuits."
In any pursuit, be it selfish or selfless, if one does it effectively one will get a certain amount of attention, and the rewards that come with such attention. It's inevitable.
My last point - rumours and words are meaningless. Actions and reactions are key. If, as SammyK says, Ann, Victoria, and Snark are getting unfair attention to their own writing thanks to their websites, they've still managed to help a large number of writers overcome the spreading epidemic of ignorance of the publishing field. They've helped people learn how to properly get their writing looked at, and if SammyK believes that crappy writing is now getting attention it doesn't deserve, well, tough beans. Agents and editors and publishers don't have to accept poor manuscripts just because the writers used the proper methods to get them sent. If stressed agents are finding more slipshod manuscripts on their desks thanks to Writer Beware and Miss Snark, there's a good chance they are also finding a few more gems that would have been left in the rough if these women hadn't given the writer a fair warning.
Still, I'm going to go back and read more of A Gent's Outlook, because in his own way he's doling out his own advice to writers, albeit of a more "hard knocks" type of education. He hates lazy writers who aren't willing to work to get their writing noticed, or who make unfair demands of their agents, editors and publishers because they don't know their ass from a manila envelope, well, so do I.
And so do Snark, Ann, and Victoria, I'm thinking. Which is why they are always telling people exactly how to remove their ass from that couch to get started on their writing careers.