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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.






  • By Victoria Mixon

    When I came home from a trip to Europe in 1994, I stayed with five friends living in a studio apartment in a bad part of San Francisco’s Mission District. We slept like sardines on the living room floor, and in the mornings I sat at the kitchen table with my friend Ariana, talking vaguely under the overcast sky about having no direction in our lives and looking down into the filthy alley below. One morning, we watched a thin man run lickety-split around the corner of a building, glance over his shoulder, and duck into a doorway.

    “What do you suppose he’s up to?” I said.

    “It’s his dealer.”

    “What?”

    Ariana picked up her coffee. “He doesn’t have any money.”

    Someone appeared at the corner of the building, bent and stumbling, feeling their way along the wall with one hand and calling in a thick, whining voice.

    But the man in the doorway had disappeared. . .

    Leaving behind a desperate wreck of a human life.

    Now, I know as well as you do that you’re not that desperate wreck. Yes, you have your bad days. But that’s not you staggering down the alley, agents scattering into doorways like leaves before a high wind. As Janet Reid has said, we professionals in the industry have “terrified the wrong half of y’all.”

    Which is why you’re going to be able to take it when I tell you that agents and publishing editors lie to you routinely. And it is beholden upon you to take it graciously, because if the desperate wrecks were allowed to run riot there’d be no agents or publishing editors out there to work with the rest of us at all.

    THE LIES

    AND THE TRUTHS BEHIND THEM

    1. “It’s not about the marketing.”

      “The publisher’s not going to shell out.”

    2. Yes, publishers allot marketing budgets to the books they really want to push, and if it didn’t work they wouldn’t do it. You know what happens when you multiply an unknown author’s $1k in sales by the Uniform Marketing Coefficient? You get $1k x UMC. And you know what happens when you multiply Stephen King’s sales by the Uniform Marketing Coefficient?

      That’s right. Makes sense now, doesn’t it?

    3. “It’s all about the marketing.”

      You are going to shell out.”

    4. Everyone wants to see you succeed—your agent, your publisher, and the people who handle their bank accounts. So, hey, knock yourself out. We’re all here in the background rooting for you. YAY TEAM!

    5. “It’s always subjective.”

      “We just happen to all have the same opinion.”

    6. It’s hard not to, when all we base our so-called subjectivity upon years of experience in the same industry and the same sort of exposure to literally hundreds—if not thousands—of manuscripts exactly like yours. We all know how to do this work. That’s why we do it.

    7. “We make mistakes.”

      “But not as many as you wish we did.”

    8. Sure, we forget to pick up half-&-half at the store, and we spike the punch bowl at the office Christmas party, and sometimes we even hurt our loved ones’ feelings. But on the job we’re actually surprisingly competent.

    9. “We pass on a lot of good stuff.”

      “We also pass on crap.”

    10. Is your stuff crap? You can’t tell, can you? We understand—it’s pretty hard to figure this out without the kind auspices of someone in the know. Well, what would you do to us if we told you the unvarnished truth bluntly without any warning?

      Why, yes. Yes, I believe you would.

    11. “Someone else might love this.”

      “Tag! They’re It.”

    12. You know who? That jerk who elbowed in front of everyone at the agents’ buffet at that writers conference. Let me get you their address. Wait—let me get you their home address.

    13. “It’s a tough market.”

      “Although I personally could sell snow to Eskimos.”

    14. Ha ha! Such kidders we are. But seriously. No.

    15. “You don’t need an editor.”

      “You need a psychiatrist.”

    16. But Lulu doesn’t mind. They have no standards. AT ALL. Check their website.

    17. “We wish you well in your endeavors.”

      “We wish you OTHER endeavors.”

    18. And we do sincerely hope, from the bottoms of our warm, fuzzy, little publishy hearts, that you find all the fulfillment, satisfaction, and best use of your natural talents with them that you’re not going to find, um. . .here.

    19. “We’re looking forward to your submission.”

      “You are the reason we drink.”

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    26 Comments

    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    26 Comments

26 Responses to “10 Lies Agents & Editors Tell You. And Why.”

  1. Doesn’t #8 pretty much apply to every writer regardless of whether or not they have an editor? Great one!

  2. Kathryn said on

    I take personal responsibility for the increase in the number of literary agents at the NYC branch of AA.

    And my psychiatrist said that technically, I wasn’t actually crazy…

  3. Victoria said on

    Funny how you both honed in on #8 there, guys. . . 🙂

    Getting off on a technicality only counts in a court of law, Kathryn. And even then everyone’s miffed because they know you cheated.

  4. You’ve done a very effective job of being brutally honest, AND funny and the same time. I’d sure like to be a fly on the wall for a day and see the other side of the agent’s desk.

    Thanks for posting.

  5. Humor makes it all better!

    As for #10, not so bad for them, then. *pops open the Prosecco*

  6. Laugh out loud funny sometimes, but I know what you’re saying is true. 🙂

  7. haha awesome! i agree with wendy- it would amazing to be a fly on the wall of your office for a day. hell, five minutes by the sounds of it! 🙂

  8. Snickering my little tail off…

  9. There is something to be said for salesmanship. I’ve sold two titles to agents who intended to use all 10 of these excuses in 5 minutes or less (even said as much in the meeting) but the personal meeting closed the deal because the N- word was not in my vocabulary.

    That drink does sound good though. 😉

    Thx for this!

  10. BJ Muntain said on

    Hmm. #6

    Wonder how many referrals you’re going to get after this post… 🙂

  11. This is the funniest, truest thing I’ve ever seen. We are laughing hysterically in the office right now. You’ve said what we’d never say.

  12. Debbie said on

    I’m with Jevon…I laughed until tears were running down my face!

  13. Very funny! I’ve never come this close to wanting to quit writing until now. What did Scrooge say in A Christmas Carol? Something like “then let them die and decrease the surplus population.” Kind of how I feel after digesting this. Stop all those would-be writers in their tracks before they unleash their nonsense on the publishing world.

  14. Daryl Sedore said on

    Great post!

    I believe this post to be truer than true.

    Agents often try to assuage us writers, which is nice. Although I’m more of a boot camp mentality. I’d prefer the kind of honesty you’re showing here.

    Thanks…

  15. Sheldon said on

    #8 hits way too close to home. Especially since my last story was about a psychologist who was looking for an agent!

    Small lies are an unfortunate necessity in business. Everything from “I’m doing fine, thanks” to “The check is in the mail”. What Victoria is pointing out in a hilarious yet highly accurate way is that writing is a business. Every agent knows that, but very few writers do.

    And for what it’s worth, I miss blacksmiths. 🙂

  16. Victoria said on

    “I miss blacksmiths.” :))

  17. […] 4, 2010 by Donna Lea Simpson In response to a very funny blog “Ten Lies Agents and Editors Tell You to Protect Themselves From the Crazies” I have my own […]

  18. Felicia Bridges said on

    All I can say is I am ready to dance in the streets – at BRMCWC I met several agents – and didn’t hear any of these things. YAY! 🙂

  19. I have to say, #8 is the best on the list (agreeing with almost everyone here). Every writer needs an editor. And Lulu does a huge disservice to writers everywhere – your comment was delivered so well! I hope writers everywhere read this, and memorize #8!

    (Oh, & every writer needs a psychologist, too, especially novelists with multiple character personality disorder… just sayin’) 🙂

  20. Really helpful and yes funny. We need to be able to laugh at this business, otherwise we will need a psychiatrist.

    I was really pleased to get an agent, but she used number 7 on me and hasn’t returned my last email to her for one week. Should I be worried? She is a bonefide agent.

    Your blog is really helpful.

  21. Victoria said on

    Yeah, Tahlia, she might be dropping you a hint. For the record, if she offered you representation, it probably is more about the market than about your book.

    All joking aside, lots of very experienced, very qualified, very well-connected writers actually are having trouble selling their books right now. There’s a link to an article by one in the post Selling mechanical or artistic literature in today’s market on my advice column.

  22. Aren’t blacksmiths known as farriers these days?

  23. I just burned my manuscript and will cancel my web site in waiting.

  24. Victoria said on

    Oh, my god, Nancy. I have ruined your life! I’m sorry.

  25. And they say people in this industry have no sense of humor. One couldn’t be more incorrect!

    Excellent article. Honest, yet witty. I’m glad I came across something that put a smile on my face and kept me grounded at the same time. Thank you =)

  26. Hilarious! Lulu sounds like a lulu! Love the blog.




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Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, tragic and beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I'm working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with her three sci-fi/fantasy series based on her dual careers in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In Casimir Bridge, the first novel of his debut sci-fi series, Beyer uses every bit of his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which "space bridges" allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez' debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff's abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star, which agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .


In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

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