Doing laps in the LA Fishbowl

Adventures in Publishing, Part 1

As you may have heard, I’ve written a novel. It’s called Liberace Under Venetian Skies. Ta Da! It feels like I’ve been working on it almost as long as Flight 815 has been stranded on that island with the polar bears. The book’s been revised, scrutinized, analyzed, and truth be told, I’m crazy-cakes about how it turned out. I’m in that glowing honeymoon period where it’s done and there are only possibilities up ahead; it’s all mai-tais and complimentary macadamia nut shortbread cookies all around. I’ve overcome Hurdle #1:
Hurdle #1: Finish the damn book.
Now comes the hard part. I’ve got to sell it.
Hurdle #2: Find a Literary Agent
This process is eerily similar to looking for theatrical agent when you’re an actor (only I don’t need to get my teeth capped or lose ten pounds. Not yet, anyway) Referrals from other actors are the most helpful way to get seen by an talent agency; ditto with writing agents. To gain exposure as an actor, you’d perform in plays and showcases; writers do the same by getting their short stories published in literary journals and (ahem) writing blogs. And instead of submitting a headshot & resumé—
photo courtesy Suzanne Plunkett
—I send out to potential agents what is known as a query letter. It’s a one-page pitch of you and your book, enticingly described. I went to a seminar by the redoubtable L.A. agent Betsy Amster, who counseled reading book jackets to get a sense of how to sell your work. She also said, rather surprisingly, that it wasn’t a bad idea to compare your book to an established writer’s work (“it’s like a Raymond Chandler book written by Dr. Seuss”), as long as you do it tastefully. This gives the agency a frame of reference for your work. There really isn’t an analogous situation in the acting world; I can’t imagine an actor striding into an agency and announcing “I’m a little George Clooney, a little Dustin Hoffman, and just a smidge Dame Edna.” (Really, though, he wouldn’t have to— a theatrical agent’s going to type that actor as soon as the headshot crosses her desk.)
Advice on query letters can also be found at the excellent website querytracker, which helps you research agents & publishers and keep track of your submissions. Very recommended.
I’ve sent out a couple of query letters thus far, both referrals (Ms. Amster, however, recommends sending out queries out in bunches of about ten.) One of them has already yielded an interest in the manuscript. Here’s a sample of a letter I sent:

Dear Mr.XXXXXX:  
Hi, my name is James Sie and I had the pleasure of meeting you during at the Festival of Books workshop. I was the Asian-American guy who had written a novel told in several formats, titled LIBERACE UNDER VENETIAN SKIES. I would love for you to consider representing it.  
The book is a darkly-funny saga, the reconstruction of a tragic event that has blown a family apart, pieced together by a son who has no memory of the incident at all. It’s told not only in prose, but with sections of graphic novel and fragments of screenplay. The book plays with formatting and image in a similar way to Jonathan Foer’s EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE.  
Walter is a wry, isolated 17-year-old and budding artist who knows only too well the absurdities of life behind the neon of Las Vegas. He’s taking care of his bedridden father and working as a tour guide in a tacky museum on the fringes of downtown. Walter’s home life is shadowed by the absence of his mother, who abandoned his family when he was five. His discovery of the facts behind her disappearance is entwined with his parent’s past adventures: how Emily, a former accordion player, chased a besequined vision of Liberace across the country; and how Owen, her grief-stricken husband, went searching for her amongst the gondolas of the Venetian Hotel. 
The three stories converge and refract through time, wandering in and amongst the gloriously artificial worlds of Las Vegas, which are both more and less magical than they appear. The Truth, in all its permutations, gets sifted through again and again, leading Walter to a place where everything is illuminated, and nothing is real.  
Prior to this book, I have written primarily for the stage; my plays and adaptations have been produced nationally, including a solo show about my Italian/Chinese upbringing called “Talking with My Hands,” which was performed at the Mark Taper Forum. I’m currently a cartoon voiceover artist in Los Angeles; I’ve done the voices of monkeys, mafiosos and Jackie Chan, but this novel’s voice is, I’m happy to say, all my own.  
I have included the first five pages in this email, as you had suggested, and would be happy to send the full manuscript so you can get a sense of how the different formats work together. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.  

James Sie

Whatcha think? Does it entice? If you were at an airport bookstore carrying a bottle of Dasani and an overpriced bag of “deluxe”cashews, would you also pick up this book?
mock up purely theoretical
I’m not feeling too daunted right now. Yes, I know that I’ve still got rose-colored glasses perched on my nose, and that right now it’s a horrible time for the publishing world, but finding acting representation was no walk in the park either and I managed that. Actors are used to rejection; it’s in our wheelhouse. I haven’t gone looking for talent agents recently but I imagine that after a few no’s it’ll all come back to me. It’ll be like riding a bike. Or, more aptly, falling off of one. Again, and again, and again. 
May 24th, 2010 - Still Life Las Vegas


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