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“Noisy and aggressive,” “childish,” “over the top,” “pointless.” These are just a few recent descriptions of Prime Minister’s Questions – the most watched event in the Parliamentary week.
Public dismay at PMQs has led the Speaker, John Bercow, to consult with party leaders over reform. The Hansard Society asked focus groups what they thought of PMQs as part of its annual look at public engagement. Nearly half said the event is “too noisy and aggressive”, the same proportion as those who felt that MPs behave unprofessionally. Meanwhile, a majority of 33% to 27% reported that it put them off politics. Only 12% said it made them “proud of our Parliament”.
John Bercow. By Office of John Bercow CC-BY-SA-3.0
So would it help if politicians listened to each other little bit more and shouted at each other a little bit less? The fact that PMQs is simultaneously the most watched and the least respected Parliamentary event is significant. No doubt we watch it precisely because we enjoy the barracking and the bawling, and there is always the possibility of grudging admiration for a smart bit of wordplay by one or other of the combatants. Parliamentary sketch writers nearly always judge the winner of PMQs on the basis of which of the party leaders has bested the other in terms of quips and ripostes – and very rarely on the basis of political substance.
So it’s hardly an informative occasion. Indeed the Hansard’s respondents’ main gripes are that questions are scripted, and that there are too many planted questions and too few honest answers.
Once again, though, maybe this misses the point. Some will say that the civilised and serious political work is done behind the scenes in committee rooms, where party loyalty is less obviously on display, and where considered debate often takes place. On this account, PMQs occupy a very small amount of parliamentary time, and anyway, the sometimes angry jousting that takes place between party leaders on Wednesdays is as much a part of politics as the polite exchange of views we find in Parliamentary committees. Where would politics be without disagreement? Would it be politics at all?
David Cameron. By World Economic Forum/Moritz Hager (Flickr) CC-BY-SA-2.0
And it’s a fact that although good listening is much prized in daily conversation, it’s been almost completely ignored in the form of political conversation we know as democracy. While PMQs show that politicians aren’t always very good at listening to each other, they’re not much better at listening to the public either. Politicians instinctively know that listening in a democracy is vital to legitimacy. That’s why when they’re in trouble they reach for the listening card and initiate a “Big Conversation,” like the one Tony Blair started in late 2003, not so many months after the million people march against the Iraq war.
But won’t a government that listens hard and changes its mind just be accused of that ultimate political crime, the U-turn? In 2012, the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, announced some radical changes in UK secondary school education, including a return to an older style assessment regime. Then in February 2013 he suddenly announced that the changes wouldn’t take place after all. Predictably, the Opposition spokesman called this a ‘humiliating climbdown’. Equally predictably, Gove’s supporters played the listening card for it was worth, with Nick Clegg saying effusively that, “There is no point having a consultation if you’ve already made up your mind what you’re going to do at the end of it.”
So it looks as though, as far as listening goes, governments are damned if they do and damned if they don’t: accused of weakness if they change their mind and of pig-headedness and a failure to listen if they don’t. On balance, I’d rather have them listening more – both to each other and to us. John Dryzek is surely right to say that, “the most effective and insidious way to silence others in politics is a refusal to listen.”
As the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus says: “Nature hath given men and one tongue but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.”
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Image credit: John Bercow, by Office John Bercow, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (2) David Cameron, by World Economic Forum/Mortiz Hager (Flickr), CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
It should now be clear to all that the highly polarized environment that is Washington is dysfunctional, and the disillusionment it is causing portends yet more headlocks and cynicism to come.
Here is the all-too-familiar cycle of American electoral politics in the last few decades. Campaign gurus draw sharp distinctions to get out the vote. The impassioned vote wins the day. Impatient voters watch their newly elected president or representative fail to pass in undiluted form the the reforms promised during the campaign. Disillusion ensues. The gurus step in with a new round of fiesty charges, and the cycle begins anew.
At some point, citizens are going to get tired of being stoked, poked, and roped, and all for nought. The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements are reactions against a system gone awry. The low approval ratings for the Congress and the president are another indicator. The Republicans’ perpetual search for an anti-establishment alternative is another.
And now we are facing a spectacular new failure. The “super committee” charged with reaching a budget reduction deal has proved itself anything but super. If twelve people can no longer agree to make hard decisions, it is reflective of the larger malaise of which we dare not speak. It is that democracy has run amok in a republic founded on the idea that our elected representatives should be able to make decisions on our behalf, and sometimes in spite of ourselves, because representation is a higher calling than mimicry. Maybe that is why Abraham Lincoln did not deliver a single campaign speech in 1860.
Each of the twelve men and women in the committee are thinking about their constituencies, their parties, and their base and so bluster and bravado must take precedence over compromise and conciliation. When the voice of the people, artificially stoked for shrillness, begins to infect the deliberative process even in between electoral cycles, there is no chance for serious inter-branch deliberation. We have reduced our representatives to sycophants whose mantra is do nothing but heap the blame on the other party.
The solution is not to exploit the disillusioned by way of new campaign slogans and negative ads to artificially jolt their temporary and baser passions, but for the noise and the trouble-makers fixated only on winning at the next ballot to be weeded out of the system. To do that, citizens must realize that the lion’s share of what counts as democracy today is making it nearly impossible for the representatives of our republic to make decisions on behalf of We the People. Remember: ours is a republic, if we can keep it.
Elvin Lim is Associate Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com and his column on politics appears here each week.
As you know by now, I’ve been inundated with queries and recently spent a long morning going through and reading as many as I could get to. That being said, my goal lately is to keep the query inbox below 300 as much as possible. This is a lot harder than you would think.
In one of the responses I received the author thought it was ridiculous that I wasn’t “sufficiently enthusiastic” (apparently those words are causing a lot of angst lately) since six other agencies and three publishers were already reviewing the material. The author wanted to know how, if these others expressed interest, I could possibly reject the book if I hadn’t even read a page; what was it exactly that I would be enthusiastic about?
What I couldn’t figure out is why the author would care. Six agencies reviewing a full is huge. Huge! At that point, wouldn’t it be nice to narrow the list, to assume you already have six enthusiastic agents reviewing the material, so why would you care about this one? Unless you’re lying, of course, but I don’t think I need to go there.
In a moment of weakness I replied to the author suggesting that a review of my website might give a better indication of what I was enthusiastic about. The author replied, of course, to suggest that maybe I should consider expanding my horizons. The author said he had never read paranormal romance, which is what I said I liked, but would not refuse to read it.
And there’s the rub. You are not asking me to “read” your book, you are asking me to consider “representing” your book. Those are two very, very different things. You might consider reading a paranormal romance if I suggested you read it, but if you are a mystery writer, would you want to write a paranormal romance just because I thought you should expand your horizons?
Timmi described the article as being chiefly concerned with the rapists rather than their victim, and I must admit that at first, being in a particularly optimistic and naive mood or something, I thought, "No, there's got to be some mistake -- the Times wouldn't let something like that through, would they?"
The Times's Public Editor, Arthur S. Brisbane, wrote a blog post saying he thought the story "lacked balance", which is true -- all of the force of the story is on the side of people in the community who want to blame an 11-year-old for being a victim of a gang rape and who feel sorry for how tough the lives of the alleged perpetrators will now be. But there's a whole lot more going on here, a whole lot more than just a moment of bad journalism.
Part of the problem is a perceived insatiable desire to know among the public, and the need to fill pages and broadcast time -- newspapers and TV news shows live to give us the details. Especially at a time when news is constantly updated on websites and 24-hour channels, there is an imperative to offer new information and to quench the (perceived? real?) unquenchable thirst of the audience for more, more, more.
But when a victim is 11 years old, there is, or should be, a limited amount of information available, and McKinley seems to have been sensitive to this, unlike other reporters who, apparently, dug up her Facebook page. (These people can live with themselves? They can sleep at night?) But he needed to write a story, and he couldn't just write a few sentences, because there are columns to fill and hungry readers to satisfy, so he filled out his story with what he could most easily get. Whether he cherry-picked the most noxious views of the people he quoted, we don't know, but what he did was create a portrait of an entire town that apparently thinks 11-year-old girls deserve to be raped. Even if that were true (it's not, according to other reporting), McKinley gave those people most of his attention, making the story all about them, when the basic fact of the story is: 18 boys and men allegedly raped an 11-year-old girl.
But the problem here is not only about balance and about the choice of narrative point of view, or the choice to add "human interest" to the bare facts with interviews -- it's also about language, as various people have pointed out. Consider the fourth paragraph of the
I've always said that when you get an offer of representation, or from a publisher, for that matter, you need to use that offer as leverage to find the agent who is best for you and your work. What that means is that when you get an offer you should contact every other agent who has your work, let them know of the offer, and give them a time by which they need to respond to you. I'm here today to make some amendments to that original treatise.
I still think one of the most important things an author can do when getting an offer of representation is consider the offer carefully and interview as many other agents as possible. Remember, the agent who is right for your mother, best friend, bestselling author, or sister's husband's uncle's half-brother is not necessarily the agent that's right for you. However, I also think when talking to other agents and leveraging your offer you need to do it in a way that makes sense and that is productive.
Previously I said contact every other agent "who has your work." My amendment to that is that you should contact "every other agent you haven't heard from yet," which includes those who still have queries. Agents read at different paces. Some read faster, or some might go through a spurt this week of query reading while others were planning to do that next week. If an agent hasn't yet requested material it doesn't mean she's not going to, it could mean she hasn't gotten to your query. Therefore, don't be afraid to contact her to let her know of your offer. In the past six months I offered on three different books when the authors notified me, and I hadn't even gotten to their queries yet. In fact, in some cases they sent a query with the offer because they wanted to hear from me.
Previously I said contact "every other agent," which I'm amending to "every other agent who you are interested in having as your agent." There have been times when I've gotten the distinct feeling that authors with offers were letting every agent know of the offer, asking every agent to spend time reading the manuscript, when in actuality they already knew exactly what decision they were going to make. I think the saying goes "don't waste my time and I won't waste yours." I do think it's important that you contact agents to leverage the offer and get to know, by talking to them, if they would be right for your work, and I realize that you might contact people, get an offer, and go with the first one anyway. That's okay, but if you have an offer from Agent A and proposals out with Agent B and Agent C and queries with Agent D and Agent F (you've already been rejected by Agent E), you should definitely contact them all. Unless you already know that although Agent C is a heavy hitter, you've met her and really didn't click. Then why bother Agent C? Let her off the hook now and simply pull your submission from consideration. Don't make things harder on yourself by wasting your own time, either. If Agent C does offer now you'll need to talk to her on the phone and hold an interview, when you've already decided she's not your speed.
A couple of years ago I made an offer to an author I was really excited about. Stupid thing to say really because I'm always "really excited" about every author I offer to. Anyway, she too was excited, but had the proposal with a couple of other agents and wanted to give them time to consider. Of course I thought that was a smart plan and told her I would wait. The next day she called me back to tell me she was an idiot (which she's not). I was her dream agent and talking with me only cemented that further. Rather than waste anyone else's time she had simply contacted the other agents to let them know she had accepted another offer. Yay for me! Now, in cases like this, when a submission is pulled, agents always get a little annoyed, but I think truthfully we actually feel left out (like we didn't get invited to the party), but you know what? I'd rather not get invited than be invited only because your mom made you invite me when I could have be
This post continues to chronicle my attendance at the Telluride at Dartmouth program at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Days 1 & 2 (A Dangerous Method and Albert Nobbs) can be found here, Day 3 (We Need to Talk About Kevin) can be found here.
I resisted In Darkness because it is a Holocaust film, and that is just about my least favorite movie genre. Nonetheless, it is a genre I'm deeply familiar with, and was the subject of the first serious film book I ever read, the original edition of Annette Insdorf's Indelible Shadows, which I discovered on my father's bookshelves when I was in high school. Soon after, I saw Schindler's List and found it deeply moving in a very adolescent way (on my part, at least, and maybe on Spielberg's). Later, I realized that Schindler's List had created a sort of emotional smugness in me -- it had made me feel good about feeling all the appropriate emotions. Spielberg is one of the greatest manipulators of emotion that the cinema has ever seen, and part of the pleasure of his action films, especially, lies in surrendering to them, allowing our emotions to be played by a virtuoso. I resist this in his films about something more serious than excitement; my loathing of The Color Purple and Munich is boundless and perhaps even a bit irrational -- indeed, I may resent the manipulation so much that I tend to perceive it as worse (cinematically and morally) than it is. At the same time, I desire great art to help us understand the Nazi era and its aftermath -- Paul Celan is my favorite 20th century poet, perhaps because so much of the power I perceive in his words derives from a struggle with (and against) the representation of atrocity. The problem is that for me it has to be great art. Plenty of subjects can withstand mediocre, ordinary, awkward, or bad art. Art that takes the Nazi years as its subject and ends up, in my estimation, to be less than great feels like a trivialization, and it infuriates me.
In any case, this is the background I brought to In Darkness, and explains why I spent the first half hour or so with my arms folded and jaw clenched -- I had pretty well decided that whatever magic spells this film tried to cast, I would resist them.
In Darkness tells the story of the final liquidation of the ghetto in Lvov, Poland, in June 1943 and of a group of Jews who hid in the city's sewers to survive. They were aided by Leopold Socha, a sewer worker, whose original goals were mercenary -- in the film, he is represented as a scavenger and thief, and tension is built early on because we fully expect him to take the Jews' money and then turn them over to the Germans for a reward. This is not what happens, though, and one path of the narrative is the story of Socha's redemption.
Had that been the primary path of the narrative, I would have hated In Darkness, because using the Holocaust as a plot device for tales of redemption seems despicable to me. (Millions of people died, and thus Our Protagonist found the goodne
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As an illustrator there is always the question of whether or not you want to be represented by an agency. If you choose representation there are some important things to consider.
I believe that a good art agency representative can be beneficial to an illustrator, but I also believe that the illustrator has obligations to the agency and must be ready to make a commitment to honor his/her agency contract with a professional and accountable performace.
As in any group situation it helps to be a team player. In this case the team is the agent, the artist and the publisher/editor/designer.
Because I have chosen to be represented by an agency, there are certain obligations I have as an artist.
In addition to having a style of painting that I can call my own, I am willing to experiment and try new ways of interpreting the stories I am given to illustrate. I am experienced with website creation and maintainence and keep my personal website up to date and refresh it frequently with new illustrations.
My work is professional and competitive with those of other children’s illustrators in the marketplace.
The work I do is appealing to adults and children and has received good reviews from editors, reviewers and the general public.
I have a number of published books to show for my continued dedication to this field.
My portfolio items, tearsheets, promo cards, business cards and flyers are easily duplicated and can be sent out just as easily.
In addition to that, I keep my portfolio current with my best work.
I actively seek critical review of my work.
I have placed a 1/2 page in the Picture Book annual for 2009. Belonging to an agency has the benefit of getting a discount on such advertising. I create at least one promotional item for a mailing each quarter. These are postcards or flyers depending upon the type of market on which I am focusing.
In addition to my own website and blog I belong to four other online portfolio sites: Children’s Illustrators, Picture Book, the Digital Artist and ARTSPACE 2000. Each of these charges a fee, which I consider a part of my professional obligation as an illustrator.
I am good with specs, follow directions, take suggestions and apply them to my work, accept criticism, and am always willing to accomodate the editor and art director with revisions.
I understand that although my agency can promote my work along with the others, it is up to me to provide the best art I can all the time.
And I am ready to do that.
If you are seeking an agent or ready to make the decision to have one are you ready to do this as well?
I just added some new work to the site, and I will blog about one piece this week and the other commission next week. Give me a break; I have to spread it out or I'll be writing all day.
In a recent commission from Miami Herald, I was asked to do a section cover illo concerning the economy's effect on Florida charities and non-profits. In a nutshell, donations are down as folks are hesitant to give money. As such, charities are having to try alternative methods of securing enough funds such as directly soliciting and cutting budgets/programs. I won't be showing sketches as I may want to use them for a future assignment. Final artwork:
I like the image; its simple and to the point. It changed slightly from the sketch in that I added the spotlight.
Also, in a great turn of events (and thanks to Scott Brundage showing my portfolio), I am now being represented by Richard Solomon Artists Reps. I won't say much about this as I think Richard and company has some future announcements planned concerning their roster and direction. I look forward to working with them and hopefully bringing in some advertising campaign work as well as any new commissions and collaborations!
Lately I have been getting a number of emails asking me if I have an agent or how to get an agent or if an illustrator needs an agent. This article is directed mainly at illustrators and those who write and illustrate their own children's books.
These thoughts are based on my own experience and opinions, so you must also consider the views of others who are much better known in the field of Children's Book Illustration.
Agency representation is a very personal choice on the part of the illustrator or author/illustrator. Just as you go about carefully choosing the agent you most want to represent you, the agent will have criteria for acceptance of illustrators and authors.
If you are just beginning to write and/or illustrate for children a great agent could give you a head start. But devoting too much time to finding an agent shouldn't be a priority. The best pathway to success is to keep your writing and your illustrating fresh, explore new ideas, work hard on any assignment that you receive and take the suggestions and criticisms of editors, designers, and art directors with grace and act upon them. Focus on your work and make it the best you can. Attend conferences, workshops, and classes that will help you grow as an artist.
Many beginning artist/illustrators are out there searching for agency representation. However, having an agent does not guarantee immediate success. If you do feel you want to share your fees with an agent it is a good idea to make sure it is a top notch agent who works full time in the field. Any choice other than the type of agency that is well respected and works full time at the business is not worth your time or your money.
So, for the sake of an example, let us say you found a great agent, the agent agrees to represent you and find suitable assignments for your type or art. You now have someone or a group that will handle the contracts, negotiations, and submissions to houses that only accept them from agents.
You will need to be prepared to accept the assignments given to you. You can't be too choosy about the work that your agent offers you. You will be asked to share in the promotional costs. In addition you will need to let go of the business issues that are the responsibility of the agency. You will need to meet deadlines, take criticism, make changes and behave in a totally professional manner. An upbeat and positive attitude are great qualities in an author or illustrator and are appreciated by the publishing community .
Your talent, if your nurture it, will create a pathway for you with or without an agent. Be the best you can, be excellent.
This blog post has been brought to you by the power of Twitter. It can alternately be titled "If You Liked It, Then You Should Have Put a Ring on It."
Something that's been known to happen both between authors and agents, and then agents and editors is the revision request without a commitment of a representation offer or a contract. Mostly, the request for a revision is a good thing. It means the agent or editor sees potential and wants to develop it.
I myself have asked an author for an exclusive revision on a few occasions. What usually happens is that I'll see something promising, read it, know something's there, but not feel confident enough to take it on without fixing those nagging areas. Part of this has to do with wanting to make sure you're also taking on an author who is CAPABLE of revision. Part of it is just making sure you can make it fit the market.
Whenever I ask for a revision, I do it with the best of intentions. I WANT that project to work. More often than not, this has had good results for me. I have several clients who I did an exclusive revision with first, and then offered representation after seeing the finished product. Those have also gone on to sell to publishers.
My process is usually to offer the writer this trade: I will give you my notes, and in exchange you will give me first look at the revision. And if I don't choose to take on the project at that point, you are then free to take that revision anywhere you like.
I like to think that's fair. Because I don't want to spend a lot of time giving you notes for you to take my effort and give it to someone else first. And I want you to be free to take a hopefully stronger project elsewhere too. I don't usually set a time limit on it, since I can't dictate how long your revision process should take.
Sometimes it just doesn't work though. And these cases are always really tough. Sometimes the project can't evolve past "potential." Sometimes the author just isn't skilled enough to fix it. Invariably I feel a little guilty if I pass on a revision. The idea isn't to make the author jump through unnecessary hoops. It's to make sure we're getting the right projects signed. Our hope is always that even if the revision doesn't work, the project is still stronger and someone else might have luck with it.
This happens on the other side of the table too. And I've admittedly been just as frustrated when an editor has asked for an exclusive revision on a client's book, loved it, and then declined to offer. That happens too. So I understand why writers might hesitate without us offering to make anything official.
But I think at the end of the day, someone taking interest enough to want to see where it can go is a good thing. And this industry requires such collaboration, that any input is inevitable and will help you. So just keep your expectations in check, and you should be in good shape.
So I'm going to do a little Q&A now about offers of representation. Obviously there are going to be a lot of permutations and probabilities of these scenarios so I won't be able to cover everything, but after asking for the main questions on Twitter, here we go:
1. How do I know when I want to offer?
I know I love a manuscript when want to tell people about it the minute I finish reading it. But I don't always know if I want to offer until I talk to you. Sometimes the manuscript is great, but I have notes. Sometimes I want to make sure you're not crazy. Usually I get to the end of the phone call before saying, "So, I'd love work with you and offer representation."
2. Do I pass the manuscript around to the agency first?
Often enough. We're a small agency, so that's really only one other opinion. But it's nice to have a second thumbs-up, especially if I'm a little on the fence. If I'm 100% in love with it, I might just want Caren to read it so she can be equally excited about it. But we also work on different kinds of projects, so if I want to sign a picture book, or Caren is signing a new romance author, it doesn't make sense for us to share, since we're not really qualified to judge. Ultimately, my list is my own, and those are my choices.
3. Do I always revise before offering or revise after offering?
There is no "always." Sometimes I see potential but not enough to use up more hours. Sometimes I know the work isn't that much, so I should grab it. I go with my gut on this one. No hard-fast rules.
1. Can you query more agents if you have an offer on the table?
Well, this is a funny one. Suppose you're only part-way through querying and you start to get responses faster than you thought. But you still wanted to query a few more agents that you like. Can you rush a query out to them? The short answer is: sure. It's a free country. I've advocated before for letting even the agents who only have a query know that you have an offer--more options are always good.
But you have to do it understanding that those agents might not get to it in time. If I take 2 weeks to read, then I might not see that email until you've already made a decision.
Now, agents sometimes do this with editors. We start to get interest, so we submit more widely to create MORE interest. But I have relationships with those editors. I can call and say, "Hey, can you read this quickly? It's going fast." Because you don't have a relationship with those agents, you can't exactly say that.
And you also have a problem of not wanting the offering agent to wait too long. But...if you think you stand a chance at getting more interest, do whatever you want as long as you understand the risks.
2. How do you go about talking to an agent's clients?
This is easy. You ask the agent who is offering if you can speak to his/her clients. They will likely say yes, and if they don't, then that's sketchy. In this situation, I will consider which client of mine would be the most helpful to speak to, based on what they write and their overall situation. (Every case is different after all.) Then I'd put you guys in touch.
What you shouldn't ever do is go behind the agent's back and get in touch with clients without asking first. Those clients have their loyalty to me first, so they'd say "Uh, is this person legit?" And you also look like a creepy if you're looking for contact info through back channels.
It's a different story if you already have a relationship with an agent's clients already. In that case, it's a little more fluid, and hopefully the agent knows about t