Ask a Former Professional Literary Agent
Mr. Hodgman used to work as a literary agent in New York City. These days he does play-by-play of his Scrabble matches on Twitter.
Ask A Former Professional Literary Agent, Part III.
BY John Hodgman
SPECIAL POST-BROOKLINE/BROOKLYN EDITION .
It would seem that we have some unfinished business, you and I. Thanks to the extremely gracious response to my request for questions, and thanks to the wonderful turn-out at both the Brookline and the Brooklyn events, and thanks to many other factors which none of us might have predicted, time escaped us, as it is prone to do, and there are questions that have been left unanswered.
So my first order of business shall be to answer those questions submitted for both live events, which as you know were dedicated to the promotion of Neal Pollack. Next week, I shall at last move on to the many questions that have been submitted from those who live neither in or near Brookline nor Brooklyn. Please read to the very end to learn which questions will certainly be answered—in addition to any others which you may in the meantime submit and which I like.
As always, any further questions you may have may be posed by following this link. I should note that I am expanding my area of expertise to include-aside from publishing, raw milk cheese, knee pain, and The Lord of the Rings-the making and composition of casino grade poker chips.
Here are the questions from Brookline:
Luke O asks from Brookline: I am afraid that if I find myself in the proximity of such literary greatness as will be found at the Boston event (editor’s note 1: Brookline, once called “Muddy River,” is a separate township surrounded on three sides by Boston, which has never officially been incorporated into Boston; editor’s note 2: the “Boston event” is now long over) that I may do one of two things. Either I will make a forced effort to insinuate myself upon the hot young talent gathered, so that I may impress them with some wry observation or other; or I will become overly self conscious about doing this and will instead make no attempt at familiarity whatsoever, and I will thus be forced to wonder for the rest of my life whether or not john hodgeman and I could’ve been something. Does that mean I’m insecure?
John Kellogg Hodgman, Former Professional Literary Agent: To answer your first question, my last name is spelled “Hodgman,” which is to say, without an “e.” Also, I tend to capitalize the first letters of both my last and first name. The answer, then, to your second question should be obvious: there is no future for us, and I am very insecure. Good luck!
Bjorn L asks from Brookline: How would you, a former professional literary agent, improve upon the following title for a story that I am in the process of writing, if indeed such a feat is possible:
Two-Letter Text “ShortCuts” I’ve Set Up Under the “Prefs” Program of My “Graphite”-Colored (Which Is To Say, Non-Colored, At Least Relative to the Current iMac-Era Marketing Usage of the Word “Color,” Or, Indeed, Ever Since the Public Introduction of the First So-Called “Two-Color Process,” Known As “Technicolor Process Number One,” By the Technicolor Corporation in Wray Bartlett Physioc’s 1917 Silent Film The Gulf Between, of Which Only a Single Frame Remains, First Implied Such a Denial of Colorhood to Black and White and Shades of Gray, Such As Said “Graphite”) Handspring Visor Deluxe Palm-Compatible Handheld Computing Device; with Notes (Cross-References To Other “ShortCuts” Appearing Between Square Brackets)
JKH, FPLA: Giving a good title to a short story is like selling real estate to a small dog: it’s an art unto itself, and it’s completely futile, because no one reads short stories anyway, because obviously dogs have no need for real estate. That said, I would suggest shortening your proposed title slightly to “A&P” or “The Lottery.” Your pick.
Scott C asks from Brookline: A court in New York has ruled that the source code for DeCSS, a program that can break the encryption on DVDs, is not a protected form of speech and is, in fact, illegal to distribute. The judge in the case has also gone so far as to suggest that hyperlinking to sites that post the DeCSS code is also illegal, and those who do link to this code could be prosecuted for encouraging software piracy.
Now let’s say you’re a super genius. Be it through whatever mechanism – advanced genetic engineering, exposure to cosmic rays or other radioactivity, smart drugs, radical surgery, grokking your inner kundalini, whatever – your brain power has expanded to the point where mortal men instinctively kneel before your superior intellect and nigh-omniscient wisdom. Let us go further and say that somewhere in your mind-a very small place, of course, seeing as your brainpower dwarfs the Almighty-somewhere in your mind is stored the DeCSS code, which is a piece of cake for you to memorize, of course.
If someone asks you for the code, and you tell them, are you screwed?
JKH, FLPA: Your question alludes to the great philosophical debate which has addled the brains of deep thinkers everywhere for a generation: am I a super genius? Now, to play your little game of “let’s say,” let’s say indeed that I am a super genius and someone asks me for this code. Why would I tell that non-genius person anything, who would be like a worm to me? And even if I did tell them, how would the poor troglodyte even “grok” what I was saying? The real worry, I suppose, is if I were to drop the code in conversation with another super genius, in which case, I would definitely be screwed, yes. Unless I devised a super secret new language in which to speak among super geniuses, which I have.
Joshua Levy asks from Boston: Who plays saxophone on Lou Reed’s classic “Walk on the Wils Side”?
JKH, FPLA: There is no song called “Walk on the Wils Side.” Nice try, Joshua, but I should point out that trick questions are not welcome here, and they will not be answered in the future.
Now let us move on to those questions which, for reasons of time or other good consideration, were omitted from the Brooklyn event.
Whitney P asks from New York: I am concerned about personal hygiene, and I am wondering if you could share some of your secrets. How do you keep your obvious toupee smelling so minty fresh? And is it true what they say about using the Epilady: does your leg hair really grow back finer and more manageable?
JKH, FPLA: My leg hair is tangled and matted. I basically have the legs of a monkey. No treatment has helped, not even the secret sugaring methods of the ancient Nile. I implore you good people not to look upon me as a freak, but as a fellow publishing professional. Please be kinder in future questions. Also: the answer to the toupee question is: Scope and plenty of it.
Chris L asks from New York: My best friend Shihab just got a job as a high-powered literary agent. I’m just a lowly copy editor. How likely is it that Shihab will still speak to me in 6 months? a year?
JKH, FPLA: There is an 84% chance that Shihab will speak to you in 6 months. There is a 42% chance that Shihab will speak to you in one year. Shihab, as you have anticipated, will soon have very many high-powered friends in publishing who will make you look, by comparison, like a feeble, crotchety hunchback. I ask you: would you remain friends with a feeble, crotchety hunchback? I doubt you would. So don’t blame Shihab, Chris. Blame cruel fate, and your own lack of ambition. But I like the sound of this Shihab, and I think Shihab is going places, and if Shihab is available, I would like to buy Shihab a drink and toast his good fortune.
You may notice that I have said the name Shihab a lot in responding to Chris, in part because it has a nice ring to it, but mainly because, directly before the reading at Galapagos, Chris told me that, for professional reasons, Shihab asked me not to used his real name, which is Sonesh. As a result of this, I have chosen to disclose Chris’s last name, which is Lorentzen. Good luck!
Thank you for your attention. If you have questions, ask them here. Next week, you should likely find answers to questions posed by Lauren (no last initial given), Christine C, WriterFreakFAB, and perhaps even you. Until then,
That is all.
former professional literary agent
SUGGESTED READSAsk a Former Professional Literary Agent: Ask A Former Professional Literary Agent, Part I
by John Hodgman (8/28/2000)
Ask a Former Professional Literary Agent: Ask A Former Professional Literary Agent, Part II
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Ask a Former Professional Literary Agent: Ask A Former Professional Literary Agent, Part IV
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