The author of this submission about the seedy underbelly of Hollywood is not getting any traction with agents. What might be the problem?
Title: A Small Hollywood Exploitation tale
Genre: Literary Fiction
Language: US English
Synopsis: When writer/executive producer Lottie Grenier gets the green light to produce her sitcom, she had visions of a multi-year series run, until the malevolent influence the great Fabriana Corporation exacts on the production reveals the dark truth about working Hollywood and the illusion of control.
“I have a great power.” Mmmm that’s good, let me say it again… “I have a great power, and along with great power, some have said, comes great responsibility.” Bullshit. More often than not, reckless abandon is the intimate cellmate of great power. It’s an all-too-common theme in the history of humankind and its existence on Planet Earth.
So, here I sit in my cell. Not the ten by ten kind with iron bars inside gray walls topped with razor wire, but the one I’ve created for myself, inside myself. Everyone builds them. Some of us escape, some of us don’t, but in the end, there are far more desperate souls banging on the walls to get in. That’s what feeds the unstoppable hunger of this machine, what creates the great circle of life (and death) in the entertainment business. In television, no one escapes. Everyone’s trapped and held prisoner in some way. Below the liners are basically labor: well compensated, artistic, unionized, trapped in the blue-collar cycle of paying bills, exploiting the system where they can and trying to find the next job, labor. Those with their heads and bodies above the line are management; trapped in their own endless cycle of exploiting the system, feeding egos, feeding ¬lawyers, feeding agents, and feeding those beneath them who exist only to serve, management. So, there is indeed a common intersection with regard to exploitation. But this is where it may or may not end. If our creators understand our jobs and our process, they can develop respect and understanding. If they don’t, then a disconnect occurs and resentment builds from the lack of support and empathy. But as many will say, “It’s not their problem” and we just have to suck it up.
In actuality, the old maxims just morph into new scenarios, and so long as the revenue continues to flow in at a far greater pace than it does out, this business model extends itself to the next generation.
Milary Stanton was born a star, and like all child stars in Hollywood she had a different gene driving her on the inside. Once the great machine got its hooks into her, it became simple mathematics for them, except for the fact that Milary also knew the math and how to make the equations fall in her favor. Her mother, Joansie Mason-Stanton, a twisted façade of a throwback to Civil War heritage, was easily baffled, and struggled to be the parent of a child who ran the show.
And the machine? The great Fabriana Corporation, a megaconglomerate of international divisions and interests with their hand in everything from theme parks to movies and television stations to signature characters known and loved throughout the world. Their corporate iron fist crushed anything standing in the way of greater profits and control. They clamped tight on everything within their grasp that posed even the slightest threat to their branded world. An enterprise so powerful, it was said they could reshape reality, history or anything they desired, to meet the needs of the company.
Additionally, it was often discussed in the below-the-line world that their immense fortune and popularity was born from a cozy cultured alliance with several forms of sub-human deities. These graven images were purported to be traceable to the early days of Fabriana’s silent motion pictures when the great empire began. Rumors and innuendo about this subtle but obvious homage to a malevolent entity had swirled around the corporation for years.
So, how does it start? From where does that one special show emanate and just how does that young star germinate into a full-blown worldwide sensation?
Well, in the particular case of the show in question, The Family Tree, it started at the writer/executive producer’s house with a phone call.
“It’s your agent, Jack. Listen honey, I got good news. Fabriana loves your script. They want a meeting with you and this kid they’ve been grooming, Milary Stanton.”
“Really? That’s fantastic. Milary Stanton? Who’s that? What’s she done?” She held the phone between her ear and shoulder while picking the dead leaves off one of the hundreds of plants in and around her garden home.
“I don’t know. She’s some kid. Won a lot of pageants, I hear. The suits at Fabriana are crazy about her. She sings, she dances, she’s funny. They say she’s the next big one coming down the pipe. And we both know how big the pipes are over there.”
“That’s not funny, Jack. Okay, well maybe it is, a little.”
“You bet your britches it is. Tuesday, ten thirty at the big building. You know the one with the ugly creatures carved into the face.”
“Careful, Jack. You know how big the ears are at FC. If this works out, those ugly mugs could make us a lot of money.”
“Listen, I got a good feeling about this one.”
She could almost feel his ooze dripping through the phone, but she was cautious. “Yeah right, Jack. That’s not the first time I’ve heard you say that. You spouted those same famous words about John’s Rainbow, The Final Celebration, A Circle of Birds, A Mile for-”
“Okay, sweetheart. I get your point, but I’m always out there pitching for you, ain’t I? You’re a good inker. Always meeting deadlines, solid rewrites, funny jokes, that’s what the studios like to see. Besides, I really mean it this time. I got a feeling, deep down.”
“That’s your irritable bowel syndrome, Jack.” She chuckled.
“No, I mean deeper than that and IBS ain’t a laughing matter. I don’t wish that mishegoss on anyone. You just start bangin’ out story arcs, and I’ll see you tomorrow at the Ugly Creature Building.”
Editorial comment: First off, apologies that this submission has been sitting in my inbox for some time. You may have even had some success with agents in the intervening months since you submitted to TheOpeningLines.com, in which case most of what follows is going to be utterly irrelevant. But just in case you’re still struggling, I’ll critique the piece anyway.
This manuscript (MS) has been edited professionally, the author tells me. He has been submitting to agents but, despite getting a good review and some personal responses from agents, no-one (at least at the time of submitting) has been hooked.
Firstly, the editing. There are a few copy-editing issues that should be ironed out. In only the second sentence, for example, there should be at least a semi-colon between those two independent clauses. Elsewhere in the rest of the submission there are problems with commas, and hyphens instead of proper dashes. I don’t know if these errors were introduced subsequently to the editing, or were just missed, but this isn’t a final draft of publishable standard.
However, there’s a deeper flaw in this opening that might be the cause of the problem with the lack of traction with agents. Notwithstanding the fact that, of all the genres, literary fiction is the “loosest” in terms of expectations about openings, I don’t think this piece is putting its best foot forward—it’s not starting where the story starts. The first 600 words, or roughly two-and-a-half pages, is exposition, backstory about Hollywood and how corrupt it is. It’s not particularly original—”with great power comes great responsibility” is just a cliché—and it’s not clearly focused on a character. Who is this narrator who is ruminating about his self-imposed mental confinement? Why should we care? Even if we think we should care, reading on, the comments about the “blue-collar cycle”, “there is indeed a common intersection with regard to exploitation” and “business models” sound as if we are reading the opening pages of a Business Administration degree-course textbook. What have they got to do with the narrator character? Is he labor or management? Why is he moaning? Many people dream of working in the movie industry, no matter how corrupt and venal it might be. It’s hard to be sympathetic to a character who appears to be in quite a privileged situation but who presents no positivity.
This is a pity, because when the story does really appear to start with, as is so often the case, some dialogue, we get sparkling banter between an agent and a script-writer which portrays character and personality very well. Even with this dialogue one suggestion immediately presents itself:
Surely the writer knows who their agent is? If so, why does the agent feel the need to tell her “It’s your agent, Jack”? He wouldn’t. He’d say “It’s Jack”, if he even introduced himself at all. From what we gather about his character from the rest of his dialogue he sounds like one of those people who would just assume that the recipient of his call would immediately know who they were talking to. Besides, Caller ID?
Anyway, a great phone conversation, but then, instead of following that up, we’re back to the introspection about the narrator character, their role as a “Property Master” and how that fits into the Hollywood hierarchy. It all seems very disjointed and while clearly there’s some insight into the Hollywood process, where’s the story? The full submission was over 1700 words (I only include the first 950 above) which, in standard publisher-speak of 250 words per page, is nearly seven pages. Even for literary fiction, that’s too long, in my opinion, to leave your reader waiting before we get any plot or character development. You’re essentially just telling us, over and over again for seven pages, that this is a book about working in Hollywood in the film industry and how really unrewarding and unfulfilling that is.
If I might guess, your book isn’t about how working in the film industry is really crap on so many levels. It’s the story of one person, or perhaps two, who find out that it’s crap on so many levels, and what that does to them and how they change as a result of that discovery. Instead of sagely telling us that being a grunt on the workforce in a Hollywood studio is really dull and exploitative, and you’d be better off stacking the shelves at Walmart (which no-one is going to want to believe anyway), why don’t you allow your characters to show us that this is the case? And if you do that, you should start your book where they start that process of discovery.
I’m only speculating, but I doubt many agents are even reading as far as the dialogue half way down page three. That brief glimmer of genuine talent might be what prompts them to comment favorably on your writing, but the immediate lapse back into a long monologue of introspection about evil Hollywood is what puts them off taking it any further.
One last thing. That title? I’d rethink. It sounds like the title of a short newspiece article in some magazine about—I don’t know—the exploitation of non-unionized labor? Very worthy, but … a bit dull.
Thanks for posting!