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Pitching a Former Literary Agent: John Hodgman

The author of The Areas of My Expertise considers small type, hobos, and little gray books

By Rachel Kramer Bussel - October 31, 2005

Number of clients: As a Former Professional Literary Agent, I currently have zero clients, though I still frequently visit Bruce Campbell's website (despite his so called "court-order"). During my few years as a publishing professional, I represented perhaps a dozen novelists, non-fiction authors, and stars of The Evil Dead.

Notable clients: Apart from Bruce Campbell (If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor), and among others, I proudly represented the early works of Darin Strauss (Chang and Eng), Blake Eskin (A Life in Pieces), David Grand (Louse), the renowned mixologist Dale DeGroff (Craft of the Cocktail), and the estate of Matt Clark (Hook Man Speaks).

Percentage of fact vs. fiction in The Areas of My Expertise: As a compendium of complete world knowledge composed chiefly of amazing made-up facts, my goal of course was to avoid the merely accurate and instead embrace the strange and strangely plausible.

But the fact is some facts may have accidentally been included in my book. I suspect these adulterants contribute only 10 percent or so of total content. My goal is to reduce that to 8 percent by the second printing, and 2 percent by the 100th.

Percentage of extraneous information accepted by you for your book and later discarded: Just about zero percent. My goal was to include as much extraneous information within its pages as possible. However, there is always new knowledge being generated, and I hope to soon be at work on volume 2.

Most outrageous claim made in The Areas of My Expertise: "Truth may be stranger than fiction, goes the old saw, but it is never as strange as lies (or, for that matter, as true). Proof of which maxim is the fact that I just made it up."

Of the 55 dramatic scenarios presented in the section "Information You Will Find Useful In The Present," one with best odds of getting published: Professional oddsmakers in Nevada traditionally favor the safe bets, staying with the old primal conflict of "man vs. man": ("cop vs. rookie," for example, is almost even money, for example, while "devil worshippers vs. apartment dwellers" goes for a respectable 5 to 1).

I have a fondness for risk, however, and the sucker's bet, so my money is still on old 200 to 1: "Wilderness becomes crucible in which asthmatic leans to grow a beard."

Tiniest font size deemed acceptable for book jacket: On that matter you would have to consult Sam Potts, the noted designer and small-font-fiend (also known as a "printer's devil").

What to pitch if you are a hobo looking to write a book: Please hoboes: no more books about Catholic secret societies and hidden codes in the Bible. We have gotten the message.

What to pitch to you to lure you back into the world of being a professional agent: Free lunch at Periyali at the table in the front where they used to allow smoking. Also, you have to cure cancer so I can take up smoking again. Then, only then, seated there, cancer free and happy, we can talk.

What not to pitch if you ever want to have a meaningful conversation with you in the future: Please do not pitch a great big book of fake trivia.

What to expect when Little Gray Book Lectures leaves the confines of New York City for other parts of the country: We are in fact taking the show on the road, as we used to say in show business and also road business. On Thursday, Nov. 4, we will be in my hometown of Brookline, Massachusetts, along with Danzy Senna and Patrick Borelli and others.

Visitors there will see the same mix of earnest instruction, doubtful scholarship, and jingly-jangly music by Jonathan Coulton, and also a video of Dale DeGroff making a brand new cocktail: the Brookline 300.

Etiquette when interacting with hoboes: It is considered rude to stare directly at the hobo's bindlestick, mysterious band-aids, or puffy vest.

Etiquette when reporting to the author one's reaction to The Areas of My Expertise: Same deal.

Best way to go about having David Rees draw a cartoon featuring your book: Read My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable in the year 2000 and become so smitten with his foul-mouthed brilliance that you continue to write and badger him until he becomes your friend. Then, threaten with a knife.

Perfect ratio of self-deprecation vs. hubris when promoting one's book of trivia: My sales pitch, which is crafted for all readers, but which I think will have a particular resonance among those in the publishing industry: "Under arrangement with the publisher, purchasing this book frees you from the obligation to read it."

Rachel Kramer Bussel is an editor, writer, and blogger.



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