As many of you doubtlessly know, getting your foot in the door is the hardest part of becoming a drug-addled, world-weary, bourgeois lech with a ballpoint pen for a cock and the world's ear as your toilet (the rest comes surprisingly easy). Maybe you're a novice, still wet behind the ears, and the previous sentence is one of shock to you. "I thought just anybody could become a writer," you might be thinking. For the rest of the world, that first statement is one of cold, biting accuracy. You know as well as I do that the literary world does not want you. Theirs is a sum zero gain -- for you to succeed, they must lose.
So how do you break into this marvelous world of creative freedom where every bon mot you dispense is gobbled up like Kentucky Fried Chicken in China (seriously, check into this, they love it over there)? You have to be sneaky -- sneakier than all the rest. And who shall teach you to be sneakier than all the rest? As Dante had the poet Virgil to help him navigate the murky and dangerous levels of Hell in The Divine Comedy, you shall have... me.
The first thing you learn when trying to get an agent to sell your "brilliant tome about a woman striving to reconnect with her father through the haze of alcohol that threatens to consume them both," is that most agents don't want you unless you've already had something published. Of course, you can't get most things published without an agent. Joseph Heller tried to capture this frustrating dynamic in his book Catch 22, but doubtlessly some agent made him change the plot to focus on the "madness of war" for "marketing and demographic reasons." Bummer(?) for Joseph Heller he didn't have me steering his ship.
So you want to get some credits to your name? Here's what you do: 1. Go into the Smithsonian Museum. 2. Ask to use their restroom. 3. Bring along a Sharpie. This is the oldest trick in the book I should write. You scribble some dirty limericks on the wall in the bathroom, then, when you are sending out your agent query letters, you tell them, "I've got a few poems on display in the Smithsonian." Agents will feast upon this sentence like Chinese people on fried chicken (did I already use this simile?) The best part is if they want more information, you dismiss their questions with the nonchalant, "Oh, they're just dirty limericks on the bathroom wall, really." Your "modesty" will bring them to their knees.
Now some agents won't accept poetry as an acceptable credit. These agents think that because Tupac did it, it "cheapens the medium." These agents are racist, but unfortunately, "sometimes you have to sell guns to the Nazis to become rich during wartime" (I think that's how the adage goes...) It should be noted before I digress too much further, that not all agents who don't accept poetry are racist. Some just sided with Biggie Smalls in the East Coast/West Coast rap wars. For these agents, an additional dose of cunning is required.
Magazine credits are great tools for influencing on-the-fence agents, especially if the magazine is a higher profile one such as Gentlemen's Quarterly, Wired, or Barely Legal (actually, I'm suddenly unsure whether Barely Legal has any writing in it at all...) These magazines are notoriously tough to contribute to (which is why agents revere them so -- they are the Cerberus of the publishing world), but with the "Klima Method," acceptance is a snap. In the case of, say, Entertainment Weekly, simply get a postcard and write, "I still miss Lost," on it. Sign your name (or in industry speak, "add your byline"), and mail it in. EW, with their hard-on for all things Lost will publish your letter in a snap. Do the same thing for GQ, except substitute "Nehru jackets" for Lost, and you're in there as well (for Wired, just write the word "iPad." They'll probably make you editor-in-chief). Suddenly, your agent queries all read: "I've got a few poems on display in the Smithsonian as well as work published in GQ, Entertainment Weekly, and Wired." Before you know it, you'll be spending the rest of your life at the top of the best seller's lists.
For those of you who try this and then come crying to me saying it didn't work and now no agent will take you, just remember: I'm an author too, and for me to win, you had to lose. Checkmate.
Follow Jeff Klima on Twitter: www.twitter.com/OhJeff