Agents

Every so often, I think to myself, “I’m glad to have my agent,” who is the fabulous Ginger Clark, of Curtis Brown, Ltd.  And every so often, a young writer asks me, “Do I need an agent?”  So:

1. If you’re writing and selling short stories, you’re most likely okay without an agent.  Just make sure you read whatever contract the publisher sends you carefully.  I don’t think you want to give them the right to do anything other than publish your story in their venue (unless they’re willing to pony up some serious cash for whatever extra they’re asking for).

2. Once you move into publishing books, though, an agent is pretty much indispensable.  For one thing, they’ll get your book onto the desk of the editors most likely to be interested in it.  It may and most likely will take some time for those editors to get to the book; all the same, the process takes considerably longer without an agent.  Once an editor makes an offer on your book, your agent can tell you whether it’s a decent offer, and advise you how best to proceed, which may include negotiating with that editor for a better deal.  Your agent’s also the one who’ll review whatever contract the publisher is offering, and work to make sure its terms favor you.

Here are a few things my agent has done for me:

1.  She got the publisher of one of my books to double the advance they were offering, and then held them to their agreement when they tried to back out of it.

2.  She held a publisher’s feet to the fire when they tried continually to delay the publication of one of my books.

3.  She got one of my books in front of editors at publishers such as Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster.

4.  During a recent publishing debacle in which one of my books became involved, she remained calm and helped me chart the best course through it.

(I realize all of this is a bit light on specifics, but I’m not interested in starting any unnecessary trouble, right now.  Should you catch me at a convention, however, a shot of a good single malt might loosen my tongue.)

The relationship between writers and agents is kind of a strange one.  You’ll see writers and agents talking about firing one another when they’re unhappy with each other, but I’m not sure that description gets at the heart of the relationship.  Without the writer, the agent has nothing to sell.  Without the agent, the writer’s at a considerable disadvantage.  Ideally, I guess it’s a kind of symbiosis.

I do think there’s a tendency for a lot of writers, who are an insecure breed, to start with, to invest their relationships with their agents with emotions that aren’t helpful to either.  Above all else, it’s a professional relationship; remember that, and act accordingly, and you’ll be fine.

Oh, and one more thing:  when you meet a publisher who says they don’t like to work with agents, run in the opposite direction, as quickly as possible.  Agents are part of the business of publishing.  I guarantee you, anyone who’s complaining about having to work with agents is someone who owes people money, is not responsive to their writers, and is generally not following the best business practices.

My agent, however, does swear a lot.  I mean, seriously.

Deadlines

Recently, one of my Facebook friends sent me a message asking for thoughts on meeting deadlines for anthologies, special issues of magazines, etc.  As I’m sure several of the editors I’ve worked with over the years would tell you, I’m probably the last person who should be commenting on such matters.  That said, here are a couple of things I’ve learned:

1.  The deadline is not the deadline.  This is especially true when that date is a long ways off.  Yes, the project’s editor sets an end date for submissions, and yes, it’s six months from now, or a year, or whatever, but the fact is, most if not all of the contents of the book will have been decided long before that date.  If an editor receives a brilliant submission the day after the submission period opens, s/he is likely going to accept it, in order to insure it’s part of the completed book.  If that’s your story, congratulations, you’re in!  If it isn’t, then that means there’s one less slot open for you.  Can you submit a story at the last moment and have it accepted?  Yes, and yes, I have done so.  But it’s better if you can have your piece in in plenty of time.  This leads to point number two:

2.  Don’t dally.  If there’s a project you desperately want to be part of, then get going on your story for it.  If there are several such projects, then you’ll need to prioritize them, deciding which you don’t want to miss out on and which you’d be willing to pass on.  Once you’ve made your choice(s), start writing a manageable amount every day.  (I define manageable as a number of words or pages you can be reasonably certain you’ll complete each day.  I advise modest goals to start with.)  If you’re overly-critical of your writing, then you may find it helpful to write either early in the morning or late at night, when the internal critic tends to be groggy.  Once your story’s done, leave it a day or two before giving it a final pass, then submit it.

3.  Start the next story.

Speaking personally, I have yet to be able to make the deadlines for all the projects I’m invited to/would like to be part of.  That’s okay.  If there’s an idea I can’t get in time, I figure I’ll find a use for it somewhere down the road.

To be accompanied by the sound of an old door creaking open…

Welcome, welcome, come on in!  I have to admit:  although I wasn’t planning it, the 13th seems a particularly apt day for the launch of this new blog/site.  Funny how life works out sometimes, isn’t it?  Have a seat; make yourself comfortable. 

If you know me, then you know that I’m a fiction writer whose work tends to be located at the darker end of the literary spectrum.  I’ve published two collections of stories long and short, The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies and Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters, and one novel, House of Windows.  With Paul Tremblay, I’ve co-edited an anthology, Creatures:  Thirty Years of Monsters.  Currently, I have a new novel making the rounds of publishers, and stories forthcoming in a variety of venues.

Please, introduce yourself if I don’t know you, already.  I expect we’ll be discussing all manner of subjects in the weeks and months ahead:  fiction, of course, our own and that of others, and also film, no doubt, and music, and who knows what else?