I know you're busy, so I won't take up much of your time. I want to be a writer (Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you to read anything of mine.)
I was just wondering if you have any advice for new writers. Just one piece would be really helpful…
Love the book,
Over the last few years, I've heard this question a lot. It comes up in e-mails and interviews with clockwork regularity.
Despite that, it's a question I never mind answering. I like giving advice, and I like talking about writing. So this one's a twofer for me.
That said, my answer tends to change. If I'm reading something that irritates me, my advice might center around how to avoid that particular irritation. Sometimes it just depends on my mood, or what I'm working on in my own revisions.
But I've also noticed a slow change in how I think of this question as time goes on. Sometimes my answer centers around the nuts and bolts of the craft: revision, or character, or how to comport yourself professionally at a convention.
But more and more, I tend to answer this question in more practical terms. While these snippets of advice tends to be much more universal and useful that talking about managing POV, interviewers seem to be put off by it.
I've come to realize that when an interviewer asks me, "Can you give one piece of advice for new writers?" what they're really looking for is something pithy and encouraging. They want me to say "Reach for the Stars!" or "Never give up!"
But that's not really good advice. I mean, you could really hurt your shoulder reaching for the stars. Good advice is occasionally disheartening. "Come to grips with the inevitability of rejection." Or "Don't quit your day job."
Once, I had a lovely 30 minute phone interview that ended roughly like this:
Thanks for the interview, Pat.
In closing, if you could give one piece of advice to new writers, what would it be?
Live somewhere cheap.
I beg your pardon?
Odds are, it's going to take you a long time to finish your novel. Then it's going to take you a long time to break into the publishing world. That means you're effectively going to be working at a job that will pay you nothing, and you're going to be doing it for years. So you should live somewhere cheap.
I was thinking something more along the lines of worldbuilding….
If you live somewhere like Seattle or Manhattan or LA, you're going to have to shell out thousands of dollars just in rent. If you have to work three jobs just to pay your rent, when are you going to find the time to write?
Do you know how I managed to keep working on my first novel for 14 years without starving to death?
Student loans? Some sort of trust fund?
Shit no. I learned how to live cheap. Up until 2005, I never paid more than $225 a month for rent.
I'm a good bargainer. And I had roommates. And small-town Wisconsin is a cheap place to live.
Also, I lived in some real shitholes from time to time. But you know what? You can write in a shithole. You can't write when you're working 70 hours a week.
[chuckles nervously] Well, I think that's about all the time we have….
Hell, I was so poor for a while I qualified for low-income housing back in 2004. Those places were pretty nice, actually.
Remember to turn in next week, folks. Thanks again, Pat.
Did you know that if you boil a paper shopping bag long enough, it makes something that's almost like soup?
[Cut to static]
Okay, I made up the part about paper bags, but the rest of it is true.
The nice thing about being a writer is that you can do it pretty much anywhere. If you want to be a Hollywood actor, you have to live in LA. If you want to be a professional pianist or a ballet dancer, your options are pretty limited. But if you want to write, you can live whereverthehell you want.
For example, back in 1994 I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with a shared bathroom down the hallway. The rent was $135 a month, everything included. My friends called the place: "The Pit."
I was really poor back then. I was working three little part-time jobs and paying my own tuition. I didn't even have a telephone because the 30 bucks every month for basic service was money I could really use for other things. Like food. You can eat for a month on 30 bucks if you're careful.
Was the place a shithole? Absolutely. Was it inconvenient not having a phone? Of course. Hell, at one point my parents took out a classified add in the college newspaper because they had no other way to get in touch with me.
But I had time to write.
In fact, I distinctly remember writing Kvothe's first admissions interview while living there. And his first class with Hemme. I was pretty proud of those scenes, and they didn't change all that much between there and the final version of the book.
Best of all, living cheaply is a skill that will serve you well *after* you're a published writer too. Especially if you're writing Fantasy or Sci-fi. Tobias Buckell did some research into the advances a new writer gets for a first novel. And, on average, it's not a ton of money.
So there you go, Becky. My advice for a new writer. Live somewhere cheap. Sorry if it's not the gem of wisdom you were looking for, but really, what would you do with a gem of wisdom anyway? This is more like a muffin of wisdom. Everyone likes muffins.
Alright folks, while I'm dealing with the aftermath of the fundraiser, here's a question from the mailbag.
You've mentioned your translators on your blog before, generally in glowing terms. I don't really see what the big deal is. You wrote something great. You made something out of nothing. But they're not doing that. They're not really making anything, they're just.... copying it.
Plus, don't you think that what they do is rapidly becoming obsolete? They already have programs that can translate languages. One wonders why they bother having people translators at all.
At first, Steve, I thought you might be pulling my leg with this e-mail. "Nobody could really think translation was easy," I thought to myself. "He has to be putting me on."
Then I realized that I've been having a crash course in the perils of translation over the last year and a half. And I remembered that most Americans are pointedly, painfully monolingual. And I remembered one of my friends saying as a joke, "How hard can it be to learn French? French babies do it all the time...."
So I'm going to take this question at face value, Steve. The truth is, translation has got to be one of the hardest jobs there is. Period.
First off, you have to be fluent in two languages. Not just kind of fluent, but *really* fluent. You need to understand the culture of the language you're translating from, and the idiomatic speech.
Like what I said up there in my first paragraph. "Pulling my leg" is an idiom. It doesn't mean what it actually says. If you're pulling my leg, it mean you're playing a joke on me, teasing me.
There are a thousand little things like that stand in the way of true fluency, and you can't just copy them over into the new language and have them make any sense. For example, if I said, "You have a bird," in Germany, I'm not actually saying anything about a bird. What I'm actually saying is that you're crazy.
Secondly, you have to decide if a translation is going to be true to the letter of the work, or true to the spirit of the work.
What do I mean by this? Well... I'm reminded of what one of my favorite professors said when I asked him which version of the Odyssey I should read. I was looking for the best translation, and I trusted him, because he had a good old-fashioned classical education and could actually read Latin and Greek.
"It's not really an issue of the best translation," he said. "My old classics professor used to say, 'a translation is like a woman. It can be beautiful, or it can be faithful, but it can't be both....'"
Sexism aside, I think this strikes to the heart of the issue. A word-by-word translation is going to be clunky and awkward. But a beautiful one isn't going to actually say the exact same thing as the original. A translator needs to walk that fine line between. Or rather, they have to dance madly back and forth over that line.
And as for translators being replaced by computer programs? I give a hearty laugh. Translation is not a science, it is an art. And as such, it belongs solely in the realm of humans.
Most everyone knows about Babelfish. Let me show you what something looks like when I use that program to translate something from English to German and back again. If this were as simple as plugging numbers into an equation, we should end up with the same thing we started with, right?
Here's a paragraph most of you probably recognise:
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.
I stole princesses back of sleeping truck kings. I burned down the city of Trebon. I spent and with my reason and my life left the night with Felurian. I was away-driven of the university at a recent age, than most people are inside permitted. I step ways by moonlight, which others are afraid, in order to speak during from the day to. I spoke loved women and written Lieden, who let the Minnesänger cry with Gods.
They can have heard of me.
And that's using German, a language so closely related to English that if they were people, it would be illegal for them to get married.
Look what happens when you do the same think with a language that's *really* different, like Japanese:
I stole the king woman from wheelbarrow king of sleep. I burnt under the town of Trebon. I passed the night of Felurian, my sanity and went away with my life both. I was discharged rather than being able to allot most people from the university of a younger age. I the other people between day step on the road with the moonlight which is feared in order to speak concerning. I God, to the song by the document which makes the woman and the wandering minstrel cry who are loved spoke.
It can inquire about me.
Yeah. I think the translators' jobs are safe for another year or two.
Ask the Author #4: How Do I Pronounce Kvothe's name?
And now for a little T&A...
No. Wait. That should be Q&A. Sorry...
I know you're busy, but how exactly do you pronounce "Kvothe?"
I know it's similar to "quothe," but I'm still not sure how it sounds. Can you help clarify the specific phonetic pronunciation?
The initial "kv" sound in "Kvothe" doesn't crop up in standard English that often. But it does appear in the Yiddish term "kvetch."
The "o" is the same as in "roll" or "hole."
The "e" is silent.
If you've been pronouncing it wrong, don't sweat it. You're not alone. I've heard a lot of different pronunciations over this last year:
Kvahthe. (With the middle sound like you're saying "Ahhh" at the doctor's office.)
Kvothay. (With the ending rhyming with "prey.")
Kvothee, Kvahthay.... No no no. You're all making it harder than it needs to be. That's why I put that bit in right at the beginning of his story. "My name is Kvothe, pronounced nearly the same as 'Quothe.'"
Kv + Quothe = Kvothe. Simple.
Still, even this confusion makes me happy. I remember the Raistlin/Rastlin arguments me and my friends had years ago.
Wow, that's a warm fuzzy thought. My first year in college, out at someone's house, drinking homemade sangria in their kitchen and arguing about Dragonlance. I remember thinking, "I never knew there were this many people like me out in the world."
Those were good times. It almost makes me want to not post this up. That way, people can have that same sort of pointless argument about my book as I used to have about Weiss and Hickmann's.
Nah. I'll leave this up. That way when there's an argument, y'all can step in and seem supercool because you've got the inside scoop.
Oh, and one other thing. Tarbean isn't pronounced tar + bean.
It's tar + bee + en. The end is similar to how you say "Caribbean."
Hello folks. I've been elsewhere lately. Things have been busy with writing and getting ready for my trip out to New York for the Quill Awards.
But just yesterday I got the following message from someone asking me to help her settle a debate between her and a friend:
[...] Anyway, her stance is that Literature (her cap) is about enlightenment and improving the human condition, while fantasy is just escapist crap. I know she's wrong, but I'm not a good debater. I'm not good with words. Can you help me out?
Sami, your question reminded me of a forum I got drawn into a while back. Normally I resist being pulled into online discussions, but this one struck home with me. The person who started the thread was asking, effectively, if fantasy really mattered in any sort of profound way.
This is the from-the-hip response I made on that forum a while back. If you're looking for some argumentative ammo, there might be a few things in here. At any rate, it does a pretty good job of summing up how I feel about the issue.
"Can a Fantasy book/author really change anything?" [First post: July 10th 5:15 AM]
Years ago I was watching a documentary on the Beatles. There was a video clip where a journalist was interviewing John Lennon. He was protesting the war, doing ridiculous things to get press attention so that he could spread the word about his message. He spent his honeymoon in bed with his wife and invited the press. When the press showed up hoping for something racy, John and Yoko used the opportunity to spread their message about peace.
One of the journalists got exasperated with him at one point and said, "You dear boy, you don't think that you've saved a single life with this nonsense, have you?"
I remember watching that and thinking that I couldn't decide which one of them was being foolish. Lennon for thinking he could change things, or the reporter for being so cynical.
Ultimately, I want to believe Lennon. I want to think that a person can make a change in the way people think.
I think that can be done with a protest. Or a song. Or an interview. Or a fantasy novel.
Hah! I actually found the video clip on youtube. If you watch it for about 40 seconds you'll get to the part where the reporter says her line....
However, I don't think that political activism is the only type of change a novel can create. I think a novel can change they way you think about the world. It can expose you to new thoughts or make you reconsider old ones.
Hell, a fantasy novel can teach you things. Any time you learn something it changes your life.
Lastly, but not leastly, we shouldn't overlook pure entertainment. Back when I was in Grad school my life was a hell. It sucked really, really bad and I was stressed out beyond belief. That's when I read the Harry Potter books. They were great. They helped me relax and not freak out. They didn't heal my crippled limbs or stop me from being racist or fix global warming, but they improved the quality of my life. In doing so they hey changed my life in a little way. A good way.
[Second post: July 12th 11:18 AM]
I like what you said about escapism being productive. I think Robert Frost made a point along those lines in Birches.
"It's when I'm weary of considerations, And life is too much like a pathless wood Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs Broken across it, and one eye is weeping From a twig's having lashed across it open. I'd like to get away from earth awhile And then come back to it and begin over."
That is one of the things that fantasy does best.
And laughter is not to be underestimated either. I write a satirical humor column for the local school paper. I write it because I like to make people laugh and it gives me a vent for my humor when my other writing needs to be serious.
After the most recent presidential election I was... distraught. Profoundly distraught and depressed. But my deadline was still there. I had to go in and be funny when I was in no mood. So I wrote about the elections. I made fun of the American populace, and the president, and both parties and myself most of all.
And the column pissed people off. They started a media event about it, got people riled up, and in the end, I almost lost my job because of it.
I remember thinking to myself, "Why do I do this? Why do I work 4-6 hours every week to write a column I don't get paid for? A column that offends people (as all good satire must) and costs me what small shred of respect I have among the other faculty at the university. A column that at best, gives people a cheap laugh?"
Weeks later I was grousing about the whole experience to someone in the University Center. A student walking past overheard and stopped.
"You're that guy that writes the College Survival Guide?" he asked.
"Yeah," I said. Inwardly I was cringing against another attack. The media coverage had not been kind to me, satirical humor quoted out of context looks really, really damning, and as a result I'd been having I got a lot of unpleasant attention. Everything pales in comparison to a death threat, or the promise of a beating, but even tongue-lashings get you down after a while.... "Yeah." I said. "That's me."
"I read it all the time," he said. "After the election I wanted to kill myself. But when I read your column I laughed. I really needed a laugh right then. A lot of us really needed a laugh right then."
It was like a great weight got lifted off me when I heard that. I remember thinking. Oh yeah. *this* is why I write. If we don't laugh sometimes we'll cry. I want to help out with that.
This conversation made me think of a piece of fan mail I got a couple days ago. I'm going to contact the person who wrote it and see if she's okay with me re-printing it here. If she agrees I think it will be a nice addition to this thread...
[The final post: July 12th 12:12 PM]
She said I could share her letter so long as I removed her full last name. I wanted to share this because when this e-mail came in just a couple nights ago, I thought about this thread.
Even if I never get another e-mail like this again I'll feel like I've done something worthwhile with my life....
I read a lot of books. That's not to brag, it's just a fact. I read a lot of books, sometimes once, sometimes twenty times, and I'm glad that there's a lot of books out there because I'm more a little afraid that I'm going to run out one day. But I'm getting ahead of myself. This is really a thank you letter, so I should start there.
I want to thank you for your book, but I want to do it right. I read a lot of books, and it's been a long, long time since I've felt as passionately about a book as I do about yours. I don't know how to describe this feeling, really - I hope you know what I mean so I don't sound like a complete babbling idiot. It's like what I felt when I finished the Tolkien trilogy for the first time. It's the same thing I felt when I read my first LeGuin, it's the first time I read Ender's Game. It's being eight and fascinated by orcs and elves, and fifteen and shocked by the names of shadows that move inside of you, even if the shadow's name is your own name. It's finding love and pain and hope and a piece of yourself in the words on a page that were written far away by someone you have never met.
For the first time in a long time, I had a book that I couldn't bear to leave: your book. I bought it on a whim at five minutes to closing in a bookstore that I had never been to before, on a street that I have been on a hundred times. I started it at 11:45 on Monday night with a cup of grapefruit juice and a little seed of hope. I think you may know this hope, I think everyone has had it in one form or another. It's more than the, "gee I hope this is going to be a good trip" kind of hope.
Let me elaborate. (This is, by the way, kind of a personal letter. I hope you don't mind. You don't have to write back, it's okay, since this is really just a thank you.) I'm 19, just finished my first year of college, and living alone for the first time. I'm scared out of my wits, but not about finding a job or making it through school. I'm afraid that now that I'm an adult, there's no such thing as magic anymore. I don't want to be jaded any cynical and worldly. I like the crisp newness that varnishes the world. If I have to start paying bills and finding an apartment and paying rent, will I lose that shock, that joy, that awe that I felt when I saw things for the first time? (I had my first snowfall this winter. My first winter up north. It was everything I had dreamed it would be and it was utterly miserable. Who knew cold could be so, well, cold?) I am arrogant, I know, but I have to say it: have I read every good book? I wish I hadn't squandered so many good first reads in my childhood, when everything was new, when I didn't know how precious that first read is. That first bite of a taut red apple.
I started reading your book at 11:45pm and stopped at 8:30am when I realized that I probably still needed to show up for work. The first thing I did when I came home was pick it up again, and when I stopped I sat and stared at the wall and cried. Just because some things are over doesn't mean everything is. There are still people out there who can make magic, who know magic, there is still magic, I can still see magic. Closing the back cover was defeating; everything ends, and really there's nothing you can do about it. But it was exciting too. I was excited for another read, excited for the sequels, excited for the future.
I am going to go read it again now, and even though it won't be the first time, it will still be exciting. Thank you for your book. It is beautiful, and bright, and full of magic. Thank you for letting me write you this letter, even if you never read it. Thank you for the hope.
Hope that answers your question Sami. Everyone else, hope you weren't bored by the horribly long post.
I'd like to ask about a subject close to my heart:
How do you feel about poetry? Have you ever written any? What is your favorite kind? and in particular how do you feel about Dark Poetry?
Oh and do you feel that getting poems published is maybe easier/harder then publishing a book?
Generally speaking, I like poetry. Specifically, it's more of a love/hate relationship. I love some types, but a great portion of does nothing but irritate me.
I've written poetry in the past and enjoyed it. I believe that if an author loves language and words, then poetry can teach a great deal about how to use those words effectively.
True, all authors use words, but not all authors focus on making them beautiful. Shakespeare loved words, so did Roger Zelazny and Angela Carter. Ray Bradbury also has what I consider a poetical turn of phrase, by which I mean that the language itself it beautiful, regardless of content, character, or cleverness.
Some authors just don't play that word game. They care more about story, or plot, or character, or... I dunno, unicorns or making money. I'm not being critical here. Those things are important. Those authors can still write good stories, there's no denying that.
But my favorite authors love words AND character AND story... and sometimes unicorns, I guess.
Even if you aren't a word-centric writer, poetry can teach you a lot. You know how everyone talks about Hemmingway learning his tight style by writing for newspapers? I think people can learn the same economy of phrase from poetry. In an 80,000 word novel you have space to waste. But in a twelve line poem you need to make every word pay for itself twice. Ideally, poetry is all about the efficient, affective, well-crafted line. Any author will benefit from learning lessons in that vein.
Unfortunately, a lot of poets these days don't give a damn about a well-crafted line. They think poetry is about getting drunk or wasted and then vomiting their emotions onto a page. These people idolize Ginsberg and Bukowski, but they don't realize that those poets used an amazing amount of craft in their work.
Where were we....? Oh, Do I like Dark Poetry?
Honestly, I don't really know what you mean by Dark Poetry. If Dark Poetry is a pages-long free-form rambling discursion on the angsty emoness of a person's life.... then probably not. Generally speaking those folks have different poetic goals than I do. There's not much attention to the beauty of the language, which is where my heart lies.
In terms of publishing, I never really tried to get my poetry published in any professional way. But I can make a general statement that I'm reasonably sure is true: the difficulty involved depends on where you're looking to get published. If you're trying to hit the big dozen poetry venues where they pay serious money and you get real fame for being there, then it's going to be hard. Same with publishing, the A-list venues and big publishing houses are like unassailable mountains where you really need a friend on the inside or some really remarkable writing to get in. (Or both, ideally.)
But if all you're looking for is to see your work in print and have it read by people, there are a lot of smaller venues that do a nice job publishing people's writing. Not much money or fame, but it can be a good place to start.
Good lord, I thought this was going to be a short post. Sorry for my long windedness. I'll get to a few other questions later, and, as brevity is the soul of wit, I'll try to be brief.
I have just finished the first draft of my first novel and have a short story that will see print in the Dragonmount anthology for 2006.
Now I have to do the agent thing, and not only would I not know a query letter if it jumped up and bit me in the nose. I dont really know what I should do now. I mean what is the thing that will help me get to the next step. (Feeling very green and newbie at the moment.)
I mean I will have my name in print I want to use that to get to the next step.
Any advice would be welcome.
Thanks for your time.
Honestly Karl, my advice is to work on the book before you even start hunting for an agent.
I know that's not what you want to hear. But it's the best advice I can give you.
Now believe me. I understand how you feel. You don't want to wait, revise, tinker, and edit. You've finally finished your huge project. You feel awesome. You've worked for months or years to get to this point. It's finally done. Now you can sell it and get rich and famous. Or you can at least take the first step toward becoming moderately less poor and obscure.
I know that's how you feel because that's how I felt back in 1999 when I "finished" my trilogy.
I say "finished" because it wasn't. My story had an ending, sure. I'd written the trilogy all the way through. But was it finished? Good lord, no. Nowhere close.
Let's approach this from another angle. Let's say your query letter catches someone's attention. If you're lucky, the prospective agent will want to see the first 30 pages of your book. When they read those pages are they going to say, "WOW, this is awesome! I can sell this for sure!" or are they going to say, "Hmmmm, it looks pretty rough."
I'm guessing if you just finished the first draft, it's going to be the latter.
At that point the agent either has the option of putting in a ton of time and effort into you and your rough manuscript. OR they can toss it aside and read one of the dozens still sitting on the slushpile, hoping for something that's clean, tight, polished-up, and ready to sell right now.
Which option do you think they're more likely to pick?
It's my belief that you should never show your work to anyone in the publishing world until it shines like a diamond. Rough drafts don't shine, as a rule. Mine certainly didn't. That's why I was rejected for years and years.
I'm actually glad the book was rejected during those years. Sure it was frustrating, but it forced me to go back, improve the story, and improve myself as a writer. I learned things about plot and character, about structure and brevity, about scene and story.
If that early version had made it into print, you wouldn't be reading my blog right now. That early version of the book wouldn't have recieved gushy reviews and author quotes. The publisher wouldn't have ponied up money for this cool website. If that early version had been bought, it would have been read by a handful of people, then probably quickly remaindered and forgotten.
But I was lucky, and I got seven extra years to work on my story. My book is worlds better now, and, as a result, people are really enjoying it.
You say you want to take things to the next step, Karl. Here's the next step. Revision. The first step is the draft. The second step is the revision. The third and fourth steps might be revision too.
Am I saying you should spend ten years working on your novel? No. Of course not. I'm just saying that first you need to work on your craft as a writer, THEN you should focus on your product, LAST comes the selling of it. Leave that for later.
But when it comes time to get that agent, Karl. Tap me. I can give you some pointers. I spent two years doing it wrong, I can help you avoid my mistakes.
What's the deal with having an agent? I know an editor edits you, but I'm fuzzy on agents.
More specificially, I suppose, I'm wondering if you have one, or if you just deal directly with your publisher?
I do have an agent, Emmie, but I also deal directly with the publishers.
The agent's main job is finding the right publisher for your book and working out the financial details.
But there's more to it than just bargaining. The agent is also your navigator. Your trusty native guide in a strange land. Their job is to know the publishing landscape. They know who is looking for what, how much they're willing to pay, how good the editors are, how good the marketing is, etc etc etc.
Once the agent finds you a publisher, then you start a new relationship with the editor there. The editor's main job is to work with you on your book. But they also act as your liaison with the publisher, that includes sales, marketing.
But sometimes an agent will help with the marketing too, helping you get author blurbs, etc. It's not like your agent doesn't care about you anymore, they still want you to sell as many copies as possible. The more money you make, the more they make. The better your current book sells, the more they can sell your next book for.
My agent gives me advice on editing my novel. I trust him because he knows the genre and because he's given me good advice in the past. But that's MY agent. Your agent might be a shark when it comes to bargaining, but know precisely dick about how to tell a story.
Honestly, each editor and agent is different. Some work well together, some don't. Some will go to bat for you, some won't. It's a strange, chaotic thing, and it entirely depends on the individual people you're talking about.
This I will say. I'm glad I got an agent first. Not only did he help me get my first offer, he also gave me advice so felt comfortable turning that first offer down. (And that was a little hard, I tell you.) I'm much happier where I am now (with Daw) than I would have been with that other publisher.
Also, it's good to remember is that:
1) Your agent bargains for a living, so no matter how much of a dealmaker you are, they're probably better. They'll more than make up for the 15 percent they take out of your advance. Don't begrudge them their cut.
2) By handling the money end of your business, the agent also helps keep your relationship with your editor friendly. Your agent is a pushy dick on your behalf, so you can come in later and just talk about the book.
Think how awful it would have to be to go in to negotiations hoping for a $10,000 advance, only to have the editor argue you down to half that. So you sign a contract for $5,000 and spend the next six months working with them, editing, promoting, all the while you're seething about the fact that they screwed you out of the money you thought you were worth.
Just as bad, what if you pushed your editor up to $12,000 and then they carried a grudge against you? What if they decided to skimp on your promotion budget because of that? That's not a good foundation for an editor/writer relationship.
All in all I really recommend getting an agent. But make sure you get a good one. Tim Powers once said to me, "Who you pick for an agent is just as important as who you decide to marry."
It's really true. That person will be representing you to the entire publishing world. If they're like my wonderful agent, they'll make you look good. But if you get a bad agent, you'll look like an idiot by association.
The worst part is that it's really hard for a new author to tell if their agent is bad. If your publisher screws up, your agent will tell you. If your publicist screws up, your agent will tell you. But if your agent screws up.... well.... they probably aren't going to be very forthcoming about that...
So do some research before settling on an agent. It's exciting to get your first offer, but remember, this is going to be a long term relationship. A first kiss is exciting, but you don't necessarily want to get married because of it.
There are a couple good websites out there with advice about picking agents and editors. So I won't repeat what they say, I'll just point you in their direction.
Over this last week a few people contacted me through webpage, asking questions. Most of them are aspiring authors or people curious about the whole writing/publishing process.
I was starting to reply to them individually, but then I thought, "What if other folks are interested in a little writing advice too?"
You see, I remember all too well what it was like growing up in the middle of nowhere, without any real writer friends or anyone I could turn to with questions about the publishing world.
So what do y'all think? Should we do an "ask the author" type thing here? I'm not an authority on this stuff by any means, but I've had a real crash course on how the publishing world works lately. Plus I've been writing these books for a decade or so. I hope I've learned a trick or two along the way.
Let me know what you think of this idea in the comments below. If it sounds interesting to at least a few people, we'll give it a try.