Saturday, March 31, 2007
Ask The Author #2 - The first step to publishing.


Hi Pat,


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.

Karl.


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.

pat

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Sunday, March 25, 2007
Ask The Author #1: Agents

Hey Pat,


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?

Emmie.


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.

Writers beware.

Editors and predators.


Pat

P.S. While I was writing this, my agent sent me the following e-mail:

"This is your last week as an unpublished author!!!!!! Congrats!!!!"

This reminds me of another important role that agents play. They help dispose of unwanted exclamation points.

I kid. What I really mean to say is that in the best of situations, your agent ends up being more than just a colleague or a co-worker. They make pretty good friends too.

Alright. I'm off to celebrate my final Saturday night of nobody status by eating a microwave burrito and watching some Anime.

Later.

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