Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Moving on... For those that don't know it (I know I had no idea until recently), bookstores don't display books on the "New Releases" tables and bookshelf end-caps out of the goodness of their hearts. They don't even do it simply to sell more copies, which, you know, you'd think would be the logical case. No, they actually make arrangements with the publishers for certain books to have this privilege.
That makes sense, I guess. Lots of books come out every month, and shelf space is a finite commodity, so I can see their wanting to make a few extra dollars by charging for the extra exposure a book will gain by sitting on a New Releases table.
Why am I talking about this? Because I just found out that Blood Magic will be on the New Releases table at Border's Superstores for two whole weeks, from 10-2-07 to 10-15-2007! So, if you've been having trouble finding a copy on the shelves, check back in your local Borders in early October and see if they have a copy right by the front door. While you're at it, when you find a copy, shoot a picture of yourself holding it with your digital camera or cell phone and send a copy to Juno for their "Spot Blood Magic" contest. You could win free books, and hey... those are the best kind.
Monday, September 24, 2007
While there, I saw this interview with Paula Guran from Juno. Here's what she had to say about Blood Magic:
Our first mass market is BLOOD MAGIC by Matt Cook (see, we DO publish guys). It is written in first person with chapters alternating between the "now" in and the past providing the back story. The heroine is an anti-heroine in some respects -- she possesses a dark form of magic she doesn't completely understand herself. After her twin sister is murdered she uses that magic to avenge her death and flee. We know from the first page she's a warrior involved in a bloody war against an inhuman foe and as that plotline develops we learn simultaneously how she gained her skills and evolved from a protected, well-bred girl to an extraordinary women. There's no "romantic" element in the traditional sense, but a relationship with a fellow soldier and a relationship she develops with another woman is part of the story.It's still exceedingly weird to hear someone say anything about the book - I suppose the novelty will wear off eventually, but for now I positively love hearing what other people are getting from the book and what they focus on. Thanks again to anyone and everyone that's reading it, and I look forward to your comments here, in email or in reviews.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Harriet Klausner just gave Blood Magic a 5-star review on Amazon.
For those that don't know who Harriet is, she's one of Amazon's top reviewers, and has been written up in such lofty publications as Time and Wired.
This is, as they say, frickin' huge. Harriet, if you're out there, thank you.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Timothy Lantz dropped me a sneak-peek of the cover he's working on for Book 2, and I have to say that, so far, it looks wonderful! I asked my publisher if I could share this, so here it is (click the picture for a slightly larger version).
Check out Lia - she looks great! She kind of reminds me of a young(er) Suzanne Vega, which is interesting, since I still listen to her music quite a lot. Hmmm... Tim - are you hiding in the bushes outside my office while I work? If so, give a guy a holler, will ya, so I can buy you a drink?
I was really hoping to see Tim's take on the Mor on this cover (yes, they will be returning in Book 2 - with a vengeance), but Paula, my goddess-editor over at Juno, tells me that the mass-market cover would be too crammed with the extra element. Yeah, OK, I get that... Maybe I can beg Tim to sketch something out for me - seems like that would be a worthwhile way to spend some of my advance.
For more of Timothy's artwork, check out his web site: Stygian Darkness. Thanks, Tim!
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Paramedics tried to revive him but failed and he was declared dead at the cafe, it said. The paper said that he may have died from exhaustion brought on by too many hours on the Internet.
The report did not say what the man, whose name was not given, was playing.
Of course, there might be a simpler explanation: maybe they still have Ryl servers running in China. Now there's a frightening thought...
As the PC Editor over on MyGamer.com, I find this very disturbing... I can't tell you how many of my friends play massively-online games like World of Warcraft or City of Heroes, often long into the night. I've lost myself more than once for an entire evening in such games, playing until the rising sun surprised me. But, jeepers... three days? Was he wearing a catheter?
I'm quite taken with Timothy Lantz's cover art for Blood Magic, and I honestly feel lucky that Juno managed to procure his talents for my first cover. Tim's print of the cover art has actually been available for quite some time from his online gallery store, but up until now I had no place to link to it. If you like it, or any of his other prints, I hope you'll support this wonderfully talented artist by purchasing a copy for your wall.
Click here for Tim's Blood Magic cover print.
Cross your fingers for me - even though rumor has it that Timothy's beginning to draw the attention of influential people in the comic book industry, Juno tells me that they might be able to get him to do the cover for Book 2 as well, which would be, in a word, soopahfantastic.
The story of Kirin, blood magician, scout, mother, bear-killer, "abomination," starts at a relentless pace and never lets up through skirmishes, political turmoil, prejudice, deadly encounters with the Mor, and the challenges of controlling powers she doesn't understand. In alternate chapters, Cook skillfully guides the reader through Kirin's past, growing up in the shadow of her demanding twin sister, haunted by a marriage gone bad and her sister's brutal murder, but empowered by the teachings and the hidden books of wise old Edena.Read the rest of the review here.
Friday, September 14, 2007
I thought I would feel angry; but I found myself verging toward pity. The case was so weak, the argument so thin, the evidence for optimism so obviously strained that one wondered whom he thought he was persuading. And the way he framed his case was still divorced from the reality we see in front of our nose: that Iraq is not, as he still seems to believe, full of ordinary people longing for democracy and somehow stymied solely by "extremists" or al Qaeda or Iran, but a country full of groups of people who cannot trust one another, who are still living in the wake of unimaginable totalitarian trauma, who have murdered and tortured and butchered each other in pursuit of religious and ethnic pride and honor for centuries. This is what Bush cannot recognize: there is no Iraq. There are no Iraqis. There may have been at one point - but what tiny patina of national unity that once existed to counter primordial sectarian loyalty was blown away by the anarchy of the Rumsfeld-Franks invasion. The president's stunning detachment from this reality tragically endures - whether out of cynicism or delusion or, more worryingly, a simple intellectual inability to understand the country he is determined that the United States occupy for the rest of our lives.
I'm no different than every other American... I worry every day what this war's doing to our economy and our image to the rest of the world. As a father, I'm terrified that we'll still be sending men and women into that meat-grinder when my own son turns 18. I desperately hope that whoever is President or whoever is in Congress will have stopped the madness, and I plan to vote that way (as I always have) to try to make that happen. Maybe this time my vote will be in the majority.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
EDIT (Sept. 14) - No dice at my local book stores, but I'm hearing from others that their local stores are claiming that the book is in the warehouse. So, if it's not on the shelf today, it likely will be soon. Thanks for the mails I've received letting me know your local status - I appreciate them!
"Republicans sex scandals are getting to be like Iraqi car bombings. By the time you hear about one, there's been another. Ted Haggard, Mark Foley, Bob Allen, Vitter, Craig... It's like "Clue" only the answer is always "A Republican... in the washroom... with his cock.""
Many (but certainly not all) of these events and scenarios came from outside of my own life but still spoke to my own personal situation: requests for advice from friends struggling with relationship issues. Or facing a bone-deep dissatisfaction with their chosen career. Some are questions of ethics, or morals. Or that come from fear of death. Or of losing hold of whatever tenuous spark is responsible for the urge and ability to create.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been one that felt the urge to journal. Something about it always seemed wasteful somehow, as if the one doing the recording was trying to replace “true” creativity with a false sense of it. As if the person’s life became their art, rather than influencing it. In short, it seemed like a cop-out. A rejection of the more “noble” impulse to turn experience and adversity into something all could share and benefit from.
A friend of mine recently made the difficult decision to remove their blog from public view because of a promise made to someone very dear to them. The site this person decided to kill was more than the random collection of personal minutia – it had, for lack of a better description, much more in common with Allison Pierson’s bitingly satirical and marvelously funny I Don’t Know How She Does It or McLaughlin and Kraus’s equally scathing, equally hilarious The Nanny Diaries, than it did with the everyday, ho-hum laundry list of daily activities that I generally see being passed off as someone’s “blog”. Really, it was a form of literature, one that shared humorous and occasionally bittersweet stories, illustrating a facet of human life that I’d never experienced before, all while employing language that was as disarming as it was honest: art and artifice all in one.
In short: this person changed my mind about blogs and journaling, and I’m glad that they did. Because of this, and purely for selfish reasons (after all, I only started writing stories because I loved reading them so much), I was sorry to see it go, even as I understood and even applauded the site creator’s reasons and justifications for eliminating it.
But that doesn’t mean that I think they should stop writing. Far from it, in fact. For, if I’ve learned nothing over the past five years (and perhaps I really haven’t – give me the benefit of the doubt for just a minute longer, if you’d be so kind), it’s that there is a vast gulf between writing down your ideas and publishing them.
Don’t worry: I’m not going to get on my rickety soapbox and bore anyone with “why I write”, or even give a single reason why anyone else should, for that matter. I honestly sometimes believe that a person would have to be crazy to actually want to engage in such an activity. The hours are long and lonely, often with no promise of any sort of material compensation or payoff. There are issues of self doubt that can crush even the hardiest of egos. Sometimes friends and family may even resent the time that writing takes away from other things. But sometimes, for some reason, people still decide to do it anyway. Thank God they do, because those that do make the world a better place for the rest of us.
But only because they got their message - their words and phrases and ideas, whether ugly or beautiful; humorous or poignant – out into the world and into a reader’s hands. Make no mistake, however - this act of sharing, of publishing, whether it be in a magazine or a short story anthology, or even in a novel or on a personal blog, can only happen if the author has something to say. Something interesting. Something true. Something heartfelt.
So here’s a challenge to anyone out there that’s “always wanted to write a book” or that sometimes feels the desire to “put down some of the odd little stories” floating around in their head:
Do it. Stop worrying about whether or not it will be “good enough” to publish one day. If that worries you, take what you write and find a critiquing group to help you with your craft, but above and before all else, write first.
Don’t let your problems and your challenges still your voice. Even though you may not be ready to publish, not ready, even, to share your thoughts with your best friend, or your spouse, keep recording them. Keep working on your own unique voice. Don’t count on the imperfect mechanism of memory to carry you, otherwise all you’ll have are vague memories of ideas you had once, long ago.
If you have been writing, trying to improve your “craft”, don’t invest any of your energy in trying to game the process or to figure out the best possible way to catch the attention of an editor. This isn’t a game. Publishers publish, that’s what they do, but they can only tell if you’re worth investing in by reading your words. Say what you want to say, because you never know who else might be hungering to read those words and know that there’s at least one other person out in the world that feels the same way that they do. Many won’t. Some will. Even if the time isn’t right to share your words with the world, never stop putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard when the urge strikes you.
Just write. It’s what writers do.
Monday, September 10, 2007
I heard today that Madeleine L'Engle died on Sept. 6. Madeleine, of course, wrote many books, my favorite of which was the very first book of hers I ever read: A Wrinkle in Time.
I suppose it might be hypocritical to say that this news saddened me... After all, it's probably been a decade or more since the last time I picked the book up. I never, before this very day, questioned where the author was, what she was up to, or if she was still alive at all for that matter. I did not seek out any of her newer works (honestly, her later books set in the same world as Wrinkle in Time always left me a bit flat, truth be told); never saw the television miniseries based on the book; nothing.
And yet, thinking about this great lady's death, and the fact that there will never be another tale from such an inventive and distinct writer, saddens me all the same. Just thinking about the book's cover - a somewhat garish yellow that only books of the 70's seem to have used, emblazoned with a rainbow-winged flying centaur of all things - transports me back in time to when I was a second-grader in Greenbelt, Maryland.
My elementary school (Geenbelt Elementary... it's still there, I checked) maintained a special bookshelf in the library dedicated to Newbery Award-winning books, and it was there that I first found a copy of Wrinkle. Needless to say, even in grade school, a boy walking the halls carrying a book with a rainbow-winged centaur on the cover was asking for a beat-down. I already had a reputation for being the slightly chubby, weird kid whose nose was always buried in a novel or a comic book, so my social standing among my peers was already somewhat shaky. In the end, I decided to risk it and checked the book out. I'm glad that I did.
The book's sci-fi flavor drew me instantly, and I spent that night under my blanket, flashlight in hand, reading well past my bedtime. I simply could not put it down. I finished it the next day, emerging with a crush on Meg, her enticing main character, that was only matched by my unease regarding her creepy little brother, Charles Wallace.
Maybe that was the appeal... before that book, I can't think of a single story I'd ever read that contained characters that seemed so very real to me as Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace did. That feeling made the peril they were in so much more engaging than anything I'd experienced in print up to that time.
Maybe that's why, when I write, I start with the characters first, investing the majority of my prep time in dreaming up their histories, mannerisms, desires and faults before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, if you will). Whether or not I actually succeed in creating characters with even a fraction of the draw as Ms. L'Engle's is, of course, up for debate.
Anyway... Here's to you, Madeleine - you'll be sorely missed ((( steps to the chalk line on the floor, raises glass in a silent toast, drinks deep, then tosses the empty into the fireplace ))).
Friday, September 7, 2007
I asked Paula Guran about it, and she said that this is not the case and that this often happens with Amazon. Apparently they had an old delivery date of Sept. 1, and when that date came and went they updated the date automatically and sent the mails. Paula informs me that the book has shipped and should be in their warehouse by now or within a few days, and as soon as they put the copies in inventory then update emails will go out.
Thanks to everyone that pre-ordered a copy or copies - I really appreciate your faith and support!
Everyone will think you are rich. Obviously, if you got a book published, someone must have given you fat sacks of cash dollars American. You now have a moral obligation to donate to charities, give to your alma mater, and consider including PBS in your will.
You will not be rich. Whatever money you might have earned from an advance will have been spent fully a year before your book appears. Maybe you paid off your car, or maybe you got that leather jacket out of lay-away at Wilson's. Whatever, that money is LONG gone.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Thanks very much to Mike for allowing me to reprint it here, and I hope this proves valuable to writers and readers of this blog.
The Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues
Mike: There are a lot of misconceptions about agents.
One is that you can't sell without one. This is demonstrably
false; I think most of us sold our first novels without an agent.
Another is that an agent can sell an inferior book. Also
false. An agent can get your manuscript read faster, and can
probably negotiate a better advance (though you should remember
that if it's only 10% or 15% better, it's going right into the
agent's pocket), but no agent can make an editor buy an inferior
(Well, yes, they can -- but only if it's "You buy Joe
Phan's first novel or you don't get the new Stephen King/Tom
Clancy/Danielle Steele book." But while it's theoretically
possible, consider the reaction of King/Clancy/Steele when this
gets out -- and it always gets out -- and ask yourself just how
long Mr. or Mrs. Eight-Figure Advance would stay with such an
Still, an agent's a handy thing to have. They usually know
who's buying what, they can get you a faster read, the good ones
can spot little killer clauses in contracts that slip by a lot of
writers, they act as a buffer between the author and the editor,
they harass the publisher and his accountant for your money, they
make your foreign sales, some of them make your movie/tv sales,
some of them make your short fiction sales. The good ones are
worth their weight in gold; the bad ones can destroy a writer's
career so fast you wouldn't believe it.
And I'm on the outside looking in. You have worked for a
literary agency for the past couple of decades. What particular
insights can you bring to the subject of agents that most writers
don't know but really should know?
Barry: It's more than a couple of decades, Mike. With some
time off for good behavior (i.e., the fiction of "full-time"
freelancing), I've been affiliated with the Scott Meredith
Literary Agency, man and boy, for 33 years. I walked into the
place on 6/2/65 and with distraction and interruptions,
Presidential impeachment and resignations, the excitement
know. It is my theory that the arc of the Scott Meredith Literary
Agency, open for business on 6/29/46 and continuously under Scott
Meredith's aegis until his death on 2/11/93, is an arc which has
become a paradigm for the course of publishing in this country
from the end of World War II through the end of the century. That
course has involved every aspect of how the delivery system has
changed, and it's a remarkable story, still misunderstood or (in
the main) not understood at all. Someday I am going to attempt the
True History of the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, and it will
amaze and divert the multitudes (or so I would like to believe.)
In the meantime, pending that guided tour of the cemetery of
so many possibilities, you ask for "particular insights...that
most writers don't know but really should know." That's a large
question whose generality somewhat terrifies. These past years,
when I'm asked "How you doing?" or "What's going on?" or "What's
the big problem in your life as you see it?", I've been
responding, "These questions are too large for me. I cannot deal
with them. Ask me if Bruckner or Mahler is the better composer and
I can say some interesting things; ask me why Walter Tevis's
Mockingbird, although better written, sardonic, and altogether a
more mature work than The Man Who Fell To Earth, is not a better
novel and I'll suggest why that is the case." But what writers
"don't know but really should know" makes me kind of shudder.
What's your opinion of dogs? What's the real significance of pari-
mutual horse racing? You get the idea.
But here are a couple of facts that most writers should know
if they don't:
1) Agents are like divorce lawyers or medical practitioners.
There are good lawyers (I hope) and not-so-good lawyers, but all
of them in the State of
statutes of divorce in the State. Lawyer A can't find a whole new
set of statutes or conditions unknown to Lawyer B, Lawyer C can't
change the custody or division-of-property laws. Some lawyers are
better than others at working around the system or making the
system less onerous; none of them, however, can shift the system
And whether I'm represented by the Virginia Kidd Agency,
Curtis Brown, Robert Gottlieb of William Morris, your own Eleanor
Wood, or the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, my agent is
confronted by the same editors, the same publishers, the same
marketing conditions. No agent can create a new editor or series
of markets. Once in a great while, a new agent might market a
science fiction novel out of genre and obtain a better outcome
(placement or advance or both) than might have been the case in
genre, but this is rare and almost all agents and publishers know
one another's tricks now. You can't sneak science fiction into
mainstream markets under a disguise and you cannot, as an agent,
turn a $5,000 deal into a $100,000 sale to someone who doesn't
know what's going on. Not any more.
This occasionally happened decades ago. John Cristopher's No
Blade of Grass was rejected in the mid-1950s by many science
fiction markets who found this post-nuclear novel familiar,
predictable, the same old stuff. Scott Meredith's inspiration was
to market it to The Saturday Evening Post as a "controversial
Cold War novel". The Post fell upon the work as if it were a
true tour of the Kremlin's plans. The magazine paid $80,000 and
ran it serially; there was a movie sale for more than that. Then a
Reader's Digest condensed book. The novel rejected by Ballantine
and Ace became a best seller.
So this kind of thing could happen in the old days, but these
are newer days and the Post doesn't exist anymore. If your agent
can't sell your novel, it's not likely that a new agent can find a
different outcome, and a prospective new agent would be inclined
to reject the novel unread anyway and ask for something new;
agents hate to take on work which has already been through its
logical range of markets.
2) Agents are something like symphonic conductors; it's a
profession which is open to fraudulence and incompetence because
the audience cannot really tell a good one from a bad one or
(Orpheus Chamber orchestra) from no conductor at all. Many agents
appear "better" than others because they represent more successful
writers, success goes to success, it was easy for Joe Torre to
look intelligent managing the New York Yankees but he's the same
guy who, when managing the Mets and Cardinals, was thought of as
being pretty dumb. Give me Stephen King and I'll do better than
Stephen King's agent would do with me. In fact, you or I could do
just about as well with the King account as any of the agents
I've named above. And King's agent -- as you suggest -- can't sell
a bad novel by an unknown writer. You rise or sink to your
But, as with symphonic conductors, when a great one does come
along, the audience (not to say every musician in the orchestra)
can tell the difference. Bernstein could gets sounds out of Mahler
than Mitropoulos or Mehta (good conductors both, you understand)
couldn't. There are writers who owe their very careers to
brilliant agenting. I just know of no systematic way in which a
writer in early or even mid-career can find such an agent. And of
course -- this is a cliche -- one agent may be terrible for X and
very good for Y. There is no agent about whom disgruntled ex-
clients cannot tell unhappy stories; there is none among these
agents who cannot elicit testimonials. It all depends. It is a
highly subjective business.
But I wouldn't look for an agent to get a career started, and
I wouldn't have undue expectation of any agent; a writer's career
rests largely on her own efforts. Agents are ancillary. They can
make it easier, and they can also make it a lot worse. (You're
quite right in saying there are agents who "can destroy a writer's
career so fast you wouldn't believe it.")
All that being said, it's still worth trying to get a good
agent, just as the orchestra board, cynical as it may be, knows
that it's worth making a real effort to get a good conductor. How
would you recommend that writers conduct such a search?
Mike: Let me begin by reiterating that I think an agent can
make an enormous difference. The one I got rid of in 1983 had sold
maybe a dozen novels for me -- but always to the same publisher;
it was easy for her to do, much easier than shopping around for
better offers, and of course I had no idea that any other
publisher had any interest in me -- so as long as _my_ publisher
was buying I was happy. I didn't know much about the foreign
market, so I didn't object to not making any foreign sales until
1983, when I made my first two -- and came away with twice the
money I'd been paid in
And when she tried to sell a sequel to Birthright: The Book of
Man, a novel in which I had killed off the entire human race,
without first asking me if I would or could write it, I decided it
was a good time to part company.
My new agent put my next novel up for auction, which scared
the hell out of me. After all, my previous agent had convinced me
that no one else wanted me, and I was sure this was bound to
offend my current publisher, possibly to the point I would be cut
loose. (I was very naive.) Within weeks three different
publishers were bidding, and all had offered me at least 300% more
than I'd been getting. My new agent also made 27 foreign sales in
the first 18 months we were together (and 16 years later, we're
still together). And she's never tried to sell a sequel that
couldn't possibly be written without invalidating the original
So yeah, an agent can make a difference.
A good agent also knows that clients are not interchangeable,
that each requires special handling. You can't market an Anne
McCaffrey, who lives on the New York Times bestseller list, the
way you market Nancy Kress or Connie Willis, who don't show up on
the New York Times list (no shame there; hardly any of us do) but
win more than their share of Hugos and Nebulas. And you can't
market Nancy and Connie the same way, because while both are
brilliant they don't write the same kind of stories. And neither
of them can be marketed like Ann Crispin, who can't be marketed
like Michael Bishop, who can't be marketed like Lois McMaster
Bujold, who can't be marketed like me. The agent who doesn't
realize this, who assumes that because it's all called science
fiction it must all be sold and promoted in the same way, is doing
her entire stable a disservice.
Okay, so how do you find the agent who's right for you?
Step one: get your hands on a SFWA Directory and turn to the
back, where every agent and his/her stable of SFWA writers is
listed. See where you think you'd be most comfortable. Are you
happier with a new agent, who lacks experience and some clout, but
who doesn't have 27 writers who outearn you? Are you happier with
an established agent, who will perhaps have less time for you, but
may bring more expertise to the table?
Step two: contact some of the writers in the stable and ask
them for pros and cons about the agent. And since most of them
will have nothing but favorable comments -- those who don't will
have left -- try to find some writers who did leave and find out
Then it's a matter of deciding what's important to you,
For example: Does the agent have a good foreign desk? They're
not all interchangeable, you know.
For example: Does the agent return phone calls promptly? And
is this important to you?
For example: Does the agent charge 10% or 15%? And if it's
15%, what do you get that other writers don't get for 10%?
For example: What incidental expenses will he bill you for?
(This can run the gamut from postage and phone calls to copying
and use of personal couriers for in-city delivery of manuscripts.)
For example: Does the agent deal with
TV) himself, or does he have a media specialist agent? And if so,
is the media agent any good? Who does the media agent handle and
what has he sold?
For example: Can the agent receive e-mail? (If not, and if
you like to keep in constant touch, you're probably looking at
some hefty phone bills.)
For example: Does the agent attend Worldcon, World Fantasy
Con, and/or the Nebula Banquet? (If not, it means every time you
want a face-to-face with the agent, you're going to have to fly to
For example: Does the agent pay you the instant the check
arrives, or does he wait until his bank clears it? (This can be a
couple of weeks on some foreign checks. Will this make a
difference in your ability to pay your bills on time?)
For example: Does the agent handle short fiction, or does he
want you to do it yourself? (And do you want an agent to handle
short fiction? Most agents prefer not to, and most writers are
perfectly happy that way -- but a few agents insist upon it.)
For example: Will the agent handle your career personally, or
is his stable so large that you'll be given to some skilled (or
perhaps unskilled) assistant?
For example: Does the agent's expertise extend beyond science
fiction and fantasy, and if so, does it cover areas in which you
might wish to write in the future?
All of the above are valid considerations, but they're not
necessarily equal considerations. You have to decide which are
more important to you, and which are less so.
Do you want an agent who molds your career, tells you what to
write, and acts as a first reader -- or do you want one who will
take what you offer without question and send it out immediately?
Do you want one who reports every rejection, or do you want to use
your agent as a buffer from rejection and only be told the good
Another consideration: is your agent solvent? I don't mean,
do his checks bounce...but is he making a decent living? Not only
does it show some competence on his part, but it avoids a pitfall
that has hamstrung more than one writer. Which is to say, when you
get a call that a publisher has just offered $6,000 for your
masterpiece and you'd better take it because it's been turned down
everywhere else, can you trust what your agent says -- or could it
be that this is only the first or second publisher to see it but
your agent has got to get his hands on a quick $600 for rent or
child support or whatever? As everyone says, your relationship
with your agent is very much like a marriage -- and marriages
built on trust tend to last the longest.
Now Barry, since you've spent 33 years, more or less, in a
literary agency -- and how you sold 90+ books and 300+ stories
during just the first decade of that time remains a mystery to me
-- perhaps you'd care to tell us how different sales strategies
are developed, and how they work? And you might even address fee
Barry: "You might address fee reading," the man says as an
afterthought. Ever so shyly. "You might want to address those
remarks on Jews we heard on the tape transcripts, Mr. President."
"Mr. President, one little question about that female intern."
Something like that. Talk about backing into the horned beast.
Anyway, and all right, let's address the issue of fee
reading. As you and most of the membership know, the Scott
work of unpublished or unestablished writers for money, with the
understanding that saleable work would be represented by the
agency, potentially saleable work would be directed through
revision by the agency, and that unsaleable work would -- well, it
would be kindly declined. Over this very long periods of time --
the Agency opened its doors on 6/29/46 and fee reading was always
a constituent -- the program has had its successes and its
problems. Many prominent or not-so-prominent one-time clients of
the agency originally came through the fee department, including
several present SFWA members; I won't mention their names but
will note that Richard S. Prather, John Farris, Bruce Douglas
Reeves (who he?), Bill Pronzini, and Jeffrey M. Wallman are all
important novelists who showed up at the beginning with $25 or $35
in hand, a hopeful expression, and a manuscript.
What's even more interesting than a list of fee-paying
writers who became agency clients is a list of fee-paying writers
who did not become clients -- whose works were declined by the
agency or unsuccessfully marketed. Here are just a few, and in no
particular order: Stephen King, Even S. Connell, Jr., Robert
Parker, Raymond Carver, John Barth. The novel on which Gus von
Sant's first screenplay and film were based was rejected by the
agency. This all goes to prove something, although what that
something might be is not entirely clear.
Another interesting list would be those who have worked for
the fee department -- writing responses in Scott Meredith's name.
Here are a few (and again, in no particular order): myself. Donald
E. Westlake. Lawrence Block. Lester del Rey. Lawrence M. Jannifer.
Damon Knight. Allen Ginsberg. Donald A. Fine. Phil Klass (better
known as "William Tenn"). Talk about the true unwritten history!
My own position on fee reading is that like almost everything
else in this world -- marriage, love, happiness, the effects of
wealth or poverty -- is that it's all contextual, it all depends.
Depends upon the acuity of the person reading the manuscript,
depends upon the ability or potential of the author. (Hopeless is
almost always hopeless.) I've never endorsed the system, I've
never condemned it. (Would be hypocrisy certainly to condemn.)
There are better ways to get an agent and a publisher but
unconnected writers have always had a problem with access and most
publishers won't even screen unsolicited materials any more. So if
you're out there in the provinces (and for an unpublished writer
West 29th Street can be a province) you've got to try something.
At the least, most fee correspondence from at least this
agency has been competent, lucid and to the point, and over the
years the agency readers have passed on little work which has
subsequently proven to be saleable. The record isn't terrific but
it's probably been acceptable. I can't talk to the practices of
any other agencies.
Sales strategies? "How are different sales strategies
developed?" If it's Dean Koontz or Stephen King you don't need a
sales strategy, you just need an open phone line. If it's a Mike
Resnick at this point in his career you don't need much of a sales
strategy either; the agent and the publishers have a pretty good
assessment of the writer's audience, ability and potential and
it's just a question of how much a publisher wants to risk and
whether the publisher wants to try to change the equation. Sales
strategy comes more into play in the case of a writer at the very
beginning of a career or perhaps coming off a hot first book which
has sold or been reviewed beyond all expectations and which makes
possible a leap in advance and possibilities. But is the largest
advance necessarily the best offer in its totality? Is the largest
publisher the best publisher? These are questions which can only
be answered on an ad hoc basis and I suppose that it is here --
and here more than in any other area -- where the differential
abilities of the agents and their sympatico with the client can
make a real difference.
I think, overall, the role of an agent is overrated. John
Updike has never had one. Neither did John O'Hara. Nabakov had
representation for some foreign language rights but, after he left
Cornell to write full-time in 1958, had no agent for his
manuscripts. Dean R. Koontz has had four agents, each of which did
better for him than the last, but this was because Koontz was
doing better and Agent #1 might have done as well for the present-
day Koontz as is Agent #4. You or I could do pretty well for
Stephen King, I suspect, while the William Morris Agency would
have a hard time promoting ancillary and subsidiary rights to the
work of Ray Cummings. No agent can be better than the work
represented (some can be worse), no agent can as I've said find a
new set of markets.
But tell me how and through whose efforts you've made your
movie sales (did Eleanor Wood or a cooperating agent manage those
as well?) and I will be content and fully informed.
Mike: My first couple of movie options came through a
cooperating Hollywood-based agent. But, possibly because he
represented literally hundreds of category writers, he never
followed up on them. He seemed content to make option money and
let it go at that, so finally I let him go.
Now, over the years, we saw one talented writer after another
go out to Hollywood to conquer the movie world...and we saw one
talented writer after another vanish from sight or wind up writing
Saturday morning cartoon shows for television. We spent the better
part of 25 years observing them and trying to learn from their
mistakes, and when we thought we'd figured most of it out, we
decided it was time to take a fling at Hollywood ourselves. (I say
"we" because Carol, my wife and collaborator, is a far better and
more visual screenwriter than I am. One of the things I discovered
is that you have to chuck almost everything you learned as a prose
writer before you can become even a mildly competent screenwriter,
and since she hadn't been writing prose professionally for a
quarter of a century she had a lot less to unlearn.)
The first thing we realized was that you can't market a
script the way you market a manuscript. Studio script departments
are just enormous slush buildings.
The second thing was that the easiest way to sell a script
was not to market it yourself -- writers are pretty unimportant
cogs in the movie machine -- but to package it with a hot director
and a hungry producer. (How you find them is another story, and
has almost nothing to do with agents.)
The third thing was that this is a business of personal
contact and cachet, far more than the prose writing business, and
you use your contacts to make more contacts. In the past three
years we've sold two screenplays and optioned seven books and two
stories -- and every single deal, every contact we've made, can
all be traced back to the first producer and director who optioned
Santiago years ago. They introduced us to their friends, who
introduced us to their friends, and it became a geometric
Now, one of the interesting things we learned along the way
is that, unless you're planning to make Hollywood a full-time
career, you don't actually need an agent.
That's right. Unlike literary agents, what Hollywood agents
primarily do is put you together with people who might be
interested in buying your services. They set up meetings. They
arrange lunches. But once an offer is actually on the table, your
Hollywood agent steps aside and your Hollywood lawyer takes over
the negotiation -- and Hollywood lawyers eat Hollywood agents for
(Yeah, I know: you have a friend who sells screenplays and
doesn't have a lawyer, just an agent. Right. But if that's the
case, then his agency has one or more lawyers to handle the
Now, if you want full-time work, as I said, you want an
agent. And full-time work entails getting rewrite jobs (80% of all
the contract writing in Hollywood, maybe a little more, is
rewriting). It entails hawking scripts that you've written on whim
or on spec. It entails endless business lunches and meetings, and
in most of them you'll know three minutes into them that you're
not getting hired today.
Hollywood is so eccentric, so alien to Carol's and my values
and lifestyle, that we're willing to give them only ten weeks a
year. And since we've reached the point where they call us with
offers at least once a year, frequently two and three times, we
have more work that we can handle, and hence have never hired a
Hollywood agent. (We do have Quentin Tarrantino's lawyer. And
no, we didn't just walk in off the street to get her. Again, it
was a matter of contacts.)
Most prose writers look upon Hollywood with some contempt. It
shows in their attitudes, and it shows in their writing, and
that's why Hollywood is so loathe to hire prose writers.
Screenwriting is a totally different discipline from prose
writing, but it's every bit as demanding and precise, and until
one masters the art -- and you can't go into it saying, "Hell,
what's so hard about writing Porky's #8 or Halloween #17?" --
I wouldn't advise anyone to quit their day job or back out of
their book contracts...and if you're not going into it full-
time, I also wouldn't advise getting a Hollywood agent.
Another thing to consider: Hollywood rewrites everything.
There are a lot of reasons for this. One is that they're trying to
create art by committee, and hence a lot of people have input into
the script. Another is that sometimes scripts, like books, need
revising. There are other reasons, dozens of them. But there are
two primary reasons, neither of them known to the general public:
first, it gives executives cover (if the movie flops, they can
blame it on the half-dozen writers, whereas if they go with the
first script, it's their fault for showing such poor judgment);
and second, while most Hollywood execs are brilliant men in their
fields, their fields are marketing and making deals, and since
they do not know the intracacies of screenplay construction, all
they can do is voice a vague dissatisfaction when a screenplay
doesn't meet their expectations. They are not writers, and hence
cannot tell a writer how to fix or change it; so they flit from
one writer or writing team to another until finally someone
intuits what they want and delivers it to them.
And since rewriting is part of the culture, what this means
-- and I've talked to a number of SFWAns who have experienced this
-- is that if you do get an agent, he'll almost certainly have you
rewrite your treatment or your screenplay endlessly, without
pay, until he thinks he can sell it. But he has no more knowledge
about what will sell than you do; if he did, he'd have one of his
better-paid and better-credentialed journeyman writers script it.
If, after all this, you still feel you must get a Hollywood
agent, then there are two ways to go: you can join a major agency
that handles actors, directors, writers, the whole nine yards.
(The advantage is that such agencies often package entire movies,
and you certainly have a better chance of selling your screenplay
if Mel Gibson and Meg Ryan and Ivan Reitman are attached to it.
The disadvantage is that such an agency probably has 50 or more
writers who make more money than you, have been with the agency
longer than you, and would also like to be packaged with the
agency's Name actors and directors.) The other way is to join what
is called a boutique agency, a small house dealing (in this case)
exclusively with writers; your screenplay will be given more
respect, more time, more attention -- and will be far more
difficult to sell since it won't come packaged with anything else.
The one other thing I can tell you about Hollywood agents and
agencies is that they invariably try to steer their clients into
television, where one makes smaller but far more regular
paychecks. The loyalty of most agents is to their agencies first
and their clients second -- and their agencies need cash flow. The
problem is that there is a very definite social and economic
ladder in Hollywood, and movies are at the top of it; if you write
enough television, you'll be tagged as someone who couldn't make
it in movies, and you'll have a much harder time getting off the
small screen and onto the big one. Now, if you're Joe Straczynski
you're making zillions and doing just what you want and you
needn't give a damn about that, but most people aren't Joe
Straczynski, and it bears mentioning.
Why do we put up with it? Because once you get your foot in
the door, you'll find that your check for each draft of your
screenplay dwarfs anything you ever saw from your novels.
In sum, this is an incredibly idiosyncratic field. Everything
I've said is true, based on our experience -- but if there's a
successful SFWA screenwriter whose experience is diametrically
opposed to ours, I wouldn't be surprised.
So much for what I know about Hollywood. Now, very briefly,
how do you know when a literary agent is about to become a major
force in the field, and how do you know when a literary agent is
over the hill?
Barry: Well, that's another of those questions. "How long
should a novel be? How much money is good money for a novel? What
defines a 'professional writing career'?"
But addressing this one I think of the collected sayings of
the sainted or soon-to-be-sainted Yogi Berra discussing a
restaurant: "It's become too popular. No one goes there anymore."
Thus with agents. By the time an agent acquires a reputation
as a hot, talked-about, promising agent-on-the-rise who has done
some really good things on behalf of writers at a relatively early
career stage, well, it's already too late. At least for similarly
unestablished writers. The agent has made deals, found larger
quarters, been besieged by potential clients, has hired or
expanded a staff and has focussed her attention on the present
client list. You might be able to sign on but it's already too
late, at least for an unestablished writer. Unless you're a real
acquisition for the agent, you're going to be passed onto a new
assistant or sloughed off altogether.
In sum, it is the same problem with agents as with, say,
romance novels...by the time the word gets out to the provinces
that romances are what is selling now, by the time you read it in
Writer's Digest or even Publisher's Weekly, publishers are
stocked five years ahead. You can't follow a trend, you have to
be a trend, at least if you're trying to get something started
outside of New York, away from fast access,
And, not so ironically (because it can be powerfully damaging
to those caught in the trap) the signs of an agent or agency in
decline are very similar to those of a "hot agent" addressed a
little too late...disdain, assistants, long gaps in response, a
clear inattentiveness, a willingness to take a lower offer for the
work of an unestablished writer "becaue it's not important
enough" (or, the other face of the syndrome, an unwillingness to
even represent work not seen as "breakthrough" or "crossover" or
"major market"). If your agent won't return or have someone return
your phone calls within two days, or if your editor or an editor
you query says that she has not been able to connect with the
agent...these are, as they say, signs that you've got a problem.
Not all agents are on the rise or in decline, of course;
there are many who have beeen at a stable and reliable level of
function for a long time and will continue to be. But it's a
business no less volatile than publishing, and I can think of four
agents or agencies, very important 10-20 years ago, which are
obliterated or might as well be. No substitute for vigilance, and
ultimately the career of a writer is in her own hands. An agent
can't take that responsibility and shouldn't be asked. Depend
first and last on your own resources; anything beyond that is a
Unestablished writers tend to overvalue the role of agents
the way high school students overvalue the role of sex in a
relationship. Important, yes; to die for, yes -- but ancillary,
Mike, and the earlier this is understood, the better.
Mike: The only thing I can add to that is that it's harder to
pinpoint an agent's tastes than you think. Virginia Kidd, for
example, handles Gene Wolfe, Anne McCaffrey, Alan Dean Foster, and
the estate of James Tiptree, Jr. It would be hard to find four
more different writers. Which does she prefer? I've no idea, and
since she's an ethical agent, I'm sure she'll never tell you.
Ralph Vicinanza handles James Patrick Kelly, Julian May,
Jerry Pournelle, and Connie Willis. Again, what does that tell you
about his taste? Zip.
So I suggest that when selecting an agent, you don't try to
determine what he or she likes, because that's really not very
important (beyond the fact they they don't out-and-out loathe your
work). Look at their accomplishments, and if their accomplisments
meet with your approval, the rest will take care of itself.