By G. Miki Hayden
Instructor at Writer's Digest University online and private writing coach
firstwriter.com – Monday November 4, 2019
When they stop communicating with you, you know you’re toast.
So should you negotiate without an agent?
Writers are often eager to have time-limited contracts with their agents—as well they might be (you want to get out when you’re ready to go)—but some agents have time-limited contracts for their own protection. One popular authors’ representative gives a contract for a six-month period and says if he can’t sell your book within that time, you’re free to go.
Other agents may be a bit more subtle and will stop answering your emails or calls, though that’s not a sure sign, since they may really, really just be busy or waiting to hear on a submission or two.
Moreover, your agent might believe in you, and believe in your books, so that rejections will be an unpleasant jolt, but they won’t spell doom. She might ask you to write another book and try with that one, and keep trying, even if that one doesn’t do the job.
Certainly many agents may lose interest in you if you don’t sell within five or six submissions. Those agents don’t want to spend any more time, effort, or even money for phone calls, postage, and such on a proposition that doesn’t pay off quickly. That’s how they operate. You can tell what’s going on by whether your agent is still being encouraging, promising to send to other houses, or asking you to write another with certain other elements, and so on. Or not.
Contract With No Agent
If your agent dumps you or you drop her, life goes on, and so might a publishing career. Yes, nearly everyone says you need an agent to negotiate a contract. Nearly everyone, but not everyone. Some say you need an attorney, but not just any attorney, a literary one. A few others pooh-pooh all this fuss over a few pages of fancy language and say do it yourself.
In one case, an editor suggested to an author that she shuck her agent in order to save the 15 percent. No, said her friends, the editor is just trying to pull a fast one on you and trying to cut a better deal for the publishing house since the author wouldn’t catch all the nasty details. Moreover, the publisher will be up to date on the (legal) scams being pulled on authors and will stick those clauses in the contract. While an agent might recognize the attempt for what it is, the author probably won’t.
Agents, too, may well have other clients with the house and certainly know a bunch of fellow agents with clients there. If the publisher tries to pressure the author into a dubious agreement, the agent thus has a bit of clout to counter with in protecting her client’s interest.
Often, though, editors will suggest to an author who doesn’t have an agent, that the author find one to negotiate the contract. One editor actually told an author that he would definitely try to lowball her if she didn’t have representation.
Moreover, some authors don’t want to talk to editors about money or contracts. They want to talk about the book and how to produce the best book possible. These authors don’t want to muddy a relationship with an editor by having to discuss money and other messy contract details. The editor is responsible for obtaining the best deal for her company in order to warrant her own promotions and periodic salary raises. The agent is a good buffer in the effort to cut a better deal.
Although dumping the agent and not looking for a replacement in order to save on the 15 percent might be tempting, and even if the contract is truly nonnegotiable—which it may be—you might also consider the ethical question involved. I understand that the ethical question is mitigated by the fact that the agent may hinder your work with the editor rather than help, but the question should still be looked at squarely, so you at least know how you feel about it. You will also have to face the fact that you'll be badmouthed evermore by the agent and those she gossips with. If you, yourself, leave the agent in the middle of the series, etc. to save 15 percent and don't take on another agent, she will add you to her list of author horror stories. Maybe you don't care. Inevitably, people will say bad things about all of us.
Over the years, I've heard of more pitfalls of going without an agent than benefits. The letter "s" making "work" read "works" in one case gave a publisher the first option on everything an author ever wrote. Elsewhere, the author’s successful pseudonyms were sold. In another contract, secondary rights carried lower percentages to the author than usual or were forfeited. Elsewhere still, paperback rights were "accidentally" conveyed to a third-party publisher without payment. You name it, and it's happened.
If your agent dumps you or you quit him, start looking for a substitute. You found one agent; hopefully you can find another.
G. Miki Hayden is the author of the award-winning guide for mystery writers, Writing the Mystery: A Start-to-Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional, available now from JP&A Dyson.
"Whatever your habitual errors are, punctuation, writing style, or even not understanding what the agents/editors are looking for, if you'd like to correct your flaws, take a class with me at Writer's Digest: https://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/. Or for some less-expensive guidance, you might want to download The Naked Writer for your Kindle at Amazon. Yes, I work with clients privately. Find me on Facebook."
G. Miki Hayden always has a new class starting at Writer's Digest. The feedback she gives is personal, thorough, and actionable.
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Some of this month's news for writers from around the web.
thebookseller.com – Saturday November 16, 2019
The National Centre for Writing in Norwich is relaunching its Escalator Talent Development Scheme seeing under-represented voices in fiction from the East of England with a special focus this year on writers from working class backgrounds.
Now entering its 15th year, the writing programme is supported by the Arts Councils and has worked with almost 100 writers, helping launch the careers of Michael Donkor (published by 4th Estate), Megan Bradbury (Picador), Miranda Doyle (Faber), Guinevere Glasfurd-Brown (Hodder) and Kate Worsley (Bloomsbury)
The 2020 scheme is keen to receive applications from early career writers who self-identify as from a working class background, or writers who wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity to benefit from this kind of support, the National Centre for Writing (NCW) said. “Working class voices remain critically under-represented in contemporary fiction and NCW seeks to address this through Escalator and its talent development programme more broadly,” the Centre added. The Bookseller’s investigation into class earlier this year revealed that around 80% of people in the publishing industry who identify as working class their career has been adversely affected by their background.
Writers' Handbook 2020 - Out Now!
thebookseller.com – Thursday November 14, 2019
W H Smith has unveiled its Books of the Year, with the retailer recognising two children's books for the first time.
In recognition of the "diverse choice across children’s publishing and the importance it plays in supporting literacy and engagement in young readers", W H Smith has chosen both bestselling rhyming read-aloud picture book Oi Puppies! (Hodder Children's Books) by Kes Gray and Jim Field, and the inclusive Izzy Gizmo and the Invention Convention (Simon & Schuster Children's UK) by Pip Jones and Sara Ogilvie as its Children's Books of the Year.
Beth O'Leary's debut novel The Flatshare (Quercus), which has sold 15,362 copies through TCM, has been named Fiction Book of the Year. W H Smith said the "brilliant rom-com" story of Tiffy and Leon who share a flat but have never met is "one of the most uplifting debuts of 2019".
theguardian.com – Thursday November 14, 2019
Lucy Ellmann’s 1,000-page novel Ducks, Newburyport has won the £10,000 Goldsmiths prize for “fiction at its most novel”, praised by judges as a “masterpiece”.
Ducks, Newburyport is the stream-of-consciousness internal monologue of a mother in Ohio as she bakes pies in her kitchen. Made up of one long run-on sentence, with interludes from the perspective of a mountain lion, its ambitious form led to it being turned down by Ellmann’s previous publisher, Bloomsbury. It later found a home at independent press Galley Beggar and was shortlisted for this year’s Booker prize.
Chair of judges, Erica Wagner called the novel “that rare thing: a book which, not long after its publication, one can unhesitatingly call a masterpiece”.
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A selection of the new listings added to firstwriter.com this month.
firstwriter.com – Thursday November 7, 2019
Publishes: Fiction; Nonfiction; Poetry;
Areas include: Short Stories; Spiritual;
Markets: Adult; Children's;
Preferred styles: Literary
Usually accepts submissions from Canadian authors only. Send query by post with SAE with sufficient Canadian postage for return, with author bio, synopsis, and first three chapters up to a maximum of 50 pages.
firstwriter.com – Friday November 15, 2019
Publishes: Essays; Fiction; Nonfiction; Poetry;
Areas include: Autobiography; Nature; Short Stories;
Preferred styles: Literary
Publishes poetry, fiction, and essays that offer an unexpected take on the natural world. Send one piece of prose or up to five poems by email.
firstwriter.com – Monday November 11, 2019
Represents presidential contenders, diplomats, journalists, historians, scientists – and others with a unique and compelling story to share.
|Click here for more of this month's new listings >|
Some of this month's articles for writers from around the web.
irishtimes.com – Thursday November 14, 2019
I’m often asked about the best way to write a novel’s first draft, and thank God for that, for otherwise I’d have no social life at all.
For some reason it generally seems to happen when I discover myself at the bottom of Dawson Street around lunchtime, waiting to cross over to the Trinity side.
“I say, Mr Burke!” bawls some aspiring scribe who, having recently perambulated around from College Green, has mistaken me for that prime hunk of literary boulevardier, Edmund Burke. “How does one go about writing a novel-length story?”
“Well,” I bawl back, which usually precipitates something of a conversational longueur, it being my accoster’s expectation that I have deployed same as a precursor to embarking on lengthy disquisition, whereas my advice in the matter of writing novel-length stories is as brief as it is simple, ie, that if they must be written at all, then they really ought to be written well.
forbes.com – Thursday November 14, 2019
Yesterday I shared part 1 of my interview with literary agent Iris Blasi of Carol Mann Agency about getting your nonfiction manuscript published. Today, Blasi discusses the specifics of selling memoir as a genre, author submission deal breakers, and how authors can best position themselves to get signed by an agent.
You mentioned memoir, where you’re basically selling yourself. Is memoir different in terms of what it takes to sell one?
The ways memoirs are pitched to agents and publishers is different. Generally in the nonfiction world, books can be sold on proposal. That’s the summary, comp titles, marketing and publicity section, about the author, annotated table of contents and a couple sample chapters that show how you would do this if you had an advance and a book deal. The flip side is that on the fiction side, the vast majority of fiction is sold with a completed manuscript.
winteriscoming.net – Wednesday November 13, 2019
Writing a fantasy series can feel a lot like going on a really long road trip. No matter how prepared you think you are, you’re probably still going to get lost a zillion times and realize that you didn’t pack half the things you need. But none of that will matter because you’ll have all kinds of adventures along the journey!
Or … your characters will at least.
As the author? You’re mostly going to consume a lot of caffeine.
I’ll be honest: I had no idea how to write a book when I first got the idea for Keeper of the Lost Cities. And I knew right away that the story would need to be told throughout the course of a series, so it felt extra daunting. I tried studying the craft of writing, but it was all a bit too abstract to be useful for me. What helped me so much more was devouring as many fantasy series as I could get my hands on—which brings me to the first thing to keep in mind if you’re writing a fantasy series.
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