Tag Archives: publishing

The agent thing

I’ve said this about literary agents many times, but if you still don’t believe me here’s Bob Mayer to reinforce the message:

Most writers just want an agent — any agent.  But a bad agent is worse than no agent.  Not “bad” in terms of them as agents (although they do exist) but bad in terms of an agent that believes “well, maybe I can sell this” versus an agent who believes “I love this manuscript and want to sell the heck out of it.”

My first published book came about through the efforts of my fifth agent. Agent One signed me up about 10 years ago on the strength of another book, a novel, and scored a sale to a major publisher. Agent One took a job in Hollywood and Agent Two, the head of the firm, stepped in. He promptly fumbled things when the editor who’d bought my novel jumped to another house and her replacement killed the contract after a month or so of dicking around. Another agent in the same firm took me on, only to quit to start a family. She confided to me that Agent Two hadn’t even read the manuscript and was caught off-guard when the new editor decided to swing his corporate dick, and advised me to look elsewhere for proper representation.

(People in the publishing business tell me that my experience is the worst story they’ve ever heard. Lucky me, right?)

So goodbye to Agent Two and his company and hello to Agent Four and a different company. After Agent Four marketed another novel without success, I showed her the proposal for a nonfiction book. After much foot-dragging, she said she thought there was the germ of a book somewhere in the proposal but she wasn’t sure how to reach it. Well, I knew how to reach it: I just needed an agent who could reach publishers with it.

So goodbye to Agent Four and her company and hello to Agent Five, who read the proposal and loved it. Through her good efforts, The Last Three Miles was published to worldwide acclaim, with rabid customers storming bookstores to demand their own copies, printing plants running day and night to keep up with the demand, and Brinks trucks leaving sacks of cash on my front porch.

Okay, that last part was a bit of an exaggeration. But the point is that getting an agent isn’t the answer to all your problems as a writer. It elevates you to another, higher level of problems. A good agent can be like a gift of gold. A bad agent can be like an anchor chain around your neck.

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Sign of the times

This Robert Anasi piece about the rise of mixed martial arts is pretty good, but given the current state of publishing, the author identifier at the end of the story had a little extra, shall we say, kick to it:

Robert Anasi is the author of “The Gloves: A Boxing Chronicle.” His new book, “Golden Man: The Remarkable Quest of Gene Savoy,” will be published soon, he hopes.

So do we all.

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PKD pulls his weight

As it prepares to ship its second volume of Philip K. Dick novels, Five Novels of the 1960s and 1970s, the Library of America has told GalleyCat that the the first volume, Four Novels of the 1960s, is the fastest-selling title in the LoA canon and the new book is on track to match that success:

The first PKD volume, published last year, shipped 23,750 copies with an exceptionally low 5 percent return rate, GalleyCat notes:

But how does Dick stand up against the heavy hitters of American letters? The LOA’s first collection of Jack Kerouac novels shipped just under 15,000 copies in its first year, with a return rate of 10 percent. The two-volume collection of Edmund Wilson’s critical writings from the 1920s to the 1940s shipped a combined total of 9,250 copies, with returns at 12 percent. And the American Poetry: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries anthology clocked in at just under 4,200 copies shipped (8 percent returns).

I wonder what PKD would have said, back when he was cranking out novels just to keep himself solvent, that someday his work would be paying the fare for Edmund Wilson and Jack Kerouac?

The GalleyCat blogger suggests that a volume of early Kurt Vonnegut works would be just the thing for the LoA catalogue. Funny, I had the same idea just recently. In fact, I’ve made three batches of suggestions for the LoA: starting with Chester Himes, Charles Portis, Iceberg Slim, Walter Tevis and Robert Silverberg, continuing with Charles Bukowski, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert E. Howard, John D. MacDonald and Susan Sontag, then adding Upton Sinclair, Patricia Highsmith and Frederick Manfred.

I’ve got another batch coming up before too long.      

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