AGENTS, EVEN (ESPECIALLY) IN PUBLISHING - Complications Ensue
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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Laurence Ross asks if I sent the novel in via an agent.

Yes, thank goodness. And it took some doing. The book business is like the show business, except on super-slo-mo. Everything happens slower. But the same rules apply. Books that come unagented may get read, but they will get read last, by the lowest person on the totem pole. That person is unlikely to pick books that will also appeal to people who actually know the business. It is very hard for a book to get off the "slush pile" of unagented manuscripts. Every now and then it happens, and you have Stephen King and, I think, Gone with the Wind. But it's rare.

An agent validates your book. Having an agent says that at least one professional thought your book was good enough to put her name on it -- if she sends bad books, they'll stop reading her submissions.

In the case of nonfiction, your agent goes further than this. My terrific nonfiction agent, Betsy Amster, has been instrumental in explaining what a book proposal should look like, and refining my book proposals (and Lisa's) to the point where we've been able to get bidding wars. Bidding wars are happy things for the author.

And, of course, agents help you negotiate your deal. They know what the book is worth, and what the publisher ought to be willing to give you, and what the publisher will never give you. They will ask what the traffic will bear, but not too much.

The downside to novels is they rarely make real money. I get paid more in two weeks on a show than I'm likely to get if I sell my novel, which took me, off and on, years. The upside is you can say anything you like in a novel. You want five thousand screaming woad-smeared warriors, there they are. That's fun. You can freeze a moment and pick it apart for a whole chapter. You can discuss vast movements of people and ideas. The novel is probably the most flexible medium there is. My story about the childhood of Morgan le Fay would be all but impossible to shoot, even assuming anyone wanted to. I'm not even sure it would make a graphic novel. So I had to write the novel, because the story was nagging at me...

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3 Comments:

One of the things I couldn't believe once I started investigating film versus books, was that you can sell a script and actually get paid the same day. What a concept! In books, it doesn't work that way. LOL I can't WAIT to start UCLA! LOL

I think the most important thing you said on your post is about the agent. Personally, I couldn't imagine doing anything without my agent. And I allow him to do his job. My agent is the only person who knows the trends, meets with the publishers, talks to the editors, and can read your book proposal and find the flaws. I lose my agent, I stop writing books. It's that simple.

By Blogger Lawrence, at 11:42 AM  

Alex -

I would be interested in reading how to craft a book proposal...

Lawrence -

"get paid the same day" ????????

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 12:13 PM  

Hey, my friend sold her script and was given a check before she left the office. I don't know if that's normal, but one instance was good enough for me!! LOL

As for a good book proposal book, I suggest "How to Write a Book Proposal" by Michael Larsen. I read it as a refresher each time I need to write one. I'm under the clock right now, trying to finish my next book proposal.

By Blogger Lawrence, at 1:39 PM  

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