Friday, March 24, 2006

Patience on a Monument

James ( see sidebar) put up an interesting question yesterday.
James has a contract for one of his novels.
(Cue rejoicing, here. One more broke the sound barrier.)
You'd think that would make it so much easier to get an agent.
Hey, proof!
A manuscript has risen from the winter of discontent, from the sodden piles of slush, and sprung into verifiable green.
Track record. Check. More than his mother likes it.
Apparently not so, he says.
Perhaps he's not queried widely enough yet.
Word on the street has it that fiction is tight right now.
To me that means that agents are even tighter than publishers.
Concluded that after reading a post from a blogging agent who claimed that acquiring a new writer meant dropping up to a couple of grand before any contract crossed their desk - and further that their percentage was therefore cancelled out by those expenses.
Practically justified "reading fees" - but that's another story.
James wondered about the advisability of putting the Great Agent Search in escrow and concentrating on those smaller publishers who will accept unagented submissions.
Increasing thereby, his track record, his writer resume, his CV.
I relate so strongly to his dilemma - being, as you know, the Duchess of Dither. As well as a direct descendant of Alice's Red Queen.
Some people would say: Do both.
Writers are sometimes single minded - we'd like to write, not spend our time spread-sheeting diverse and divers queries. There's the energy/result equasion.
Seems to me the one virtue writers need most of all - beyond talent, beyond hard work, skill, luck or determination - is patience.
Capital P.

bewattled: astounded, bewildered, betrayed; late 18th-early 19th c.
Bible-banger( pounder): a pious, especially if a ranting or excitable person or parson; late 19th c. >.
biddy: (1) a chicken; colloquial; late 16th-early 19th c.; (2) a young woman; 18th-early 19th c.; (3) any woman;19th c.
bilbo(a): a sword noted for the excellence of its temper and made orig. in Bilboa, Spain; 16th-17th c., standard; in late 17th-18th c., colloquial; the sword of a bully; in 19th c. archaic.


Tsavo Leone said...

Firstly: Congratulations James!

Now, my opinion: I would go with the notion of unrepresented smallscale publication first, rather than holding out for an agent (which is the route I've chosen for now).

Publication = proven commodity. Harsh, but true. Once one has a foot in the door, then one can play the field.

I've put forward the argument before that an agent is merely a fifth wheel - the writer does the writing, the editor does the editing, and the publisher does the publishing, whilst the agent does...? - but the industry does seem to insist on them.

Granted, they do appear to take some (a lot?) of the leg work out of seeking mainstream publication, but are they merely a necessary evil, working more for the publishers rather than for the writer (filtering out the would-love-to-be-published's from the New-York-Times-Bestseller-in-the-making that the publisher really wants to have)?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yup, patience helps.

There's no right or wrong way - there are published authors out there without agents. Some are happy to be where they are and don't want agents because they're successful on their own.

Others are trying and finding it as tough as ever.

Really, who knows?

One thing is for certain: You're better off going small press on your own than paying an agent to represent you. (Not talking reading fees, talking upfront payment.)

BTW Bernita, did you hear there's a new Canadian publisher that's started up in the GTA?

Bernita said...

Good logic from both of you.

No,I didn't, Sandra, who?
One of the problems with small houses in Canada is that they exist by means of Canada Council grants.We can't call them subsidy publishers, of course.

Erik Ivan James said...

Yes, congratulations James!

Bernita, posts like this have real meaning for a newbie like me. Agent, no agent. Big publisher, little publisher. Assertive, aggressive., et cetera.

Speaking only for me, I really appreciate it when those who have been in the business for awhile put up such posts or give meaningful comments on them.

Thank you.

Bernita said...

Yes, Erik, the commenters ( commentators?) are invariably helpful, both for common sense and experience.
I might suggest you also go to Miss Snark's blog and take your time carefully reading her archives, not excepting the comments.

James Goodman said...

Thanks for taking up this topic, Bernita. I too, tend to flip-flop on the subject and I'm interestested to see what your readers have to say about it.

And thanks, tsavo and erik for the congrats.

Mark Pettus said...

Congrats James.

I'm looking for an agent, but mainly because I'm still convinced I've got a commercial product in my hand. I want the biggest honking advance I can get, and I think an agent will help.

I'm familiar with the blogging agent you reference, Bernita, and I'm skeptical... if she really is investing that kind of money in an unpublished writer, then she is not just an agent, she's a saint.

I think most agents today want a finished product from an uproven writer. Finished - like the high-gloss finish on my brother's sports car. Most agents might be willing to rub and polish a little, but they aren't going to repaint it for you. Of course, as always, I could be wrong.

Bernita said...

James, you are so welcome, dear Guy. It's six for you and a half-dozen for me here.

Mark, you certainly have a type of track record going for you regarding agent search, with your newspaper experience.
From casual reading of various writers' profiles, that strikes me as one of the qualification tickers that makes agents sit up and take notice.
And yes, I think she fuzzed the numbers a little.

Carla said...

Add my congratulations to James. If you haven't already seen it, Scott Oden had some interesting things to say about small press publication on his blog a few weeks ago.

Savannah Jordan said...

Congrats, James!!

I am in an odd positioon on this one. My sales to smaller pubs came without the aid of an agent. Yet, I have my major work placed with an agent.

I've made sales, the agent hasn't. I could sell the text my agent has right now, to either of the two pubs. But, paitience tells me that my agent has connections in bigger publishing houses that I do not. SO, I leave that text with her and work on the other WIP's.

Bernita said...

No, I hadn't seen it, Carla.
Acquit me of stealing his title and subject.
Thank you for the link.
I notice he does have an agent though, which is an advance on our problem here.

Savannah, you're in an interesting and fortunate position.
Did you land your agent before you sold to smaller houses, or after you had those in hand?

Dennie McDonald said...

don't know if this helps at all but... a friend of mine just contracted a three book deal w/ Kensington (a pretty big pub in romance). She had queries out w/ two agents prior, so when she sold she told them and BOTH said "no thank you" = no clue what's going on with their client lists. (she is dealing w/ two more now that are so much better for her so it DID work out for the best in the end!)

Congrats to you, James!

Lady M said...

YAY James!!!!

Be sure to not forget us in the dust. LOL!

No kidding on the Capital P.

Patience? What is that? I have none. Nip. Zero. Null. Void. Ain't gonna happen.

My understanding of what an agent is: (And yes, next week, this too, might change, based on my education in this industry)

An agent is the middleman. They weed out the horrid writers, know what the editors are looking for - and like real estate agents - they sell the items.

I consider the agent to be the real estate agent for writing. Sure, buyers don't mind buying a nice house from a seller... But an agent does the advertising, the legwork - has knowledge of the contracts and negotiations and deals with all the legal'ese'.

I am sure it could be a nice ride either way - with or without an agent, if you're lucky and a good writer.

But - from what I have seen - NY Publishing and Major houses won't deal without an agent. So if you want publishing from them, you have to be agented.

It's a vicious circle, but I think as writers, we're adaptable and can overcome this cycle. We can and will achieve if we just keep plugging away.

Lady M

B - nice commentary.

Bernita said...

Thank you very much for that, Dennie!
Think it underlines that genre fiction - romance, horror, sci-fi, historical and mystery - may be easier to sell, sans agent, than commercial or literary fiction.

Bernita said...

There's no doubt, Lady M, that a good agent certainly earns his/her commission.

Savannah Jordan said...


I had my agent before the sales.

I actually landed my agent with only a partial of Forever Dark; the novel wasn't even finished yet! She wanted it bad enough to put me in touch with an attorney to get me out of my blanket contract with my first agent. (Yes, I have had two agents)

The novel that I sold was not represented by my agent, neither are the erotica works. The novel was picked up on submission to Samhain, and Aphrodite's Apples kind of came looking for me.

Bernita said...

Thank you for the clarification, Savannah.
In effect, you took both routes then.
You give a double meaning to "hot property."

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Woohoo....yea for go, guy....*sigh* I'm in the company of people who can really awesome is that?

As far as the agent question goes....I'm in the christian market as opposed to the secular, so it's completely different for me! A large majority of Christian authors don't have agents, but having one is now on the upswing because they have the ability to get larger advances.

I'd say...whatever works....some people are real go getters and are willing and able to invest the time that an agent would add to the process, others just want to write and not have to sweat the details!

Again....congrats to James

Bernita said...

Bonnie has pointed out another important function of a good agent.
On the average, a good agent with negotiating skills will produced a larger advance.

Savannah Jordan said...

"Hot property"?? Oh, Bernita... I just love it when you talk like that!

Sandra Ruttan said...


I spoke to a bookseller about that. Really, despite the flaws in the system, they said they're just happy there are Canadian publishers at all, because without the subsidies there wouldn't be.

Bestseller in Canada is a book selling 800 copies.

Which is why I was told by booksellers here that a small press in the US beat a medium press in Canada any day of the week, in their opinion, for my potential sales as a writer.

This is the new publisher, and their marketplace listing. Haven't looked at it too thoroughly, but the website design is nice.

Bernita said...

Thank you very much for the link, Sandra.
I'll check them out.
A problem with Canadian small presses - with a few exceptions like Edge - is that they seem to stick to the literary novel, and are not particularly interested in genre fiction.

James Goodman said...

Oh, that link looks promising... they even publish horror. Imagine my suprise. :D It's not unheard of for a Canadian publisher to publish an American is it? (Joke)

Bernita said...

Chesking out the nationality of their published writers might give you a clue about that, James. I really don't know.

James Goodman said...

Actually, that was the joke. Surely it would be about the writing and have nothing to do with my nationality., I'm really curious. I shall have to check it out.

Bernita said...

I said that because I faintly remember seeing one site saying they only publish Canadian writers.
Have no idea who it was now.
Related to grants, aforesaid, I imagine.

Tsavo Leone said...

Huge thanks to Sandra for those URL's - personally speaking, the Kunati site is an absolute goldmine!

Sandra Ruttan said...

James, you have to check their submission guidelines.

Sometimes here it is about the nationality, because if they're heavily subsidized they're required to publish a set percentage Canadian. For example, On Spec Magazine I believe states 80% Canadian content guidelines, so foreign writers have a much harder time breaking in.

This is why we decided NOT to go after gov't grants to put Spinetingler into print - we felt we'd potentially be compromising the quality and appeal of the magazine, because most of our submissions come from outside Canada.

Really, the Canadian publish industry is just limping along...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Good luck tsavo!

Bernita said...

Fron a quick read, Tsavo, sounds as if they're slavering for stuff like yours and James.
Thank you, Sandra!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lady M said...

B- you've just been spammed!

Too cool - you're that popular!


Bernita said...

Nah. Machine generated, Lady M. Everyone gets them.

Tsavo, have you checked out

James Goodman said...

Ah, I understand now. Read through the submissions and it looks like they have no problems publishing us pesky foreigners. :D

Oh, and Tsavo. There is a good list of both major and small publishers at the HWA website.

and I believe this website:

has a searchable database of publishers you can use to compile a list of potentials for submission.

Bernita said...

Edge & Tesseract Books - seems open international. Think they like hard SF.