So you can read my books

Sunday, November 7, 2010


So said Mark Twain.He could have been talking about agents.

I've done my share of talking about them when I've a received a rejection ...

when they cared enough to email me one.

Some of you have emailed me, expressing dismay that dealing with agents meant selling yourself.

Many think that means selling yourself out. And two friends have expressed thinking that perhaps writing was not for them.

Whoa! They are both excellent writers.

And if they think it, perhaps others out there do, too.
I don't want that. Every good fantasy out there whets the appetite for more of the same. Besides they are both good friends.
I wrote them back, and I'm posting a generic version of that email here :

As writers we wear many hats during the course of the journey. As much as it irks me, in query letters I must go from artist to ambassador. Ambassador of the world I have created. I want to do it justice to the "court" of the agent I am approaching.

To do that, I must speak the language of the court I address. The language of agents is "self-interest." Many of them believe in the "win/win" concept. They help you as you help them.

Sadly, many people are only as good as their options. The agents hold the power. And it is true that some people are not good at handling power.

It goes to their heads. They vent their natural bent towards cruelty and pettiness to those who cannot defend themselves or retaliate in any meaningful way.

Thankfully that number is few. But you're right, those few do vicious damage to our hearts and spirits.

And due to Google Search, those burned by them hesitate to speak their names on the internet.

Most agents are just overworked. Not mean or petty. Just impatient, reading with half-listening eyes.

How many times have you been looking for an item while fatigued and have your eyes pass right over it several times before spotting it?

Agents are like that. Sadly, they glance over our query letter only once.

If they miss that what we have is what they really want, they do not re-read and pick up on that. They just miss it.

The galling thing about rejections is that usually you are given no reason. Wrong genre? Wrong voice? Too sluggish? Too fast-paced?

Beta readers are just outsiders like you, looking in through the window at the world of the published authors.

And published authors will tell you : it is a matter of chance that determines if your quality is recognized.

The quality has to be there, of course.

But it is a crap shoot if your excellent writing slips through the window of opportunity to get its chance to dance in the spotlight of an approving agent's and accepting publisher's attention.

That realization, instead of weighing us down, should free us. The world will turn as it will turn. The tides come in on their own schedule.

It is only up to us to walk as best we can, handling the reins of our lives with wisdom and courage.

Realize we are ambassadors to a self-interested system, learn its language, and present ourselves and our world with wit, humor, and the calm confidence that The Father has our back.

And our friends, of course. As I am friends with all those who visit my blog and exchange comments with me.

And the literary world is what it is. We writers need agents, though I have read some experts say not. They are mistaken. Here's why :

In other words, in this busy publishing world, editors no longer have time to read unsolicited queries. Bottom line : you won't get read; you will get a form rejection.

You submit to a publisher. He whips back a form rejection. A miracle happens, and you get an agent. Professional courtesy says that agent can't submit your novel to even another editor from that same publishing house. Your agent tells you that you're #1 with the wrong finger. You just made his job that much harder.

Another miracle happens. A publisher buys your book -- and a worse deal you would be hard-pressed to find. An agent would have gotten you a higher advance and royalties. Even if you sense you are getting a raw deal, the editor knows you have nowhere else to go.

If one publisher liked your novice unsolicited manuscript enough to buy, others would have, too. You will never know how much you could have gotten. Unlike an agent, you didn't have the contacts to arrange a bidding war for your novel. And the editor probably didn't even give you a jar of vaseline.

Stick your head out the window. See those vultures? They're drawn to that dead thing you call your "miracle contract." More than advance and royalties, there are other crucial items to consider like :
1) Translation rights.
2) Audio rights
3) Movie and TV rights.
4) Book Club rights.
5) Timing of your advance payment.
6) Bonus clauses.
7) Option on your next book.
8) Hear the hooting and laughter in the hallways. That's the sound of the editors laughing at your expense.

Without an agent, you will have to negotiate for a higher advance, those nit-picky contract issues you never saw coming, requesting a catalog copy, screaming about the stick figure drawings they have for your jacket art.

Guess what? The Pavlov effect kicks in very quickly. The editor hears your name and scowls, a sour feeling pervading his whole chest.

That's where your agent comes in. Editors expect agents to be combative. It's in their job description. They are your ambassadors. They allow your relationship with the editor to be purely on creative and editing matters. A healthy environment ensues.

It is what it is in publishing : a madhouse. Each editor usually has 20 to 30 authors in the pipeline. Yeah, that's a lot of pipe! You don't have an agent? Great.

Great for the overworked editor. He knows which novel to place at the bottom of the priority stack. See your novel buckling? It's got the bends.

See your stressed-out editor? No? That's because he just quit. What? Oh, don't look for any of the other editors to adopt you. No, they're busy gobbling up your editor's former resources like publicity money, marketing assets, and the dozen other publishing department time slots that are temporarily freed up.

You don't have an agent? Then, expect your book to be canceled faster than Tiger Wood's marriage license. Or placed so far down the pipeline, it would have been better for it to have been canceled so that you take it to another publisher.

You, however, don't have an agent. You can be shot. And if your first novel doesn't perform well, (and very few first novels do,) you will be shot ... out of the publishing house so fast there will be a sonic boom in Siberia.
All those experts that write that you don't need an agent hopefully mean well. But they are mistaken. And there are some great people out there I would be happy to have as friends, much less agents. Think Kristen Nelson or Nathan Bransford

Not that either of them accepted any of the four queries I sent them for FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, RITES OF PASSAGE, THE BEAR WITH 2 SHADOWS, or THE MOON AND SUN AS MY BRIDES.


But they did write me a personal rejection. Sadly, no direct mention of what was wrong or how to correct it. But read their blogs, and you will discover that they are nice people.

This just in : Jodi Henry just let me know that Nathan quit Curtis Brown two days ago and is no longer in the industry at all. Sad news. He is one of the good guys.

And for a little flirty fun tune to keep the wind at your back :


  1. Roland--

    If you haven't heard there is sad news over at Curtis Brown Ltd. Nathan quit um.. two days ago. He is no longer in the industry at all. he moved to CNet.

    I love this post. You've really highlighted all the reasons to continue seeking representation if an author wants to be published. They are all great reminders.



  2. Thanks, Jodi, for letting me know. I am sad. He is one of the good guys. Sigh. I just received a rejection from Sandy Lu who has had my first 50 pages since January 16th. Sigh.

    But quitting is the sure way never to get published, right? Thanks for the heads-up about Nathan, Jodi.

  3. HI Roland,
    You had a busy day today with two posts. I'm lucky to get one out and none this weekend. Repainting the place. And if you didn't know I am a perfectionist. Spent today clearing the living room for rep-plastering tomorrow. Such fun.

    Now, back to you. Thanks for the info. I've been toying with the idea not to query and self-publish. After reading what you wrote, I think I'll wait and query another 20 agents. Last year I queried about that many with now luck. I am more optimistic now. My novel went through a major edit and restructure and cut thousands of words. It's all right now, The word count, flow, etc. I skimming through it one more time before I'm comfortable with it.

    I admire your persistence. One agent who declined my ms was nice enough to encourage me to persevere. Most of my rejects weren't horrible and I only received two "Dear Authors."

    SO I will and I will hang in and tough it out.


  4. Michael : I wish you luck with the painting. I always hated doing that. And plastering is no fun either. I admire you for the effort and persistence that takes.

    You never know when the next agent will be the one. Now, you have to polish and refine your query letter : short, riveting at the beginning, and personalized for each agent you write to. Good luck, Roland

  5. I love how you sprinkled so much wittiness in all the sound advice. I especially liked number 5-I didn't know about most of that stuff. Sounds pretty discouraging on one hand, but on the other, it's worth holding out for!

  6. Thanks for the encouragement Roland. I appreciate it.


  7. Words Crafter : Yes, we are so absorbed in the art of writing that it is easy for us to forget that to agents and publishers it is a business. And business is all about making a profit. If we do not watch out for our rights, they will go unprotected. The agents and publishers are understandably out to get the best possible deal -- for themselves.

  8. Good post. Much food for thought, Roland.

    However, I have often wondered, if agents/editors/publishers are so overworked, why do they not employ more staff? More eyes to read, more books published, more books in the market place. A win win for all concerned I would have thought.

    It is sad that Nathan Bransford has resigned from his post. He was definitely one of the good guys.

  9. Michael : Glad to have your back. I believe tomorrow's post will be on how to write a decent query -- though since Sandy Lu rejected my 50 pages I sent her Jan. 16th, my wisdom has its limitations.

    Wendy : It's the economy. The book market is hard, agents are losing their jobs, fewer people are reading books -- all these factors mean less money agencies have to spend.

    And yes, I am saddened that Nathan resigned. He was, indeed, one of the good guys.

    But then, I am already saddened. A good friend has died in the hospital after having fought a valiant battle.

    Thanks for the praise. It helped tonight.

  10. Liked your post, Roland, but I don't like the feeling of "needing" them that much. Sometimes the hopelessness creeps into the writing.

  11. Wendy : It is not hopeless -- just damn hard to get your foot in the door. In a way, we unagented authors are freer than we will ever be again. We can change horses in mid-stream or mid-genre if it pleases us, and no agent or editor will scream about our audience not liking it.

  12. I'm not ready to abandon the agent/author relationship yet. But, I've only sent out about 10 queries for my first novel. Over the lasr two years. And I've only been happy with the query I sent to the last 6 agents.

    Two of the agents I got rejections from picked up some other blog friends shortly after. So I kinda got a sense of what type novels they were looking for. Mine is definitely not that writing style.

    Catching up, I read a couple of your earlier posts. Love the Creepy Girl video. I think I've see it before, but good music is always nice to view again. What would U-tube do without us continuing patrons. But I love the goth pictures. So cool.

    Looks like Elu gets around a lot inside your characters. Interesting. I'm wondering which came first - Sam McCord or Victor Standish. Victor seems like practice writing for Nocturne. Except . . I think you're writing on him now, aren't you? Are you participating in NaNo?

    See ya later Hon. Have a good day.


  13. Donna : Sam came first. In the historical fantasy, RITES OF PASSAGE then, in FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE.

    Victor came from a re-reading of AUNTIE MAME and thinking what fun it would be to merge Sam McCord into a Twilight Zone version of her. But I had to think of a young protagonist savvy and cunning enough to survive in Sam's world -- and after mulling it over, I came up with the Huck Finn version of Ulysses.

    Victor is such a junkyard puppy, barking to keep the shadows at bay that I fell in love with his character.

    I am a heretic : I see NaNo as a drain of time and talent that could be better spent on fine-crafting a novel that sings and could win an agent's attention -- though I have pretty much given up hope that I will ever be published.

    But "hopeless" is what gives birth to legends, isn't it?