Thursday, June 14, 2007

My Agent

I have a screenwriting agent, for the moment. He's starting film school in the fall, so he will not be active as an agent for much longer. I hope to keep him as a friend. We haven't had success in selling my scripts, but there's certainly nothing unusual about that. Screenwriting is a much tougher enterprise than most people imagine. Here's why I like my agent:

1. He's a great guy. He's fun to talk to, fun to email, fun to have lunch with.
2. He gives good notes. He's smart. He's hard-working.
3. He has one characteristic that is so unusual in an agent that I can't even tell you, and that is this: he knows his own opinions. If he likes a script, and sends it out, and it is rejected, he does not stop liking the script. If someone else has a criticism of the script, he will consider it, but he will not suddenly toss the script aside as hopelessly tainted because someone else didn't like it. He has a strong and integrated personality. He knows himself and understands that other people are different. People like that are very rare. Find them.


I may well have the goofiest agent stories in the free freaking world. Is it wrong that my agent stories in screenwriting are less weird than my agent stories on the novel side? Yes it is.

Agent #1 loved my first book. This is wrong, and it shouldn't happen, ever. I shouldn't have sent my first book out. I shouldn't have sent my first three, four, maybe five books out. But I had first-book-itis, and off it went. Agent #1 signed me. Two weeks later, Agent #1 went out of business. Ah, well.

Agent #2 loved my seventh book. I liked it, too, and felt good about this agent. Agent #2 got fired two weeks later.

Agent #3 did not love my seventh book. Agent #3 was Agent #2's boss. Can you say "bad sign?" I knew you could. Book number seven got handed upstairs to Agent #3, and Agent #3 was Not Amused. He told me to send along my next book and "we'll see."

Note that about this time I was having an unusual reaction to Agent #3. His name was familiar and I didn't know why. This was pre-Internet and pre-Google. Turns out that Agent #3 was also a writer. A writer in my genre. A writer whose work I had read in college. A writer whose work had won pretty much any award in the genre that you'd care to mention. I worked very hard on book eight.

Agent #3 was run over by and SUV on Fifth Avenue on the day I mailed off book eight. His assistant called to break the bad news a week later. Agent #3 was off work for six months. He came back to work and the assistant called to say they had lost book eight. Could I re-send?

I mailed book eight to Agent #3 on a Monday. On Friday I got the rejection letter. The first line was "I think you are an extraordinary writer." I don't remember anything after that. Some part of my will to live is still lying in a puddle on the floor of a 628-square-foot apartment in Goleta, California.

Agent #3 rejected novels nine through eleven, as well. The usual pattern was sending the novel, doing some rewrites, and then him saying "well, I don't know. It's different from the other things I'm seeing. I'm not sure where I'd send it. Let's put this one aside and see what happens with the next." So I did.

I wrote the first thousand words of novel number twelve at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in 1997. Actually, I wrote most of it on a crappy Sun Country DC-10 on the way there from Hawaii. When I got home I sent the opening to Agent #3. His reaction? "There already is a science fiction book with a plastic surgeon main character. I think you should move along."

Picture me lying on the floor again. Yes, I was entirely aware of K. W. Jeter's _Doctor Adder._ I love it. Published in the early 1980s, I believe. But I couldn't quite believe that science fiction has room for only one story about a plastic surgeon. There would seem to be an abundance of starship captains.

Two weeks later Agent #3 was fired. I wrote to his boss. Were they still interested in me as a client? I never heard back. I took that as a no, and wrote novel number twelve.

Agent #4 was in the same firm as my mother's agent. She gave me some terrific notes and I did a substantive rewrite of number twelve. And then timing intervened. I started film school and she started directing plays. I put novel number twelve away and started writing screenplays. Until last week, I was a writer with twelve novels, twenty-one screenplays, four teleplays, and one stage play, and nobody wanted any of them.

None of my agents ever sent one of my novels to a single editor.

Crazy Writer Thoughts

It's not easy being crazy. All writers are, of course. Usually in a good way, but not always. We're living with strange people in our heads, we're rarely mentally in the same place we are physically. It's a kind of fugue state. The distressing part of facing publication is having to deal with reality. Some onrushing bits of reality:

—Story notes. I know these will be along before too long. The publisher said he didn't think there would be any major notes, which is a nice thought, but in reality only the writer can truly judge what is a minor note and what is not. I once had a producer deliver the "tiny note" that a certain screenplay should take place over two weeks, rather than six months. He said "So that's just a find and replace!" Not exactly... But I haven't read the book in a while. I look forward to these notes.

—Editor's notes. Not too worried about these. The manuscript is fairly clean, but I have room to learn from a good editor. Should be enjoyable.

—Cover art. I went to art school and design school. I hope I'm not a huge pain to all involved. I found a blog about cover design and I am learning. There's a great deal that is counterintuitive. A buyer for Costco said book covers have to work lying flat on a table. Not that I expect Costco, but it is an interesting thought.

—Web site. I found a web designer who does a lot of author web sites. Nice work, too. All her designs look good. I'll probably hire her.

—Contract. I'll need to hire an attorney. I'm a member of the Independent Writers Caucus of the WGAw, and there are a lot of novelists in there. I bet one of them can recommend an attorney.

—PR! I haven't talked to the publisher yet, but I would like to hire a PR firm. Already have one picked out. They do a lot of book publicity, and are located in Los Angeles.

Let's see— have I spent my advance ten times over yet? Yep. But a first novel is never about a first novel. It's about starting a career. The effort must be made and the money must be spent. I stand ready. Actually, I lie on the couch ready.

Which leaves one final thought: an agent. Hmm... Perhaps that is a good subject for another blog. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Happy Book News

The day has come, the press releases are out, and I can finally post the good news. Here is the link to the book's publication announcement. I hope this works. I posted the URL and it popped up somewhere below. Ah, well. Science fiction writer wrestles with technology. News at eleven.

Edit: no, that didn't work. www.bijouresearch/IotaHome.asp

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Overnight Success

I'm writing this five days after receiving a phone call from a publisher telling me that my first book will be published early next year. I can't say much more than that until tomorrow, when the press releases go out. But I thought I'd better start a blog in order to record the journey from manuscript to book. Before anyone thinks I'm an overnight success, a few facts:

-Total books written: 12
-Order of this book: #12
-Number of agents over the years: 4
-Number of agents who ever sent any novel to any editor: 0
-Current agent: none
-Years from starting first book to publication of #12: 22

More to come, but I thought I should first deflate the myth of the overnight success.