In which I change agents

You could already have seen this news. Why not subscribe to my newsletter?

My agent Rob is moving out of agenting.  He’s sorry to go and I’m sorry to lose him. Perceptive and thoughtful, Rob picked my book from the slush-pile and got it to fly.  Who knows if Cory would have been published without him? (At least not as quickly or as well.)  He’s taught me a lot and I’m grateful.

It prompted some philosophical musings on publishing, but first the facts.

Fortunately, Rob can still give me his feedback on the next draft of Our Child of Two Worlds, so I will have that continuity.   Check out his latest books, The Toymakers and Paris by Starlight.

Rob is not one to leave you in the lurch.  I have a new agent, Alex Cochran of C&W, one of the larger agencies (and as it happens, the outfit who already partner Rob in handling my film rights).  Alex was on my top agents to try list, both for my unpublished novel, and for Cory. He likes the book, and its cross-genre appeal.  I’m optimistic Alex can help me navigate the strange waters ahead.  Getting the second book finished is the priority and then, Next Big Thing.

And the moral of this is, that publishing is a rum old game.  So many people assume that it’s all slog finishing that book and sending it out, but once you get the agent, all is plain sailing.  A book a year and the fifth book will win the Booker, the Hugo, or be in the Richard and Judy Bookclub. 

Real writing careers are more complicated. Famously George R R Martin wrote three books which were successes and the fourth, Armageddon Rag in the eighties, flopped.  He moved into TV and editing anthologies for a decade. 

Agents and editors move on, or fall out, there’s a merger or a start-up.  That brilliant idea doesn’t come off, the sequel doesn’t come off, or indeed, there is suddenly a nasty little virus. Many old hands say it’s harder now to have a steady career than in their youth.

That’s why I guess three things for authors I’ve come to realise, catching up with the wisdom of more established writers.

  • Write for joy. There will be days you hate it, but overall if you don’t enjoy it, there are other things to do.  In fact, people who write primarily for themselves can be very happy authors.
  • Make each work as good as you can.
  • Don’t define your self-worth purely by the financial and critical success of your work. 

Becoming a writer, by Dorothea Brande

This small classic book was published in 1934 and is bang up to date.  That is, if you don’t mind that the piece of tech she recommends is a typewriter (as opposed to longhand).

Brande directs you to other works to study the structure of plot, how to write grammatically, and so forth.  What she teaches is how to understand the creative process and she recommends disciplines to help you be more creative and productive to order.  She argues that the process of writing combines the anarchic creative free flow that is in part coming from the unconscious, and a more rigorous detached intellectual self.  Both need to be firing on all cylinders but not necessarily the same amount at the same time.    Exercises include writing on first rising, and writing at a fixed time, as a discipline to generate initial pages, without undue concern about quality.

If you like, the metaphor of write drunk and edit sober, or the adage to write the first draft as if no one is watching.

I can’t claim to have followed her method, but in so far as I understand my own process, it seems sound enough.  Interesting that many other writing books don’t touch on this.

Brande has plenty of bugbears.  She doesn’t like group discussion of student work, as unfocused and prone to pile-ons – though she doesn’t call them that.  What listening to public criticism of your work does is teach you to receive feedback and learn how to be selective in what you act on. Some is just wrong.

The book is short, practical, and focused on areas which many other books skip over.  Indeed, Brande would argue by doing so, they are actively unhelpful. 

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande