Agents and Publishing

My writer friend, Dave Gullen, just posted this about agents and the writing and publishing process. He’s a fine writer and has just signed up with a good agent. I wish him all the best for his future career.

I’ve had a varied history with agents until signing with my current one, the lovely Amy Boggs of Donald Maass Literary in New York, and as a result of my experiences I sometimes sit on panels or present a workshop on how to get an agent at science fiction conventions. I’ll be giving the workshop at Sledge Lit, which is Edge Lit’s Christmas event at the Quad in Derby on 21st November 2015.

I’ve had three literary agents – each one acquired by a different method.

I guess I have a slightly different understanding of literary agents because apart from being a writer I also run a folk music booking agency. Sure, it’s a different type of agency, but there are many parallels, so I see the agency question from both sides. While trying to get a literary agent myself, I was also busy fending off applications from musicians who wanted to join my agency roster, so I have a certain sympathy for overworked agents of all stripes.

It might have been tempting to jump on the self-publishing bandwagon at some point. After all, I knew my writing didn’t completely suck as I was selling short stories and getting a certain amount of close-but-no-cigar interest from publishers, but this is why I didn’t…

Self-publishing works well for writers who have had a traditional publishing deal, built up  fans, and then decide to go indie with a strong mailing list and a high profile. It can also work for those people who are great at marketing and can build a fan base, or for those writers in a niche market such as erotic fiction. And yes there are the occasional break-out authors who happen to be in the right place at the right time, and something goes viral for them–but they are just the tiny, tiny tip of an enormous iceberg of writers who self-publish and sell tens of copies every year.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to write a novel. I started my first one aged fifteen. Of course I haven’t always dreamed that I would be good enough to find a publisher, but sometime in the 1990s I figured that there was no harm in trying. By that time I had a finished novel, but no sales, not even of short stories. Then by a series of coincidences I got an intoduction to an agent and she took me on. I thought I was on my way. I sold my first short story to a mass market publisher for real money and continued writing novels. But agent number one didn’t manage to sell my first novel, though she got an encouraging we-nearly-bought-this letter from a senior editor at HarperCollins.

When I split from that agent (long story) it took me a long time to find another. That was the time self-publishing was on the rise. Was I tempted? No, not for a minute. I’d always said that I would find a ‘real’ publisher. I would do it the hard way or–well–for me there was only the hard way. It would be a publisher if I was good enough, or lucky enough (yes you need to be both good and lucky), or it just plain would never happen. And I was cool with that.

Not knowing whether I would ever sell a novel didn’t stop me writing them, of course. I write because I can’t NOT write. When eventually the lucky day came and I got THAT call from a publisher, I had seven completed novels on my hard drive. And when she asked me what else I’d got… well, you can imagine how I felt. She bought two completed novels and commissioned a third as part of a three book deal, and now I have a follow-on two book deal for two sequels to be written from scratch.

And the agents? Well, the details are a story for another day. Come to the Sledge Lit workshop, or watch this space.

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About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com). She's also a Home Office / Border Agency licensed sponsor processing UK work permits (Certificate of Sponsorship).
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