Category Archives: Agents


I think what I value most about Laura Resnick’s essays in REJECTION, ROMANCE, & ROYALTIES: THE WACKY WORLD OF A WORKING WRITER is her brutal honesty.   This is not an essay collection for the faint of heart.

Let me provide an example from her essay “Passion” in the book:

Editors have told me that my advance is more than I’m worth; my work isn’t that good; I should write more like so-and-so; my work is “shit;” I don’t know how to write; my work is an “insult” to them; and I don’t “appreciate” them enough.   Agents have told me that I’m “not worth” their time; my query is an insult to them; I’m “self-destructive” (based on my choosing to fire that agent); they “hate” my work; and I’m lazy (I wrote a mere 1,400 pages that year).

Resnick covers a variety of topics in her essays, such as writer’s block, editors & agents, contracts, readers, horror stories about publishing, horror stories about book tours, nerves, cash flow, rejections, etc..

Because this is a collection of essays, certain thoughts get repeated over and over.   This becomes a mild irritant if one sits down to read the book in one sitting.  I found it better to stop for the day after reading four to five essays.

Resnick makes her living as a fiction writer, and she does not spare the reader details about the ugly side of the business.  However, she also has a wicked sense of humor.  Here’s a sample from “It Can Happen Here–And Often Does:”

Trish Jensen, writing under the pseudonym Trish Graves, sold them a novel called Just This Once in which the hero, among other things, mentors a teenage boy, steering him away from street gangs and toward organized sports.  So you can imagine the author’s shock when, upon reading her galleys, she discovered that the editor had changed the boy into a raccoon.

(I think I speak for everyone here when I say, “What?”)

You’ll have to read the essay to find out if the novel was published with the raccoon character change.

Learning About Publishing Contracts

I’ve met writers who refuse to learn the basics of a publishing contract, or who skip reading the entire thing before signing.   This always drives me crazy, because they’ve just signed a legally binding document that could result in all kinds of heartbreak because they wouldn’t accept that publishing is a business, like any other business.  You can get sued.  You can go bankrupt.  You can discover that you can’t exploit certain rights to your work because you signed away all the rights when you shouldn’t have.

A publishing contract is a business contract.   If you sell your writing to a publisher, congratulations, you’re now a small business of one.   And if you sign a bad contract, you can be dealing with the repercussions for decades.  Or out of business entirely.   Doing the writing is art, selling the writing is a business.

So, where to start learning the business law basics a freelance writer needs to know?   I started with the THE WRITER’S LEGAL GUIDE:  AN AUTHOR’S GUILD DESK REFERENCE, THIRD EDITION by Tad Crawford & Kay Murray.  Get the most recent edition to read since publishing law and technology change quickly.  This book provides a great summary of the business law a freelance writer needs to know, from copyright to publishing contracts to agent-author agreements to IRS tax law.  By the time I finished this book, I felt I had a good understanding of the legal basics.

There’s another book to consider reading next, even though it’s from 1999–KIRSCH’S GUIDE TO THE BOOK CONTRACT by Jonathan Kirsch.  Kirsch is a practicing attorney in publishing law, and he had lots of valuable anecdotes and examples to provide as he went through an entire sample publishing contract.

For both books, I found it best to read 10 pages or so, and then stop for a few hours.  The legal matters can be mentally tiring to wade through quickly.  Also, there were times it was helpful to mull over a newly learned fact or law before moving onwards.

Some writer organizations have sample contracts you can look at or lectures about contracts at their national conference.  Definitely check to see if any organization you are a member of provides such services.

Jennifer Crusie on Finding an Editor or Agent

Back in 2005 Jennifer Crusie wrote an essay each month that gave advice to writers on editors, agents, publishing, and the writer’s life for the ROMANCE WRITER’S REPORT (the magazine for the Romance Writers of America).   Her advice was blunt and pithy, and it has stayed fresh in my mind.   She’s posted those terrific essays, as well as others, on her website under For Writers.

Under the Publishing subcategory of For Writers, you will find her advice on planning your career, and finding an editor or agent. Make sure to read her essay IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU before STALKING THE WILD EDITOR: HOW TO GET PUBLISHED, MAYBE or THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM: HOW TO FIND YOUR PERFECT AGENT.   Let me provide an excerpt from IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU that explains why you need know yourself:

A good agent will look at your work and love it for what it is and foster your vision by making suggestions that enhance the story you need to tell. A bad agent will look at your work and make suggestions that fit the trends of the time. The only way you’ll know the difference is if you know what your story is.

But knowing your story, yourself as writer, is not enough because once you sell a story, you take on a second career, this one in publishing. Writing and publishing are two entirely separate things, and you need to know who you are in both.

If you have the time, read all of the essays in the Publishing subcategory.  Plan to set aside thirty minutes a day for a week or two to sit quietly with a notepad and Crusie’s essays, writing down answers to the questions Crusie asks you consider before you approach editors or agents.

Also, hidden away at the bottom of the For Writers page is a great essay on dealing with jealousy, GREEN IS NOT YOUR COLOR.


John Gardner’s ON BECOMING A NOVELIST (ISBN 0-393-32003-0) was published back in 1983, but its chapter on “The Writer’s Training and Education” is as fresh and relevant today as it was then.  If you know someone who is pondering whether to major in English or Creative Writing as an undergraduate, or wonders if a MFA makes sense, this chapter is what I’d have them read first.  It’s shorter than an entire book on the subject, but goes into greater depth about the benefits and perils of a formal creative writing education than most books on fiction writing.

For example, he discusses in depth the hazards that novelists may face in a workshop geared towards short stories and poetry:

…most creative writing workshops are oriented towards short fiction.  For the young novelist, this can be troublesome.  His talent may go unnoticed: his marathon-runner pace does not stir the same interest as the story writer’s sprinter’s pace; and the kinds of mistakes workshops focus on are not as important in a novel as in a short story….Sometimes it happens that the young novelist distorts his art in an attempt to compete with the short story writers in his class.  He tries to make every chapter zing, tries dense symbolism and staggeringly rich prose; he violates the novelistic pace.

Gardner is part of the “literary fiction” tradition, so he does diss particular fiction genres in a couple of paragraphs (such as science fiction and horror).  However, he spends just as much time ripping into the excesses of literary fiction.  As someone who has written science fiction, fantasy, and horror, I came away amused instead of offended by his commentary.  (Note–he doesn’t say all science fiction and horror are bad, but felt most of it was hackery.)

When I first read his book,  he provided me with an Aha! moment that I was, and still am,  grateful for.   The insight was that the writing needs to trigger a waking dream–vivid and continuous–in the reader.  And how that waking dream is created is as follows:

If the dream is to be vivid, the writer’s “language signals”–his words, rhythms, metaphors, and so on–must be sharp and sufficient….And if the dream is to be continuous, we must not be roughly jerked from the dream back to words on the page by language that’s distracting.

Throughout the book the psychological aspects of being a writer are explored in depth–what are the typical personality traits of a novelist, the problem of severe self-doubt when starting out, the stress of financial uncertainty, the feeling of a lack of support from the typical American community (i.e. the attitude that arts are a waste of time and money), and more.

There is much to be gleaned from reading this book, though I confess I’d hesitate to recommend it to new writers who felt insecure about their choice to write genre fiction.   I’d want them to gain some self-confidence first.

Publishing Industry Gossip: Absolute Write Water Cooler, Galleycat, and Publisher’s Weekly

If you decide to sell your work, you’ll have to get familiar with the publishing industry.  A few weeks back I blogged about doing a thorough background check of a potential agent or publisher to make sure they’re not a scammer (or just plain incompetent), and forgot to mention the helpful forums at Absolute Write Water Cooler (you have to scroll all the way to the bottom to find the search tool).  Do a search on the forum content using the name of the person or company you want to investigate.  I’ve noticed that the Writer Beware bloggers hang out there on occasion.

To keep up with publishing industry gossip, I find Publisher’s Weekly and Galleycat useful.   You can also sign up for free daily or weekly e-newsletters from Publisher’s Weekly.

My one piece of advice in using these three websites is to wait until the end of your workday to visit them, instead of first thing in the morning. It’s too easy to get distracted or start fretting about the economy when you should be focusing on your writing instead.  Save them as a reward for a productive day.