Monthly archives for March, 2010

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Follow the Rules to Get Published.

Yup, the myth is that following rules will really help you get published or stay published. Actually, following rules might actually stop you in this current world.

Also let me start this by flat out by saying that editors and agents can’t help you learn much about being a writer. They know very little about being a writer on a day-to-day level or how a writer lives or even how a writer makes most of his or her money. What they do know is how to be an editor and what that job is. And good agents do know how to be agents and what that job deals with. And if you want to learn either of those jobs, listen to them.

But if you want to learn how to be a writer, stop trying to learn your business from editors and agents. Learn from other writers farther down a road you want to walk. And then do it your way.

There, I have said it. Don’t learn writing from editors or agents. Go ahead, scream, but before you pound the keys and call me names, allow me the chance to try to explain a little.

Kurt Busiek is flat out one of my all-time favorite writers. Period. He tends to focus on comics and I am a comic fan. I have owned not one, but two different comic stores over my lifetime and have worked for all three top comic book companies as well as a writer. I have never had the honor to meet Kurt along the way.

Kurt Busiek is a great writer and a writer is a writer is a writer and even though I write novels, I can learn from him. He also knows a ton about business and about how to freelance. He did a nifty post on his web site about some of the basic topics we have been talking about here in the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing chapters and comment sections. It’s called Breaking in Without Rules.

That sounds like the title for a Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing chapter, doesn’t it? Read his post now before you get angry with me about my opening statement, then come back here and keep reading this.

My flat out favorite quote from his article is: “If you need to have someone lay out a set of instructions for you, you probably don’t have the skills or imagination to be a freelance writer.”

I agree completely.

And you will note, that has been what I have been saying in many, many ways in these chapters and in the workshops I teach.

This last week I got attacked by some editor who doesn’t have the courage to show his or her face or real name. So I have been calling him/her “The Scared Editor.” (By the way, most top editors blog under their own name to promote their author’s books and I love reading their blogs. I have no problem with editors blogging, just agents blogging. I want to be clear on that.)

I got attacked by this scared editor because of my very first agent post where I told writers there was no need for an agent to sell a book. And the worst thing I said was that a form rejection often meant many things besides “We don’t take unagented submissions.”

The form rejection might mean what it says, sure, or it might mean your pitch or your book doesn’t fit their line, or you sent them your entire manuscript without asking first and they don’t want to read that many pages, or it just might mean your craft and skills are not to professional levels yet. That’s right, it could mean any of those things and maybe a few others. Just as all form rejections throughout history have meant many things, the biggest meaning is that for one reason or another your book just isn’t right for that editor.

This scared editor flat didn’t like what I was saying and attacked me for my credentials (90 plus published novels under a dozen pen names isn’t enough I guess) and the fact that I am on old-timer and don’t understand new writers at all. I was telling writers that it might be all right to break a rule. And what I found even more interesting was that new writer after new writer who followed this scared editor’s site got angry at me for daring to say that. I was saying to ignore a rule set down by a publisher, backed up by a sacred editor. Shock!

Yes, that’s what I was saying. Ignore the guidelines and the editors and do it your own way. Duh.

Back to what Kurt said so well in his post. “If you need to have someone lay out a set of instructions for you, you probably don’t have the skills or imagination to be a freelance writer.”

I also got attacked because I didn’t offer the golden “secret” to going around the rules. Actually, I did. But I didn’t give set rules, I didn’t lay down guidelines, because guess what, there are none. Back to Kurt’s quote. If you need rules, you might want to try working for a very large bank or corporation instead of freelancing.

This last week in a marketing workshop, I got over and over and over the almost pathological need to follow the publishing rules from the writers attending. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I got the question “But the publisher guidelines say…”

Back to Kurt’s quote one more time.

So, why learn how to to a professional writer and freelancer from a person who can’t write and doesn’t know your business? I’m talking about editors and agents, of course. Why learn from them? It makes no sense at all when you back up and look at it.

But many top editors and agents will do their best to help you learn the business, with the best of intentions. I have no problem with that at all, and I admire what they are trying to do. But in most cases, listening to them will just steer you down a wrong road. Listen more to other writers. Other successful writers who have walked a similar road than you want to walk.

So what can you learn from editors besides how to edit?

Editors are fantastic people. They love books, they love helping writers get books into print. They sometimes even enjoy working with writers, if the writer is sane. And they can fine-tune a book to make it more marketable FOR THEIR LINE of books. But do they have any idea at all how a writer makes most of their money? Of course not.

All they see is one contract and the advance on that contract. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard editors tell writers they can’t make a living at writing because most of their writers only write one book a year and get a twenty grand advance. That’s all the editor sees, so of course that’s what they think and that’s what they tell writers. Bad, bad advice not based on anything but just not knowing. (Want to get an idea how writers make money, read my magic bakery chapter right here.)

So, what can an editor teach you? They can teach you how to sell to their line of books, they can help you with some publishing questions like lay downs and print runs (sometimes) and maybe how the process works inside their office and where your book is at in the process. They can teach you what a page proof is and what an uncorrected proof looks like, and if you ask good questions, they might even open up some about the process of buying books that they go through.

But remember, their knowledge is only for that publisher, that editor, that office inside that publisher. Downstairs, in the same building, an editor might tell you something completely different to the same publishing question, and across town in another major corporation, of course everything will be done differently.

So some editor lectures to a group of writers about how they need to add this or that into their work. Is that editor right? Maybe, for that house, but maybe not right for that writer. Maybe that writer’s work just isn’t a good match with that editor.

How this works is like it works for reading books with all of us. For example, I buy every Clive Cussler book the moment it hits the stands and would some day love to write with him. I don’t even care which series the book is in, I read them all and buy them all in hardback. My wife isn’t fond of Cussler’s books. So if she saw his book as an editor, she would reject it because she just wouldn’t be the right editor for Cussler. If I was an editor I would buy it in a flash.

I am the same way with Regency romances. I can’t seem to even read one, while my wife loves them.

But say I am an editor who thinks I can help a Regency period writer become a better writer and start giving writing advice. I would ruin a good writer who might be a bestseller if that writer hadn’t listened to me.

Editors are super readers. They know what they love, they buy what they love, but if they don’t love your book, don’t listen to them. They can’t help you. It’s why Heinlein’s Rules say never to rewrite unless to editorial demand. Harlan Ellison added “And then only if you agree.” And I would add one more clause to that rule. “Only after they have bought your work.”

(Ahhh, see I’m quoting rules. But there are no rules. For me I adopted Heinlein’s Rules. For you, they might not work. See where this is going?)

Every editor is different, every book line is different, every publisher is different. What one editor will teach you will be just flat wrong with another editor.

So, when listening to one editor, learn about her methods, and then listen to another editor and learn her method, and so on and so on. Learn about their houses, their lines, their likes and dislikes. But for heaven’s sake, if they start telling you how to write, run away.

And if they start telling you anything about your business, run even faster. They work on a salary for a corporation. They have no clue how to freelance or how money comes in for freelance writers. Their intentions will be good, their advice horrid for the most part.

What can agents teach you besides how to be an agent?

Agents are closer to writers, the good ones sometimes understand cash flow for writers since they often see a large part of the cash flow. But go back and read all the agent posts. They know how to freelance in their own job. They know how to keep editors happy. They could care less about their writers.

But if you have a good relationship with your agent employee, you can ask them questions, learn things from them, especially about contracts, copyright, overseas rights, and so on. Areas they know and should understand. If they don’t or won’t answer questions, why did you hire them?

One side note: My agent once visited me on vacation and was stunned about how well we lived, stunned at our writing compound overlooking the ocean. My agent knew some of my money, since it went through the agency, but never thought to put it all together or understand I had a lot of other income streams that did not include an agent.

Agents as teachers in general is another matter all together. They try to give out rules, set guidelines writers should follow, areas of publishing that are selling at the moment, and so on and so on. Awful advice, for the most part.

Should you listen to them? Sure, why not, but take everything with a grain of salt. Actually, with agents, have your giant salt shaker with you and only take what makes sense to you and leave all the rest. And the moment any agent frames anything as a “rule” cover it with salt and ignore it.

Okay, since scared editor and her legion of fans wanted me to give out a “golden rule” of writing, besides Heinlein’s Rules (a writer of course) here is mine to all of you:

There are no rules.

Write what you want to write. Write at the speed you want to write. Rewrite or don’t rewrite as your heart desires. Mail your work to whomever you want when you want. Hire an agent or don’t hire an agent. Up to you. Self publish or only sell to major houses. Up to you.

You could even listen to and follow every word every editor or agent tells you. Fine by me. I honestly don’t care.

But my hope for these chapters and this book is that you will make EDUCATED decisions about your choices of which information to follow and which to ignore.

Myths are very, very powerful as I discovered once again this last week, both from scared editor and her fans and from students in the workshop here. If you knee-jerk a decision because that is what you’ve heard, a good chance you will be wrong. Not always, but often.

If you follow how editors tell you to run your freelance writing career because they are a powerful editor, sometimes you will be wrong. A lot of the time, actually, but not always.

If you hire a stranger blindly because they have the word “agent” after their name and give them control over all your money and listen to what they tell you to write, you might be in trouble more times than not. Not always, but often.

No rules. Just your rules. Just what works and sells for you. No writer ever does this business the same, and that’s what is so wonderful about it, actually.

Trust me, folks, you don’t want my career. Now granted, for an old comic book and science fiction fan like me, I’ve had a fantastic career and have had a blast and I’m still having fun every day. But it wouldn’t be right for many of you out there.

Make up your own rules from rational decisions and information. Learn from other writers, and create your own career that’s perfect for you. And when listening to anyone, including me, keep that giant salt shaker at hand to cover anything that doesn’t fit for you. Especially if an editor or agent gave it out as a rule.

Following the rules might get you a career. It might not.

But following your own rules gives you a lot better chance.


Copyright 2010 Dean Wesley Smith
This is part of my inventory in my bakery now. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated. Once this book is done, I will send you a copy. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it. Every week or so I will be adding a new chapter on the myths and sacred cows of publishing. Stay tuned. Upcoming are chapters on bestsellers, research, rejections, and so much more. This business has a lot of myths. An entire book full.

Thanks, Dean

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. Your Agent Sells Your Book Overseas

I hear over and over and over again how a writer must have an agent to sell books overseas. I even used it as one of the reasons in an earlier post about why a writer might want to have an agent.

But is it your agent, the person you hired in New York, who actually sells your book overseas? Of course not. And that’s where the myth and misinformation really gets out of hand in this area about agents.

I can hear a few of the thoughts out there right now. Writer Boy has lost it. On one hand he says it is a reason to get an agent to sell books outside your own country, then says now that your agent doesn’t sell overseas.

Yup, that’s what I’m saying. The myth is that your agent sells your books overseas. The truth is so far, far different. Which is why over the years I’ve watched my wife get odd looks from other writers when she’s talking about selling this book or that series to another country. Often the question is “How do you do that?” I can’t begin to tell you how many successful novelists in this country have never had one overseas sale.

The reason: Your agent doesn’t sell your books overseas (for the most part).

How important are overseas sales? Huge. Many, many smart authors I know make far more money out in the big world then they do in this one country. And often writers can make their living by selling into a foreign country and not making many sales at all in the States. It’s a huge world, folks. Huge.

So, let me see if I can make some headway into this crazy puzzle, another standard silliness for the writing side of the publishing industry.


Agents you can hire fall generally into three different categories. Stay with me now, this is important.

1…Agent who works for a large agency.

2…Agent who works in a small group of other agents or in a small agency.

3…Agent who works alone or with one other agent.

Now, I will be back to this information in a moment. And note that I’m not even counting the scam agents. I assume by now in these chapters everyone reading this would be beyond scam agents. There are enough troubles with New York based top agents, let alone some scam artist based in the sticks.

Do any of these agents in any of those groups sell your books to overseas publishers? Very, very few.

So how does a book get sold from this country into other country’s publishing programs?

Many ways, actually. And there is the problem.

First Major Way:

You sell World Rights, or English Language Rights, or certain “translation rights” in your contract with your publisher. Then your publisher has an arm of their company overseas, or your publisher has a staff inside their house that works and sells rights overseas. You get your money through your royalty statement put against your advance.

Second Major Way:

If your agent is with a large agency, the agency has a dedicated foreign rights agent. This agent sometimes contacts publishers directly overseas, but often works with an agency based in the foreign country. So if your agent in a big agency wants to try to sell your books overseas, they give it to the dedicated foreign agent (who you likely don’t know) who then either shops it or gives it to yet another agent (who you certainly don’t know and didn’t hire).

Third Major Way.

You contact the publishers yourself overseas and sell it yourself. (My wife sold her last few books overseas on her own completely from start to end. On another she sold it but brought her agent in to help with the deal.) Going to large conventions with international flavor helps in this as well since you have a chance to meet overseas publishers.

Fourth Major Way.

Hit it big with a book, news big, huge advance big. Then the overseas publishers will take note and contact you. Also, this happens when you win some awards. Kris had a Nelscott book announced for the Edgar and sold Japanese rights before she got out of bed the next morning.

So notice I didn’t mention the other two levels of agents? Why?

Because those agents rarely manage to get a book even into the hands of an overseas publisher. It happens, especially for their bestsellers, but rarely because of anything the agent did. Most of the time the writers with these level of agents either sell the books themselves or hit it big and get the sales that way. (However, to be clear, there are a few agents in smaller houses that do have knowledge and can sell overseas, but the fraction of these types of agents is very small.)

Agent Level #2 & #3 aren’t big enough (usually) to have a dedicated in-house foreign agent. So many, many, many of these agencies or agents contract with a dedicated foreign agent who is independent (and you don’t know). That’s right, your book leaves your agents hands and goes to another agent in New York in a different agency.

Actually, that seldom happens either. It is THE NAME OF YOUR BOOK and YOUR NAME that are given to the other agent along with your publisher and publication date and genre.

Then this dedicated foreign agent makes up a big list of hundreds and hundreds of book and sends it to either overseas agents or overseas publishers or both. That’s right, just a list. Some at the top have a blurb about the book, most don’t. Does your book at #114 on the list have a shot of being picked up by a publisher in France? Nope. Sorry.

And, of course, this is done every month. Sometimes every week. Only the bestsellers on the list have a hope or get any extra attention at all.

So, when you got all excited about getting an agent, did you bother to ask who their foreign agent was? Or do they sell overseas themselves? Or how they would get your books to other publishers overseas? Or if they would even try? Many, many agents don’t even try, considering themselves only agents for North American publishers.

(Back to my point about better to sell your own book first, then hire a top agent at a big agency. Then you have a faint shot. Or hire an agent in the other two levels who does it directly herself. Rare.)

The Ugly Numbers:

A Big Agency: Might have upwards of twenty or more agents, often more. But for math sake, let me leave it at 20 Agents. Each agent has 50 clients, some more some less, depending on the number of bestsellers on their list or the number of “project” first authors. That’s around 1,000 authors in a place like Trident or Writer’s House and who knows how many more are in William Morris.

So that’s 1,000 authors for one dedicated foreign agent. And a bunch of them are bestsellers. A bunch. And if you are not, do you get much time with that agent pitching your book? No, but you might get some if you book has enough attention in other areas or is a lead title in a genre.

This dedicated foreign agent has contacts with overseas publishers and also has sub-agents in each country and has the clout of the bestsellers behind her if she likes your book.

So imagine this sub-agency in say Paris, who works with ten agencies out of New York and another dozen from around Europe and another dozen from other parts of the world. That’s the agency your book goes into in Paris from the dedicated foreign agent in your agency, with thousands of other books, all published in one country or another. Yup, those agents are going to give your book special attention without some special reason. Nope, afraid not, unless it is a bestseller or has something special or has a powerful sub-agent pushing it.

By the way, sometimes these overseas agents are called “agent networks” or something similar depending on how your agent wants to sugarcoat it to make it sound better to you.

Dedicated New York Foreign Agency. Now, let’s go back to New York and focus on the #2 or #3 level agency. Say a #2 Agency has 300 clients, a #3 agency might have 50 to 100 clients. (All numbers rounded and that varies from agent to agent.)

Now this dedicated foreign agency contracts with thirty to fifty New York agencies to handle their overseas submissions. This dedicated foreign agency can be dealing with upwards of 5,000 or more writers, all producing published works. See why about all they can do is send lists? And, of course, the bestsellers in those client agencies get all the attention, as they should. Duh.

The key is to ask when you hire an agent. If they send your book to another agency, I would run like the wind from that agent. It’s a deal-breaker for me. The agency either has an in-house foreign agent or the agent has a track record of selling overseas herself.

How to get around the Ugly Numbers?

Same way you do selling a book to New York of course. In this modern world of internet, it is very easy to find and contact an overseas publisher. You might be surprised, if you are businesslike and have a track record and a book that fits their program, how welcoming they will be.

Or you can just jump the New York step and contract agents in each country directly.

As I said a few thousand times this last week in the marketing workshop, what is the worst thing a foreign publisher or agent can say? “Thanks, but no thanks.”

The point of this chapter is simple, so let me lay it all out in a simple fashion.

1) Overseas sales are worth your effort in both money and time.

2) Don’t expect your agent to automatically just do it for you, especially if you have a lower-level agent or agency. Won’t happen.

3) Don’t ever hire an agent in New York just so they can sell your foreign rights. Back to my posts about how agents don’t sell books and how agents don’t care about you, only their contacts with New York publishers and their own business.

4) If you want to be an internationally selling fiction writer, take control of this aspect of your career as well. It will be slow and the learning curve steep and sometimes painful, but worth every penny.

Trust me, it’s wonderful to hold in your hand a beautiful book from a country with a language you can’t read, but yet there is your name on the cover. And the money is really, really nice as well.


Copyright 2010 Dean Wesley Smith
This is part of my inventory in my bakery now. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

Actually, this post was about some of the many slices of the magic pie that can be cut out for each country in the world. It’s a big world and if you sell out into the big world, you can cut many, many pieces of your magic pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated. Once this book is done, I will send you a copy. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it. Every week or so I will be adding a new chapter on the myths and sacred cows of publishing. Stay tuned. Upcoming are chapters on bestsellers, research, rejections, and so much more. This business has a lot of myths. An entire book full.

Thanks, Dean

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Agents Take Care Of Your Money

Would you e-mail a perfect stranger and offer to give them control over your money? Sound like an internet scam? Sure it does, yet this is what fiction writers do all the time.

I have touched on this in a number of different ways in the other agent chapters in this book, and had no intention of coming back to it in a stand-alone chapter. Then I started getting private e-mails about how I was wrong about agents, about how they were partners to writers, about how this agent or that agent had taken great care of the writer. Fine, except for one issue. With attitudes like those writers had, they are setting themselves up for a great financial fall.

Now, to be clear, I have no problem with the standard model of writers hiring agents when they need one, usually early on in a career, and usually to handle contracts and other details like that after the writer has gotten an offer from a publisher. All that is fine and dandy as long as the writer knows what they are doing, walks into the relationship with eyes open, and keeps the employer/employee relationship clear. Agent is the employee of the writer, not the other way around. (I give eight suggestions on how to hire and keep an agent at the end of this chapter.)

As I got the letters from published writers taking me to task for not being balanced, I wrote back and asked each writer if they had met their agent. And if the writer had done a financial check on their agent. And if the writer had even been in the agent’s office or in the agent’s home.

Most had met their agent only once, usually at a convention. None had done a financial check, and none had been in their agent’s home. But all backed their agent completely and believed in them completely.

In other words, they were trusting their entire income, which could add up to millions over a number of years if they started to hit, to a complete stranger, a person they really didn’t know, had spent little or no time with, and had done not one lick of checking out.

So I ask the question again: Would you e-mail a complete stranger and offer to let them handle all your money?

Again, of course you wouldn’t, yet by sending out query letters to agents you picked out of a market guide or heard about from a friend, you are doing EXACTLY the same thing.

Back to a few basics I have mentioned before, but want to stress once more to be clear about this money topic.

Basic #1: Agents are not trained or regulated in any way.

Now, in the real world, lawyers are often hired to handle money in one fashion or another for a client. Lawyers have seven years of college which includes three years of law school and State Bar Associations that watch them and handle complaints. They also must pass one nasty test to become a lawyer after finishing law school. Even then, any sane person would check out a lawyer first to handle money matters.

I got one young professional writer comparing their agent to a real estate agent. Now real estate agents are trained and take licensing tests and have organizations in each state to kill their licenses if problems arise. (Book agents, none of that.)

And nowhere in the sales process of a home does the buyer hand all the money to a real estate agent and say, “When you get around to it, send the seller his share.”

Nope, money goes directly through to the seller, with the real estate agent getting a check at closing for only their percentage fee. So not sure at all where book agents and real estate agents are alike. That comparison has always puzzled me, and just doesn’t fit at all on the money side.

Basic #2: Normally, all money is sent to the agent first under the agent’s name.

For those who do not have an agent yet, let me be clear here. In the standard agent/writer model, a publisher sends the agent ALL the money, and then when the agent gets around to it, the agent sends the writer the 85% share.

Why do I say when the agent gets around to it? Because, that’s how it works.

I had one agent who had this “policy” that I fought for seventeen years. If a check came in on Wednesday, I would have a check cut on the following FRIDAY and mailed to me. The agent sat on my money, and all the other writer’s money in that agency, for upwards of two weeks before I could cash a check.

Those of you who understand money just went “Wow!” That’s right, imagine millions running through that agency office every month because they have many NYT Bestsellers in their house. Now imagine earning interest on that money while it sat there. It’s called “the float” and it’s a normal business practice in many agency offices.

You can change this policy by asking in the contract negotiations that the checks be split. The publisher sends you directly the 85% and the agent her 15%. If all writers did this in all future contracts, a vast amount of the money issues with agents would just vanish completely. But agents will tell new writers that can’t be done. Why? Because they like the control and the float. But of course it can be done. Just put it in the contract with the publisher.

There are many, many agents out there folks, who live off of the float, who hold a writer’s royalty check to help with their rent. Writers who have trusted an agent like this won’t know when a royalty check comes in because, guess what, the royalty statement is sent to the agent with the check. Or overseas money. Or audio or electronic money. Or movie money. Agents will send you the money “when they get around to it” and can afford it.

Are there rules against co-mingling funds? Nope. Again, back to no rules, no training, nothing. Often an agent or small agency will just have one checking account, won’t even keep a separate author funds account. They will pay the writer out of that account right along with their rent and power bill and their own paycheck. And we all know what happens when things get slow on income in that situation. What gets paid first, the rent or the author’s British royalty payment?

Basic #3: Agents will sometimes ask for power of attorney.

Yeah, I said that. Agents will often ask writers for various reasons to give them power of attorney. That means without the writer knowing anything about it or even reading a contract, the agent can sign it for you and transfer your copyrights.

I had no idea that this happened until about ten years ago a friend of mine told me he had signed over power of attorney to his agent to make it easier to handle overseas sales. I started laughing, thinking at first he was joking, and when I discovered he wasn’t joking, I wanted to slap him to wake him up.

Then I started asking around and discovered this is common practice in many agencies.

Back to basics #1. Agents are not regulated or trained in any way.

So now my question is this: Would you give someone you don’t know control over all your money and also power of attorney to sign contracts for you to sell all your stuff?

Is there any wonder that writer’s organizations warn writers against the worst of the scams against beginning writers? When it comes to business and writing, normally sane people just flat lose any business sense they have. As a group, fiction writers are the dumbest business people on the face of the planet. Period.

I was no exception to this problem. Now understand, I have owned many, many businesses over the years, went to almost three years of law school, and know how to handle money for the most part. Yet I hired an agent without knowing her, without checking out the fairly new agency she worked for, and gave her control over my entire income for a very long time.

And then when I switched to another agent, I DID THE SAME THING YET AGAIN.

As I say, writers, me included, when it comes to our writing, are the dumbest business people in the world. Period.

Solutions? There are many, actually. I have a good friend who is a private detective who has a fairly large firm (again licensed by the state) whose main job it is to research possible employees for corporations and small businesses. I’m going to ask him what it would take, what he might charge, to do the same for writers when they are hiring an agent. I think this needs to be a part of the future landscape of agents.

How do you know if the agent you are about to hire and put in control of your money doesn’t have two hundred past fraud cases against him in New York? (I know of one major agent in New York that has been sued for taking clients funds over a dozen times that I know about, yet he still has major clients and a ton of writers on his list. Why? He always settles the suits with a gag order on the writers.)

One more time: I am not against the standard writer/agent business model in publishing. I feel writers need good agents to help them through much of the early years. But for heaven’s sake, think like a business person when hiring an agent.

Basic BUSINESS rules for hiring and working with an agent:

1… Never hire an agent before you have an offer on a book. Old cliche that has been around for a long, long time. The agent you can hire before you have sold a book is not the agent you are going to want after you have sold a book.

2… Research, research, research the agent and agency. Talk to their other clients, both past and present, check into their finances, ask about how their firm handles money. (This is not counting all the questions about rewriting and such covered in other chapters.)

3… Talk to the agent on the phone a couple of times before hiring them. Never hire someone through an e-mail or the internet. Yikes, you do that, I know a bank in Russia who would like to send you an e-mail.

4… Always split all money in contracts. Never allow any agent to handle your money. Period.

5… If you are having an agent submit books for you (see other chapters for reasons to do and not do this), have the agent copy you on ALL letters to editors and ALL rejections.

6… Never let the agent make a decision or accept or turn down a deal without talking to you first. Of course, if they ask for a power of attorney, either laugh and ask them if they are kidding or fire them.

7… Remain in control of your speed, the subject matter of your books, and all other creative aspects of your career. Never let an agent tell you to slow down or write to order.

8… Never think of the agent as anything but an employee. They are not your partner and you do not work for them. They work for you. Period.

Now, under all that above, it is very possible to have a wonderful working relationship with an agent. You and a good agent can go places and both can make a lot of money and I promise that if you follow the above eight pieces of advice, you will have far, far fewer problems with your employee than you would otherwise.

Just keep repeating over and over the topic question of this chapter.

Would you offer a perfect stranger control over all your money and your future as a writer?

If the answer is no, then you and I are on the same page.


Copyright 2010 Dean Wesley Smith
This is part of my inventory in my bakery now. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie. If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated. Once this book is done, I will send you a copy. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it. Every week or so I will be adding a new chapter on the myths and sacred cows of publishing. Stay tuned. Upcoming are chapters on bestsellers, research, rejections, and so much more. This business has a lot of myths. An entire book full.

Thanks, Dean

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Current Bundle

Bundles: A great way to discover new writers and read some of my novels or nonfiction writing books at the same time.

So if you want to read two of my books about the business of writing, you can get it in a bundle with eight other great books from other writers from Storybundle. Click on image to go to the bundle.

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And twenty-six of them now exist... Amazing, huh? And hard to hold. Here I am holding the first five...

$6.99 electronic and $12.99 trade paper editions are available at your local bookseller. All paper subscription copies are signed. For more information, just click on the cover.


Online Workshop Schedule

These are the starting dates of upcoming online workshops. Limited to twelve writers. All have openings unless I say closed below. For sign-up and more information about each workshop, click the Online Workshop tab at the top of the page.

Class #51… June 6th … The Business of Writing
Class #52… June 6th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #53… June 6th … Author Voice
Class #54… June 6th … Ideas into Stories
Class #55… June 7th … Teams in Fiction
Class #56… June 7th … Depth in Writing
Class #57… June 7th … Plotting With Depth
Class #58… June 8th … Writing Fiction Sales Copy
Class #59… June 8th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #60… June 8th … Advanced Depth

Class #1… July 11th … Author Voice
Class #2… July 11th … How to Write Thrillers
Class #3… July 11th … Adding Suspense to Your Writing
Class #4… July 11th … Plotting With Depth
Class #5… July 12th … Character Development
Class #6… July 12th … Depth in Writing
Class #7… July 12th … Advanced Character and Dialog
Class #8… July 13th … Cliffhangers
Class #9… July 13th … Pacing Your Novel
Class #10... July 13th … Teams in Fiction

Class #11… Aug 8th … The Business of Writing
Class #12… Aug 8th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #13… Aug 8th … Adding Suspense to Your Writing
Class #14… Aug 8th … Ideas into Stories
Class #15… Aug 9th … Teams in Fiction
Class #16… Aug 9th … Depth in Writing
Class #17… Aug 9th … Plotting With Depth
Class #18… Aug 10th … Writing Fiction Sales Copy
Class #19… Aug 10th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #20… Aug 10th … Advanced Depth

Sign-up and more information under Online Workshops tab at the top of the page.

Classic Workshops

You can sign up for these and start at any point. They are the regular workshops, only you don't send in the homework and you can take them as fast or as slow as you would like.

They are half the price of a regular six week workshop.

Classic Workshops offered.

Making a Living... Classic
Productivity... Classic
Discoverability... Classic
Writing in Series... Classic
Genre Structure... Classic
Career... Classic

Lecture Series

More information on these lectures under the Lecture Series Tab above.

#1... Heinlein's Rules... Dean Wesley Smith 15 videos... $75.00

#2... Read Like a Writer... Kristine Kathryn Rusch... 8 videos... $50.00

#3... How to Write a Short Story: The Basics... Kristine Kathryn Rusch.... 7 videos... $50.00

#4... Writer's Block and Procrastination... Dean Wesley Smith... 8 videos... $50.00

#5... Carving Time Out for Your Writing... Dean Wesley Smith.... 8 videos... $50.00

#6... How to Research for Fiction Writers... Kristine Kathryn Rusch.... 14 videos... $75.00

#7... Pen Names: Help With the Decision... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#8... Motivation: Starting Easier and Writing More... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#9... Practice: The Attitude and Methods of Practice in Fiction... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#10... Master Plot Formula: How and Why It Works Today... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#11... Prolific Lecture: How to Become a Prolific Fiction Writer... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#12... The Stages of a Fiction Writer: How to Know Where You Are In Learning and How To Move Upward... Dean Wesley Smith.... 11 videos... $50.00

#13... Starting Writing. Or Restarting Your Writing... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#14... Endings: How to Write Them and Understand What Makes a Good Ending... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#15... Audio Narration Lecture... Jane Kennedy.... 9 audio lectures... $50.00

#16... Your Writing as an Investment Lecture... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#17... How to Get Your Books into Bookstores Lecture... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#18... How to Think Like a Science Fiction Writer Lecture... Kristine Kathryn Rusch....11 videos... $50.00

#19... Why Some Books Sell More Than Other Books... Dean Wesley Smith.... 9 videos... $50.00

#20... How to Write a Page Turning Novel or Story: Basics and Tricks ... Dean Wesley Smith.... 8 videos... $50.00

#21... The Basics of Designing Science Fiction Covers ... Allyson Longueira .... 8 videos... $50.00

#22... The Basics of Designing Mystery, Cozy, or Thriller Covers ... Allyson Longueira .... 8 videos... $50.00

#23... Paying the Price: A Working Writer's Mindset ... Dean Wesley Smith.... 10 videos... $50.00

#24... Writing into the Dark: The Tricks and Methods of Writing Without an Outline... Dean Wesley Smith... 12 videos... $50.00

#25... Reviews: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly... Dean Wesley Smith... 10 videos... $50.00

#26... Organization... Allyson Longueira... 8 videos... $50.00

#27... Confidence... Dean Wesley Smith... 10 videos... $50.00

#28... Stories to Novels... Dean Wesley Smith... 9 videos... $50.00

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