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08/31/07
The Sweet Smell of…
Filed under: General
Posted by: site admin @ 7:12 am

The real success story of this frankly triumphalist blog is, of course, that of the authors and their agents.  But AR&E played a part in both tales and both are out there in the public domain now, so I think it’s okay to toot our horn as well as theirs.

Recently two authors we have worked with sold their books for big and bigger money.  To major houses prepared to do real work nurturing the careers of these writers.  Both are novelists writing non-genre fiction, and their personal stories are as different as their books; but alike in that both illustrate the meaning of belief in yourself and your work, and the willingness to put in the sweat equity that leads to success, even when you’re writing non-genre quality fiction that one way or another pushes the envelope.  One of these writers had a previous book (with a small press) and a former agent (major) when he came to us.  The other was a debut author who before he found us had gone the route of self-publishing and came to regret it (the usual no-meaningful-distribution and no-sales reason) but now he had a new book and he wanted a real agent and a real publisher.  

Here’s the debut author’s story first - condensed more tightly than a can of Campbell’s soup, but you’ll get the point.  Kwei Quartey came to the US from Ghana as a boy, became a doctor, and never lost the itch to write fiction. Particularly a story that would help him explore the Ghanain world of his youth. He began using AR&E to look for an agent for WIFE OF THE GODS around 1999.  We did our best, but no takers.  Agents were hugely complimentary, but backed off because this is not an easy to classify book.  Kwei did something else.  Came back.  No takers.  He went back and did some rewriting on WOTG.  Asked me what I thought of trying again with another Customized Report.  I often discourage this as throwing good money after bad, (we’re not hucksters and we try not to offer hope when there is none) but in this case it was obvious he was very talented and had a really good book (agents do not say “I absolutely love this but I don’t know where to sell it” to every author they turn down; when they do, they mean it).  We tried again.  Fooled around with some different angles by way of agent selection.  More near misses.  Then, having not been in touch with him for some time, I saw a book Marly Rusoff had sold that made me think of Kwei and his Ghanaian detective.  I already knew Marly was a teriffic agent - worth a shot.

This past week, after a huge amount of commitment from the whole Rusoff operation, Marly conducted a tightly focused auction between Random and Viking Penguin which wasn’t just about top money, but about how her author felt after he talked to both editors.  In the end, though he liked Viking Penguin a lot, Kwei decided to go with Random, and with various bonuses and add-ons Marly got six figures for the book  Foreign sales yet to come. 

The previously published author is an even more complicated story.  There’s the earlier sale to the small press.  Great reviews.  But then Garth Stein writes THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN and it’s a story everyone agrees is wonderful and wonderfully written - except, it’s narrated by the family dog.  So the old agent and the new agents (recommended by us) say this is too quirky, I can’t sell it.  Then Garth goes to Jeff Kleinman, now a partner at Folio, and Jeff really gets the book, doggy narrator and all.  And they do some work together (Garth praises fabulous input on Jeff’s part - the right words that free his creative juices) and then the first house Jeff submits the book to gets back the same day and offers six figs for a quick pre-empt and the author says Halleluja! let’s take it.  And Jeff says no way.  And there’s another offer and an auction is underway (again to be decided by the author based on more than simply $) and earlier this summer Harper wind up getting the book for quite a bit more than that original offer.  And the foreign sales begin.  And THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, the book that was too quirky for most of the agents who read it, has now garnered what’s rumored to be seven figs in advances. 

So while we can be really, really helpful in the matter of agents, you have to supply not just the fabulous book but the intestinal fortitude.  There’s a sentence in most of the memos I write to accompany a Customized Fingerprint Report - few things are more difficult than going after a major publishing contract.  It is very true.  Grown ups only allowed to play.

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