Back again after a long silence, which is explained by the fact that less than two weeks ago I typed The End at the bottom of the last page of book four of The City of Dreams Series by Beverly Swerling, and was able to send it to my editor at Simon & Schuster. And though the book was sold over a year ago, I also rushed a copy to Henry Morrison, my long-time agent and always critically important first or early reader.
A lot of you ask us about that in the “me and my agent” questions we get all the time at AR&E, and the answer always is, it depends. Some agents - like Henry - are terrific at reading and seeing things that you the writer, because you are so close to the work simply cannot see. Moreover, they believe that to be a crucial part of their role and one they customarily play before the book is submitted to a publisher (unless, as is the case with me in this ongoing series, the book is under contract before it’s completed). Agents who operate this way will probably tell you - again, like Henry - that working this closely with an author is the real fun part of their job.
Many authors, particularly new ones, desperately want this attribute in an agent. That’s not surprising. Writing is work done entirely alone, in a usually silent room, staring at a blank computer screen. Seeking some validation and some advice after months of that - sometimes years of it - is entirely understandable. Other authors have been burned by agents who have led them down an entirely wrong path in terms of revisions. They want no part of the purported editing skills of the person they hire to negotiate their contracts. Both systems work. It’s simply a question of getting the right agent for the right author. (Need I say that’s what we do at AR&E - see The Customized Fingerprint at Our Services on this site.)
The bottom line for both types of writer, by the way, is NEVER NEVER NEVER agree to revisions that your gut tells you are wrong for the book. I know how scary that can be, particularly if you’re a first timer who went through hell to get an agent to begin with. But it’s the price of being a writer, and without it nothing you write is going to have that fire of conviction which is the sine qua non of success. Finding the balance between artistic integrity and plain old bull-headedness is yet another of the skills you must acquire to make it in this very, very difficult game.
Another question that comes up frequently in our dealings with writers is the one raised by such statements as, “I need to get this into the hands of an agent quickly, because the book is entirely relevant to the 2008 elections…” Never going to happen. Even if you get an agent tomorrow and she sells the book the next day.
Except in very rare circumstances - which would never apply to a first novel, and not to 99% of works of non-fiction - the publishing process takes a year or more. If you want to write a story that would be helped by being published during a presidential election, you’d better take your best shot at guessing what’s going to happen, and use the election of 2012. Nothing else is realistic.
The book I just finished is a case in point: Because it has been under contract for over a year, and because it’s the fourth in a series, and because my editor and I have been discussing it right along, Simon & Schuster went ahead and some time ago committed to a pub date of October 2008. Which will mean having advance reading copies (ARCs) during the summer, and shipping hardbound books to bookstores in September. Which in turn means everyone involved - including me, because I will have to go through the ms word by word three more times before you get to read it - will have to finish his/her part in the production process in nine or ten months. Lightening speed in this business.
Finally, the commercial: My latest published book, City of Glory by Beverly Swerling, is about to come out in the S&S trade paperback edition. The official pub date is January, but most bookstores will have copies this month. Riotously entertaining…” according to the Washington Post. Hope some of you Santas out there think of it for a few stockings.