Hard at work!

As some may have noticed, we’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front. We bought another agency back in April, and have been paddling hard like the proverbial duck while attempting to look serene.

The easiest part of the process was doing the deal with my agent friend. She was great and furnished me with all sorts of information: spreadsheets of current licences, contact details, email addresses of royalty departments and so forth. Granted, the deal was on the basis that the agency couldn’t accommodate a large number of new clients – not with the level of attention we like to give.

What I’ve learned in the process:

1. Agents carry a very large amount of information in their heads. You think you’ve put everything down on paper, but it’s a whole nother thing to come along as a newcomer to this information.
2. Some people need telling twice. Some people are still trying to send money to the old agency. There will be people I have to remind more than twice, I can already tell.
3. You have to take the time it takes to establish good relationships. This applies to the new clients as well as new co-agents and publishers. It’s well worth it.
4. Change makes everyone anxious. Of course.

We’ve worked out who needs what tax forms, who’s writing what and for whom, and what money hasn’t arrived. It’s also been important to work out the new clients’ preferences in style of agenting, from the ‘professional only and don’t ask me about my new dog’, to the ‘I’d quite like an opinion on everything I’ve ever written’, to the ‘I miss old-fashioned publishing lunches and I’ll be really happy if we can linger till four in the afternoon talking about old friends and bad books’.

A few things have gone by the board lately, which we should apologise for. We haven’t been as responsive as we’d like to submissions, in particular. But everything’s now getting back onto an even keel. Still paddling hard, though.

What’s everyone looking for?

Today’s issue of Broadcast focuses on what the various commissioners at ITV are looking for. Most of them say they don’t want to be too prescriptive. The drama controller thinks there’s room for more crime, as long as it doesn’t include grizzled detectives, dead prostitutes and abused women.

Producers, publishers, and agents are often asked what they’re looking for right now, and the only genuine answer is rather formless: something fresh and character-led. ‘Character-led’ means that the characters are well drawn, and we like them enough to care what happens to them. It’s also important that what happens to them is interesting.

You have to take a conservative view of ‘fresh’: this often means a fresh angle on a well-known genre. It must not so far away from what an audience has seen recently that no one knows how to market it, but not something we feel we’ve now seen a hundred times. It’s a tricky balance. ‘Fresh’ doesn’t mean gimmicky, for instance, a grizzled detective who also happens to be in a wheelchair. One example might be Emma Adams’ play, Ugly, about climate change. You’d think that commission was career suicide, but Emma looked at the issue from the point of view of how people treat each other when resources get scarce. Still bleak, but a dimension we haven’t looked at much.

In this competitive world, a thoughtful creative choice means a writer is much more likely to get a commission.

Where is the money?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s been a lot of coverage this week about the ALCS’s latest survey of writers’ earnings:
Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors, makes astute comments on the publishing aspects here:
Briefly, in publishing, book sales have been declining over the past few years; however, as Nicola points out, publishers don’t appear to be suffering. In television, companies have had to provide new digital services with no extra funding. Other media, such as film and theatre, have suffered from austerity cuts. Who loses out? The individual, as always – the writers.
What can be done about this? For a start, it’s time for the writers’ unions and agents to examine the writer’s share of money generated by their work. In the way that poor people’s benefits have been cut, almost as a punishment during the austerity cuts, writers seem to be expected to subsidise the digital developments in the media. Second, both the Labour and Conservative governments can stop suspecting there’s money to be found in creative content if we can just make it cheaper for the consumer, or promote our culture… without spending any money on it. At this rate, we won’t have a culture.

A 4-hour ride in an elevator

file2901279389192 (2)I’ve been doing a series of writers’ events – the London Author Fair, the T Party, Get Writing, and next week will be tweeting for Swanwick and attending the LMA’s first literary event on Friday. It’s good publicity for an agent, you meet interesting writers, and you keep an eye on what’s really happening out there.
A popular feature of writers’ events is pitching sessions. You can’t go to one now without seeing a row of tables. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether the writer or the agent look more horrified at meeting the other at last, or more appalled at what the other is saying. Whoever thought the elevator pitch was a good idea?
The good thing about the pitching process is everything else besides the pitch. It gave me a chance to smile at that terribly nervous writer who had 5 minutes with me on Saturday, and I hope my fangs looked reassuring. Someone else’s pitch document read like randomly generated words, until they explained the interesting ideas behind it. There were a few sessions where it was the writer and I knew we weren’t right for each other. There’s just no substitute for meeting face to face. I may have a name that should belong to a small Welsh fairy but I suspect that’s not how I come across.
#AskSwanwick at 8pm on Monday 7th April
LMA Spring Festival on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th April http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma

Good behaviour in the shark pool

It hit the news this week that the Weinsteins are suing Time Warner over the Hobbit novels.  Their deal gave them revenue on ‘the film’ but didn’t allow for the possibility of the book being dramatized as three films:


Is this rough justice, holding them to a contract that everyone agreed, or should allowances be made for a change of circumstance?  This is one of the issues that keeps me awake at night: the contracts I advise my clients on can only be based on the information available at the time.  You try and provide for anything that might happen in the future, but you can never foresee everything.

This counterpoints with an interesting ruling about behaving fairly over contracts, where there’s a relationship involved:


In a sense, it’s also a bit scary to wonder who’s going to rule whether we’ve acted in good faith, but if this means shark-like behaviour is lessened, even agents (as proverbial sharks) must welcome it.


The Sins of Agents

This wonderful article


made me wonder about what might be the Ten Commandments for Writers, but I could only come up with a few obvious ones (“Don’t write anything rubbish”).  However, the sins of agents are many, and here’s my stab at Twenty Commandments for Agents.  Further suggestions welcome…

1.  Thou shalt put the client’s interests first.

2.  Thou shalt give positive feedback as well as negative.

3.  Thou shalt return phone calls and answer emails.

4.  Thou shalt deal with contracts and payments promptly.

5.  Thou shalt keep thine ego in check.

6.  Thou shalt not indulge in paranoia.

7.  Thou shalt resist weird superstitions about what works in the industry.

8.  Thou shalt not indulge in strange practices to improve thy clients’ luck and frustrate thy competitors.

9.  Thou shalt not boast to a client about another client’s greater success.

10.  Thou shalt not make enemies.

11.  Thou shalt not knowingly represent anything rubbish.

12.  Thou shalt not harry publishers and producers fruitlessly.

13.  Thou shalt not blame everything on someone else.

14.  Thou shalt be honest and caring, without undue support from alcohol, drugs and egregious boasting.

15.  Thou shalt not spend more than 2 hours a day moaning about the industry to thine agent friends or thy clients.

16.  Thou shalt remember thy clients’ names and (roughly) what they wrote.

17.  Thou shalt not look covetously on another agent’s client.

18.  Thou shalt not use thy lunch as a bookmark.

19.  Thou shalt keep up with new developments.  As soon as a new right exist, writers start losing money.

20.  Thou shalt resist harking back to the golden days of 100% repeat fees, uncomplicated royalty statements, the Net Book Agreement, 15-year licences, and the ability to send an interesting work in progress to someone who had the time to read it properly and think about commissioning the writer.