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.

Mythology

file7791271797864 (2)There’s a laudable initiative in Hollywood right now to crack down on late payments to writers

http://variety.com/2014/film/news/writers-guild-of-america-teams-with-agents-to-crack-down-on-late-payments-1201067466/

but one commentator says the real issue is free rewrites.  Contracts are still mostly according to one set of editorial notes and then a copyedit (for books) or two drafts and a polish (for scripts).  It’s never as simple as that.

It’s really tricky to balance the time a writer needs to spend on a project with what they actually get paid.  Sometimes, to be fair, a writer puts in loads of work because that’s the only way of getting that book or script written, and written well.  They know the money will never cover the amount of work, but they’re prepared to do it anyway.

Sometimes the writer’s put to extra work in a well-meaning way.  For instance, one of my scriptwriters has been doing an ‘unofficial draft’, which is vetted before it goes to the overall producer.  The process is streamlined this way, and my writer always gets praised for the quality of each draft.  He’s more likely to get more work this way; the producers have faith in him, and word gets round.

But sometimes it’s a kind of car accident.  Occasionally, when producer needs a quick rewrite from a writer and only has a small amount left in the budget, they think it’s a quick job and the money will cover it. Sometimes, though, it’s an enormous job to put the script right.

I love publishers and producers who know how much (or how little) they’re asking for, and find a fair fee for the writer.  But I think it’s time we woke up from the myth that any good script or book can be written in two drafts and a polish.

Galbraith or Rowling?

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Whether you believe that this week’s revelation that Galbraith’s novel was actually written by J K Rowling is a publishing scam or an accident, it underlines how difficult and slow it is to launch a writer.

Personally, I believe David Shelley that it wasn’t a callous marketing exercise, but I know the pressures on publishers to make money on authors quickly.  I can imagine a publisher losing their nerve and resorting to stunts, if sales aren’t fast enough, and you know a simple act on your part could change that overnight.

The problem is that producers and publishers – or the people who own and fund them – want faster results than the business will usually deliver.  I’m told a fast movie takes 7 years.  A fast sale will take maybe 6 weeks to make, if you exclude the time it takes to have everything in place to do a fast sale: your relationship with the writer, your relationship with the buyer, and the writer’s development time on the idea.  I’ve done a film deal in a week, but usually a fast negotiation takes three.

For a writer to develop their craft, probably allow 10 years starting when they begin to be interesting, around the age of 40.

For a brand to be successful, a generation?  Two?

Granted, there are notable exceptions, but it’s much more common for ‘overnight successes’ to have taken decades.

So to dump a writer if they’re not bringing in money quickly enough is like putting a few coins in a piggy bank, then smashing it, spending the cash and starting again.  The whole business – writers, agents, publishers, producers, and investors – have to choose to produce good work, and patiently keep putting the coins in that bank.