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.

The Fetish of Bookishness

Recently I was looking at the Twitter timeline of a local author. The tweeter described themselves as a ‘crime writer’ although I could find no evidence of either published works or, in fact, any attempt to get published. Such was this writer’s personal confidence and dominance of their local writer’s group that publication seemed a secondary aim. Forceful airing of views on writing craft, plot and the industry of publishing seemed to be enough. The writer had fetishized being part of a trade they could, at best, be deemed to exist on the periphery of. Curious at this self assured timeline I continued to find literary agents recommended to other potential authors by this unagented tweeter, rallies to other writers to ‘just write!!’, ‘edit edit edit’ and ‘research!!’. I was struck by this rock solid self-belief and wondered whether bookishness has become a fetish. One that perhaps eschews the entire publishing process?

With bookishness in mind I continued to examine the competition element in local writing groups and found that number of books read and owned appears to be a key factor in setting oneself apart from other unpublished writers. As someone who recently took a year out of publishing one of the most rewarding things I found was reading for pleasure and without pressure- what a joy! I would urge any writer wishing to be published to read less but increase quality and relevance. Yet writing groups appear to pressure their members to read at a volume I’d expect on an MA course list. A writer belonging to an amateur writing group setting themselves a public reading challenge seems intimidating in its one-upmanship. One could wonder whether it’s really a form of very vocal protest from someone who reads very little- in other words a fetish for writing and for books and all that entails. The process of submitting work becomes secondary because that involves, at some stage or another, rejection.

Form of writing; longhand or Macbook- (it’s always a Macbook), purchase of notepads and pens, hours worked, tweeting and favouriting latest Kindle deals., bellowing about every open submission deadline, vigorously agreeing, disagreeing and befriending agents on social media appear as a feature of this ungraceful trend. The book fetishist is aggressive and defensive in equal measure.

This is why I am skeptical about Bookaday a recent book blog appeal to ‘Read one book a day for each day of the summer vacation’. Bookaday’has been successfully running for six years and my doubts will not halt its popularity. For myself I’d rather hear about one affecting book in a lifetime than the seven someone read competitively this week. The idea of averaging out at one book a day for six weeks (sometimes three a day, sometimes none) is appallingly reductive to me. Read lots, if that’s what you enjoy, but do not feel a commitment to do so. Of what value is the skim reading of one book per day?

I thought of one of my very favourite books: JL Carr’s A Month In The Country. It is a decade since I last read Carr’s immersive story of the renewal and healing of soldier Tom Birkin in the peaceful summer of 1920. Yet it remains vivid to me. Imagine if I had read it in a day- slim though it is. Would I have noticed its beautiful rhythmic (slow) pace or the beauty of Carr’s writing? I loved it so much I didn’t want it to end. Even so, I’ve never felt the need to read it again.

I therefore announce the Ki Agency book lovers appeal. Here are the tenets:

Readers:

Strive over the next year not to listen to recommendations about the volume or regularity of your reading.

Don’t be pressured by a voluminous stack by your bed.

Don’t, in fact, allow a stack to develop at all.

Limit yourself to one book on the go at any time.

Try to find a book every six months that you will remember for years.

Writers:

Write less but write better.

Read the market segment you are aiming for and read the best books in that segment.

Spend less time reading and more time thinking of your potential reader.

Pass on books you’ve read and declutter- keeping only the finest writing to adorn your home.

Don’t enter into any debates about Kindle vs hard copy.

Understand that the materials you use to write with are not important. It’s the writing that counts.

Daniel

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.

Time for a revolution

Westminster-20131105-00033 (2)

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, but most interesting (besides being told that 500 years worth of YouTube is viewed every day via Facebook) is the meeting about unfair contracts.

We have legislation against unfair contracts (http://www.oft.gov.uk/about-the-oft/legal-powers/legal/unfair-terms/guidance#.Un0QquK3A9g) but this doesn’t apply to intellectual property.  We’re hoping to address this by other means.  France protects writers; shame on us that we don’t here in the UK.

I’ve got quite a shopping list.  A writer can create a TV series or movie, and then get fired, only to have another writer rewrite it and get the credit (and the residual payments).  A writer’s credit can be accidentally left off a film, and the producer only has to use reasonable efforts to get this corrected (as long as it doesn’t cost them any money to do so).  Most film and TV contracts assume the writer will do two drafts and a polish (and be paid accordingly) when more often they’re required to do many more drafts than this (sometimes because the producers have changed their minds).  Many writers have to pitch, or write shadow scripts, on spec, before being commissioned to write for a TV series; it’s not down to their experience, and the producer’s judgement that their voice is right for the programme.  Book authors are bullied into using pseudonyms that put them near a similar bestseller on a bookshop shelf.  And writers’ incomes and rights have been deeply eroded over the last ten years.

The meeting took place at the Houses of Parliament on Guy Fawkes Night; luckily the fireworks happened outside rather than inside.  Wish us all luck, and don’t forget to support the Society of Authors and the Writers’ Guild.

The Sins of Agents

This wonderful article

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/10339696/The-ten-commandments-of-manhood.html

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.

Money

How to deal with criticism

Denial

http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/5-ways-for-authors-to-handle-bad-reviews/

This is a pretty touchy-feely article on the interesting subject of how to take criticism.  Good if you want to use this as therapy.  However, if you choose to get your therapy elsewhere (e.g. bibliotherapy – try http://www.theschooloflife.com/shop/individual-bibliotherapy/) what are other ways writers can deal with reviews?

1.  Don’t read any of them.  Just ignore them.  Your script editor / book editor / agent / beta reader / higher consciousness will tell you what you need to know.

2.  Choose one person to read them all and tell you the right things at the right time: the good things immediately, and the bad things when you’re clearly strong enough to take it.

3.  Read everything yourself, and career madly from elation to self-loathing before eventually arriving at an equilibrium.

4.  Read everything yourself and believe only the good things.  Carry a pin to deflate your head if you encounter any narrow doorways.

5.  Read everything yourself and believe only the negative things.  Not recommended.

Appreciation

Time

I’ve just finished writing an appreciation for the Boucheron programme guide about Anne Perry, who’s International Guest of Honour there next month.  I don’t know whether it’s the heat in London that’s so exhausting, or the effort of coming up with 1600 words.

Describing a 30-year writing career is hard.  Partly it’s the agent’s paradox: the client comes first, so everything we say or do has to be about them, when it’s usually easier to talk about yourself.  Partly it’s repressing the things I think are interesting about Anne’s career – things that wouldn’t be an asset in a programme book.

I started researching in parallel with Anne, so I could be useful to her.  The more you know about a time or event, the more interesting things you can find to say about it.  If we hadn’t gone to the museum of Paris, we wouldn’t have seen hastily-made Revolutionary dishes – which resulted in a heartbreaking scene in The One Thing More.  This was the point where, after a childhood of resisting History, even though it was taught by the wonderful Miss Lanthier, I realised painfully that history is interesting.

Another low point in my own career with Anne has been the travel.  I loathe travel, although I do it a lot.  I ought to be grateful to have seen the golden light of the Bosphoros, and the WWI trenches that survive at Ypres, but I’m An Idiot Abroad. 

The great thing is that working with Anne has been my education as an agent.  I’ve learned (sometimes, unfortunately, by making big mistakes at Anne’s expense) a lot about editing effectively and sensitively.  A big part of it is how to be encouraging (although Anne now sees through me when I say ‘You’ve given yourself a great opportunity to do X’ when this could also be expressed as ‘You idiot!  You forgot to do X!’)  A lot about how to give good news (use the phone, let the happiness in your voice ring out, celebrate with the client) and how to give bad news (use the phone, tell it straight, figure out beforehand what to do about it so you can discuss with the client how to make things better).

Mutual forbearance over a long working partnership is also important.  Anne has no flaws, but she tolerates my tendency to tell the big news last, my inability to remember numbers accurately, and my liking for drawing a skull and crossbones on her manuscript if I find she’s lapsed into a neologism.

Whew, it’s still hot.  I’m going to go and soak my feet in a nice cool thriller.