26th April 2013
As a child I wasn't allowed to use the phone, so I never developed any ease with the contraption. Besides, my approach to the world is more kinesthetic and I need to be receiving bodily vibes from the person I am talking to. Conversations with disembodied persons leave me tongue tied and grasping for something solid to hold my focus. This week I had a forty minute phone conversation with my disembodied agent whose office lies one block away from the the scene of the bombs that went off last week at the end of the Boston Marathon. (He lives in Boston, though his parent office is in New York.)
In my blog last week I was talking about the phenomenon of Hugh Howey, who managed to secure a contract with my publisher Simon&Schuster that left him managing his own E-rights. My question for my agent had to do with me cashing in on some on-line action.
The first thing he had to say was that Simon&Schuster weren't so happy with the decision they made in this case, because Hugh Howey's book "Wool," isn't doing well in printed book sales. It appears the book had already peaked on-line before he handed it over to the publisher and they paid him royally for it. I'm sure he is laughing all the way to the bank. Besides, now he has a national profile, and anything else he writes is gold. At least for a while.
My agent had just got back from The London Book Fair, where I had assumed all the buzz would be about authors taking the on-line reins for themselves and leaving publishers to the print end of things. However, he says quite the opposite is true. They know they have to get a handle on the on-line business, but for their own benefit.
I wanted to know what he thought about my putting up one of my other books to Kindle, but he pulled up my contract with Simon & Schuster and learned that not only do they have first right of refusal for my next book, but I can't publish anything else within six months of "Veil of Time" coming out.
But I have this book called "Mustang," which is what I would consider a "family book," and which I could perhaps slide in under the auspices of it being a children's book, and then none of their stipulations would apply. I would have to publish it under a different name, however, because S&S don't want people googling me around March 1st next year and coming up with a horse book. It would still take a phone call or two from my agent to have this sanctioned, but he thinks they wouldn't mind my doing this.
The other idea I ran by my agent had to do with satisfying the contract by showing S&S another of my books, and then keeping hold of the sequel to "Veil of Time," myself. The chief reason for doing this is financial. My agent reasoned, however, that if the the first book does well, S&S are going to want the sequel in a bad way and pay out accordingly.
At the end of the discussion, the fire had gone out of my campaign, and I realised that everything depends on "Veil of Time" doing swimmingly, and there is little I can do, because of the contract, and because of the uncertainty of the market, but wait it out. My plan, then, is to keep working on the sequel (which is two-thirds of the way finished) and then spruce up the horse story for publication to Kindle under a different name.
In the meantime, my agent promises me, he is onto the publisher to put my project back in motion, at least in terms of sending me the second installment of my advance. He hopes they will have publicity cards ready for me by the summer, but that will involve their sending me some book cover options soon. He is working towards this, too. If anyone ever wonders why a writer needs an agent, this is why. The agent may not have much clout, but their voice carries a heck of a lot further than the author's. I'm not sure how an agent's cut gets carried over from one project to another and for how long he or she expects to cash in, but, from the way the view looks to me at the moment, I'm hoping it is for keeps. My agent claims he won't deal in film rights, but I am hoping to change his mind about that. Just as soon as I get over my phone phobia.
All this business wheeling and dealing seems to have nothing at all to do with the creative process. And it doesn't. But any writer who moves the content of his mind to paper is hoping for some kind of a readership. If you have a story to tell and you write it down, you're hoping for an audience. You want an agent to take as much of the business off your hands as possible, but he or she can't do it all.
On Monday morning, I will go into my office and close the door on the world, and that's the space I am most alive in. This is what Jospeh Campbell calls my "bliss," the place where time loses any currency. No matter that we grasp desperately against the passage of time, in this state of "bliss" it is sheer joy to look at the clock and notice that an hour has past without any sense of it having gone at all. This is where our notions of time break down, when the second hand of the clock appears to be measuring nothing at all but its own circular passage around a face of random numbers.