I get some funny questions from friends who are not familiar with the writing/publishing world. I certainly don’t blame them. I think it’s really difficult to understand anyone else’s industry unless you are a part of it. That’s why I’m always thankful that Nate and I were on the same sports team in college. Otherwise, I feel like I’d never have a clue what he was talking about. Same goes for writing. Although I think writers are probably a bit more sensitive toward “silly” questions.
I think there are several reasons for writers particular sensitivity. There is certainly a perceived feeling from the general public that writing is this weird, unrealistic dream that people just talk about. People tend to view it in the same light as someone saying “I’m moving to LA to become an actress AND a singer” without ever having taken an acting class or a singing lesson in her life. There are times when so-and-so finds out that you write, and so-and-so responds “oh yeah, my dad [insert relation here] wrote a book once.” And you have to smile and nod and say that’s great.
I don’t think that outsiders realize that there is an actual industry going on in the book world. There are certain ways to do things and steps to success that involve much more than daydreaming about the Great American Novel that I’m going to write.
So, I think that is one of the reasons writers feel a bit wary when outside-folks ask uninformed questions. But, really, that’s not a good response. I mean, I have no clue what my friends day-to-day lives are like in big-time consulting firms. Heck, I can’t even understand what my dad does!
But, we can still commiserate, right? About the funny questions? The ones where you inwardly shake your head and are just like “Bless their little hearts!” (Which is Southern for, “what a simple-minded question”–kidding! kidding!)
Well, here are a few of my favorite. (And for anyone that lives with a writer in their midst, I hope these help enlighten.)
1. So, if your agent is looking for a publisher, huh? And that publisher is in Texas? Like in Austin?
My in-my-head response: Wait, what? No, no Texas publisher. Do you know of a Texas publisher? I think you are very confused about what is going on, my friend. My agent is subbing to Random House, Simon & Schuster, Penguin…the works, yanno, like real life, you’ve-heard-of-them-before publishers. This isn’t some weird mini version of dress up or a tea party with plastic crumpets. My agent is in NYC as are most (but definitely not all) publishing houses.
2. So, your agent is just like a middleman, huh? That’s annoying. Everywhere has a middleman these days. I bet when you graduate law school you’ll be happy because you can be your own agent.
My in-my-head response: Wait, what? No! I never, ever, never, ever would want to be my own agent! Even if I were an agent I wouldn’t be my own agent! An agent does more than draw up a contract. They manage your career. They know where your project should go. They know what terms are boilerplate and what to fight for. Your agent may be your one constant throughout your career. And can keep up the good relations between you, your editor, and your house. My agent reps awesome people like Ingrid Law and worked with Christopher Paolini. I should only be so lucky to have him!
3. You act excited that you got an agent, but don’t you just hire one? And, oh yeah, how much do you pay your agent?
My in-my-head response: Nothing! I pay my agent nothing! That is the awesomeness that is an agent. Someone believed in my project enough to dedicate free labor to it because he believes he can sell it. He gets paid if I get paid. That’s it. I’m excited because I was plucked from the horridness that slush and deposited onto the client list of a super awesome agent. I went through lots and lots and lots to get there. You don’t just hire an agent. Even though he *technically* works for me. The agents choose who to take on and it is a selective process. One to which pages and pages of writerly angst have been dedicated. Signing with a reputable agent is a major milestone in most writers lives.
4. So can I go buy your book? [says person that knows I just signed with Agent Man fairly recently]
My in-my-head response: Even if he sold my book the day I signed, the answer would still be no. Not in the next month. Not in the next year. At this point, we’re looking at 2010 at the earliest! Some editors have already started buying for 2011 lists. There is editing and more editing. Talented folks have to come up with cover art. There is marketing to plan. There is copyediting. And ARCs to give out. And blurbs to get. So much to do! Goodness, I’d have a heart attack if it happened as fast as people think it does.
5. My dad wrote a book. It’s on Amazon. Will yours be on, like, shelves? Or how much do you pay to get it published?
My in-my-head response: Again, nothing. In fact, a book deal (garnered by a reputable agent) makes you money. Otherwise agents would not be very pumped about this biz. And yes, all the places that my work is being subbed to have bookstore distribution. It would be on shelves and in real life. Very cool.
6. I edit a lot of work. I was my school’s newspaper editor. I could be your editor!
My in-my-head response: That’s really sweet. But, editors are actually the people at the publishing houses that acquire the books. They do the professional editing. Before that, my fabulous critique partner edits. Nate does some editing. And my agent helps in the editing process as well.
7. Cool, can you hook me up with your agent?
My in-my-head response: Oh dear. Awkward, awkward, awkward. When I have a book sale under my belt, I’m sure I’ll feel a bit more comfortable doing this for people whose projects I believe in. I’d have to be really really familiar with someone’s work and would probably want to be the one to bring it up. Although who knows? I’m just not at that point yet. The only person’s work that I know well enough is my critique partner and she already has a fabulous agent of her own.