I've had three top-gun agents over a period of 23 years. The first thing I get very clear from the beginning, is asking them if I am allowed, or can I be, proactive in the submission process. The answer has always been a definite yes. They can use all the tips and new industry information that you can send them. I all my cases, I stipulated that I would hunt down some of the smaller independent publishers who paid advances and had some type of legitimate distribution, either fulfillment or full sales force status. I was only told in two cases to keep a running record of where these submission went to--this avoids query-type traffic jams and annoying repeat subs.
Does it work? Oh, you bet it does! I tipped my agent off to a very large publisher imprint, suggesting that my thriller might be considered a good bet there. It was very much appreciated--off my submission went--along with another author's thriller. Guess what happened. That other thriller got a contract with a whopping advance. My agent was very pleased and let me know how much she appreciated the lead. Although it didn't happen for me, I'm very glad that a stablemate got the deal.
What happens if you're offered a contract? Do the ole lateral hand-off to your agent. They'll make the final decision and evaluate the contract. Do this immediately. Your agent can also use this as leverage to entice/inform other houses of immediate interest. I'm not saying this will lead to a preempt or auction. Just saying that it might give your agent a little bit of pulling power. It also gives your agent another publisher to list in his/her database, for future reference.
Caveat: This works very well during the last stages of the submission process, where your agent has just about reached the dregs and is hinting around that this second or third volley of submissions will probably be the last to be made. It's kind of a last ditch effort. It is true that some authors with single repped titles that fail to garner a contract, can be excused by their agent. Doesn't happen that often. Most agents will put a book on the back burner if it has failed to sell, and then watch industry trends and editor positions to query at a later date. That's when you should be writing your next book.
Point: Don't ever be afraid to make suggestions to your agent, offer help and research in the submission process, or query a few gems that might be outside your agent's box. Do it sparingly, and always thank your agent for making special submissions that you've recommended.
I had to kick my SF book's website off my sig line, and it pained me to no end. I'll offer it and in future installments. The artwork alone is worth the visit:
RECENT INK DROP INTERVIEW:
Well, another Valentine’s Day behind us, taking with it the hearts, chocolates and Cupid. Today, it’s back to business as usual and I’d like to get right to business with this week’s guest, Chris Stevenson, author of ’Planet Janitor’.
IDI – Chris, tell us, at what point did you know that you were meant to be a writer?
CS – That would be in 1987 when I read my first short story in Twilight magazine. I was completely bowled over, entertained by a new medium. I thought, rather egotistically, that I could write such stories and be easily published. I did attain print, but it took a year and over 80 short story submissions to the small press and slick magazines. I immediately realized the persistence required for this craft and decided to forge on.IDI – What are you working on now? Can we get a peek?
CS – I’m putting the final touches on a YA dystopian tale. It involves a future of decline, hardship and crumbling economy, where a new system has been devised that allows heads of household to pawn out family members, to cover debts and avoid prison. It’s called ’Family Trade and Loan’, kind of a play on words. My MC is an 18-year-old female, who is pawned to the company for six months by her father. She ends up becoming an exotic dancer on the mining moon colony, Tranquility Harbor. Her father defaults on the loan, and she becomes property of the corporation. She must somehow escape from this wicked corporation, hide and start a new life without being discovered.IDI - That sounds very interesting. What was the mind-thought behind your latest book, ‘Planet Janitor’?
CS – I really wanted something different about Planet Janitor to stand out. The original idea did not spring from my forehead all at once, but came in stages. I had a friend who wanted to start a water ionization business called Planet Janitor, 15 years ago. He never started the company but I never forgot the company title – it had an environmentalist quality about it. Fast forward 14 years; I thought what would happen to a crew who landed on a planet that was knee-deep in skeletons from horizon to horizon? That idea simmered. A few weeks later, I read an article about space junk, reclamation, retrieving and recycling precious metals, like titanium, gold, silver, magnesium and aluminum. This gave me the idea for a crew who were adept at capturing space trash. Suddenly I knew I had the entire plot structure and outline for a book. I had a planet besieged by a genocide and a naive crew of environmentalists. Land the crew on the planet, to accomplish a routine mission, but confront them with the planetary killers responsible for the genocide. That’s when I knew I had a Starship Troopers meets Robinson Crusoe on Mars.IDI – Would you say your stories are plot or character driven?
CS – Although I love my characters and try to inject as much wit and irony in the storyline as possible, I’m forever taking them on extravagant adventures that require a lot of transitions and movement. I’m deeply interested in science and nature, and this also affects the outcome. I also have a bent toward very strong visuals, so I would have to say that I’m plot-driven. I would love to attempt a character-driven literary piece, but my heart and soul lies in creating spec worlds, fantasy or paranormal, from the ground up.IDI – I’m sure you’ve been asked this many times before, but I’m interested in the answer. Where do your ideas come from?
CS – I bring my family members and friends together for a bull session, where we all toss around a ‘what if’ scenario. the grand prize goes to the one with the most unusual premise. I am totally fixated on developing the most original, unique ideas, and using props that have never been used before. I just did something with a dream catcher that the entire writing/author community has failed to use in the past or present. It was truly a eureka moment. I live for those moments of discovery.IDI – I’ll bet more than one reader is wondering now in exactly what unique way you used a dream catcher!
I’ve heard arguments for each side, but when writing, do you outline or sketch the entire book before you feel comfortable enough to begin your draft or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your jockey’s?
CS – I definitely fly solo. I find that if I outline my plot, I most often deviate from it because I feel trapped or confined. The characters most often run away from my plots, doing things that I least expected – changing the storyline, creating new sub-plots, acting out of character, and just plain being unpredictable. I’m too safe when I outline. I take great risks when I fly by the seat of my pants. Great, classic stories demand risk, with a certain breeziness and non-conformity.IDI – Favorite author, and why?
CS – Easy, the late, great Poul Anderson. He was my mentor for many years, sharing with me his thoughts and advice on writing and publishing. Reason? turn of phrase, voice/style, irony, and a subtle humor and introspection that just had me gob-smacked. There’s a beauty in his writing that’s hard to describe, other than to say he used just the right words and created full-blown, 3-D imagery that could heave you breathless. I’ve remembered sentences, words and full paragraphs of his that have remained with me to this day; such was his impact on me.IDI – We all draw from within and I believe there is an element of ‘us’ in everything we write. How much of you will a reader find in any given book?
CS – I play every character role as a stand-in. My world views are crammed into the pages but you’ll find it very difficult to identify them, since they will be camouflaged and subtle in nature. Unlike writers like Robert Heinlein, I’ll play hide and seek with you and dare you to find me. Except for one thing: I love tall platinum blondes, who aer tough and innovative. You WILL find that tag in many of my books.IDI – What advice would you give to unpublished/new authors?
CS – So you want to be a writer and garner publication? Take two aspirin, go into a dark room, lay down and wait for the feeling to pass. Seriously, if you intend to write, you better read more than you write and write more than you think you possibly can. Determination and persistence is the name of this game. You’re fighting for a spot in the entertainment industry and it takes guts, just as though you were reading for a part or cutting a demo. Only you’re doing it with words, imagination and intellect. Once on the writing road you will have to resist looking in the rear view mirror. Your goal is straight ahead. No one will/can deter you from your aspiration. Don a suit of armor – you will need it to cast off the rejections from peers, agents and editors. Keep your family out of it, until you’ve reached a small publication pinnacle.IDI – What was the best advice ever given to you, and by whom?
CS – I believe it was Alan Dean Foster, but I’m not sure. He said that if I was interested in publishing in book length, to write non-fiction first, using a solid platform. Non-fiction outsells fiction 3 to 1. He was absolutely right. My first two non-fiction books were instantly snapped up, with great advances. Interviews, dozens of radio programs and TV spots followed. I hit the limelight rather early. This gave me the confidence – the boost – to pursue novels. The novels were much more difficult to get published, but by that time, I was a ‘known quantity’.IDI – Who is your favorite character creation in any of your books?
CS – Galoot, from ‘Planet Janitor’, takes those prestigious honors. “He’s a galoot!” was the first thing his mother cried out upon the child’s birth. The father, a large man by any standards, knew that his son would be very special some day. Galoot’s first baby rattle was a piston from an old diesel engine. As the child grew, his interest in anything mechanical blossomed. After working in the space port ship yards for 20 years, Galoot earned his master’s certificate in aerospace engineering and function. When he joined the Planet Janitor crew, Galoot was single, lonely and almost eight-feet-tall and 500 pounds. Shunned by those who feared him, rejected by women for his awkward mannerisms, Galoot would find his real home in the company of true friends aboard the Shenandoah. He would also find the love of his life.IDI – One more question, Chris. What is the hardest or most frustrating aspect of writing? Ideas, getting started, writer’s block, re-writing?
CS – Easy: promotion and marketing are the most time and labor-draining aspects of this entire business for me. Marketing online is an art form that requires finesse, maturity and persistence. Social networking is so important for an author’s book launch, that without it, sales and reviews can suffer in direct relation to its neglect. Conference attendance, radio and TV interviews, book signings, answering fan mail – all of it is so important for effective promotion and marketing, yet it is so devastatingly, so emotionally and so physically draining that sometimes there is not enough time in the day to craft one sentence, let alone fill a word quota.Authors Note: ‘Planet Janitor, Custodian of the Stars’ is my latest release and can be found at Amazon.com books and Kindle. the Kindle price for the eBook version is $2.99, and will remain so, with frequent free download trials coming in the near future. You can also visit the Planet Janitor website and see the beautiful artwork (26 illustrations all told), and read the character profiles of the crew.
IDI – Thank you, Chris. I truly enjoyed this interview and found many of your answers and ideas thought-provoking. Good luck with your upcoming release.