The Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues #4: Agents

NOTE: this article first appeared in the pages of SFWA Bulletin 144, Winter, 1999.

MIKE: There are a lot of misconceptions about agents.

One is that you can’t sell without one. This is demonstrably false; I think most of us sold our first novels without an agent.

Another is that an agent can sell an inferior book. Also false. An agent can get your manuscript read faster, and can probably negotiate a better advance (though you should remember that if it’s only 10% or 15% better, it’s going right into the agent’s pocket), but no agent can make an editor buy an inferior novel.

(Well, yes, they can — but only if it’s “You buy Joe Phan’s first novel or you don’t get the new Stephen King/Tom Clancy/Danielle Steele book.” But while it’s theoretically possible, consider the reaction of King/Clancy/Steele when this gets out — and it always gets out — and ask yourself just how long Mr. or Mrs. Eight-Figure Advance would stay with such an agent.)

Still, an agent’s a handy thing to have. They usually know who’s buying what, they can get you a faster read, the good ones can spot little killer clauses in contracts that slip by a lot of writers, they act as a buffer between the author and the editor, they harass the publisher and his accountant for your money, they make your foreign sales, some of them make your movie/television sales, some of them make your short fiction sales. The good ones are worth their weight in gold; the bad ones can destroy a writer’s career so fast you wouldn’t believe it.

And I’m on the outside looking in. You have worked for a literary agency for the past couple of decades. What particular insights can you bring to the subject of agents that most writers don’t know but really should know?

• • • ● ● ▼ ● ● • • •

BARRY: It’s more than a couple of decades, Mike. With some time off for good behavior (i.e., the fiction of “full-time” freelancing), I’ve been affiliated with the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, man and boy, for 33 years. I walked into the place on 6/2/65 and with distraction and interruptions, Presidential impeachment and resignations, the excitement surrounding the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and the American flight from Saigon, I’ve been here since. It has been interesting, as you know. It is my theory that the arc of the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, open for business on 6/29/46 and continuously under Scott Meredith’s aegis until his death on 2/11/93, is an arc which has become a paradigm for the course of publishing in this country from the end of World War II through the end of the century. That course has involved every aspect of how the delivery system has changed, and it’s a remarkable story, still misunderstood or (in the main) not understood at all. Someday I am going to attempt the True History of the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, and it will amaze and divert the multitudes (or so I would like to believe.)

In the meantime, pending that guided tour of the cemetery of so many possibilities, you ask for “particular insights . . . that most writers don’t know but really should know.” That’s a large question whose generality somewhat terrifies. These past years, when I’m asked “How you doing?” or “What’s going on?” or “What’s the big problem in your life as you see it?”, I’ve been responding, “These questions are too large for me. I cannot deal with them. Ask me if Bruckner or Mahler is the better composer and I can say some interesting things; ask me why Walter Tevis’s Mockingbird, although better written, sardonic, and altogether a more mature work than The Man Who Fell To Earth, is not a better novel and I’ll suggest why that is the case.” But what writers “don’t know but really should know” makes me kind of shudder. What’s your opinion of dogs? What’s the real significance of pari-mutual horse racing? You get the idea.

But here are a couple of facts that most writers should know if they don’t:

1) Agents are like divorce lawyers or medical practitioners. There are good lawyers (I hope) and not-so-good lawyers, but all of them in the State of New Jersey have to deal with the rules and statutes of divorce in the State. Lawyer A can’t find a whole new set of statutes or conditions unknown to Lawyer B, Lawyer C can’t change the custody or division-of-property laws. Some lawyers are better than others at working around the system or making the system less onerous; none of them, however, can shift the system itself.

And whether I’m represented by the Virginia Kidd Agency, Curtis Brown, Robert Gottlieb of William Morris, your own Eleanor Wood, or the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, my agent is confronted by the same editors, the same publishers, the same marketing conditions. No agent can create a new editor or series of markets. Once in a great while, a new agent might market a science fiction novel out of genre and obtain a better outcome (placement or advance or both) than might have been the case in genre, but this is rare and almost all agents and publishers know one another’s tricks now. You can’t sneak science fiction into mainstream markets under a disguise and you cannot, as an agent, turn a $5,000 US deal into a $100,000 US sale to someone who doesn’t know what’s going on. Not anymore.

This occasionally happened decades ago. John Cristopher’s No Blade of Grass was rejected in the mid-1950s by many science fiction markets who found this post-nuclear novel familiar, predictable, the same old stuff. Scott Meredith’s inspiration was to market it to The Saturday Evening Post as a “controversial Cold War novel”. The Post fell upon the work as if it were a true tour of the Kremlin’s plans. The magazine paid $80,000 US and ran it serially; there was a movie sale for more than that. Then a Reader’s Digest condensed book. The novel rejected by Ballantine and Ace became a best seller.

So this kind of thing could happen in the old days, but these are newer days and the Post doesn’t exist anymore. If your agent can’t sell your novel, it’s not likely that a new agent can find a different outcome, and a prospective new agent would be inclined to reject the novel unread anyway and ask for something new; agents hate to take on work which has already been through its logical range of markets.

2) Agents are something like symphonic conductors; it’s a profession which is open to fraudulence and incompetence because the audience cannot really tell a good one from a bad one or (Orpheus Chamber orchestra) from no conductor at all. Many agents appear “better” than others because they represent more successful writers, success goes to success, it was easy for Joe Torre to look intelligent managing the New York Yankees but he’s the same guy who, when managing the Mets and Cardinals, was thought of as being pretty dumb. Give me Stephen King and I’ll do better than Stephen King’s agent would do with me. In fact, you or I could do just about as well with the King account as any of the agents I’ve named above. And King’s agent — as you suggest — can’t sell a bad novel by an unknown writer. You rise or sink to your material.

But, as with symphonic conductors, when a great one does come along, the audience (not to say every musician in the orchestra) can tell the difference. Bernstein could get sounds out of Mahler that Mitropoulos or Mehta (good conductors both, you understand) couldn’t. There are writers who owe their very careers to brilliant agenting. I just know of no systematic way in which a writer in early or even mid-career can find such an agent. And of course — this is a cliché — one agent may be terrible for X and very good for Y. There is no agent about whom disgruntled ex-clients cannot tell unhappy stories; there is none among these agents who cannot elicit testimonials. It all depends. It is a highly subjective business.

But I wouldn’t look for an agent to get a career started, and I wouldn’t have undue expectation of any agent; a writer’s career rests largely on her own efforts. Agents are ancillary. They can make it easier, and they can also make it a lot worse. (You’re quite right in saying there are agents who “can destroy a writer’s career so fast you wouldn’t believe it.”)

All that being said, it’s still worth trying to get a good agent, just as the orchestra board, cynical as it may be, knows that it’s worth making a real effort to get a good conductor. How would you recommend that writers conduct such a search?

• • • ● ● ▼ ● ● • • •

MIKE: Let me begin by reiterating that I think an agent can make an enormous difference. The one I got rid of in 1983 had sold maybe a dozen novels for me — but always to the same publisher; it was easy for her to do, much easier than shopping around for better offers, and of course I had no idea that any other publisher had any interest in me — so as long as my publisher was buying I was happy. I didn’t know much about the foreign market, so I didn’t object to not making any foreign sales until 1983, when I made my first two — and came away with twice the money I’d been paid in America ($1,000 US more from Japan, $1,000 US less from Germany), which made me realize what I’d been missing. And when she tried to sell a sequel to Birthright: The Book of Man, a novel in which I had killed off the entire human race, without first asking me if I would or could write it, I decided it was a good time to part company.

My new agent put my next novel up for auction, which scared the hell out of me. After all, my previous agent had convinced me that no one else wanted me, and I was sure this was bound to offend my current publisher, possibly to the point I would be cut loose. (I was very naive.) Within weeks three different publishers were bidding, and all had offered me at least 300% more than I’d been getting. My new agent also made 31 foreign sales in the first 18 months we were together (and 16 years later, we’re still together). And she’s never tried to sell a sequel that couldn’t possibly be written without invalidating the original novel.

So yeah, an agent can make a difference.

A good agent also knows that clients are not interchangeable, that each requires special handling. You can’t market an Anne McCaffrey, who lives on the New York Times bestseller list, the way you market Nancy Kress or Connie Willis, who don’t show up on the New York Times list (no shame there; hardly any of us do) but win more than their share of Hugos and Nebulas. And you can’t market Nancy and Connie the same way, because while both are brilliant they don’t write the same kind of stories. And neither of them can be marketed like Gene Wolfe, who can’t be marketed like Michael Bishop, who can’t be marketed like Lois McMaster Bujold, who can’t be marketed like me. The agent who doesn’t realize this, who assumes that because it’s all called science fiction it must all be sold and promoted in the same way, is doing her entire stable a disservice.

Okay, so how do you find the agent who’s right for you?

Step one: get your hands on a SFWA Directory and turn to the back, where every agent and his/her stable of SFWA writers is listed. See where you think you’d be most comfortable. Are you happier with a new agent, who lacks experience and some clout, but who doesn’t have 27 writers who out-earn you? Are you happier with an established agent, who will perhaps have less time for you, but may bring more expertise to the table?

Step two: contact some of the writers in the stable and ask them for pros and cons about the agent. And since most of them will have nothing but favorable comments — those who don’t will have left — try to find some writers who did leave and find out why.

Then it’s a matter of deciding what’s important to you, personally.

For example: Does the agent have a good foreign desk? They’re not all interchangeable, you know.

For example: Does the agent return phone calls promptly? And is this important to you?

For example: Does the agent charge 10% or 15%? And if it’s 15%, what do you get that other writers don’t get for 10%?

For example: What incidental expenses will he bill you for? (This can run the gamut from postage and phone calls to copying and use of personal couriers for in-city delivery of manuscripts.)

For example: Does the agent deal with Hollywood (including TV) himself, or does he have a media specialist agent? And if so, is the media agent any good? Who does the media agent handle and what has he sold?

For example: Can the agent receive e-mail? (If not, and if you like to keep in constant touch, you’re probably looking at some hefty phone bills.)

For example: Does the agent attend Worldcon, World Fantasy Con, and/or the Nebula Banquet? (If not, it means every time you want a face-to-face with the agent, you’re going to have to fly to New York, with its attendant planefares, hotel and restaurant prices.)

For example: Does the agent pay you the instant the check arrives, or does he wait until his bank clears it? (This can be a couple of weeks on some foreign checks. Will this make a difference in your ability to pay your bills on time?)

For example: Does the agent handle short fiction, or does he want you to do it yourself? (And do you want an agent to handle short fiction? Most agents prefer not to, and most writers are perfectly happy that way — but a few agents insist upon it.)

For example: Will the agent handle your career personally, or is his stable so large that you’ll be given to some skilled (or perhaps unskilled) assistant?

For example: Does the agent’s expertise extend beyond science fiction and fantasy, and if so, does it cover areas in which you might wish to write in the future?

All of the above are valid considerations, but they’re not necessarily equal considerations. You have to decide which are more important to you, and which are less so.

Do you want an agent who molds your career, tells you what to write, and acts as a first reader — or do you want one who will take what you offer without question and send it out immediately? Do you want one who reports every rejection, or do you want to use your agent as a buffer from rejection and only be told the good news?

Another consideration: is your agent solvent? I don’t mean, do his checks bounce . . . but is he making a decent living? Not only does it show some competence on his part, but it avoids a pitfall that has hamstrung more than one writer. Which is to say, when you get a call that a publisher has just offered $6,000 US for your masterpiece and you’d better take it because it’s been turned down everywhere else, can you trust what your agent says — or could it be that this is only the first or second publisher to see it but your agent has got to get his hands on a quick $600 US for rent or child support or whatever? As everyone says, your relationship with your agent is very much like a marriage — and marriages built on trust tend to last the longest.

Now Barry, since you’ve spent 33 years, more or less, in a literary agency — and how you sold 90+ books and 300+ stories during just the first decade of that time remains a mystery to me — perhaps you’d care to tell us how different sales strategies are developed, and how they work? And you might even address fee reading.

• • • ● ● ▼ ● ● • • •

BARRY: “You might address fee reading,” the man says as an afterthought. Ever so shyly. “You might want to address those remarks on Jews we heard on the tape transcripts, Mr. President.” “Mr. President, one little question about that female intern.” Something like that. Talk about backing into the horned beast.

Anyway, and all right, let’s address the issue of fee reading. As you and most of the membership know, the Scott Meredith Agency, since its inception, has offered to read the work of unpublished or unestablished writers for money, with the understanding that saleable work would be represented by the agency, potentially saleable work would be directed through revision by the agency, and that unsaleable work would — well, it would be kindly declined. Over this very long period of time — the Agency opened its doors on 6/29/46 and fee reading was always a constituent — the program has had its successes and its problems. Many prominent or not-so-prominent one-time clients of the agency originally came through the fee department, including several present SFWA members; I won’t mention their names but will note that Richard S. Prather, John Farris, Bruce Douglas Reeves (who he?), Bill Pronzini, and Jeffrey M. Wallman are all important novelists who showed up at the beginning with $25 or $35 US in hand, a hopeful expression, and a manuscript.

What’s even more interesting than a list of fee-paying writers who became agency clients is a list of fee-paying writers who did not become clients — whose works were declined by the agency or unsuccessfully marketed. Here are just a few, and in no particular order: Stephen King, Even S. Connell, Jr., Robert Parker, Raymond Carver, John Barth. The novel on which Gus von Sant’s first screenplay and film were based was rejected by the agency. This all goes to prove something, although what that something might be is not entirely clear.

Another interesting list would be those who have worked for the fee department — writing responses in Scott Meredith’s name. Here are a few (and again, in no particular order): myself. Donald E. Westlake. Lawrence Block. Lester del Rey. Lawrence M. Jannifer. Damon Knight. Allen Ginsberg. Donald A. Fine. Phil Klass (better known as “William Tenn”). Talk about the true unwritten history!

My own position on fee reading is that like almost everything else in this world — marriage, love, happiness, the effects of wealth or poverty — is that it’s all contextual, it all depends. Depends upon the acuity of the person reading the manuscript, depends upon the ability or potential of the author. (Hopeless is almost always hopeless.) I’ve never endorsed the system, I’ve never condemned it. (Would be hypocrisy certainly to condemn.) There are better ways to get an agent and a publisher but unconnected writers have always had a problem with access and most publishers won’t even screen unsolicited materials any more. So if you’re out there in the provinces (and for an unpublished writer West 29th Street can be a province) you’ve got to try something.

At the least, most fee correspondence from at least this agency has been competent, lucid and to the point, and over the years the agency readers have passed on little work which has subsequently proven to be saleable. The record isn’t terrific but it’s probably been acceptable. I can’t talk to the practices of any other agencies.

Sales strategies? “How are different sales strategies developed?” If it’s Dean Koontz or Stephen King you don’t need a sales strategy, you just need an open phone line. If it’s a Mike Resnick at this point in his career you don’t need much of a sales strategy either; the agent and the publishers have a pretty good assessment of the writer’s audience, ability and potential and it’s just a question of how much a publisher wants to risk and whether the publisher wants to try to change the equation. Sales strategy comes more into play in the case of a writer at the very beginning of a career or perhaps coming off a hot first book which has sold or been reviewed beyond all expectations and which makes possible a leap in advance and possibilities. But is the largest advance necessarily the best offer in its totality? Is the largest publisher the best publisher? These are questions which can only be answered on an ad hoc basis and I suppose that it is here — and here more than in any other area — where the differential abilities of the agents and their sympatico with the client can make a real difference.

I think, overall, the role of an agent is overrated. John Updike has never had one. Neither did John O’Hara. Nabakov had representation for some foreign language rights but, after he left Cornell to write full-time in 1958, had no agent for his manuscripts. Dean R. Koontz has had four agents, each of which did better for him than the last, but this was because Koontz was doing better and Agent #1 might have done as well for the present-day Koontz as is Agent #4. You or I could do pretty well for Stephen King, I suspect, while the William Morris Agency would have a hard time promoting ancillary and subsidiary rights to the work of Ray Cummings. No agent can be better than the work represented (some can be worse), no agent can as I’ve said find a new set of markets.

But tell me how and through whose efforts you’ve made your movie sales (did Eleanor Wood or a cooperating agent manage those as well?) and I will be content and fully informed.

• • • ● ● ▼ ● ● • • •

MIKE: My first couple of movie options came through a cooperating Hollywood-based agent. But, possibly because he represented literally hundreds of category writers, he never followed up on them. He seemed content to make option money and let it go at that, so finally I let him go.

Now, over the years, we saw one talented writer after another go out to Hollywood to conquer the movie world . . . and we saw one talented writer after another vanish from sight or wind up writing Saturday morning cartoon shows for television. We spent the better part of 25 years observing them and trying to learn from their mistakes, and when we thought we’d figured most of it out, we decided it was time to take a fling at Hollywood ourselves. (I say “we” because Carol, my wife and screenplay collaborator, is a far better and more visual screenwriter than I am. One of the things I discovered is that you have to chuck almost everything you learned as a prose writer before you can become even a mildly competent screenwriter, and since she hadn’t been writing prose professionally for a quarter of a century she had a lot less to unlearn.)

The first thing we realized was that you can’t market a script the way you market a manuscript. Studio script departments are just enormous slush buildings.

The second thing was that the easiest way to sell a script was not to market it yourself — writers are pretty unimportant cogs in the movie machine — but to package it with a hot director and a hungry producer. (How you find them is another story, and has almost nothing to do with agents.)

The third thing was that this is a business of personal contact and cachet, far more than the prose writing business, and you use your contacts to make more contacts. In the past three years we’ve sold two screenplays and optioned seven books and two stories — and every single deal, every contact we’ve made, can all be traced back to the first producer and director who optioned Santiago years ago. They introduced us to their friends, who introduced us to their friends, and it became a geometric progression.

Now, one of the interesting things we learned along the way is that, unless you’re planning to make Hollywood a full-time career, you don’t actually need an agent.

That’s right. Unlike literary agents, what Hollywood agents primarily do is put you together with people who might be interested in buying your services. They set up meetings. They arrange lunches. But once an offer is actually on the table, your Hollywood agent steps aside and your Hollywood lawyer takes over the negotiation — and Hollywood lawyers eat Hollywood agents for breakfast.

(Yeah, I know: you have a friend who sells screenplays and doesn’t have a lawyer, just an agent. Right. But if that’s the case, then his agency has one or more lawyers to handle the negotiations.)

Now, if you want full-time work, as I said, you want an agent. And full-time work entails getting rewrite jobs (80% of all the contract writing in Hollywood, maybe a little more, is rewriting). It entails hawking scripts that you’ve written on whim or on spec. It entails endless business lunches and meetings, and in most of them you’ll know three minutes into them that you’re not getting hired today.

Hollywood is so eccentric, so alien to Carol’s and my values and lifestyle, that we’re willing to give them only a few weeks a year. And since we’ve reached the point where they call us with offers at least once a year, frequently two and three times, we have more work that we can handle, and hence have never hired a Hollywood agent. (We do have Quentin Tarrantino’s lawyer. And no, we didn’t just walk in off the street to get her. Again, it was a matter of contacts.)

Most prose writers look upon Hollywood with some contempt. It shows in their attitudes, and it shows in their writing, and that’s why Hollywood is so loathe to hire prose writers. Screenwriting is a totally different discipline from prose writing, but it’s every bit as demanding and precise, and until one masters the art — and you can’t go into it saying, “Hell, what’s so hard about writing Porky’s #8 or Halloween #17?” — I wouldn’t advise anyone to quit their day job or back out of their book contracts . . . and if you’re not going into it full-time, I also wouldn’t advise getting a Hollywood agent.

Another thing to consider: Hollywood rewrites everything. There are a lot of reasons for this. One is that they’re trying to create art by committee, and hence a lot of people have input into the script. Another is that sometimes scripts, like books, need revising. There are other reasons, dozens of them. But there are two primary reasons, neither of them known to the general public: first, it gives executives cover (if the movie flops, they can blame it on the half-dozen writers, whereas if they go with the first script, it’s their fault for showing such poor judgment); and second, while most Hollywood execs are brilliant men in their fields, their fields are marketing and making deals, and since they do not know the intricacies of screenplay construction, all they can do is voice a vague dissatisfaction when a screenplay doesn’t meet their expectations. They are not writers, and hence cannot tell a writer how to fix or change it; so they flit from one writer or writing team to another until finally someone intuits what they want and delivers it to them.

And since rewriting is part of the culture, what this means — and I’ve talked to a number of SFWAns who have experienced this — is that if you do get an agent, he’ll almost certainly have you rewrite your treatment or your screenplay endlessly, without pay, until he thinks he can sell it. But he has no more knowledge about what will sell than you do; if he did, he’d have one of his better-paid and better-credentialed journeyman writers script it.

If, after all this, you still feel you must get a Hollywood agent, then there are two ways to go: you can join a major agency that handles actors, directors, writers, the whole nine yards. (The advantage is that such agencies often package entire movies, and you certainly have a better chance of selling your screenplay if Mel Gibson and Meg Ryan and Ivan Reitman are attached to it. The disadvantage is that such an agency probably has 50 or more writers who make more money than you, have been with the agency longer than you, and would also like to be packaged with the agency’s Name actors and directors.) The other way is to join what is called a boutique agency, a small house dealing (in this case) exclusively with writers; your screenplay will be given more respect, more time, more attention — and will be far more difficult to sell since it won’t come packaged with anything else.

The one other thing I can tell you about Hollywood agents and agencies is that they invariably try to steer their clients into television, where one makes smaller but far more regular paychecks. The loyalty of most agents is to their agencies first and their clients second — and their agencies need cash flow. The problem is that there is a very definite social and economic ladder in Hollywood, and movies are at the top of it; if you write enough television, you’ll be tagged as someone who couldn’t make it in movies, and you’ll have a much harder time getting off the small screen and onto the big one. Now, if you’re Joe Straczynski you’re making zillions and doing just what you want and you needn’t give a damn about that, but most people aren’t Joe Straczynski, and it bears mentioning.

Why do we put up with it? Because once you get your foot in the door, you’ll find that your check for each draft of your screenplay dwarfs anything you ever saw from your novels.

In sum, this is an incredibly idiosyncratic field. Everything I’ve said is true, based on our experience — but if there’s a successful SFWA screenwriter whose experience is diametrically opposed to ours, I wouldn’t be surprised.

So much for what I know about Hollywood. Now, very briefly, how do you know when a literary agent is about to become a major force in the field, and how do you know when a literary agent is over the hill?

• • • ● ● ▼ ● ● • • •

BARRY: Well, that’s another of those questions. “How long should a novel be? How much money is good money for a novel? What defines a ‘professional writing career’?”

But addressing this one I think of the collected sayings of the sainted or soon-to-be-sainted Yogi Berra discussing a restaurant: “It’s become too popular. No one goes there anymore.”

Thus with agents. By the time an agent acquires a reputation as a hot, talked-about, promising agent-on-the-rise who has done some really good things on behalf of writers at a relatively early career stage, well, it’s already too late. At least for similarly unestablished writers. The agent has made deals, found larger quarters, been besieged by potential clients, has hired or expanded a staff and has focused her attention on the present client list. You might be able to sign on but it’s already too late, at least for an unestablished writer. Unless you’re a real acquisition for the agent, you’re going to be passed onto a new assistant or sloughed off altogether.

In sum, it is the same problem with agents as with, say, romance novels . . . by the time the word gets out to the provinces that romances are what is selling now, by the time you read it in Writer’s Digest or even Publisher’s Weekly, publishers are stocked five years ahead. You can’t follow a trend, you have to be a trend, at least if you’re trying to get something started outside of New York, away from fast access.

And, not so ironically (because it can be powerfully damaging to those caught in the trap) the signs of an agent or agency in decline are very similar to those of a “hot agent” addressed a little too late . . . disdain, assistants, long gaps in response, a clear inattentiveness, a willingness to take a lower offer for the work of an unestablished writer “becaue it’s not important enough” (or, the other face of the syndrome, an unwillingness to even represent work not seen as “breakthrough” or “crossover” or “major market”). If your agent won’t return or have someone return your phone calls within two days, or if your editor or an editor you query says that she has not been able to connect with the agent . . . these are, as they say, signs that you’ve got a problem.

Not all agents are on the rise or in decline, of course; there are many who have been at a stable and reliable level of function for a long time and will continue to be. But it’s a business no less volatile than publishing, and I can think of four agents or agencies, very important 10-20 years ago, which are obliterated or might as well be. No substitute for vigilance, and ultimately the career of a writer is in her own hands. An agent can’t take that responsibility and shouldn’t be asked. Depend first and last on your own resources; anything beyond that is a blessing.

Unestablished writers tend to overvalue the role of agents the way high school students overvalue the role of sex in a relationship. Important, yes; to die for, yes — but ancillary, Mike, and the earlier this is understood, the better.

• • • ● ● ▼ ● ● • • •

MIKE: The only thing I can add to that is that it’s harder to pinpoint an agent’s tastes than you think. Virginia Kidd, for example, handles Gene Wolfe, Anne McCaffrey, Alan Dean Foster, and the estate of James Tiptree, Jr. It would be hard to find four more different writers. Which does she prefer? I’ve no idea, and since she’s an ethical agent, I’m sure she’ll never tell you.

Ralph Vicinanza handles James Patrick Kelly, Julian May, Jerry Pournelle, and Connie Willis. Again, what does that tell you about his taste? Zip.

So I suggest that when selecting an agent, you don’t try to determine what he or she likes, because that’s really not very important (beyond the fact that they don’t out-and-out loathe your work). Look at their accomplishments, and if their accomplishments meet with your approval, the rest will take care of itself.

• • • ● ● ▼ ● ● • • •

About my counterpart: Barry N. Malzberg‘s Beyond Apollo was in 1973 the winner of the first John W. Campbell Memorial Award for the best science-fiction novel of the year; he twice won the LOCUS Award for nonfiction books of critical history and commentary on science fiction. Several short works have been final-listed for the Nebula and Hugo and Engines of the Night and Breakfast in the Ruins, the nonfiction works, were on the Hugo final ballot for Best Related Nonfiction as is his collaborative book with Mike Resnick, The Business of Science Fiction. He was sole judge of the 1980 Writers Digest Short Story Contest.

About Mike

According to Locus, I am the all-time leading award winner, living or dead, for short fiction. I have won 5 Hugos (from a record 37 nominations), a Nebula, and other major awards in the USA, France, Japan, Spain, Croatia, Catalonia, and Poland. I'm and author of 74 novels, over 260 stories, and 3 screenplays, and the editor of 42 anthologies. My work has been translated into 27 languages. I am currently the editor of the Stellar Guild line of books, and Galaxy's Edge magazine.
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One Response to The Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues #4: Agents

  1. Mike; you make the rest of us hacks look inadequate. Keep on keeping on.

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