I’ve talked a lot on panels recently about working with others—whether they be critique partners, fellow writers, bloggers, or what have you—to improve your work and your reach. This past Thursday, that topic came up at the Romance Writers of America Conference on the panel “Beyond Business: Taking the Agency/Author Relationship into the New Era.”
The panel featured Knight Agency clients Nalini Singh and Deborah Blake and TKA agents Nephele Tempest, Elaine Spencer and me. My portion of this talk was about how an agent, as a good business manager, helps you navigate through all of the possibilities out there in publishing. In addition to traditional, small press, self-publishing and the hybrid model, there are also subrights to consider, international markets, and so much more.
But you know all of this.
What you probably don’t know is that agents don’t just sit back and discuss opportunities you bring to them. We’re always beating the bushes, making the acquaintance of new editors and conversing with those we already know to keep abreast of what they’re looking for at the moment.
And here’s the best part: those editors are regularly coming to us as well. Because our agency handles so many well-respected authors, editors will contact us if there’s something in particular they want but aren’t seeing. Or they will approach us with proprietary ideas (concepts generated in-house that they feel are particularly marketable and for which they’re seeking out just the right author) or with tie-in work (novels, novelizations, manuals, etc. that tie in to successful media franchises such as Star Wars). We can then determine what authors might be a good fit, both in terms of material and scheduling, and establish a connection.
It’s not just editors who come to us. It might be an established author who contacts us because they’re putting together an anthology on a theme, and want to see if we have any clients who’d be interested or working on a continuity. More and more, we’re also hearing from producers, film people, gaming companies, even music groups who want fiction based on their work. Some have their own book production arms, some have partnered with publishers, some have generated funds and interest with Kickstarter campaigns….
The important thing is that there is a wealth of possibilities out there, and an agency with a deep and amazing talent pool can draw those opportunities out and facilitate the deals. As an agency (and as individual agents), we tweet, do Facebook posts, and generally work social media as much as we can. With so much out there on the market, signals can get lost unless they’re boosted, and social cred (the ability to get others enthusiastic about your work so that you don’t have to do all the promotion yourself) is crucial.
Agents of the Roundtable
Question: Many writers are known to have abandoned half-finished projects when they discover something similar is about to be published. Are there any reasons you would advise a writer to abandon a project for which he or she has passion?
I might ask an author to shelve a project if the market is soft for a genre. We are all familiar with the cyclical nature of our business.
I might also ask an author to table a project so he or she can revisit with fresh eyes at a later point. Sometimes perspective on craft can be lost while caught up in the passion and excitement of a story.
There are no hard and fast answers in this business. We always say, “Write what you love,” and we mean that. But…there are times when what you love isn’t necessarily selling, and most writers have more ideas than time to write them, so getting perspective from an agent or editor can help an author focus on those ideas that have the best chance of catching fire. That doesn’t mean I’d advise the author to then abandon the novel about which they’re passionate; rather, they should work on it as time allows, or when it shouts so loudly that nothing else can be heard.
Also, some ideas are absolutely wonderful, but aren’t yet as rich and fully-formed as they will be if the author lives with them a while longer and comes to know them intimately. Rushing through execution because an idea is new and shiny (which happens!) doesn’t always do a work justice.
I feel writers are at their best when they are working on projects they are passionate about, so suggesting they abandon a project would not be something I’d do lightly. If something similar was about to be published, I might suggest they make some alterations to allow theirs to stand out. But I would never tell them to put something they are writing on hold unless they had outstanding deadlines and were behind on contracted material.
» Faith Hunter's JANE YELLOWROCK #11 and #12, to Jessica Wade for Roc, as well as her twelfth novel in the the series, to Audible, in very nice deals by Lucienne Diver
» Rachel Caine's MIDNIGHT BITES, a collection of stories set in the Morganville Vampires series, to Daniel Totten of Tantor Media, in a nice deal by Lucienne Diver
» Stacy Finz's GLORY JUNCTION series, a spin-off of her Nugget series, centered around the romances and relationships of a struggling California resort town, to John Scognamiglio at Kensington, in a three-book deal (for publication in 2017) by Melissa Jeglinski
» Tessa Harris's THE FIFTH VICTIM, the first book in her new historical mystery series featuring a cockney flower peddler who, in 1888 London, discovers she is able to communicate with the dead and sets out to solve murders in a very unique way, to John Scognamiglio at Kensington, in a three-book deal by Melissa Jeglinski
» The Hollywood Series by Tibby Armstrong is now available on Audible. Be sure to check out the trailer for the re-release of the first book in the series, NO APOLOGIES, below.
Interview with Christie Golden
Christie Golden is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels, including the Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi books and DARK DISCIPLE, her latest work, based on unproduced episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Her media tie-in works also include more than a dozen Star Trek novels and multiple World of Warcraft and StarCraft novels.
TKA: It's been a few years since ASCENSION, your last Star Wars novel. When did you decide to return to Star Wars and how did DARK DISCIPLE come about?
Christie: I had a trilogy under contract called "Sword of the Jedi," which would have dealt with the character of Han and Leia's daughter Jaina Solo, known and loved in the expanded universe of Star Wars. When Lucasfilm was bought by Disney, it was put on hold until we all knew what was going to happen with the continuity. For now at least that trilogy isn't going to be written, but I was approached by Del Rey to write DARK DISCIPLE—and I thought it sounded great. It's based on eight unaired episodes of The Clone Wars animated television show. The story was great, and I absolutely loved bringing this story to readers in a new format.
TKA: How much research do you have to put into writing stories that fit into established TV series, movies, or games and what are some of the other challenges involved?
Christie: Since my first novel I have always approached media tie-in work with the same dedication I apply to my original fiction. I maintain that it's like being Ginger Rogers—the old joke, she did everything Fred did except backwards and in high heels. With media work, you have to do all the things you would normally do with your own books—feature strong characters, good dialogue, have a good pace, understand point-of-view shifts, build to a proper climax—except you have to do it with characters and worlds that aren't yours. And that means, I do my homework! While I can be quickly brought up to speed on franchises I'm not familiar with, it's always great to be invited to play in a sandbox you already love, like Star Wars! For this book, it was a narrow focus. I read the eight scripts, of course, watched the animatics [simplified mock-ups] that had already been done of the first four of those episodes, and then watched every episode of The Clone Wars, many more than once. I grew to be a huge fan of the show in doing so.
TKA: Out of all your media tie-in novels, which universe have you enjoyed entering the most?
Christie: That's like asking me which is my favorite child! I have a fondness for everything I've done: Star Wars because it was a huge part of my young adulthood (okay, let's just say "life" and be honest), Star Trek because it was the first taste of science fiction I had ever had, World of Warcraft and other Blizzard books because the team over at Blizzard is more like family, Fable because it's so darn funny, Assassin's Creed because the projects I did were so cool.... I could go on.
TKA: How did you first get involved with writing tie-ins, and what would you advise writers who dream of doing the same thing?
Christie: I got into writing tie-ins in a completely unorthodox way. I answered an audition for TSR, the people who brought the world Dungeons & Dragons. I was shopping around an original manuscript at the time and while I received positive rejection letters (yes, there is such a thing!) no one was making an offer. (I later came to appreciate why—it wasn't quite at a professional level.) So I figured I'd give this a shot. I submitted an outline and a chapter and hey presto, I sold my first novel! That book was VAMPIRE OF THE MISTS and to this day, it and my elven vampire Jander Sunstar (the first elven vampire in fiction!) are still bringing in royalties.
Since that's about as likely as winning the lottery—maybe even less so—my advice to those who want to break into tie-in writing would be to hone their own original fiction first and make a name for themselves. Tie-in writers must be not just good authors; they must know the material (or be able to be brought up to speed quickly), make their deadlines, and be able to work well with others. It's not just "your" book; it belongs to many other creative people, and you'll be doing a lot of talking with them.
TKA: What's next for you? Can we expect future Star Wars or Star Trek novels possibly based on recent or upcoming movies?
Christie: Next up for me is a prequel to the forthcoming movie Warcraft, based on Blizzard's Warcraft/World of Warcraft games. I've written several books in that universe and I'm excited to tackle the movie's lore!
New York Times bestselling author N. K. Jemisin has been nominated for the Hugo Award three times, the Nebula four times, and the World Fantasy Award twice. Her latest novel, THE FIFTH SEASON, will be released in early August.
N. K. Jemisin's tip:
I really only have one tip that I ever give aspiring writers: persist. The rejection slips are part of being a writer. Writing terrible fiction is part of being a writer. But keep it up, and work at getting better, and eventually success will come. (Then the hard part begins.)