Friday, February 02, 2007

Hi, I'm Allison, and I'm a Writer

I'm curious how you deal with people who don't consider what you do to be a real "job." I'm so tired of the little ribbing comments by friends and even a few family members who think that "writer" is the same thing as "unemployed."

Ah yes, the old dinner party conversation of, "oh, you're a writer? What sort of things do you do?" Cue: smug glances to the rest of the party, suspecting that the answer will be penning love letters in my Strawberry Shortcake journal or such.

I have to say, after years of answering such idiotic questions, I still get immense satisfaction out of saying, "Well, I have a novel coming out this year, and I write for X, Y, and Z magazines." I dunno, call me immature, call me competitive, call me someone who likes to one-up people who try to one-up me...whatever. I still enjoy it. If only because they're so intent on assuming that what I do is nothing more than a hobby. Yes, in fact, I remember one friend of my in-laws asking me just that: how my writing hobby was coming along and then stating how nice it was that I had something to fill my time. As if she were referring to gardening or something. Snort.

Anyhoo, I deal with folks who make these snide insinuations by a) letting them know that I'm a professional, as indicated by my comments above. As soon as you firmly let them know that you're not a hack, their smugness usually turns to tail-between-the-legs admiration pretty quickly, and there's little I enjoy more than watching these asshats try to dig themselves out of these holes. I also b) shrug off the fact that people judge what I do for a living. (Yes, I really do shrug it off, despite the enormous satisfaction I derive from proving them wrong.) I mean, what am I going to do - go around changing the minds of people who assume that "freelance writer" is synonymous with "freeloader?" Indeed, I'm not. If people want to think that I waste my days away watching Days of Our Lives and Oprah, well, what can I do about it? They don't see the checks coming in or the phone ringing or my Outlook inbox filling up. I think changing their impressions of you only matters when they're interfering with your writing time: the neighbor who assumes you don't have anything to do all day so keeps stopping by; your child's friend's mom who keeps trying to set up playdates during office hours. To these folks, I just say, "you know, even though I work from home, I treat it like any other office job, so I really can't be available during this time. I'm sorry." Period.

How do you guys handle folks who assume you're nothing but a loafer?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Persistence Payoff!

Taking a break from the Q/As today to bring you a real life example of how tenacity in this business can really pay off. Some of you might peruse the hilarious musings of Manic Mom over on her blog, and after a looooong agent search, she landed an agent! Whoohoo! Send her good vibes because her ms is out on submission now. Here, her story...

How many agents did you query before you found one?
I queried approximately 152 agents.

Did you ever feel like giving up?
I did feel like giving up plenty of times, but someone from a writer's loop I belong to wrote that it takes Talent, Persistence and Timing in this biz. I pasted this little note on my computer desk that says TPT--Talent, Persistence, Timing and I look at it every day. Also, underneath it, I found a quote I wrote down too: "A published author is an amateur who doesn't quit." I had said to myself, "I'll quit at 100 agents" but then that came and went and I didn't want to give up.

How did you sustain the belief in both yourself and your work? How many drafts of your ms did you go through? Did certain agents give you feedback and if so, did you listen to it and incorporate it into your drafts?

Sustaining the belief: I think because I received great feedback from the very first query I sent out, and kept getting the queries that made suggestions, and that kept me going. In terms of how many drafts, I would say about three or four times I made major revisions, and most of these revisions were inspired by agents who didn't take me on but offered great advice, which was invaluable to me (is invaluable the correct word? LOL). So, yes, the feedback I got from other agents I totally took to heart. One suggested it be cut by 100 pages. I did that. She was absolutely right. Others said there needed to be more conflict. I amped up the conflict. Many said they weren't too compassionate toward my main character, or she wasn't believable--some of that type of stuff I just let ride, because just like how one person loves war movies, another one may hate war movies, so I knew that some things couldn't be changed to make everybody happy.

How did you know that this agent was the one?
I knew this agent was right for me because she called me! LOL... seriously though, she has a great background and comes from a well-known agency, she has sold six-figure non-fiction deals, but she is just now getting heavy into selling fiction, so it might have been a risk, but no matter who a writer goes with for an agent, there's always some risk involved...

And in terms of the wanting to give up... when I told my mom I got an agent, she said, "I thought you were going to quit searching after 100 queries." Then I said to her, "And if I had quit, mom, I wouldn't have an agent now!"

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Foreign Rights Dinero

I was just wondering, since your publisher sold your book rights in Spanish, do you see any money from that deal? Or does it all go to HarperCollins?

Good question, and for it, there's a quick and easy answer (which I already emailed back to you). But I'm posting it publicly anyway because I think it's important that people know what to expect when they get their contracts, AND that they read said contracts.

The answer is that yes, I see do see money from the deal - generally, the author sees 50-80% of the money from the sale. The even better news is that the money that Harper keeps works toward fulfilling my advance. I also get royalties for every book sold. Foreign rights royalties usually fall somewhere around 10%, give or take a few points.

See? Quick and easy, as promised.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Co-authoring Complications

A few months, I was approached by a scientist who wanted to explore the possibility of my working on a book with him. We made no commitments to each other, other than to discuss his general idea and to toss around some title ideas. When we parted, he was still deciding if he wanted to work with me, or even do the book at all. Coincidentally, during this time, he met with a former employer of mine who now runs a foundation whose work is related to his field. He had a long conversation with her about ways they might collaborate to help their ideas reach a broader popular audience. He mentioned to her that he was "thinking" of writing a book with me.

A month or two passed, during which I contacted him about the book, to see if he had come to any decisions. He didn't respond to my e-mail. Then a few days ago, I received a call from my former employer. She spoke glowingly of her conversation with the scientist, then asked if I
would be interested in developing a series of interviews or white papers for her foundation on him and other scientists working in the same field.

I followed up with the scientist to let him know about the foundation's offer, and that I was considering it. I told him it did not preclude my working with him on the book if at some point he decided to do so. He was incensed, and indicated he felt the foundation had stolen his idea. He didn't accuse me of impropriety, but the suggestion was there. I can't see that any proprietary idea has been stolen; the articles the foundation requests are quite different in nature from the book idea and would likely be complementary, if anything.

But now what? I am clearly obligated to keep the scientist's creative ideas confidential, and of course I will do so. But am I obligated to turn down the foundation's offer of work (which is
likely to be better-paying and more of a sure thing than the book)? Is it possible to rectify my relationship with the scientist, or is that bridge forever burned?

So...let me make sure I have this all straight: a scientist contacts you about potentially co-authoring a book. At the same time, he contacts your old boss at a foundation about ways that they can mutually help and promote each other. Your old boss asks you to write about said scientist and his specialty in order to do just that. And when you call him to find out if he's interested, he implies that you've acted unethically?? Oh, and he doesn't return your emails in the lag time?

To be honest, I'm not sure why you'd WANT to work with this guy on a book. I can't speak to the series of papers for the foundation because, well, I guess if the money is good and ultimately, you're working for your boss, not the scientist, then it might be a bearable situation. But one thing I CAN speak to is co-authoring situations, and this one has red flags waving from left, right and center fields.

I can't tell you how many co-authoring situations I've heard of (and in one instance been involved with) in which the writer is basically abused - taken advantage of because she's the lowly "writer," while the expert is the revered "source," (usually revered only by said source, I should note). Yet, funnily (don't know if that's a real word, but work with me here) enough, the writer is the one who is usually doing all the work. Go figure. Most times in situations like these, the expert views himself as a goldmine, a virtual godsend, and someone for whose book the world salivates. And I'm sorry, I can tolerate a TON of BS from editors, co-authors, etc, but this scientist strikes me as a major pain in the ass already. And you haven't even started writing! What happens when you guys have a disagreement over something small in the book or you start contract negotiations and you want a higher percentage of royalties?

I guess what I'm saying is that I can't see what you've done wrong. A) not only did you not sign a confidentiality agreement with this guy, but B) he approached the foundation looking for more publicity. So I really don't even understand why he blew a gasket. And if something like this will set him off, I'd be very wary of collaborating with him in the future. I suspect you'd always feel like you were walking on eggshells...a horrible feeling when you're supposed to be in an equal partnership with your co-author. I think that writers too often take work with the hopes that it might help their career or even just to have work period, but they don't give a lot of thought as to how it will affect their sanity and self-esteem. The bottom line, at least for me, is that entangling yourself in demoralizing and stressful situations simply isn't worth it...nearly every writer who does this has come to regret it. I'm sorry that you've found yourself in this position - truly - but I'd ask yourself how a long-term relationship with this guy would realistically play out, and if you sense that it might be difficult, I'd count your blessings that you figured this out before proceeding with him, and not give it a second thought.

I know others out there have co-authored books. What say you? Should she move forward with this project?