OK. Next week, we’re going to change the subject completely. In fact, next week, it’s once again time to inspect your finest jewels. So, please, if you have a chunk of work – max 250 words – that you’d like me and the assembled company to look at and admire, please present it. We’ll do that via Townhouse, so everyone can see your chunk:
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That’s next week taken care of. First, though, a think I need to draw this little triumvirate of short and grumpy posts to an end.
On the one hand, it’s been really good to share some annoyance with the crapper end of agenting and publishing. I know from your responses that those annoyances are more frequent than they ought to be. More persistent.
But at the same time, I can’t help feeling that it would be wrong to leave it there. Publishing is an industry driven by passion above all, so it’s extremely common to find agents and publishers go above and beyond to bring work to market.
I’ll give just two examples, but I could give a hundred.
The first one is personal. I have a pretty fancy agent. He heads up London’s oldest independent literary agency. He has some pretty fancy clients, notably Hilary Mantel and George Orwell (or what’s left of him.) And I once came to him with a book project.
I wanted to sell a “how to write” book to Bloomsbury, because I thought it would help get the word out about the Writers’ Workshop (the forerunner to Jericho Writers.) The project was never going to be especially commercial from my agent’s point of view. It was, in fact, going to be largely unrewarded.
But Bill, my agent, didn’t so much as blink. His job is to sell books for his clients. He wasn’t about to push me to pursue something more lucrative. So I wrote the book. He sold it. His cut of that advance: £400. Once you make allowance for his support staff and his Central London offices, I would guess that Bill saw 25% of that, or maybe less.
And the contract that this particular bit of Bloomsbury came back with was – shocking. It was just a bit of Bloomsbury that had never really encountered Planet Agent and still used the kind of contracts that Dickens would have recognised. The balance of risks and rewards was grossly biased in favour of the publisher.
And Bill said no.
Just no. He wouldn’t have one of his clients sign the contract. So he renegotiated it, line by line, for weeks. When it was ready, he told me I could sign it. I did so, and he got his (tiny) share of the (very small) advance.
Now, over time, both Bill and I made more money via royalties, but still not vast amounts. And I grumbled to Bill that Bloomsbury weren’t supporting the book in the way that I’d expected. Bill looked into my grumbles and agreed that they were valid.
So he took my mini-battle – over a small book and a tiny advance – all the way to board level at Bloomsbury. He was willing to put some of his key relationships on the line because one of his clients wasn’t happy. It didn’t matter that the book was a small one. It mattered that the publisher wasn’t properly keeping its end of the bargain.
We didn’t, in fact, end up resolving the situation completely to our satisfaction. But by heaven, Bill tried.
For an advance that would have bought a fancy lunch and nothing else.
He didn’t do any of what he did for the money. He did it because I was a client and he had a duty towards me.
He, like many many agents, acts out of a belief in the book (and the author) and a sense of honour.
That sense of honour is still very frequent across publishing. (More on how to get an agent here. Oh yes, and our header image this week is designed to evoke a sense of honour and pride. That's my excuse for a totally random image, at any rate.)
One more little story.
Last year, at our Festival of Writing, we welcomed Anne Meadows, the Editorial Director at Granta Books.
Granta is a very fancy literary publisher. It’s the kind of outfit you’d be proud to be published by, stuffed full of prize winners and other esteemed authors.
But prizes and esteem doesn’t necessarily translate into book sales. And Granta still has to be commercially sensible. So it doesn’t often offer huge advances. Which means that literary agents are unlikely to keep themselves in Marc Jacobs and Laboutins by bringing their authors to Granta’s doors.
But agents don’t care.
They come anyway, bringing their authors. And Granta and agents and authors all work hard to achieve the best results they can, even though (in most cases, not all) financial reward will not be the thing that drives them.
And what does?
Well, simply bringing wonderful stories, wonderfully told, to the kind of readers that appreciate those things. That’s it. That’s the reason.
Take away that sense of passion and the authors wouldn’t write, the agents wouldn’t agent, and Granta wouldn’t exist.
In short, yes, there’s plenty to be grumpy at in the world of publishing. And because we at Jericho are, always, on the side of authors, we will go on venting our grumps rather frequently.
But at the same time, we’re not idiots. This industry loves writers. And you’re writers. So it loves you too. Really truly. Big love and squashy kisses.
That’s it from me on all matters short and grumpy.
Don’t forget to upload a sample of your favourite work here.
We’ll tuck into that lot next week.
If you want to talk about short-and-grumpy things, then just pile into the comments below.