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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Question Two: "Can I get an agent?"

The book publishing market is increasingly restricted to people who approach a publisher with a guaranteed existing audience.

If you don't have an audience, you must find one. Securing an audience in advance has become a key task for the writer today.

Now, this is part of the theme of my long-running Continuing Class —five sessions on how to survive as a freelance writer. (They change the name of the course every year, but I always think of it as Freelance Survival 101.)

If you— no doubt wisely—signed up for one of our other excellent Continuing classes (it's very hard to go wrong here!), let me summarize my thoughts on literary agents briefly:

The literary agent wants the same thing from us as a real estate agent: A salable product and reasonable expectations. One difference, however, is that everyone wants to live in a house but not everyone wants to buy a book.

So we must work hard to convince a literary agent that we are actually bringing the publisher a market.

I have occasionally run into writers who hope that their agent will build them a career—for a modest percentage of the soon-to-be-banked millions. That's about as realistic as expecting a real estate agent to build us a new house, for a modest percentage of its subsequent resale value.

Life never works that way. Just as we must bring a salable house to the real estate agent, we must bring a market to the literary agent. Then she in turn markets our market to publishers.

Neither the agent nor the publisher is, strictly speaking, asking, Is this a good book? That's too vague. Good for whom, and for what?

The main thing the publisher needs to know is, should we assume the costs of publishing and marketing this book?

So here is the final and true answer to the question of whether you can get an agent:

Of course you can. Get yourself an audience, and you will almost certainly find an agent who is interested in you.

The key change, in other words, is that marketing your idea must start long before you write the book.

But now let's look at some of the other changes in the industry, and how they will affect us:

Some of what I am about to say is not what you might hear in a truly somnolent after-dinner speech, but then you didn't spend all that money and do all that preparation and go to all that trouble to come to Write! Canada just to hear sit here and hear that expensive sludge, did you?

Or am I going to tell you? - as many industry pundits do - "Never mind the grim statistics about the book store closings, the slaughter of the mid list and such—the book is immortal, and people will always want to read!"

No, I am most certainly not. The people who say that doubtless believe it, but historically, it is not true. And to survive this maelstrom, we need to get correct bearings.

Question Three: Will there still be books?

If you want to know why there is an intelligent design controversy, coming to Canada as the Expelled movie, read:

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