12.06.2006

Clue Gun Room Service for the Hotel FontEnBlow

Dear Miss Snark,

So I am calmly reading through Publisher's Lunch this morning and I come upon this item:

Philip Roth's EXIT GHOST, his "ninth and last Zuckerman novel," called "a study of obsession, forgetfulness, resignation, and ungratifiable desire," in which Zuckerman returns to New York after eleven years of living as a reclusive writer in western Massachusetts, where encounters with a new generation of writers and an old, dying friend produce unsettling revelations, to Janet Silver at Houghton Mifflin, for publication in October 2007, 28 years after the publication of THE GHOST WRITER, by Andrew Wylie at The Wylie Agency.
lori_glazer@hmco.com

WTF?

Phillip Freakin' Roth has to get his agent to sell his novels? And I'm here hoping to get a shot on a first book? I always thought someone of Roth's stature would have a book contract in perpetuity.

Can you shed any light on this for me?


I know this comes as a horrifying shock to hear but agents do a lot more than just call up an editor and say "hey baby wanna buy some hot juicy verbiage".

Philip Roth's agent may know where he's going to sell the book but that's just the start of the fun.

I'd shed some light but I need it for restocking the Clue Emporium.

8 comments:

Writerious said...

So there's someone who needs to read up more on what agents do for a living.

Of COURSE Mr. Famous Novelist has an agent! If I were Mr. Famous Novelist, I'd have an agent doing the leg work for me, too. And a darn good agent, too.

Simon Haynes said...

It's said to be harder to stay in print than it is to get published in the first place (bummer, eh?)
Big name authors have agents. Big name movie stars find themselves between roles. It's a tough ol' world out there, and there isn't a safe ledge where you can stop for a breather.

Kit Whitfield said...

An agent handles money negotiations, rights negotiations, contracts and all manner of other practical things that a writer may find difficult or lack professional experience in. They manage your affairs, represent you to the world and stop you making a fool of yourself.

Just because you can organise a sentence doesn't mean you can organise a business. The agent does the latter so that you're free to do the former.

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

Simon, you're absolutely right. The reality of this business is that you work contract to contract; there is no such thing as "contract in perpetuity" because publishers like to make money and if your books aren't selling, they won't. So most authors complete a contract and then sit back and bite their nails while waiting to see if they're going to get another contract. Go check out Judith Guest's website (the author of "Ordinary People"). She talks about her publishing career; how even after the huge success of that book, she had books turned down by publishers and ended up moving to a lot of different houses for different books, contract by contract.

We're freelancers, in other words. You have to get used to that if this is what you want to be. But the one ally you have is your agent; this is the relationship that, hopefully, will last.

December Quinn said...

Why would anyone want a book contract in perpetuity?

So the terms you agree to with your first novel stay the same throughout your career? Is there anyone who thinks this is a good idea?

If a publisher said to a writer, "Why don't you get rid of your agent, we'll just take everything you put out at the same terms"...the writer would be an idiot to accept.

Roth's agent probably doesn't have to do a lot of selling anymore, no. But he does make sure Roth gets the best possible terms when the publisher comes calling for more material.

Maprilynne said...

When a writer makes it big, they need an agent even more! A successful writer should recieve better terms and more say in the whole process. A big author is probably selling forign rights and maybe even film rights. There will be a lot of subagents who need to talk to someone and if the author is doing all of this selling, negotiating, and talking, when are they going to be writing.
Answer?
Never.
A newbie author needs an agent to get their foor in the door. A big time author needs an agent to stay there.

Deschanel said...

Andrew Wylie is a SUPERPOWERED agent, he legendary for getting killer deals for his clients. He has a mystique and reputation for ruthlessness ("The Jackal", he's called by some) that is FABLED.

I suggest you check out his client list, and gasp- dozens of authors, nearly all household names.

If you're Philip Roth, you want someone like Wylie on yr team.

Anonymous said...

I note that some well-established authors (institutions) don't use agents, they use lawyers. When you get to a certain stature, I guess its not about selling the work, but about fine print.