Monday, July 18, 2016


For my day job I'm a communications officer/science writer for a department at a major university. Ten years ago the director, my boss, co-wrote a book with the then-director. It didn't differentiate itself very well; sales were low.

Now, the agent and my boss want to try again, this time with a series (the first book was both too big and too shallow). As the resident writer, I get to help. It is likely I will be doing the bulk of the work for at least the first book.

My boss is a wonderful, collaborative, and humble person who will probably want to credit me on the cover with her. I imagine the publishers will balk at this - the platform comes from reputation of the university, department and my boss. If I were an established journalist with ten years of bylines, it would be different.

Professionally, of course I would like public credit for the work. We'll likely move in 2-3 years, and I will probably freelance again - being co-author on a series like this would be huge.

The questions:
1. Aside from doing good research, being timely, and writing well, is there any other aspect to impressing the pants off the agent? She is lovely, by the way, and I'm excited to work with her. 

Meeting deadlines is critical. Writing well too. Asking questions when you're not sure of something is also good. I'm sure she'd rather have you ask, than have to solve a problem created by a mistake made cause you didn't know.
It won't hurt to have a passing familiarity with the books she's sold too. You can't read them all but knowing what they are is a good piece of info to have.

2. What kind of credit can I reasonably aim for?  If it's not credited publicly, how can I use this work in my non-fiction portfolio later?

You can ask for credit on the cover. Cover credit includes several possibilities.

Department head AND (You)
Department head with (you)

If you don't get cover credit you simply list it as a work for hire on your CV (which sounds like what it is since it's part of your job)

3A. If I do manage to impress the agent, and I leave in two or three years, could I let her know I'm ghostwriting as a freelancer, in case one of her clients is looking?
3B What are the chances of continuing to be the primary writer for the series even if I leave the department?
3A: Yes of course.
3B:  not a clue. That's a political decision inside the department and not anything I can predict.  However. Make yourself essential and it's hard to see how they'd want to change writers mid-series.

4. because I write fiction, too, do agents ever talk cross category? Say if Ms. LovelyAgent is having a drink at a conference and Ms.FictionAgent mentions they are reading my full, would she ever say - "I've been working with her on a non-fiction project, she's great" - or are the two worlds too separate to matter? (Her agency is exclusively non-fiction). 

I'm always amused when writers think we talk about them at cocktails.
We don't.
We kvetch about editors.

Your ace in the hole here is that Lovely Agent knows you. When the time comes, you say to her, I'm going to be looking for an agent for my novel. Do you have any reccs. Coming to an agent by way of a recc from Lovely is much better than any drunken gossip would be.

You'd query with "I got your name from Agent Lovely, with whom I worked on (Title)."


Anonymous said...

Hmmm looks like a good situation to be in. Good Luck to you OP.

Theresa said...

Great Q&A about building a writing career.

Colin Smith said...

Interesting situation, and sounds like a great opportunity at least for some good experience, Opie. All the best with this, and I hope you get useful credit out of it.

Janet: Of course writers think agents talk to other agents about them. That's why we're so afraid of doing things that will get us black-listed. We know there is a real, physical black list you all carry around with you. Every night, you agents convene at a secret NY location (those not in NY use a secure Skype connection to attend), pull out your black lists and compare notes:

"Has John Fain finished that manuscript yet?"
"No. Seems like a bit of a dawdler. Problem?"
"Could be. Keep an eye on him. What about the Weathers girl? Finished with the Cow Girls?"
"Sorry--not up for discussion. Shark's got her teeth into that."
*Growling noise*
"Oh... and Smith. Sounds like he could be off to Carkoon again. He could be trouble. There's a rumor he might be querying soon--tread carefully. You know what writers with reputations are like. Think carefully before you respond. He might be a good one to Norman."
"Is that a verb?"
"Didn't you get the memo? Some writer made it a verb yesterday."

See Janet--we know what goes on in Agent World...


E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin in Carkoon just makes for a better Carkoon. Although, it does rather stress out the natives.

Interesting situation for our OP. If nothing else, it sounds like good experience.

Cindy C said...

Congratulations and good luck, Opie! This sounds like a great opportunity on many levels.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Opie, what a wonderful situation to find yourself in. Thank you for sharing all of the questions with us so we can see the Queen's answers. Best of luck with this.

Colin, ha!

Sherry Howard said...

Interesting post. I have some of those experiences, but was so young that I didn't realize all those nuances. I just have to say that if Colin'sbooks are as funny as his posts I'll order a copy from the Carkoonalicious Press.

Colin Smith said...

Sherry: I don't know what you mean. I'm serious. Look... I probably shouldn't tell you this, but... *whispers* I'm told Janet got into trouble the first time she attended this secret meeting. Seems she drank a shot of whiskey from the Holy Grail. You didn't hear that from me though...


Jennifer R. Donohue said...

It's one of those things we woodland creatures fret about, we assume professionals (agents, editors, etc.) are talking about us. Even around the slush pile for fiction mags, like "oh, we got another one from this chick. I wonder what it is this time?" (granted, in a personal R from one editor, he said "I was happy to see another submission from you" so......) (he still hasn't said yes yet)

I'm glad this question was asked, not because I anticipate being in this situation, but because it's really interesting to learn the situationals of how a variety of books are created, and how a writer can reasonably expect to operate in that environment.

DLM said...

We DO hear the stories, though, about asshat-shaming, and even in #TenQueries and so forth we see what agents have to say about authors, for good or ill. So not only do we start off with self-consciousness (and the resultant "everyone will talk about me") default fears, but there is evidence, however anecdotal, that Bad Writers really will be pilloried. Agents are, of course, reasonable Giant Vicious Predators, and know where their chum is buttered. But the fear of public humiliation - and the struggle - is real ...

... even if perhaps out of proportion.

And thence the expectation that *all* the Giant Vicious predators have to do is keep their sharp eyes out for missteps and woodland creatures to pillory. See also: how many votes did torment of agents get, in yesterday's discussion of what to call a group of agents?

Karen McCoy said...

I love that Colin brought up the verbing of nouns. Calvin and Hobbes had a nice little ditty on this.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Sounds like Opie is in the making for a great career in writing.

Colin, now you are not only on the black list, you are the list.

Colin Smith said...

So... dare I ask the results of yesterday's poll? Do I need to pack my asbestos underwear? And I don't want to hear about hanging chads. Carkoonians thought that was a wonderful idea. Poor Chad.

Julie Weathers said...

Congratulations to the OP. What a great opportunity. Good luck.

Proceed on with your own bad self. Writing credits are usually always a good thing unless you wrote Mein Kampf or something. If you did there's probably a story there also. Totally off topic, one of Hitler's doubles used to live in Fredericksberg, TX. He had many who were used to make public appearances for him because he was so paranoid about assassinations. They were kept prisoners and brought out for whatever events.

To Joseph, continued from last night/early this morning yesterday thread, I was up at 2:45 because I can't sleep. I was working on RC and decided to look at JR's blog again before turning in. That's when I saw you mention the CAF and it reminded me of the Confederate Air Force.

Regarding agents talking about writers: I imagine the only times that really happens is when someone is a real ass. For instance the nitwit who lambasted Janet at Surrey for wearing someone else's nametag on a panel and joking about it. "Who are you? I don't even know who you are! What are you doing here?"

Well, moron, if you had read the program, she's one of the panelists. If you're going to pay a LOT of money to go to a conference, it might be a good idea to study who's talking and which workshop you're taking.

Or, agents might be talking about the author who gets offered representation and then decides to shop the offer to other agents at a conference as Janet talked about a few weeks ago.

Julie Weathers said...

Colin, I didn't vote for your removal because you're going to be moving soon. Your wife will probably kill you if you keep screwing around so you get banished to Carkoon just so you don't have to help move.

Lennon Faris said...

Good info as always - thanks Janet!

Hey, folks - I've been thinking of changing my WIP's POV to first person for a long time. Finally did it, and it's working a LOT better for the story. I sent out five more queries last week and got my first FULL request!

EM - who ARE the natives of Carkoon, anyway? Or should I ask Colin that??

BJ Muntain said...

Sorry to start with a typo, but you've got: "I'm got your name from Agent Lovely", and I'm sure you see the problem there.

OP: There is no reason your name can't be on the cover, if your boss thinks it should go there. If he's as humble as you say he is, he may insist on it. He may become less humble, though, especially if the series does well.

My name is included on a book that my boss wrote back in the 80s - it's a bibliography of books about our province. I put a lot of work into that book... then I took a leave of absence and someone else started working on it, and messed up some of the work I did. Now I'm not sure how I feel about my name being on that book... but I doubt anyone outside the province will ever look at it, anyway.

Jennifer: There's a few differences with fiction mag editors, such as, most mags only have one editor, and many *will* remember previous submissions. But until we get famous (or well-published, at least) they're not going to talk about us with other editors. :) Unless, you know, we reveal our asshattedness.

In answer to Joseph's question of late last night, regarding what happens if a nasty typo is found after the book is printed: I can tell you what happened to Mary Robinette Kowal when the printer left off the opening sentence to her novel, but she says it much better: New beginnings, or What happened to my novel's first sentence? (Short answer: She turned it into a marketing opportunity.)

Lennon Faris said...

Um, O QOTKU - two insignificant typos:

"she'd rather have you ask, then have to solve" - I think that should be 'than'? If not, just quickly delete this and save my reputation please.

"You'd query with "I'm got your name..." - I'm to I

I'm swimming away fast.

Colin Smith said...

Lennon: Woohoo!!! Congrats for the Full Request!! Here's hoping either something comes of it, or it's the first of many. :D

Carkoon natives? They are an... interesting bunch. The kind of people for whom culture is something that grows under toenails. The kind of people who hold "Synopsis Writing for Fun" weekends. The kind of people for whom subtlety and nuance mean as much as Wedgewood and Waterford do to a bull. The kind of people whose attitude to foreigners makes Trump look positively welcoming. You get the idea? :)

Craig F said...

The only problem I can with this is that it is being done at a university. Universities are very proprietary about what is done on their time.

I know a couple of graduate students who did the work on some books and ended up only being mentioned in the acknowledgements. The university they worked at had an iron clad rule that only tenured professors could get their name on the cover.

In the end you will not be able to fight the wishes of the university so plan for that now. Find a way to make sure Agent Lovely is impressed enough to remember you. Also try not to get your heart broken if things don't go according to this plan.

Good Luck.

BJ Muntain said...

Aren't you going to be glad to see them all again, then, Colin?

Julie Weathers said...


Congratulations on the full! Deleted previous comment and reposted because I hit send too soon without the congratulations. Doesn't that make you feel good and justified to get that request?

One of my crit partners recommended changing my MC POV to first person and leaving the other four POV characters third person in Far Rider. I was really surprised at the difference it made.

In Rain Crow, the MC is first and the secondary POV is third. It takes some getting used to, but once I did, I really liked it.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Congratulations Lennon on full request.

Julie I am toying on combining 1st person for my MC and third person for all others in my WIP, but not sure how to make it work in a way that doesn't jar or annoy the reader. I wrote about 175 pages since last Wednesday- very rough. Once I get full draft, I will monkey around with POV to see what works best. It takes real skill to mix POV and not sure I can pull it off.

Julie Weathers said...


It isn't that hard. You have hard breaks in your POV or I do at least. Usually for me, it's a chapter break, but sometimes if it can't be avoided mid chapter, I use asterisks to break the page. The reader gets used to the format pretty quickly.

I haven't had anyone comment on the POV changes and I had numerous requests for fulls. The rejections were in most cases the story didn't quite pull them in enough to offer. Some rej were it was too close to something else they had etc.

Julie Weathers said...

We're half way through the year and past. I hope everyone is making progress on their heart's desires. Fall in love today, with life, with words, with one another.

Ae Fond Kiss

Joseph S. said...

Interesting set of questions.

1. Since my books (and articles) were directly to publisher without an agent, I worked directly with the editors. I busted tail meeting deadlines and kept my editors updated on my progress. Yay me.

2. Name on the cover (being recognized for my work) is more important to me than I thought it would be. A publisher offered me a couple of thousand dollars to update a low selling book. When they told me my name would not be listed as a co-author, I declined.

3. & 4. I have (I think) good relations with people in commercial academic publishing (and an independent editing firm). It never occurred to me they might know people in traditional publishing, or any agents. I may ask.

Joseph S. said...

I took an on-line writing course in January. After noticing nearly all the “good” examples were written in first person POV, I mentioned that in revising my manuscript I might switch from third person to first person. The others in the course convinced me to stick to third person, which I have. But I’m itching to try one from first person POV.

BJ Muntain
Thank you again for that link. I responded more fully at the end of yesterday’s post and won’t repeat it here. Mary Robinette Kowal answered a lot of questions and gave a series of creative remedies - although I’m sure she would have preferred to have the book printed correctly.

DLM said...

Y'all have me contemplating a combo POV for my WIP; it might tighten up what remains a loose ensemble right now. I may give it a test drive. Thank you!

RachelErin said...

Thanks for all your comments and insight, guys. This project was not part of the initial job description, and I was a bit giddy when Ms. Director asked me if I had time for it. It's good motivation to finish up all the web copy I am writing and re-writing, so I'll be ready when we get up to speed.

Craig - you have a good point about university policy. If I was a grad student I agree it would be a definite no - when I was in a chem lab my ideas and notes were the property of my PI and the university. As a communications officer (an abominable term if there ever was one) it looks a little fuzzier to me, although I will see if I can find a policy.

It's a relief to know agents don't talk about us all the time. I'm much happier person when I remember I'm not a reality TV star.

I'm glad so many of you found the questions interesting, since most of Janet's blog is about fiction. I was glad I had read the posts about book proposals so carefully, because the initial conversation was short notice and it was nice to have a clue about the non-fiction process.

My day job is pretty great - sometimes more website fiddling/email marketing than science writing, but they think I can do anything, so I'm always learning something new. The people I write about are making the world a better place, and what more can you ask for?

And all of you talking about 1st person POV, WIP #2 just FORCED me to switch. I'm still a little grumpy about it because it's not comfortable, and it won't settle between present or past tense, but my MC has a mind of her own and she wants to narrate...

Lennon Faris said...

RachelErin - good luck!

Colin, Julie, and EM - thanks :) I love being able to share news here.

Joseph Snoe - the WIP is a YA fantasy. I'm not sure how it might affect other genres, but changing to the first POV forced me to talk from the mc's view. It cut out a lot of unnecessary 'adult' descriptions and observations, getting the reader in her head right off the bat. As a bonus the change cut down on total word count.

Julie Weathers said...


Diana Gabaldon started out writing scientific papers/books I think mostly for a university and also comic books for Disney. It's not a bad way to start.


DeadSpiderEye said...

This topic of proper accreditation, it's a bit of a minefield, hopefully you'll get a cover credit or a least a mention over the indicia. I hesitate to mention it, but it's just awful when it goes wrong, imagine you're in a face to face interview and someone says: 'that's not your work, I know the author'. Hesitating again, my tip would be to, really really try hard to get that credit but you gotta weigh that against the possibility of queering the deal. The implication here, is that it's the publisher not the co-author who might offer resistance. I think you might want to verify that circumstance because I have seen publishers pushing the name author as the sole entry on listings, while still giving a credit to the person who actually wrote the thing on the cover. If it does turns out that your co-author is the one making the demand for sole accreditation, well...

Anyway good luck and at least you're getting a bite at the cherry.

Colin Smith said...

I don't know if Janet will allow this--if you're not comfortable with it, Mighty Snookums, please delete this comment.

The guy who was Trump's ghostwriter for his bestselling book, THE ART OF THE DEAL, has stepped up to say how much he now regrets being a part of Trump's success. In an interview for The New Yorker, he talks about how he feels somewhat responsible for where Trump is now, and would have kept quiet except for what he learned about Donald during the months he spent shadowing him for the book. Here's the link. It makes for interesting, perhaps sobering, reading:

I thought it interesting that on the day we're talking about ghostwriting, this is getting reposted on Twitter (and possibly elsewhere).

John Davis Frain said...

Wish I could have joined earlier, but ... Monday. Too late to add anything worthwhile (as if I ever do!), but I had to jump in with

Congrats Lennon, on the full. Good luck there. And,

Congrats Colin, on "Poor Chad." Oh my, that was funny. I LOLed. Great stuff.

AJ Blythe said...

Good luck, RachelErin. Sounds like a great opportunity.

Lennon, congratulations on the request for a full! Definitely cause for celebration (and don't you love it when you make change that gets a positive reaction).