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The Agents

I’m a hot commodity these days.

No, really. Little ol’ me. You already know my books are selling well, but it gets bigger than that.


Back in January I received an email out of the blue. It came via the contact form here, and showed up in my Gmail. After some minor pleasantries, it said:

I’m the editorial director of Piper Fantasy, one of the major German fantasy and sf publishers. I wonder whether the German rights on “Taming Fire” are available, and in that case, if you could send me reading material.

The writer’s life can be a schizophrenic one. We work tirelessly to build up name recognition and make ourselves attractive to publishers and agents. And at the same time, we have to live in constant fear of predatory conmen posing in those same roles.

So when I saw an offer by someone who came, unbidden, looking to offer me a very prestigious contract, my first thought was “Spam.” Lucky me, I have access to some incredible resources these days, so I forwarded the message to my much-published professors at OU.

Turns out, Piper is the premier sci-fi and fantasy publisher in Germany (itself a major sci-fi and fantasy market). One of my professors said, “Give him whatever he asks for, get him to make an offer, and take it.”

Subsidiary Rights

Foreign translation rights really are a prestigious kind of contract. Usually you need to have a top-tier agency or publishing company to even get access to international representation, and then your book is just one of dozens they’re pitching to foreign publishers.

It’s a tough pitch, too. Foreign publishers face all the same costs and risks as domestic publishers plus they have to invest the time and money to translate a work on the gamble it’ll thrive in their regional market.

Because of those things, it’s considered a major resume item for a novelist to secure foreign language deals. And here I had a major publisher from a major market come calling to me.

Later in the same month I heard from a big publisher in Poland, too. And an audiobook company looking to make productions of both my series.

Ooh! And last week, an ebook advertising company contacted me to ask for ad space on one of my pages here at Unstressed Syllables. Even this blog is attracting industry attention.

Like I said, I’m a hot  commodity.


And the same professor who told me to take the Piper deal also put me in touch with his agent. So last week I spent an hour on the phone with New York City, trying to explain to a literary agent how I got so big so fast. It wasn’t easy, because it’s something of a mystery even to me.

Worse than that, I had to try to explain what I can’t do because my hottest books are dedicated to the public domain. Once they’d heard about my sales numbers, these guys were probably ready to start shopping Taming Fire as soon as I said, “Go!” but that commitment to the public domain severely binds their hands.

It’s going to be hard to make any kind of deal with Piper. It certainly wouldn’t be a traditional one. I probably can pursue the audiobook deal, but only because it’s with a company that does non-exclusive contracts (which also means they don’t pay as well).

Sacrifices to the Public Domain

That doesn’t bother me, but it’d have to look like a terrible deal to someone used to wheeling and dealing in the copyright waters. Where these guys specialize in making big money on exclusive contracts, I’m tearing my exclusivity to shreds.

So I won’t be looking at a glossy hardcover of Taming Fire any time soon. They easily could have made that happen. I won’t be buying a gold yacht with the proceeds from lucrative movie options, or taking my wife to the fancy Hollywood premiere.

I’m looking a lot of gift horses in the mouth these days.

In fact, there’s a decent chance I’ll just be too much trouble and this extraordinary opportunity to work with some excellent literary agents will slip through my fingers.

The Sales Pitch

They offered to help me find ways around it, until I admitted that I’m the one who designed the public works contract. I’m not some bright-eyed, naive kid who got duped into signing a restrictive contract. I’m the bright-eyed, naive kid who thinks that contract is a really good idea.

When that became clear, Peter stopped and said, “You know, I’m a writer, too. I have a book I’m about to start shopping. So help me see your perspective. Why should a writer choose to publish this way? What’s your sales pitch?”

It was a good question, and I gave him a lame answer. I’ll give you a better one. Come back Thursday, and I’ll tell you why it’s worth everything I’m giving up to get to work for the Consortium.

One Response to “The Agents”

  1. Dave Doolin says:

    I suspect with some creativity you will be able to find a workable solution. The publishers are under enormous pressures as well, and it’s not (as they think) really an issue of copyright. Free content can be upsold with value added material. I mean, bottled water, really?