some really great posting around the agent-sphere recently

*Agent Nathan Bransford’s Hoops vs. Hints wherein it may be logical, knowing Nathan, to expect basketball metaphors — there’s some great insights including this one (which is something I’ve talked about myself on this blog — the wacked power exchange that the supply and demand ratio of writers to agents creates):

I think what really rankles some authors is that it’s time-consuming to keep up with all the rules, and they begin to feel like they’re made to run around in circles trying to get everything right, while at the end of the day the agents may not even respond. I understand this feeling, and I’m very cognizant that this is part of the power imbalance between agents and the unpublished, which itself is a source of a lot of the angst of the query process.

*Agent Wendy Lawton on “Quitting the Day Job” with gems like:

There are too many variables and uncertainties to address the financial questions in anything other than a one-on-one setting. And even then, it’s impossible to plan.

But that’s not the only reason an agent hates to hear that a client is thinking of quitting his day job too early.There seems to be something about writing as a second job that makes the writer uber-productive. When you only have a couple of hours a day, those hours are golden. On the other hand, when the whole day stretches out before you, it’s easy to lunch with friends, play video games to “warm-up” and spend way too much time on the internet.

What do you think — would too much time on your hands help or hinder your writing?

*Agent Rachelle Gardner talking about Questions to Ask an Agent when you get The Call. This is a pretty extensive list, and like Rachelle, I recommmend seeing how much homework you can do on your own to make the conversation as useful as possible to you in making your decision about representation. I’d also want to add that you should do some listening to *how* the agent talks about the book itself and whether their level of enthusiasm resonates with you. That may prove to be relevant further down the road toward publication.

Would love to hear your thoughts on some or all of these topics….

44 responses to “some really great posting around the agent-sphere recently

  1. What do you think — would too much time on your hands help or hinder your writing?
    Having a day job actually hindered my writing. I started writing my first book just before I started my last job. In the two years that I was working there, I wrote only about 20k words. Right after I quit I went on a writing frenzy and wrote another 70k words in three months.

  2. I find I’m more productive when I have a whole free day than after work. My day and commute kind of wear me out and a lot of nights I’m just too tired. I’ve been known to take vacation days to make extra time to write and do great on weekends, even though I have to sometimes sacrifice that time to my editing job.
    I think Nathan is right about the supply/demand causing a lot of the hostility, but I think a lot of it would be relieved if the policy towards resubmits were changed. Crit groups are great, but they can’t always answer the “Will this sell?” question like a gander from an agent, who knows what it takes to sell. I think if agents changed their attitude about requeries and resubmittals and allowed authors to rework their books and give them another shot would relieve a lot of the angst.
    Rachelle’s question list was most excellent.

    • Actually, a number of agents I know *don’t* have a policy specifically against resubmissions. Including myself. However, I do have mixed feelings about them. The plain fact of the matter seems to be that some people either query prematurely or abuse the process to such a degree that agents find they simply have to draw the line because the number of submissions is so huge that adding to it with resubmissions can be problematic. There are only so many queries a person can reasonably review in a timely fashion when the bulk of their time in the office is already being spent on existing clients. So agents are just trying to find a way to be as efficient as they can in reviewing and giving everyone an equal chance, I think. I’m afraid I don’t see a way to do both that would actually be workable.

      • Neither do I, but I do think its a source of the hostility. You have ONE chance and one chance only of getting your baby read. If it’s not good enough, not ready, or is missing something that you’re too close to see, you may as well put it in the shredder because no one will look at it again, even if it took you four years to write. This may or may not be true, but it’s the prevailing theory.
        I read for a lit journal, and sometimes I’d love to give a piece another chance, and have even gone out on a limb to recommend changes and ask for a resubmittal. But it’s time consuming, and those are only short stories. I can imagine it’s much harder with full length novels, and honestly, the ms will never be new to you after that first read, even if it’s dramatically revised.
        I agree that many writers query prematurely and I’m sure I’m guilty of it as well. And I know they abuse the process, because I’ve had to issue repeated, and decreasingly pleasant rejection letters.
        Just one of the many factors that seem outside the writer’s control, and what makes self-publishing so attractive. Ill-advised as it seems.

  3. Too much time?
    I wrote my first book during breaks, evenings, and weekends while working a day job. A month after that book was accepted by a small press, I was laid off from my job, and was able to work with my project editor on revisions to the book while on unemployment. We completed extensive revisions in roughly two months.
    For my second book, I was teamed up with the same project editor. The manuscript required significantly less revision, but since I was working a day job again (back to breaks, evenings, and weekends), it took almost four months to complete.
    In my case, I believe that extra time on my hands made the difference between two months and four on those projects. Of course, having a deadline and being a driven, OCD type, I did not fall into the procrastination trap.

  4. I’ll be honest, I’m crap on the weekends. I do my best writing over lunch and in the evenings.

  5. I have learned that too much time is exactly equal to not enough time from a productivity standpoint. Why? I have no idea. But it keeps me inclined to take on new projects, even when I look swamped; as long as I can stack it so I’m only working on 2 or 3 three at once (including day job), I get just as much done when I’ve got nothing else to do with my day than noodle with one project.
    It is a mystery of math, is what it is.

  6. I think it depends on the person. Personally, when I worked a day job other than housewife, I would come home absolutely drained and got barely any writing done. Since I opted to do housework and write, I’ve been much happier and more productive. Of course, I’m lucky in that I have the luxury of a partner with a good income, who supports my creative work. Neither of us imagine we can ever depend on it to keep us in food and shelter. Also, having the discipline to sit down and do work is really hard. It’s understandable that agents would worry that a previously productive author might suffer from the transition. The internet is just so damned shiny. I mean, I’m reading LiveJournal right now, you know?

  7. Oh, I know that having too much time can hinder my writing practice, but too little can too. I’m still trying to figure out the whole daily practice thing.

  8. For me, personally, too much time on my hands helps immensely.
    When I went through a period of unemployment, I wrote 40K words in a month.
    Now I’m lucky if I write 4K words in a year. I like my day job, but it does suck the energy out of me.

  9. I do better with more time. In fact, I have often taken some time off from a day job to finish (or just work on) a book. It’s true that I get too tired at my day job to do anything other than eat & sleep when I get home. But the really important thing for me is where my head is at. When I have time off, I can put my head entirely into my book, but when I’m also working I find it can take a whole day to switch over, get my head out of my day job and back into the book. I definitely produce more faster when I’m not working a day job.

  10. I was actually laid off in February, so I was able to investigate with ease how a ton of free time would affect my writing. So, I set myself a schedule and house rules during my “work hours” and stuck to them (no TV during the work day was a biggie). The results? More productivity! But making that schedule was really an important part of that. Well, making the schedule and knowing how annoyed I was with my husband years back when he got laid off and mostly spent his daytime hours playing games instead of anything productive. We both learned a lot from that one!
    My house is a ton cleaner, also. Heh.

  11. I’ve found I do better with more time, too. On my last day job, I came home either too tired or too angry to get much done, and it would take me hours to calm down enough to start writing. Writing full time has made me a lot more productive.

  12. Blog Roll
    I follow Nathan’s and Rachelle’s blogs religiously. I think Rachelle does a great job of being both positive and informative. She always seems to tell writers what to do rather than what NOT to do, which generally works better for me.
    I totally understand the principle of being more productive when busy. My GPA was never better in college than the year I worked two jobs in addition to being a full time student. Somehow busyness seems to focus a person.

  13. productivity varies
    My most productive days are ones I take off from the “day job” and spend at a coffee shop specifically to write. I can write at work, it’s just difficult to do so, and the same goes for home. Since weekends are usually tied up running errands and whatnot, I don’t get much done in the writing realm. The mood doesn’t have to strike me, necessarily, but for me it requires a lot of focus.

  14. I started seriously writing as an at-home-mum with a babe in arms and a toddler, coz going back to work would have meant everything I earned went on childcare. That seemed a tad pointless on various levels. Husband earned – just – enough to cover the bread and butter bills, nothing in the jam budget mind you.
    The sons are now mid-teens and the husband earns more – but with correspondingly longer hours, bringing work home and such.
    So I’ve always been duty-parent before and after school and pretty much in charge of household-management, fitting that all in around the writing and vice versa.
    I have a schedule and I stick to it otherwise everything would spiral out of control. There are days when fitting everything in can be a pain, frankly, and I am never going to win any prizes as an ideal home-maker. (I’d rather be reading than dusting…)
    Given more writing time I can be more productive, sure. There’d be more short fiction, definitely.
    On the other hand, I’ve never written myself to a standstill or suffered from writers’ block, as a couple of my ‘nothing much else to do but write’ authorial pals have done.

  15. “When you only have a couple hours a day, those hours are golden.”
    I *wish* I had a couple hours a day! I lust after a couple uninterrupted hours to write every day!
    And as far as doing lots of homework on your own prior to The Call, I worried (being an obsessive researcher / borderline internet stalker) that having done this I came off as incurious — but I’d already answered most of my general questions!

  16. Financial pressure biggest career killer
    Thought provoking article on the day job. I do think the financial stress caused by quitting a day job can be a career and creativity killer — it can force one to make wrong writing decisions, to try and work too fast, to try to get too much into the pipe, and to become violently intolerant waiting on pubs and agents as that billing cycle ticks dangerously by. And there’s the danger of becoming insanely jealous of those around you who are succeeding while you might not be, for those above reasons. Never mind the added pressure from family co-opted into the sacrifices of a new writing lifestyle.
    And yes, working a day job keeps one alive, out there, and perhaps inspired creatively — depending on the job. (Because some can be real soul killers.)
    That said, many do have full lives outside of work, (along with self discipline) and quitting the day job doesn’t automatically mean endless hours to troll through cyberspace. Nor does it mean cutting oneself off from the inspiration of life. I suspect in these cases the extra time breeds better work. It’s the financial pressure that’s the biggest career killer.

  17. I recently graduated. When I was in college it took up all my time and energy, and I didn’t have any left for writing that wasn’t related to my field. Now I have nothing but time, and I am starting to write again, and do it well. So, one mark in the more time is good column.

  18. Job or Not?
    I’m with skogkatt and tiger–time is better FOR ME. This is definitely not true for some of my friends. Working exhausts me because I put 110% of myself into all tasks. So, when I’m at home writing (as I am full-time now)…that’s 110%. For me, NaNoWriMo’s pace is NORMAL and often slow. I also have an abnormally large sense of guilt helping me. If I take off too many days, I feel guilty. My husband is forgoing video games and chinese food (we’re still refusing to grow up) for my dream. And, I’m postponing my dream. So I get back to it.
    I do agree with Orson Scott Card: When you sell your first novel, don’t quit your job. Don’t have a baby, don’t move to a new city. Don’t do any massively stressful, life-changing thing UNTIL you’ve not only gotten that first book sold but also a few more (the second book can be just as terrifying and difficult as that first). Get used to the publishing thing–get used to the erratic checks, the deadlines, wait for that first shocking IRS cut–all while in the environment you wrote the first book successfully. Once you know professional author self well, then you can think of making changes.
    He said it much better than me, I believe in “How to Write S&F”.

  19. I currently work a day job, and do most of my writing in the evenings. I only do a little at a time, but having that schedule keeps me on track. I know I have to get X amount done or only have so much time. I hardly write on weekends half the time because I like to relax and do other things, or because I get distracted by everything else shiny around me.
    If I ever were in a position to quit the day job, I’d have to restructure my day to write. Set times, or higher word counts, or something to make sure I stay productive.

  20. I hate to admit it, but my day job keeps me sharp and grounded (and in regular contact with actually, real, physically manifested people). Sanity in a box with a pay cheque!

  21. Regarding the day job issue, I have a fantastic day job with people I love working with. The only way I’d consider quitting it is if I’m making so much money via writing that I can pay all my bills and still have tons left over.
    And since I doubt I’ll turn into Stephen King anytime in the next few years, I think I’ll keep the day job. @=)
    Nice blog on questions to ask Agents. I’ve actually thought of several of them myself, but it’s nice to see the additional ones. And I have a few on my list that aren’t on the blog.
    Here are some additional questions, I’d ask:
    1) If we sign together and later I do a project unrelated to the stuff you represent, would you be willing to represent me for the standard fee and/or assist me with contract negotiations?
    2) Would you try and charge me for published work I find and get on my own – Short stories, magazine articles, etc.? (I would think most legit agents would answer no to this one while the scammers would probably try to be propriatary)
    Those are just two of my “not on the blog” questions. I have a few more that are very specific to the type of things I write.
    Good stuff. Thanks for posting the links.

  22. time on my hands
    as long as I was a full time grad student (year and a half) I wrote three manuscripts and edited two of them. Once I was no longer full time, but rather just working on my thesis (extremely flexible schedule for a half year.. just finished yesterday!) I can’t put a manuscript together to save my life…

  23. I personally do much better with lots of time. I had the same job for years (and was also attending college at the same time for the first 3 years of that), and rarely got any writing done that wasn’t a short story for a creative writing class. I’ve been unemployed since September, and after the initial depression, have written as much in the last few months than I had in years. I wrote an 83,000 word novel in about 6 weeks. I’m 87,000 words into the second (with probably another 20,000 to go). And this week, ideas for novels #3 and 4 have come to me, and are in various stages of planning. But I start a new job in two days, so maybe I’ll be able to keep pushing and keep up the productivity, now that I’m used to writing 5-6 days a week.

  24. Inbteresting. Thanks for the link 🙂

  25. There’s also the issue of time to rest. Those of us working full-time at a day-job and full-time at a writing career can start to burn out for simple lack of time to do something that isn’t work. Brains need to goof off sometimes.
    OK, my brain needs to goof off.
    In the last two years, I started working full-time again, which threw all of the previously shared duties of running SRM Publisher onto my co-author. As writers, we’ve been more prolific in those two years than we have ever been. However, I fear (this being the kind of thing that writers fear)that quality is going down, due to lack of time to refine as much as we have in the past, and to an absence of time to simply play and revitalize.
    I don’t necessarily think that day-jobs are Evil; health insurance is nice, and if you can actually get a day-job that pays the bills (mine doesn’t), the lack of financial stress is wonderfully freeing.
    If I had my druthers, and the health insurance coverage was the same, I’d work five mornings a week; write in the afternoons and evenings, and take the weekends off.

  26. From Cathy Leming
    I manage to write a novel a year just fine while holding down a day job, and should I ever become lucky enough to get a publishing contract, I’d want the extra $ from my day job to use toward promotion of my book(s), to advance a writing career into a successful and prosperous full-time career, eventually. Readership would be a better indicator of long-term success than would a large advance, I think.

  27. What do you think — would too much time on your hands help or hinder your writing?
    Hinder. I never got anything done over the summer when I was a kid, and that hasn’t changed. The semi-regular schedule work forces me in is really helpful for a slacker like me who otherwise tends to procrastinate.
    Last month, I participated in a TV show in addition to regular work, and my writing hours dropped to zero. A couple of months before that I barely had any work and similarly got nothing done. It’s all about the middle road.

  28. Getting The Call
    I appreciate the post about questions to ask when you get The Call. I’ve got three fulls out right now. I spend hours staring at the evil unringing phone. (The rest I spend working, writing, and occasionally sleeping.) And I’m likely overly hopeful that The Call will come soon, but still, it’s great to know what questions I should ask to be both well-informed and not sound like an idiot.
    Thanks for the link.
    Lisa Iriarte

  29. Yes, I wrote much more when I had a day job. I’m hoping to get another day job so that I can be productive without the fight again [wry g].

  30. Quitting the day job
    Reminds me of the Gold Lotto ad, “wouldn’t it be nice”… I work a few days a week, sometimes from 9am till after eight at night; I have two small children, a live-in 20yo nephew (third child!) and do my writing after they all go to bed. Including hubby (a very understanding man). Consequently, I end up staying up well past midnight most nights, and am up again early for said children. This is every day. I can’imagine not writing for one day – I tend to get twitchy if I’m away from my characers for too long! Needless to say I don’t get much sleep. It’s lucky I’m an insomniac. I have finished two ful mss, with a couple of WIP’s since getting serious about writing in the last 15 months. So, in regard to quitting my day job – NIRVANA!!! It would be so nice to get more than three or four hours sleep a night. It is my ultimate goal. I’m realistic, I don’t expect to be rich and shameless, I just want to be able to afford to give my full attention to my writing to develop t int a proper career, rather than being regulated to a few stolen hours late at night.

  31. I would love to have a day free to write!
    I work as a lecturer at the Charles Darwin University in Darwin Australia. I first put pen to paper on my fantasy novel in 1996 and the reason I’m just finishing my fourth edit is because I have no time, what with work, family and other community activities to spend on my book. This is also another reason for publishers to give a reasonable advance, especially if future books are involved, as I would be taking some leave without pay if offered a contract so I could really settle down to perfect my novel and or, start the second book of the trilogy.
    Currently the only peaceful time I have to concentrate on my manuscript is at 03:00am in the morning. This way I get three wonderful uninterrupted hours to write before I head off to work.
    In short: yes I would love to be free to write.

  32. Time on my hands…
    I remember thinking when I fell pregnant the first time (with some glee I might add) that now I would be able to write endlessly.
    As it turns out, there’s no time stealer quite like children… and they suck up time and attention like little vacuum cleaners. Now I have three, and what I would give for just a few uninterrupted hours of silence every day…
    So you can give up your day job, and still have no time. I think for those of us who really want to be published, it is a matter of getting into the habit of writing at odd hours and in little spurts.
    Vic K

  33. Re: would too much time on your hands help or hinder your writing?
    I’m in software design–product management–but I’ve found that the strict protocol under which I work bottles up the creativity to the point where I’m desperate to write everyday just to keep from feeling like a machine. 🙂

    • Re: would too much time on your hands help or hinder your writing?
      Rats. I wanted to reply to this and ended up making a separate comment. See below.

  34. Wow, I’m going to have to check out all three of these bloggers. As an aspiring writer, I’m glad to hear the Nathan Bransford understands some of the angst involved with submitting. There’s this pressure to assume that agents ‘understand, and sympathize’ with those querying them, but it’s nice to hear one of them actually acknowledge it. It’s a fight for me when I get a rejection letter, not so much because I doubt the writing, or think that I’ve been blown off, but because I worry “Did I get EVERYTHING right? Did I miss some obscure rule that everyone who gets published knows?” Sounds dumb, but with no feedback (understandable) I’m left guessing.
    As for quitting the day job. I’m on the fence. I lean towards thinking that I’d be more creative. This is because I own horses, and chickens. So even if I quit my day job (on a horse farm, haha) I’d still have work to do that would pull me out of the house every day, morning and evening. There would still be structure to the day. The difference would be that I could give much more time to my writing, rather than stuffing it in at the end of the day, when my brain (and sometimes my body, if the horses have been trifling) is tired and sore. One thing is certain, I’d have less editing, in some ways, to do later, since I had a clearer head when I was writing.

  35. It takes incredible personal discipline to be self-employed, regardless of the nature of the endeavor. That requirement is multiplied exponentially when you are self-employed and work at home. Any and every little thing becomes a distraction if you allow it, and thinking “I can go throw a load of clothes in the washer” somehow becomes a hour spent doing other, non-productive things away from work.
    The family, if they are around, are a tremendous distraction, simply because they can not understand that “you are not really there…you are at work.” Children can not fathom that concept, and spouses and partners, who most likely can, simply don’t. You are there, and they can see that. Even having “an office” where you are out of sight doesn’t fool them.
    I have always kept weird hours, so I simply try to write when no one else is around or while they are sleeping. Of course, having odd days off from the daily job helps too.
    “All that time to work (write)” is a work of pure fiction that any agent would love to represent. You could sell it over and over again.

  36. bug-hunter
    As a bug-hunter I get many opportunities to trace logic and figure out how things go, so my outlets are there and pressure doesn’t bottle up. My stories are written in much the same way, the characters are ‘there’, and much of my writing is working through the logic of their characters to figure out what they’ll do. My stories are often multiple characters doing their own things in a situation where they’re forced to interact, so the multiple plotlines constantly intersect, but none of them is the MAIN plotline. In St. Martin’s Moon even the hero, the guy with the most face time, brings about the resolution of multiple storylines mainly by provoking other people to do things, not by doing them himself. It’s a little strange, characters as objects of code, but it works really well. Fiction is a lot harder to do than it used to be when I was a philosophy major.

    • Re: bug-hunter
      I know what you mean. I’m a DBA by trade, development & production type. A lot of creative energy goes into coding on a daily basis. It makes it difficult sometimes to switch gears.
      But I’ve found that I can take my laptop to work, plug in at the patio outside during lunch, and get a little writing done then (or just editing). Then I force myself out of the house at least once a week to spend an evening or weekend morning writing. It helps to get away from the distractions and promise myself “treats” if I hit a certain word count per week.

  37. Productivity with too much time on my hands
    I wish I had opportunity to find out!
    I have been finding it difficult to be consistent with stealing an hour or two here and there, though occasionally an idea will hit me and two hours later I’ll realize — oops — that I’ve been “jotting it down real quick” instead of doing my job.
    Evenings tend to be especially tough; creativity doesn’t seem to show up too reliably when I’ve been writing software design documents and drawing UML diagrams all day.
    BUT lately I’ve been trying to arrange my week so that I get my work done in four days and have Monday or Friday as a writing day. Things don’t always work out that way, but when they do, it works REALLY well, and is at least a hint that I might be even more productive with more extended blocks of time to write.
    On the other hand, as some have suggested, it could be that the removal of the “I wish I could be writing right now” factor would lead to piddling, like in the old Dick Van Dyke Show episode where Rob escapes alone to a secluded cabin to write and ends up playing paddle ball for hours.

  38. Self-employment vs. full-time
    I left full-time freelance work (writing for magazines, major dailies, as well as working on my own books) for the comfort zone of a twice-monthly check as a weekly editor. My income actually went down to do so – although it sounds like I left just in time, to talk to freelance friends in the current climate.
    I look back and think my reasons for going to a job were lame – in addition to wanting to interact with my community more, I thought my family would take my work more seriously and contribute more around the house! Uh, that’s a NO.
    I like many things about my job, including the people I work with, but I miss the time to commit to my own work and projects, the kind of writing I feel destined to do. Okay, destined is too strong a word. Compelled is more like it.

  39. The Day Job
    I had been working in the patent glazing industry as a director of research and development while working on my writing. I’d gotten a few awards and such along the way with animated & live action shorts under my belt as well as screenplay assignments from India, Canada and the UK.
    In was living in SoCal at the time. When things turned sour in the business, which happened to be just before the economy took a nose dive, I resigned and got a job working for CBS as a freelance. That gig was a short one but got me into the world of writing for a living.
    The added impetus of having to make my words equal cold hard cash was pressure enough to start doing the leg work. Within that first year I had written a treatment that was used by a project involving United Artists and Jerry Bruckhiemer, got the first draft of Barstow, a novel with Robert Eisner, done in 6 weeks and then secured a position working at NBC.
    I’d say from my experience in both worlds it takes a certain mental attitude to be able to work for yourself by yourself. not many people can get the work done as there’s too many distractions. You almost need to become monk-like in order to achieve the output.
    Nonetheless, I have since ‘finished’ umpteen versions of Barstow and have begun my second novel The Tulip Garden. I’ve had meetings galore and have even had a phone call form a major studio asking about the screenplay to Barstow… which as yet doesn’t exist.
    My advice? Unless you have worked alone at home to deadlines in a self-motivated manner do not give up the day job as you’ll need that experience plus a shed load of networking options to get you off the ground, never mind published/produced.
    With all this said, I’m still looking for an agent for my literary work and only this week I had a message that Michael Winterbottom might be interested in reading it. The work goes on…

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