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Of Agents and Angles

I’ve never had a literary agent representing me. All the writing gigs I’ve landed – novels, plays, articles etc – I’ve secured off my own bat. But I’ve always worked on the assumption that at some point I’d need an agent, a savvy ally who could help me punch up a level in my career and would be my advocate, protector and bullshit-buffer. I know lots of authors. Many have agents, many don’t. Some found a good agent day one and have stuck with them, some have gone through a fair few, some have abandoned the idea of being agented and gone it alone after a string of bad experiences. The big rule, everyone tells me, is to remember that the agent works for the author. The author, in effect, is their employer. Many agents will try to convince you otherwise, but always remember they work for you, that’s the advice I was given time and time again. Six months ago I decided to try and secure an agent. I have a book underway, the first of a trilogy, and sooner or later I’m going to want to sell it to a publisher. All the writing I’ve done so far has been buy-out – which means I got paid a flat fee and that’s that. Those contracts were simple. But the new books will remain mine, so I will need a far more complex contract dealing with territorial rights, royalty rates, reversion clauses, digital rights, and so on and so forth. I need someone who knows this stuff inside out, and whom I trust, to deal with it for...

School’s Out – unpublished prologue

The blog Daily Writing Tips recently published Three reasons to ditch your novel’s prologue. It contains much wisdom. The following extract was part of the pitch that got School’s Out commissioned, and it stayed in the book ‘til very late in the day, but I eventually decided to cut it. My editor was a bit wary of that, but I convinced him. It was fun to write, and helped me establish the tone, but it was the only part of the book not written in the first person by Lee, so it felt out of place. I felt the eventual opening was much stronger because it established the ‘voice’ of Lee, his age, the setting of the book, and his attitude to authority all within the first few lines. Three months ago When the anti-psychotics finally ran out, Alex began to wonder if rescuing his brother from the asylum had been the wisest move. After all, delusional psychopaths with messiah complexes do not make for the easiest of flat mates. By the time the knife made an appearance he was pretty confident that he had made a serious mistake. ‘Dave, what’s the knife for, mate?’ No response. Just the scary eyes, the fixed stare and the knife. ‘Dave? Do you, um, want to talk about it?’ Eyes. Stare. Very big knife. Alex considered his options. He’d seen his brother in the grip of an episode only once, years ago, before he’d been sectioned. It hadn’t been pretty. Since the murders Dave had been resident at a secure facility just up the road. There, on a daily diet of drugs and...

A cautionary tale for writers

or ‘Why I spent ten years being pointlessly annoyed at Neil Gaiman when I should have been doing something useful instead’ Way back when, I was an aspiring comic book writer living in Toronto. I used to hang out with talented and successful people like Salgood Sam and Ty Templeton, and I spent my every spare minute planning huge 100 issue comic book arcs, pitching for this that and the other, and writing spec scripts. Those were heady days. After one comic con I found myself sat between Alex Ross and Ty, opposite Jill Thompson and Mike Mignola, nattering about obscure English comedy records and “Bal-Ham, gateway to the South!” I felt comfortable and at home, and a little over-awed. I was briefly on nodding terms with a few superstars of the genre, so it was surely only a matter of time before I got my big break and joined the gang proper. Surely. I was cocky, too. I used to cold call editors and pitch storylines to them down the phone. You’d be amazed how successful this approach was. Well, I say ‘successful’, I had some very nice conversations and never got hung up on, which has got to be good, right…? So anyway, I heard that Sandman, Neil Gaiman’s magnum opus, was coming to an end, but a spin off book, The Dreaming, was in the works. This would feature multi-story arcs by different teams, all set in the Sandman universe. This was a perfect thing for me to pitch to. I decided to eschew the simple method of writing down a proposal and posting it, instead I cold called the editor...