Chapter Ten Practicalities Questions and Answers

1. I want to be recognized as an artist, not just as a storyteller. When the category fiction writer must adhere to plot formulas, how can he create real art? Plot is not the only element which makes fiction great. Characterization, motivational developments, theme, mood, background, and style are equally important in the creation of prose art. Fortunately, the basic genre plot skeleton is flexible enough to allow you artistic breathing room, while at the same time relieving you of doubts about the strength of your storyline; if you know it follows an accepted formula, you can cease worrying about it and spend more time on your other story elements. Actually, you have a greater opportunity to create genuine art than the mainstream writer.

But, what's wrong with being "just a storyteller"? Very few creative prose artists originally set out to write immortal work. They began as entertainers; their talent was innate, not cultured; their success as artists was because of, not in spite of, their storytelling abilities.

2. I am a new writer without any sales. How many rejection slips must I accumulate before I start selling? I garnered seventy-five rejection slips before my first sale, a number I believe to be about average. John Creasey, who has sold in excess of 500 novels, collected more than 500 rejection slips before his first sale. There is no magic limit beyond which you sell all you write. Nearly every category writer continues to receive occasional rejection slips even after he has become critically and financially successful. You must be unaffected by mounting rejections; you must continue to write in the face of them.

3. I'm an established writer in one category How long will it take me to make sales in a new one? A few category writers find it impossible to switch from one genre to another, because their interest and talent lies solely with one kind of story or background. The majority, however, can break into a new genre within half a dozen tries—if they have carefully studied the new field and fully understand it.

4. Should I begin writing short stories or novels? A short story requires less commitment in terms of a writer's time and energy than does a novel and is the best literary form in which to practice writing fiction. However, there are two good reasons why a modern category writer should start out writing novels. First of all, not all the genres contain an active short story market. Only two or three magazines buy Gothic-romance stories. Two magazines purchase Western short stories; three purchase mystery and suspense regularly; a number of men's magazines publish erotic fiction, but pay erratically and—with a few exceptions—not very well. Only science fiction writers enjoy six specialty magazines and dozens of original story anthologies as markets for their shorter work. And even here, the pay is inferior to what writers can make from novels. Secondly, it is virtually impossible for a category author to build a reputation writing short stories. Three or four novels will make you better known to editors and readers alike than will a hundred short stories.

This is not to say you should avoid short stories altogether. Some ideas are best developed in 5,000 words instead of 60,000 words. But the time you give to writing short pieces should be in proportion to the part of the current market they represent.

5. What kind of advance against royalties can I expect for the average category novel? The new writer will receive from $1,500 to $2,000, unless he is writing Westerns, in which case the advances are always somewhat lower. As his reputation increases, he can work as high as regular $4,000 advances and even, in some cases, substantially higher. Advances to the author remain rather static for long periods of time,


and they do not adjust with the cost of living or reflect increased profits on the part of the publishers.

6. If I am established in one genre, will my advances in another category go up to reflect this success elsewhere? Maybe and maybe not. More than likely, you will employ at least one new pseudonym in every category you try. In that case, the publisher cannot take advantage of your established name and reputation on the book cover and will pay you just as he would a new writer, until your pseudonym has built its own reputation.

7. I am more concerned about art than money. Must I write for money? If you feel that money should not concern the creative artist, stop right here, go back and pick up life in your fantasy world. Money is important to the serious artist, for three excellent reasons. First of all, in the early years of your career, money may be the only way you have of telling if your work is being accepted or not. New writers seldom get reviewed and do not generate large amounts of fan mail. Nice advance checks and royalty payments are valuable indications of your popularity among readers (the only ones who count, when all is said and done), and they give you the morale necessary to continue in what must he one of the loneliest occupations a man can choose. Second, the freedom that a healthy, regular income affords you is perhaps the most important factor hearing on your productivity. With the bills all paid and savings stored up against a run of bad luck, you can devote yourself full time to your craft and dispense with the agony of finding some way to meet the latest bill when you could be writing. Finally, financial success is important because it is a good credential to bring before a publisher. If your work generates large sales and earns the top dollar in your field, your publisher is far more likely to give you free rein with what you do than he would the novelist whose works barely pay the printing costs.

Must you write for money? No. But neither should you write in ignorance of what it can mean to the quantity and quality of your creative work.

8. How long must I work to gain financial security? You may never gain it. If you can produce only one or two category novels a year—especially science fiction, Gothics, mysteries, and fantasies—you will never know a time when the wolves are not a stone's throw from the door—and you without a stone to throw. Unless, of course, you hit the best-seller lists or have a book made into an enormously popular movie, both of which are more easily dreamed than realized. Even if you are prolific enough to produce and sell eight or ten novels a year, your income may hold steady at $20,000 a year, which is comfortable but by no means enough to classify you as nouveau riche.

On the other hand, with a top-flight agent (and there are very few of them), and a willingness to try other categories, to go where the money is the best and the audience the largest, you can achieve an income of $50,000 a year and up with half a dozen novels per annum. The uncertainty and the constant possibility of extravagant success are what make this profession so exciting. The nine-to-five office worker knows he will never starve—but he also knows he will never make a fortune. The full-time freelance writer can always starve—but he may also feast. The second possibility makes life interesting.

When you begin to make more money than you are used to having, don't fall into the trap of beginning to live more lavishly, as so many writers do. Your first financial goal, as a freelancer, should not be a new car or wardrobe, but the establishment of a savings account at least sufficient to support you, in comfort, for an entire year in the event your markets dry up or you become seriously ill. I say support you "in comfort," because you may develop a writing block, out of emotional depression, if you are suddenly forced to lower your standard of living and deny yourself pleasures you've grown accustomed to. Once the savings account is set up, invest an equal amount in stocks as yet another failsafe source of funds before you begin to live at or beyond your means. A writer must learn to budget year by year, not week by week.

9. If I am prolific, won't I make extra money from the sale of foreign rights to my books? The category fiction writer rarely makes foreign sales in his first three years, barring a best-seller or a much-talked-about movie purchase. If you are agentless, you will not have foreign contacts at all. Even with an agent, you may amass a large body of work before you begin to receive regular checks for foreign rights, because some agents are less able to make foreign sales than others.

Realize, too, that book advances in other countries average only one fourth or one half of what the American publisher paid and are subject to a 20% agent's commission—as opposed to the standard 10% commission on domestic sales—as well as a possible split with the original U.S. publisher. A writer can make substantial money from foreign sales only if his books make the best-seller lists and thereby demand higher foreign advances—or if he is so prolific that all those tiny checks are multiplied by fifteen or twenty books a year.

10. What about other subsidiary rights—paperback sale of a hardcover edition, films, serialization? Most novels printed in hardcovers are picked up for paperback reprint, though a substantial minority do go without this reward. Paperback houses pay the original publisher as little as $2,000 and as much as $1,000,000 or even more for best-sellers or potential best-sellers; this paperback money, then, is split (usually fifty-fifty) between the author and the hardcover publisher. This can mean as little as an additional $1,000 for the author, or as much as $50,000 for the author in the case of A Report from Group 17 by Robert C. O'Brien, and better than $200,000 for someone like Mario Puzo and a book like The Godfather.

For every novel purchased for motion picture production, hundreds go unnoticed by Hollywood. A movie sale is either a stroke of luck which no sane author would waste time thinking about, or the work of a shrewd agent and, again, beyond the author's province. Motion picture sales can run from as little as $10,000—all of it, aside from the agent's fee, being the author's money—to as much as the property can command. While producers are reluctant to commit that kind of cash, they are often willing to option a novel—usually at ten, fifteen or twenty percent of the purchase price. Most authors with ten books behind them have benefited from one or more options never picked up and carried to a final purchase. Many authors consider options "found money" and keep an agent chiefly for the bits and pieces of income, like this, which he brings them.

The era of the large circulation, general audience magazine is gone and, with it, most of the markets for serialization of a novel. Playboy and several women's magazines still pay big money for serial rights but reject two hundred titles for every one they run. The only genre magazines that regularly carry serials are in the science fiction field and pay two or three cents a word for the privilege of publishing them. That's not a fortune, but still the competition is rugged.

Book club rights, if sold, more often bring $1,000 to $3,000 for the author rather than the five- and six-figure sales reported by Book-of-the-Month Club and the Literary Guild. Like the possibility of the movie sale, the sale of book club rights to a major company at a fat advance is something to be kept in the back of the mind, shelved next to "miracles" where it cannot obsess the writer and cause him to waste time in useless daydreaming.

11. If I manage to sell hardcover rights instead of going straight to the paperback original market, 'what kind of royalties can I expect the hardcover to earn? Hardback sales are not what they once were, and most hardback category novels are supported by libraries. Few books get a second printing, and the average novel earns between $2,000 and $6,000 in hardback royalties, from which you must deduct the amount of your original advance.

The standard hardback advance schedule makes provision for a 10$ royalty on the first 5,000 copies, 12/2% on the second 5,000 copies, and 15% on everything thereafter.

12. Would I help the sales of my hardcover novel if I spent time promoting it? Undoubtedly, you would, if you have any knack for being interviewed by newspaper, radio, and television reporters. However, unless your book has sure best-seller potential, you will not be reimbursed by your publisher for your travel expenses on behalf of the novel. If the novel has best-seller potential, special response from readers and critics prior to publication, the publisher may provide an advertising budget and may help you promote the work. For the large majority of new novels, however, not a cent is dealt out for promotion purposes.

The smart writer will consent to newspaper or other interviews whenever he is asked, will promote his book whenever he can, so long as most of his time is still spent at the keyboard creating new work. Promotion of his latest piece should not become—unless he's an Arthur Hailey who writes only a book every three years or so—a full-time or even a substantial part-time job, for it seriously saps the strength.

13. So far, it sounds as if a genre writer must be prolific to be successful and that he must spend quite a bit of time at the typewriter. Exactly what kind of schedule should the freelance genre writer maintain? When I speak before a group of potential novelists and short story writers, or when a new writer solicits my advice, I always say the most important thing a writer must cultivate is discipline. He must learn to sit at the typewriter a certain number of hours every day, and he must teach himself to complete a minimum number of pages in each sitting. He cannot afford the conceit so often expressed by the amateur: "I can only write when the muse is with me." The professional author can write whenever he wants to. He can learn to stimulate a tired imagination and kick himself into action when he would rather read or sunbathe or watch television.

I used to work ten to twelve hours a day, seven days a week, with an occasional day off for some folly or other. Now, I work eight hours a day, five or six days a week, which is the best schedule for the professional writer to maintain. Writing is your job; it puts the bread on your table. Your fringe benefits are numerous—no bosses, no white shirt and starched collar, late to bed and late to rise, unlimited earnings potential, an outlet for the ego—but you must earn them through hard work. If your goal is eight pages of finished script a day and you only produce two pages on Monday, you had better produce fourteen on Tuesday; if you let yourself slide one day your entire schedule will collapse.

Heinie Faust (under the pseudonym Max Brand) produced hundreds of Westerns in his career and sold millions of copies of his work, by writing only two hours a day. His secret was to write two hours every day, no matter what, and to produce fourteen pages in those two hours. Few writers have matched his prolific pace.

Of course, the part-time writer cannot keep a schedule of this sort in addition to his regular job and family duties. But, just as the full-time professional, he should learn to force his imagination into gear without the aid of the "muse." He should set aside one or more days of each weekend for uninterrupted work. If possible, he should write for an hour or two every evening. If he truly cares about a career as a novelist, he will not begrudge the hours spent working that could have been passed in relaxation, games, or sport.

The successful freelancer, the one whose books occasionally sell to the movies and who receives solid paperback advances, can afford to, and should, take a few weeks off between each project, time to recharge the creative batteries. But the new writer, with a name to build, needs to work as much as he can stand to work.

14. But what if I sit at the typewriter day after day and only produce a few paragraphs? Don't give up and don't satisfy yourself with so little. Grit your teeth when you find your self stuck or daydreaming, and go on—put a verb after a noun, a conjunction after that, another verb, a phrase, and so on until you are working with words as if they were tangible blocks. What you create this way may be crude, but you can keep retyping the page until it's right, then go on. The dogged drive you display will eventually erase the clumsiness and give you a genuine ease with the words.

15. How do I overcome a complete writer's block, when I can't write even one word? A writer's block is most often caused by one of five things: overwork, boredom, self-doubt, financial worries, or emotional problems between the writer and those close to him. If overwork is the cause, stop writing for a couple of days or weeks; when you're ready to start again, you'll know, because the typewriter will no longer appear to be a formidable opponent, but a delightful toy. If boredom with the piece in progress has slowed you to a standstill, put it aside and begin something new, no matter how close to the end of the piece you may be; chances are, if it bores you, it will bore editors and readers also. The simplest way to cure a case of self-doubt is to shame yourself without restraint for your lack of confidence and start something new which may, by its freshness, restore your confidence. Don't worry if you go through a dozen ideas before you hit something that gets you going again. Financial worries must be solved before you can write again, even if that means you—the full-time freelancer—must take a job, temporarily, to keep above water, or you—the part-time writer—must take a part-time job and temporarily forsake writing until your financial position is less chaotic. If emotional entanglements occupy your mind and keep you from producing, sit down with your boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, and talk out the things that are bothering you. Not only will such sessions improve your love life, they will improve your writing as well.

No writer's block need be more than a few days long if he is determined to break it.

16. How long is the average category novel? Paperback and hardcover minimums are usually 55,000 or 60,000 words, though Westerns average ten percent below this. Generally speaking, editors are more pleased with a 60,000-word minimum, but every book should be as long as it needs to be and no longer: never pad a short book just to get it up to the minimum word levels. On the other hand, realize that you will have great difficulty marketing a novel that's 40,000 words long. Usually, with a bit of thought, you can find places where the plot could be developed more dramatically, at greater length. In other words, to lengthen a short novel, add incidents, don't merely stretch those incidents already done.

In the Big Sexy Novel, minimum word lengths may be, depending on the publisher, considerably longer than 60,000 words: as much as 100,000 and 150,000. Likewise, some Gothic publishers prefer minimum 75,000-word Gothics.

17. I'm a new writer, as yet unpublished. Should I choose one genre and work at it until I begin selling, or should I employ a scattergun technique and try writing for several categories? Choose one category—usually that you most enjoy reading—and stick with it until you've built a reputation in it. You will learn the fundamentals of genre fiction and develop your style more easily if you write the same type of fiction again and again.

18. I'm an established writer in one genre. I want to branch out. Should I choose a single area and concentrate on it, or is it all right for me, the pro, to use the scattergun technique? Develop your skills in one category at a time. If you're a successful suspense writer, you can't necessarily dash off a Western and Gothic and sell them first time around. Each form requires a subtly different touch which you will need time to learn.

19. Should I mail my manuscripts First or Fourth Class? Because Fourth Class is cheaper, most instruction books recommend the manuscript rate. I disagree. For two years, I mailed all my scripts Fourth Class. I had to retype six short stories because the post office had mangled them. Two novel manuscripts were lost, forcing me to retype. One manuscript box, returned to me marked "Fourth Class—Special Handling" was broken at all four corners; three of the four lengths of twine that bound it were broken and twisted around the single remaining strand; most of the paper wrapper was torn away, with only the address remaining; the bottom of the box was decorated by a large, muddy footprint. That certainly was Special Handling! In the three years I've used First Class mail, I've never had a script lost or mangled beyond repair. The extra cost seems, to me, well worth the work and worry saved.

20. Can I copy a manuscript and submit it to several publishers at the same time, to save myself the extra waiting? No. Only the most respected authors in each field can get away with multiple submission, and even they irritate editors by the practice. An editor likes to feel that you value his opinion and especially desire to make a sale to his list; he cannot maintain the illusion of a personal author-editor relationship if he knows other editors have received copies of the same work simultaneously with your submission to him. Furthermore, he doesn't want to be a buyer at an auction who must outbid other parties to obtain the piece, especially not when he is bidding for the work of an unknown or minimally established author. Multiple submissions of novels should be made only by your agent and only when he feels you've created a property with enormous financial potential.

21. It seems to me that writers could save time by collaborating on novels. Do you recommend collaboration? No. The only reason for collaborating is to create a better story than either writer could do alone. Such occasions are rare. Never collaborate to save time on a story, for the collaboration-fraught with arguments, rewrites, plot discussions, and mutual criticism—always takes longer than you would have needed to do the work alone. Remember, too, that the money will be split fifty-fifty and that, in the end, your work-reward ration will be substantially less than you've come to expect.

Writing is such a personal craft that collaboration can make enemies of friends, and turn a potentially fine story into a boring pastiche of styles, moods, and plot concepts.

22. Should I use a pen name? If your real name is completely without intrigue or musicality, you might want to employ a pen name from the start. No one can say, for certain, whether a phonetically pleasing by-line sells more books than an irritating by-line, but most writers tend to feel that it does. We can more easily visualize a reader going to a bookstore to pick up the latest Ross MacDonald mystery than to purchase Kenneth Millar's new thriller. (Mr. Millar has had great success with his pen name.) Some authors are born with names that cry to be splashed on book covers: Isaac Asimov, John D. MacDonald, James Gunn, Brian Garfield. Others are not so lucky. Dean R. Koontz is basically an unpleasant, guttural name, but I have stuck with it, for the most part. And after twenty books under that name, I find that editors prefer to use it than some melodic pseudonym. In short, the work between the covers is more important than the name on the outside.

Once you are established, use your own name for your most serious books whether they are inside or outside the category you're most known for, and keep your pen names for your lighter things. I learned this lesson a bit late, after publishing a serious novel, Chase, under a pen name and then wishing my own by-line were on it.

If you are publishing six or seven original paperbacks a year, you are not taxing the market for work under your own name. If you're publishing that many hardcover titles a year, you should use a pen name for some of them. Remember that hardbacks are often reprinted in paper, with the result that six hardcover books a year eventually means twelve separate editions a year. There is no sense competing with yourself once you've established the value of your name.

Many prolific writers, especially in the suspense and mystery fields, employ at least one pseudonym in addition to their real names, and they often make no particular secret of their many publishing identities. Donald E. Westlake is also Richard Stark and Tucker Coe. John Dickson Carr is also Carter Dickson, and Robert L. Fish is also Robert L. Pike.

23. Should I employ a typing service for preparation of my final manuscript? A manuscript should be as clean and flawless as you can make it, but it should not necessarily be prepared by a professional typist just because your own keyboard expertise is slight or even laughable. If you do several drafts and heavy blue penciling (which I have expressly advised against), a typist may be of value to you. However, most professional writers find that they make last minute changes in phrasing even as they prepare the submission script. You forfeit this last polish if you use a manuscript typist. (See Chapter Nine for a discussion of manuscript revision.)

24. If I type the script myself, should I keep carbons? Some publishers now require two copies of an author's manuscript when they purchase it. Occasionally, the original copy will be lost or destroyed, and the writer must supply his publisher or his agent with a good carbon to take its place. You should, therefore, keep two carbon copies, one of them as readable and unmarked as the original bond paper script. Personally, I dislike wasting the time it takes to correct typos on a carbon copy. Therefore, I make only one, which is smeared and good only for my own files—and I have the original script photocopied. Though the cost for this service averages $25.00 a novel, I feel the time saved is more than equal to the cost.

25. Should I subscribe to a clipping service to receive reviews of my novels? Most clipping services charge a minimal subscription fee and then bill you by the item—usually $.50 or $1.00 for each clipping they find—until you tell them to stop. Since original paperback novels are rarely reviewed in the major newspapers and magazines, the service is more valuable to the regular hardcover novelist. You can benefit by the feedback a clipping service can supply, if you understand beforehand that the bad as well as the favorable reviews will be sent you. The greatest danger is that one of your books will suddenly catch on, and the avalanche of clippings will threaten to wipe out your life's savings. I know of one writer who published a dozen novels with only moderate success, but unexpectedly hit the best-seller lists with his thirteenth. In all the excitement, he forgot about his clipping service. Two months later, he received a shipment of forty cardboard cartons full of clippings and a bill for slightly more than $5,000! This could have been avoided had he established with the service a limit that he would buy, at the start.

26. /fa reviewer really slams my book, should I respond? Absolutely not. If he personally slanders you, a response may be necessary. Otherwise, shut up and get back to writing stories, not letters. As a published writer, you open yourself to negative as well as positive, inept as well as perceptive reviews. More often than not, reviewers will miss the entire point of a book or so baldly misrepresent it to their readers that it is barely recognizable as the novel you wrote. If you respond, you irritate the reviewer, who will be less likely to give your next book a fair review, and you appear, in your response, to be either pedantic or egomaniacal. Temper your anger with good reviews and the amused tolerance for reviewers that most professional writers cultivate. You will be less stung by negative reviews when you discover that even the positive reviews often miss the point, misrepresent the novel, and recommend it for all the wrong reasons. Reviewers do not read a book solely for enjoyment, as most of your audience does, and this is exactly what is wrong with the entire concept of professional book evaluation.

Of course, not all reviews are off base. Most writers, in private, are truthful enough with themselves to be able to distinguish the sound criticisms from the unsound, and to learn from them.

27. /fan editor requests a rewrite, should I oblige? If you are a new writer, do exactly as he asks. Most editors, even if they are not writers themselves, have an excellent grasp of prose structure and rarely make suggestions that would damage a book. After selling my first three novels without changing a word of them, I began to find it difficult to sell anything more. An editor at Lancer Books, who has since become a good friend, took my fourth, fifth, and sixth science fiction novels, brutally criticized them, made me completely rewrite them, and bought the final versions. In the process of helping me make those books publishable, he taught me more about the craft of writing than any book or series of articles ever had.

If you are an established author with published works to support your self-confidence, you might occasionally refuse to rewrite a book as an editor requests. However, if you can set aside your ego, you will nearly always find that the requested rewrite would not hurt the book, would probably help it. If the sale to this particular editor seems important enough to you, you should try to make compromises even when you feel deeply that the changes will not add to the work's quality.

Many writers mistakenly believe that the great prose artists never allow anyone to suggest changes in their novels. The opposite is the case. The most revered prose artists are open-minded enough to request advice and to use suggestions that might strengthen their work.

28. You've mentioned the literary agent. Should I obtain one? First of all, you will not be able to obtain a good agent until you have sold at least one novel on your own. Most agents, before accepting a new client, must know you are professional, understand your craft, and can regularly produce saleable material: they have no time to teach you to write or to educate you in the business of writing and publishing.

Secondly, you will gain valuable market experience and editorial contacts by submitting your own work for the first couple of years of your career. You will be ready for an agent when you're earning close to $10,000 a year, or when an editor tells you it's time to obtain a literary representative for your work.

If you are an established writer, you are foolish to continue without a New York agent, even if you live in the city. Most publishers are honest, but only as honest as they have to be. After all, they are in business to make a profit, not to enrich writers. An agent can obtain larger advances and better contract terms than the average writer would know how to wangle. I know one major science fiction writer who has, for his whole career, permitted his hardcover publishers to handle his subsidiary rights and to, in effect, act as his agents. As a result, though he is nationally known and a regular guest on the television talk shows, he still gets a $1,500 or $2,000 advance for books that eventually earn royalties in five figures. "So what?" he says. "I get it all in royalties, anyhow." But any business-minded writer knows that $10,000 in royalties, paid over four years, is less valuable than a $10,000 advance paid right now: for one thing, the rising cost of living makes those strung-out royalties five to ten percent less valuable than the same sum paid today—and for another, the writer could invest a large advance and earn dividends on it during those four years. He could increase his work-reward ratio and make it possible to spend less time at the typewriter in order to maintain his favorite lifestyle. A good agent will generate enough new income for the writer to more than compensate for his 10% commission.

29. Is it worthwhile to pay a reading fee to an agent to get his opinion of my book? Once or twice, yes. If you make a practice of it, no. In a few criticisms he will have said all he can say about your work, will have given you all the advice you need. After that, it's up to you to apply his suggestions.

30. Once I obtain an agent, will he sell everything I send him to market for me? Probably not. An agent can only sell good work, the same pieces you could have sold yourself: he has no friendships with editors that insure the sale of inferior work. An agent's value lies in the better terms he arranges for the work he does sell.

31. Will my agent personally handle my fiction, or will he merely act as a forwarding service? Only rarely, and only when the script has great financial potential, will your agent deliver it personally to an editor. For the most part, he relies on telephone contacts, city mail service, and messenger services. In some cases, if the piece is only average, he will submit it by mail just as you would yourself, with no advance patter or socko introductory letter. But remember, when an editor receives a script from a good agent, he gives it closer attention and more consideration than he gives to anything that comes from the slush pile. He knows that an agent is handling professionals and that his reading time will be better spent with agented scripts than with un-agented freelance submissions. For this reason, several major publishing companies no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Wait! I know what your next question is before you ask it: "If the publishers stop accepting unsolicited manuscripts, and if an agent will only handle writers with several credits, how can new writers hope to break in? We can't sell without an agent, but an agent won't handle us unless we've sold!" It isn't so bad as that. The publishing houses who have ceased to accept unagented manuscripts are those who never bought from unestablished writers in the first place. They are among the most prestigious houses that no new writer could expect to hit, at the start, with or without an agent. By the time your work is polished enough and your audience substantial enough to interest these companies in your books, you will also have obtained an agent.

32. Which agents are good and which are the ones to avoid? There are no lists of worthy and unworthy agents. You must decide what you want from your agent and then choose him accordingly. The larger agencies, with long lists of famous clients, will have the experience and muscle to generate big money for you, if you happen to write a book that hits or skirts the best-seller lists. If you write good books that have only normal sales, a large agency will do little for you: you will be expected to make the first breakthrough, and they will exploit your talent for you when that plateau is finally reached. A smaller agency, sometimes only a single agent with no aides, will be better for the new writer, because a more personal relationship can be established. The agency that handles 600 clients, even if it employs five or six sub-agents, cannot provide the personal contact and concern that a one-man agency, with fifty or sixty select clients, can. And while a large agency can afford to carry dozens of writers who earn less than $10,000 a year, the small agency cannot. It must obtain top money for each of its clients if it is to stay solvent. Also, some agents are better for novelists than for non-fiction writers; some are clumsy with the representation of science fiction, because they handle little of it and don't understand the field; others handle chiefly suspense writers and are best at making suspense and mystery sales.

33. How do I discover which agent would be best for me? Talk with an editor whom you've become friendly with: he'll be able to help you winnow down the possibilities. After that, you've got to count on dumb luck. Many writers go through at least one or two agents before they find one just right for them.

34. What's the nature of an agent-author contract? This is a short form granting your agent exclusive permission to handle your work for the contract period—usually two years, automatically renewable—for the consideration of 10% of all domestic sales and 20$ of all foreign sales.

35. Is there any clause in an agent-author contract I should be wary of? Yes. Do not sign any agent-author agreement or any book contract handled by your agent, which contains a clause giving the agent "... permission to handle the author's work in perpetuity and forever." It is only fair that an agent share in the monies growing out of the book contract he negotiated for you. But if, in later years, you change agents, and your new agent can resell a book that the original publisher has permitted to go out of print, your old agent has no moral right to share in this new loot.

36. Will an agent tell me when a manuscript has been rejected and where it will go next? If you phone him about the whereabouts of a manuscript, and if it is an important script that you both have high hopes for, he is more than willing to let you know where it stands at the moment. He cannot waste the time to keep you informed about every development, however, and he will not appreciate regular calls or letters requesting such information. Be patient. In time, you'll discover it's very pleasant to be notified only when the script sells and to be shielded from depressing rejections.

37. Will an agent send me my money as soon as he receives the publisher's check and takes his commission? Yes. Agents are, almost without exception, honest with their writers.

38. If I suddenly begin making big money—either by virtue of an unexpected best-seller or because I am prolific——how do I save it from the Internal Revenue Service? Get a good accountant at once. If your sudden financial upswing takes place within a single calendar year, he will probably help you to pay on an "averaged income" basis, a device the IRS permits for those whose sudden wealth was balanced by a few years of low or moderate income prior to success. This can save you from 10% to 30% in tax payments. If your success seems to be relatively lasting, he may even suggest, depending on which state you live in, that you incorporate yourself. Federal taxes on businesses are substantially lower than they are on individuals. A good accountant will make you aware of all the legal deductions you may take and will more than pay his own fees in the money he saves you.

39. I am not earning enough to warrant the services of an accountant, but I would like to be sure I'm deducting all that I can. What expenses can a writer claim against his income? You should keep receipts and records for all of the following:

. Supplies—typing paper, carbon paper, typewriter ribbons, staples, envelopes, paper clips, pens, pencils, rubber bands, and other such paraphernalia.


b. Magazine subscriptions.

c. Paperback and hardback books. Every book you as a writer buy is deductible as a business expense. At the end of the year, you can add up your expenditures, divide by either five or six [years], and take an average deduction each year for the next five years. If you divide by six, you are permitted to take a double deduction the first year.

d. Mileage. Keep a record of any driving you may do in connection with writing—to the library, to do an interview with someone, and even to drive to the bookstore to look over the new titles. You may take a standard tax deduction for each mile driven.

e. Postage.

f. Commissions, if you have an agent.

g. Travel—meals, hotels, gas, oil, tips. If you spend a weekend in Atlantic City, like the place, study it, and use it as background for a story, all your expenses are tax deductible. Trips to New York to talk with editors and trips to writers' conferences are also deductible.

h. Furniture—desk, chair, bookcases, desklamp. An average five or six year deduction for depreciation is permitted, as with the cost of your books.

i. Machines—typewriter, photocopier, adding machine. These expenses may be averaged and deducted as with furniture and books.

j. Rent. If you have an office in which you write and do nothing else, the rent is 100% deductible. If you write at home, estimate the portion of your living space that is used for writing (don't forget areas where bookcases stand, the easy chair in which you generate ideas every night, or the kitchen table on which you collate scripts, do proofreading, correct galleys) and deduct that percentage of your monthly rent.

k. Utilities—light, heat, garbage collection. If one fourth of your living space is used for writing, you are permitted to deduct one fourth of your utilities too.

l. Telephone calls. All long distance calls that are related to your writing career are deductible. If you can honestly say that a considerable portion of your telephone usage is exclusively for business purposes, you can also deduct that percentage of the standard monthly charge, in addition to the charges for the long distance calls.

40. Does any country exempt writers from income tax? Yes, Ireland.

41. Do you recommend that footloose writers live in Ireland? Everyone should investigate the possibility. It does not appeal to me. Ireland is relatively peaceful (Northern Ireland, a completely different country, is the place you've read about in the papers for years, where all the social unrest is fermenting), is an English-speaking country, and is not any more expensive to live in than the U.S. But it is also terribly conservative and out of the mainstream of world affairs, trends, and thoughts. Because of religious and social intolerance, Ireland's great writers have, in the past, been forced to go abroad to do their finest work. But the decision to be an expatriate American in Ireland is one the individual must make himself.

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