About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Friday, March 25, 2011

An Anniversary Musing #4

With Elizabeth Moon's newest book KINGS OF THE NORTH now on sale and (knock wood) headed somewhere on the NY Times extended bestseller list, seems like a good time to send an anniversary musing this direction.

Elizabeth was just starting to publish in Analog at around the same time I was starting at the Scott Meredith Agency. At Baen Books, where I'd done freelance work during college, publishing books by Analog authors was a kind of major sub-niche. And I was enjoying some of Elizabeth's early stories like "ABCs in Zero G" very much. And reading magazines and finding wonderful things and reaching out to authors was the kind of thing agents were supposed to do. So I asked the higher-ups at SMLA if it would be OK to reach out to Elizabeth Moon and ask if she had a novel.

Did she ever!

Rather to my surprise, since I was experiencing Elizabeth through excellent hard sf stories in the magazine full of hard sf stories, she had a completed fantasy trilogy around half a million words long. A fantasy trilogy? A fantasy trilogy???

And while I wasn't exclusively a science fiction reader, I was certainly more of a science fiction reader than a fantasy reader.

But I started reading this massive fantasy trilogy, and I found myself enjoying it. I read some of it at the Rego Park Burger King on a Saturday night, where my eating out treat (people working six months in publishing are not often rich) was using the Buy One Get One Free coupons for the original chicken sandwich. I read some of it on the grass at Juniper Valley Park, while people would ride or run or walk by and the novelty "Let's Go Mets Go" song that was extremely popular in the late summer of 1986 would play on their radios.

But getting back to the important parts of the story, I read it, and I liked it, and got the OK to take on Elizabeth, and she said yes, and off I went to try and sell the thing.

Elizabeth had been in the Marine Corps. As a young agent with less than a year on the job when I started marketing the trilogy, it didn't occur to me that you would mention something completely irrelevant like that in trying to sell a fantasy trilogy. A really really good fantasy trilogy. A clearly special and wonderful fantasy. Great book, author has credits in Analog. But then we'd start getting these rejections from people like Lester del Rey and (via Betsy Mitchell) Jim Baen that they couldn't buy into this whole "woman warrior" thing in the book. I was starting to get a little annoyed at this. Elizabeth was starting to get a little annoyed. I knew Betsy Mitchell, she'd given me my first job in publishing and all, so I called her up and said "Betsy, I've got to tell you this letter from Jim's annoying and Elizabeth's getting kind of upset because she's an ex-Marine and all of these people keep saying she can't write a fantasy with a woman warrior in it." [Not those exact words, but that was the gist of it.]

Well, Betsy was kind enough to take this information back to Jim Baen. And Jim, to his credit and because he is was always-will-be a fan of all things military, was man enough to change his mind and give Betsy the OK to buy the trilogy. That little thing about Elizabeth being in the military which it never occurred to me to mention in the cover letter became in a box on the back cover of Sheepfarmer's Daughter "Her background in military training and discipline imbue Sheepfarmer's Daughter and its sequels with a gritty realism that is all too rare in most current fantasy."

Lesson learned. When more recently taking Myke Cole's Control Point to publishers, his military training wasn't left to the reader's imagination.

And lesson for you to learn: Much as we hate to think it, life sometimes is not just about what you know, but who you know. There's a legit chance that if I hadn't known Betsy and felt comfortable enough to push back on her rejection that this classic fantasy trilogy would have been unsold for many more years.

So continuing with the story, Sheepfarmer's Daughter comes out the latter half of 1988, and however it is that word of mouth works people decide they like this one, and the book goes into a second printing very soon after the release date, and the next two books in the trilogy follow on a quarterly release schedule (the idea of having books come out close together from a new author wasn't invented recently) and the series is a hit, a genuine bona fide hit. This struck home for real when I popped in to the B. Dalton at Paramus Park Mall and saw that they had an entire shelf devoted to the work of Elizabeth Moon.

Elizabeth and I have been together 25 years so there's a lot that I can talk about and I will give her more musing. Part I, I end here, a part II tomorrow.

1 comment:

Myke said...

There's no such thing as an ex-Marine.

Oorah.