Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

The Life of an Author: or, How I Lost My Agent Today

This afternoon, I was informed by my agent that I am no longer represented by her. I was, in a term much to polite to use in civilized company, dropped.

It was not terribly surprising. I had heard nothing for a while and my emails were going unanswered, which is, sadly, a common precursor to bad news in publishing. A squeaky wheel hears bad news, a quiet one allows false optimism to blossom. But here I am, on the other side of bad news, and realising that since I have written Beneath the Red Sun, I have gone through a ridiculous amount of shit that must by now equal a lesson to new writers, other writers, or at the very least a story that lets you know that wanting to be an author and make some kind of money from your work is a road, at times, roughly traveled. At the very least, it is for me. It's not hard to get published, to sell your work to respected (and disrespected) independent publishers. Do it right and you can get a small name for yourself, even. The problem arises when you want to step up to making a bit more money, to allow for your writing to be more than the hours you set aside outside jobs that pay bills.

I originally wrote Beneath the Red Sun because an editor at Tor had read some of the Red Sun stories and was keep on a book. I had just finished my doctorate, having written a book for that, rather than a book to sell, and I thought why not. I liked my Red Sun world. He liked it. Lets have some cash pass hands. So I wrote it. It is a novel about a brother who, upon release from prison, finds out that his younger brother is dead, and hunts downs and kills the men responsible. I love the old revenge movies like Get Carter and Once Upon a Time in the West and books like Tyger Tyger (or the Stars, My Destination). At the same time, I was keen to start working in more of my interests such as colonialism, bush rangers, and the history of white people stealing aboriginal children. It was fun. My first agent said that the editor was keen, was hassling him for it, but of course, once I had finished reading it, there was... nothing. It was always on the to-read pile. It was always next. Eventually, he just stopped responding to the queries, and my agent then, who truly was a fine sort but not really fitting my needs, moved on and as far as I know, the book still sits in that to-read pile, at the bottom somewhere.

After that, I did lot of door knocking. I had reason to believe it would work out. I got some introductions, too. By and large, the responses were best summed up by one agent, who I quote, said, "While I'm sure that you will find and agent and a publisher for this book, for it is a fine book in every which way, it won't be me, for it makes me want to slash my wrists open." As you can imagine, such responses are both good and bad, and certainly bring you no closer to having someone work for you. Which, hey, why shouldn't someone? I'm somewhat critically acclaimed. Black Sheep was used in the Germany HSC, and has been reprinted in German text books for English since. 26Lies was taught in a college in the States. People have even called me a genius, and of course, less desirably things. But ah well. You knock on doors, you try your luck, and then, one day during all this, Angry Robot showed interest in the book. In fact, they were going to buy it so long as a meeting with the marketing department went well.

And then, silence.

Remember what I said about silence, right?

After about three months, it was announced that Angry Robot was leaving Harper Collins UK and joining a respected independent press, which kept them alive, and which is good for they publish fine authors, some of who are my friends; but for me, the news was not so great, as you might imagine. Incidentally, I discovered another interesting tidbit during this time. According to common knowledge, a contract in the hand (or nearly so) will get you any agent you wish. Of course, what they don't say is that it will get you any agent you wish who only wishes to represent you for that moment and not a second after. I always wondered what the point of that was, really, but no matter who said that to me, it always sounded like a bad deal, and I always went and knocked on another door. Perhaps I was wrong. After all, the book never did sell, and I was soon enough door knocking without even that promise to back me up. As you can imagine, I might have been feeling a bit worn down by then.

And then, agent two. She represented high profile people like Derryn Hinch and Don Burke and was Australian. I had never had an Australian agent before (strangely, I don't have much luck in this country) and she was interested and it started well. It remained so, until, of course, the silence began. I eventually had to call her office and leave a message to be told that I was no longer represented.

For those curious, the represents about two years of door knocking, two years of ups followed by downs, two years in which a global financial crisis took place, and two years in which I have taken my knocks, felt shitty about them, then got back up. And today, again, I got knocked back down, and today, again, I get to pull myself up. I don't know how many choices I have left with Beneath the Red Sun. A few, but none of them will take me towards that moment where I can combine my art with some money. You'll not, incidentally, that I didn't say good money. You'll note that I didn't even say success. Steps have to be taken before you can have those, just like any business. You grow it and build it and you make your name and build your audience, and you enjoy what you do. If it doesn't succeed, you go back to the steps you were doing before, and you start to do it again. You don't indulge in bitterness, in anger, in envy, because none of those things are helpful to you. You look at those emotions, you nod at them, and then you tell them to go and fuck off while you get back to your love and your business and the goals you have.

Right now, I am writing a new book.

In the end, that's always the first step to trying it again.
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