Howard Andrew Jones’s debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls (Thomas Dunne Books 2011), was widely acclaimed by influential publications like Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly, where it was labeled “a splendid flying-carpet ride.” It made Kirkus’ New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Additionally, The Desert of Souls was a finalist for the prestigious Compton Crook Award, and a featured selection of The Science Fiction Book Club. Its sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, is available now. He is hard at work on a third historical fantasy novel as well as a sequel to his Pathfinder Tales novel, Plague of Shadows.
Offer in hand, it was a little simpler to go looking for an agent, a search made even simpler because of friends I’d made over the years who already had agents themselves. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it once more, and I’ll say it again ‘til my sayer is sore — if you want to succeed in the industry you must become involved in the industry. Go to conventions. Write editors who publish work you like. Read fiction in the magazines where you’re published and reach out to writers whose work you’ve enjoyed. Read slush. Write reviews. Become part of the community.
I couldn’t help getting involved — I loved the fantasy genre and wanted to be a part of it. What I didn’t realize at first was that I was laying down lines of communication that would later serve me well. Friends I had made early on had agents, so that when I needed one I was quickly able to be introduced. I chose between two very fine fellows, and now work with the talented Bob Mecoy.
I’ve read a lot of advice about how writers don’t need agents. It could be that the advice is right if you already know what you’re doing and are good with business. Like much writer advice, though, mileage will vary. I’m a writer who needs an agent. I have my hands full writing and promoting, thanks. I like to be able to lean on someone to handle the other stuff, someone who is experienced with publishing and, someone who, frankly, is a helluva lot better at negotiating things.
A good agent is your business partner, not your new best friend, although after a few years together I consider Bob a friend of mine. A good agent not only can offer solid career advice, open doors, and negotiate contracts, they can offer plotting help when an editor’s shot down part of your story arc. Not every agent can do that, but mine can.
Once I was working with Bob, and the contract was signed, it was time to start on some revisions, and to start talking about promotions. St. Martin’s sent me a long questionnaire asking me what authors and editors I knew, whose writing I thought my book might be like, how I thought the text could be marketed, etcetera. It was pretty thorough, and I didn’t understand at first that this was the opening stage of the whole marketing process. A good publisher wants your take on things, though they will be using their own sources as well.
I suppose I should stop now and talk about traditional publishing over self publishing. You hear a whole lot about the benefits of self-publishing, and there are a myriad of them. But too often I see people talk those up and denigrate traditional publishing. My experience with the older method has been a good one. If I’m lucky in agents, I’m likewise fortunate in editors, because
Pete Wolverton is heavily invested in his books. He wants to bring out the best in the novels he edits His feedback is helpful, thoughtful, and in tune with the work. Sometimes it almost seems like he knows the characters better than I do (occasionally he’s sent me a note like “that doesn’t sound like Dabir,” then explains why, and he’s always right).
Granted, not all traditional publisher still employs editors like Pete. Mine does, and my work is better for it. It’s not just editing, though that should count for a lot. My publisher has an entire legal wing that shuts down e-pirates, who can, and do, pop up like whack-a-moles to give away free copies of the book I spent a year writing and a couple of decades honing my craft to be able to write. My publisher has a promotional team with vast connections and the ability to send a WHOLE LOT of copies out for review.
Anyway, back to the process. Before I knew it, the book was going to be printed in an advanced review copy, or ARC, and the marketing phase was about to start. I was to discover I had become a small business owner without even knowing it.