Wednesday, May 26, 2010

...and back to Egypt we go!

Well, well! The past 24 hours have been a buzz of memorable activity in Libbieland.

Item 1: A bird pooped in my eye for the first time ever; I had to clean out my eye with potent alcohol wipes. This is not an experience I recommend at all, my friends. Not only is it patently gross for an animal to defecate directly into one's eye, but swabbing your eyeball with alcohol hurts like the dickens. However, I know enough of my profession to know that bird feces + mucous membrane = zoonotic disease. I'm not sure WHAT kinds of zoonosis might be contracted via eyeball, but I wasn't about to find out. Being around birds is generally safe for healthy people, but coming into such intimate contact with bird poop is generally not. I was quick to stick a disinfectant wipe in my eye, though, so I am not worried.

To those of you who think zoo keeping is all snuggling baby animals and frolicking in khaki, I am really not kidding when I say it's about 90% dealing with feces. The other 10% is wiping your eyeballs out with alcohol.

Normally, such an experience would be enough to ruin my day. However, just minutes before having my eye rudely bombed, I received an interesting email from Natalie, the Most Awesome Agent Ever, which brings me to

Item 2: Several days back, we received a very encouraging, very complimentary rejection of my historical novel from NAL. They said they liked my writing and liked certain aspects of the book, but didn't love the middle part, which was enough to cause them to pass on it. They did, however, invite Natalie to send along anything else I'd written. Wow! Very complimentary indeed! I was quick to let Natalie know that I don't have any other novels completed, but I do have a literary novel partially written (needs a lot of work, though) as well as the synopses for two more Egyptian historicals, plus about 20,000 words of Book 2 (which I have given the working title Egypt 2.0).

I sure as heck didn't expect they'd be interested in reading any of that. They were, though. The editor requested the synopsis and completed pages for Egypt 2.0. And I basically floated around on a Natalie Fisher-shaped cloud of joy for the rest of the day. Even the eyebomb couldn't sour my mood.

Now, I am not expecting that NAL will want to buy my unfinished historical novel just based on a synopsis and a bit of preliminary writing. That kind of thing really only happens with established authors who've already proven readers are willing to shell out cashola for their stories. I am taking this for exactly what it is: a wonderful compliment and a very fun and memorable feather in my cap. It is extremely encouraging that an editor at a major house is willing to look at my unfinished book, and all I'm expecting to get out of this is encouragement and a little much-needed revving of my motor.

That being said, I am going to spend the day polishing the hell out of those 20,000 words and the synopsis. Then I'm going to write up a cover letter that my agent can choose to send or not, as she sees fit, describing recent discoveries in Egyptology that bear on Hatshepsut's life, and pointing out the reissuing of Pauline Gedge's Child of the Morning. Now is, I believe (though I do have limited knowledge of the industry) a good time to be marketing a novel about Hatshepsut. So even though I don't expect NAL to buy Egypt 2.0, I am still going to use everything in my skill arsenal to convince them!

This is a good time to reiterate my feelings about agents. If I were another person observing the early development of the career of Libbie Hawker, this incident alone would be enough to convince me to put the time and effort into obtaining a really good agent. Natalie is serious, driven, intelligent, and working for a major agency, which is an indicator that she's the real deal. She has a personality that clicks with my own; we work together well. She has taste in writing that is similar to mine. This door to NAL is one that would never have opened for me if not for Natalie's influence. Whether the book sells to NAL or not, this is an opportunity I couldn't have had without an agent. And this is only one of the many wonderful things my agent has made happen for me.

I hang out enough on Absolute Write to know that fiction writers are split by two camps. Some think agents are the only way to go. Others seem to be rebelling against the current "trend" (I believe it's not a trend but a sea change) of needing an agent to break into fiction. They want to do it without an agent. Or they've received a few rejections from agents and have decided they're done with searching. That's well and good -- they can take any path that feels right to them. But I know my tent is staked out very firmly in Camp Agent. This experience with the partial request has only firmed my belief that agents are the best way to a serious career for any fiction author who isn't already established.

So it looks like I'm back in 18th-Dynasty Egypt once more! I went to work on Baptism for the Dead because I needed to air out my brain, which was feeling stuffed with natron and linen. Now I'm pretty jazzed up to get back into the book, though, and give it a little spit-shine. I'll try to update more frequently in the coming weeks to let you know, O Blog Followers, how it goes.


  1. I'm with you in Camp Agent. When it comes to print books, that's the path I want to take. At the moment, in ebooks? They pay the bills, but when it comes to breaking into a bigger market, agents are the way to go.

    And I'm so keen to read your Egypt novels. You've hit on one of a few time periods I drool over when it comes to new fiction (the others being the Wars of the Roses and Tudor England).

  2. Camp Agent is definitely the place to be, at least in my book. Congrats on that feather in your cap- that's a good one!

    Welcome back to Egypt!

  3. Oh, yeah, there's nothing wrong with ebooks. They're pretty cool, actually. I like 'em. It's just a shame that they don't pay as well as print books (yet). And I imagine once they do start paying as well, you'll need an agent to break into them, as well! Arrgh!!

    I'm referring more to the folks who want to get to a solid career in writing (as in, no day job) and want to get there without an agent. It's possible, but boy is it an uphill battle!

  4. I'm not sure we'll ever see a time when ebooks pay as well as print - the overheads are less leading to the author getting a higher percentage of royalties, but that's a different discussion.

    Readers are a tactile lot, when it comes to books at least, and lovely though ebooks are, there's still nothing like the smell of paper and ink.

    But anyway, regarding agents - in the Writer's & Artist's Yearbook, under the heading "Do I really need an agent?" it's phrased succinctly. "Unless you're an accountant, lawyer, publicist, publisher AND writer all at once...then yes. You need an agent."

    Because ebooks are a much smaller market, a writer doesn't have much to worry about but definitely, when you're aiming for print? You need that extra person on your team. A gatekeeper AND cheerleader.

  5. Libbie, a near-miss like that rejection is a Good Thing. You're energized and you're going to write an even better book.

    I love that you're back in Egypt. I'm not the Egyptophile you are, but I understand how it happens. I have a character in my Venice book say, "It's always been much easier to get into Egypt than to get out again." I have another WIP about the Napoleonic French, and that one spends a lot of time in Egypt too. Both books, at some point, feature headless mummies. I swear I wasn't trying to do that.

    Anyway great news and good luck with your next sub!

    But sorry to hear about the bird poop.

  6. Headless mummies are a good thing!

    I am feeling very energized. And I was pleased to see that the synopsis/story for the second book is still feeling pretty solid to me. It is all polished and ready to go -- now, I'm cleaning up the 20,000 words. I'd like to get them to my agent by 5:00 p.m. tonight, though that may not be possible.

    I feel maybe the story has started in the wrong place, but since I'm really not expecting NAL to buy my book based on the partial and the synopsis, I'm not going to trip out about it. I'll just give it the old college try and let whatever wants to happen happen. :)

  7. Sorry about the poop! Zoology was one of several sciences I considered in my teens. Then I forgot to finish college and have a career.

    Nice blog! I know you from AW, and my heart is in the anti-Agent camp, but I recognize the reality that I'll probably need one (once I've got a novel ready to go). But I hate the idea that I have to have one.

  8. No worries, Manuel -- I forgot to finish college, too. ;) Actually, I am very proud of the fact that am self-educated yet I am working my way up in a career field that usually requires a degree. I know the world at large tends to form certain opinions of those of us who never finished or never went to college, but some of the most intelligent people I personally know are those who never finished college, or never attended at all.

    I can understand hating the idea that one HAS to have an agent. But when you take the time to find a really good one, it doesn't feel like "have to," it feels like "get to!" Natalie and I really do work fabulously together.