As Dusty and I are apt to joke, we (and JT and RGB) share the most awesome and the most laconic agent in New York. Scott can say “I’m excited” (and mean it) in the deadliest deadpan you’re ever likely to encounter. I often wonder if he makes such great deals for his clients because editors assume from his tone that he’s so underwhelmed by their initial offers that they panic and double the price before they lose out on the deal completely.
This can be a disconcerting thing about Scott, until you get to know him. Because as we all know – writers need feedback, they need enthusiasm, they need approval, they need validation, they need, well, love.
And the truth is that we spend so little time with our agents, even on the phone, much less in person, that we tend to obsess over and parse every word they utter. And if that’s true of published authors, it seems even more true of authors seeking representation. Every rejection letter is mined for that hint of gold that means you really are the next Stephen King, or that spot-on criticism that will take the book to the next level.
Because I’m so used to working with my film agent, who is a prince among men and a gentleman among agents, I think I’m somewhat less likely than most new authors to assign baroque interpretations to what Scott has to say. It’s pretty much face value. When he says he likes something, he likes it. When he says he’s excited, he’s excited, even if his voice never rises above a monotone.
Sometimes in workshops people ask me about my first phone call with Scott, what was the most thrilling thing he said to me about THE HARROWING. And everyone is always shocked when I say the most thrilling thing he said was, “Yeah, I think I can sell this.”
But you see, I know agentspeak. It’s a very refined code, and you need to be able to interpret the nuances. And in agentspeak, “I think I can sell this” means – “I think I can sell this.”
And that’s what you want your agent to do, right? That’s their job, and you want them to feel they can get their job done with your book.
In general I find communication in the book world pretty low stress, mainly because agentspeak in publishing (and pub-speak in general) is so much less florid than Hollywoodspeak. Screenwriters are regularly assaulted with phrases that seem to be passed around in a secret manual for producers, executives and agents. Every so often there’s a new phrase that gets added to the manual and you will hear it in every meeting and on every phone call you have for months. “I have to run this up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes.” “What’s our way in?” “We need that character to have a sexier profession” (“sexy” having nothing whatsoever to do with sex). “It’s time to start thinking outside the box.” “Let’s make Chicago (Austin, Cleveland, St. Petersburg) a real character in this script.” “We’re looking for a Hallmark ending for the fly-overs.”
My theory is that editors generally know what they’re talking about, therefore they don’t have to use cryptic phrases or words du jour to communicate with their authors.
But lately a word keeps coming up from the agent and editor front that has thrown me.
The word is “fun”. As in “It’s a fun book.” “Wow, we love it, what a fun story.”
Now, I guess that wouldn’t bother me, except that I write pitch-black suspense. So “fun” isn’t a word I immediately associate with my writing, or that I would want associated with my writing. I have found myself obsessing over this word, to the point of slipping back into screenwriter neurosis. Do they mean that they want a more fun story here? Are they gently urging me toward a lighter tone? Did they actually read my first two books as comedic romps?
I know this is mental craziness. “Fun” is in all likelihood the word du jour in publishing circles. But since as authors we don’t have constant contact with a wide variety of agents and editors in the way that screenwriters have a constant contact with numerous producers and executives, we might not be as aware of the industry buzz words.
So I wondered if you guys could give me any buzz words that you’ve been picking up from your peeps. Is there a secret manual of pub-speak?
Or… gulp… do they really mean “fun” when they say “fun”?