Thursday, January 27, 2005


I mentioned the 'writer's resource' site Backspace a while back. As such sites go, this one is far better than most. It offers, for example, Parts I and II of Richard Curtis's excellent analysis of modern publishing and its problems; though there is no sign of Part III as of this writing.

Today I happened to notice that Backspace also offers an interesting interview with the New York agent Deborah Schneider, who represents quite a few of the leading crime writers. She is interviewed by Jan Burke, who is herself a successful crime writer; she is a former winner of an Edgar, which, if you don't know, is the crime-writing equivalent of an Oscar.

Burke's interview with Schneider originally appeared in The Third Degree, which is the newsletter of the Mystery Writers of America organisation. You have to be a published writer to join MWA. I used to be a member but gave up at about the same time as I left all those other interesting but time-consuming and expensive (in membership fees) clubs and societies that one seems to accumulate in a working lifetime.

Schneider has much good sense to offer. Of course, if you're as old as I am you will have heard most of it before, but we must remember that there is always someone reading it for the first time. And boy, do those people ever need to be told. Here is a sample:

Getting published will not solve all your life’s problems; having a good story is not the same as being a good writer; we’re reading dozens of manuscripts a week, some of which are a priority, and even if we want to get back to you quickly with an answer, we can’t always—if you’ve dropped off your novel on a Friday, please don’t call on a Monday and ask if we’ve read it yet; there’s no parity in the marketplace: just because your best friend got a six figure advance doesn’t mean that you are entitled to the same; agents do not shape the marketplace, they sell to it; grammar, punctuation and spelling matter.

Quoting this extract is probably a breach of the copyright laws (or that's what Backspace would have me believe) but I think I'll risk it.

Backspace also offers a selection of articles by other leading lights. There is M.J. Rose, of course -- she gets everywhere. Ethan Ellenberg has an interesting piece about impulse buying. There's an interview with 'John Case' which makes the point that if you want a big commercial success you have to aim at those people who are right at the margin in terms of reading abililty -- those who often struggle to finish a book of any kind. And then there's Gerard Jones, who gets to do his usual party piece on advice to writers. If you haven't read yet it you should. Gerard is a one-off and I admire him enormously.


Karen Dionne said...

Wow, Michael - thanks for pointing your readers toward Backspace. We're always looking for more great content and have some wonderful articles in the pipeline. Simon Lipskar's currently writing an article for us on the challenges of the second novel, and Merrillee Heifetz is writing on growing an author's career (citing her experiences with Neil Gaiman and Laurell K. Hamilton as examples: "As an agent, I look for authors I can develop over time...a career I can manage and bring to the next level. I started representing Neil Gaiman when he wrote comic books and now he's a NYT Bestseller. When I took on Laurell K. Hamilton she was still being published in paperback only and now each book is a bestseller in hardcover. (Her most recent, INCUBUS DREAMS just hit the list at #2.) This takes patience and attention and finding authors with a unique voice that I believe can have a broad appeal."). Backspace doesn't have a set publishing schedule, but we try to put up a few new articles about twice a month. (If readers would like to be alerted to new material, they can subscribe to our newsletter off the home page.)

Regarding when we'll see Richard's third installment, he assures me he's working on it: "I'm wrestling mightily with the third piece and will continue the contest this weekend till one of us cries "Uncle!" And it won't be me. It's just that there's a lot of material that must be condensed and articulated."

Of course, that was two weeks ago . . .

BTW - we love Gerard too. His publisher offered to write a piece for us from his perspective. He says "the process of publishing Gerard has been a unique one." I'll just bet it was!

Oh yes - and it was Jan who wanted that rather prominent copyright warning, but don't worry - I won't tell. ;)

Anyway, thanks for noticing Backspace, and for giving the site such a nice plug.

Karen Dionne, Administrator, Backspace (

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