Kirkus Review: The Crippled Angel

crucible-the-crippled-angel-1stus-editionTriumphant conclusion to The Crucible historical fantasy trilogy (The Nameless Day, 2005, etc.) in which 14th-century Europeans struggle to secure the right of free will from the angelic and demonic forces that battle for their souls.

The concept of angels and demons meddling in human affairs is nothing new, but Douglass puts a terrific spin on those familiar tropes and makes them feel fresh. The liberties taken with Christian mythology will likely offend some, but that the narrative takes chances and challenges what we know is part of what makes the storyline compelling. The prose is lucid and the characters fully realized, making for an enjoyable read.

Outstanding finale to a brilliant series.

©2005 Kirkus Reviews. To read the full review on the Kirkus Reviews website please click on this link.

Sara’s Bio: 2005

Sara Douglass not my birth name – I’m actually Sara Warneke, but if I’d been a boy I would have been called Douglass … so when my first publisher HarperCollins Australia insisted I choose a different surname to get me off the lowest shelves in bookshops, I went with ‘Douglass’ with the double ‘ss’ to feminize it.

I was born in 1957 in Penola, a small town in the south-east of South Australia. My parents, two older sisters and older brother lived on a farm called Gundealga (look out for the name in the Axis books) where Dad and Mum farmed sheep and a lot of hope. I loved the farm, and hated leaving it to go to school and, eventually, to move to the capital city of South Australia, Adelaide, when I was about seven. We moved to Fisher Street in Malvern, a southern suburb, living in an old and gently decaying bluestone Victorian house (which I still dream of regularly … it was the house where I did most of my growing up). I was packed off to school, Methodist Ladies College, which was gentle, gentile and caring, and totally oblivious to the social revolutions of the ‘sixties.

I loved school, adored it (probably because it was a wonderful escape from family life). I had a terrific group of friends there as well – hello to Robyn, Trish, Ingrid and Cathy. I had a mad, insane crush on Cat Stevens. I developed a mad, insane passion for horse riding. And I did a little writing – not much, but a little … coming second in a national essay competition on the life of horses in the circus, the rodeo and racing (I am convinced I would have won if my essay had been more politically sound). And eventually I finished school, and passed into the great wide open world.

My father Bob, and my stepmum Joan, had been gently insisting for many years that I take up the female family tradition of nursing. Oh God, I loathed it. I loathed it, and yet it took me 17 years to escape. I loathed the stress, the anxious watching of patients in bed lest they do something silly like burst an aneurysm or have a cardiac arrest, the hours. I finished my training when I was 20, and took off with a friend to Europe for about 6 months. This trip was another of the great milestones of my life. Never had I felt so free – free from family expectations, free to be myself. It was brilliant, liberating, eye-opening. When I came home I managed to find a position as a Registered Nurse (‘Sister’ here in Australia); I was Sister Sara for many, many years in a small, bizarre private hospital on East Terrace in Adelaide. While I was there I started a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Adelaide.

This BA changed my life (again!). I was amazed that people actually took my thoughts seriously, and I adored the study. To cut a long story short I completed the BA, and then did a PhD in early modern (16th century) English history. I loved and still love the University of Adelaide, not only for the people, but for its remarkable library – the Barr-Smith library. Many of my manuscripts reside there in their special collection, if you ever want to see them (and if they’ll let you). The staff club of the university remains, I swear, my spiritual home. All this time I was still working the odd weekend as a nurse to supplement my scholarships and grants, but in 1992, a year after I’d completed my PhD, I finally abandoned nursing and took a position as lecturer in medieval history in La Trobe University, Bendigo, which is in central Victoria, Australia.

I’d jumped from the frying pan into the fire. This job was the most stressful I have ever held. The interdepartmental politics, the teaching, the emphasis on research even though you never had enough time or the facilities to do it. And the house I lived in … awful. So in an effort to find a way out of that job I began writing again, seriously (very seriously, this was the only thing I could think of to save me), wrote several really awful novels, a couple of not bad ones, and then one day, sat down to begin BattleAxe. I knew by the time I was about 100 pages in that this was the novel that was going to do it for me, if any novel was. So when I was done I wrapped it up in brown paper, picked out a literary agent’s name from the Yellow Pages (Australian Literary Management), and dropped it off into the nearby postbox. Instantly I knew I had made a terrible mistake. This novel was laughable! No one would ever take it up! And the agency took 6 months of umming and ahhing before they decided to accept me. Within 6 weeks HarperCollins had picked me up … and Sara Douglass was born and the land of Tencendor took off into the stratosphere.

Since then, as of early 2005, I have written 15 novels. I have moved from Bendigo in Victoria to the house of Nonsuch in Cornelian Bay in Tasmania. I have discovered a passion or gardening, and seem to collect a few too many cats. Occasionally I write, often I haunt ebay, many days you can find me in some online forum or another, but mostly I am engaged in some fruitless endeavour to stop Nonsuch crumbling away completely into the water. What can I say? It keeps me happy.

©2005 Sara Douglass Enterprises

Frequently Asked Questions: 2005

Please note, none of these questions are in any particular order, just as they occurred to me as I was typing!

When will ‘X’ book be released in ‘X’ country?

Believe it or not, authors are the worst people to ask! I have so many different release dates for different books around the world I tend to get confused, and I am also often the last person to be told, so I have given up trying to answer this question. Please contact Tor in the USA, and HarperCollins in Australia and New Zealand for details.

When is the next book going to be released? I throw my hands up! I have no idea! *grin*

What books of yours are available in America?

As of early 2005, most of them are, or will shortly be.

As from 2007 my books will be published world wide (English speaking rights) by HarperCollins Publishers, which will make things a little easier.

Why did I change my name from Warneke to Douglass?

I had no intention of using a pseudonym when I was first accepted by HarperCollins Publishers in Australia, but they asked me (for ‘asked’, read ‘insisted’) to change my surname because a book by Warneke would go on the lowest shelves in bookshops. Only dwarves who fell over ever bought books by “W’s”. They asked me to pick a surname between D and M (go check the bookshops and see what percentage of authors are ‘strangely’ in the D-M bracket!) because this was the surname range most likely to be on the eye-level shelves. So I picked ‘Douglass’ because, had I been a boy, that would have been my name. (I added the extra ‘s’ to feminise it, but Douglass with the double ss is a fairly common name anyway.) So, if you think about it, ‘Douglass’ isn’t a pseudonym at all.

Will I continue the Tencendor series?

2005 update: Yes! No one has asked for at least 3 years, and that meant I have now been energised into actually signing a contract with HarperCollins (a world wide deal) which will see a new trilogy coming out from 2007. I’ll add details once everything is more finalised. Stardrifter and Axis will be back … (but none of the ladies, we’ll have several new femme fatales). I’ll also be incorporating Maxmilian from Beyond the Hanging Wall, and Boaz and Tirzah’s (from Threshold) descendents will be back (as the bad guys!). The trilogy is called Darkglass Mountain.

In the glossary of Enchanter under the name Moonwalker it states that this is the name Rivkah adopted when she went to live with the Icarii, there is no listing of Goldfeather. Is Moonwalker the name you were going to call Rivkah or just a mistake?

Moonwalker was Rivkah’s original name, but HarperCollins Publishers Australia (original publishers) didn’t like it, so it was changed to Goldfeather (more in keeping with the Icarii way of naming people). It was changed in BattleAxe’s glossary, but not in Enchanter, and I’ve left it there through countless editions simply because it amuses me! Not one single publisher or editor around the world has picked up on it.

Is there going to be a sequel to Threshold?

Sort of. I am combining the sequels to the Tencendor series with a sequel to Threshold. StarDrifter meets Boaz. Should be interesting. You can check out the new page for Darkglass Mountain. While you won’t see Boaz and Tirzah again, if you hang around long enough you’ll meet their son, and the Goblet of the Frogs is right back in there. I’m still not sure about Fetizzah. The jury is out on her returning.

Which is my favourite of my own books?

Threshold, because it was a special book (hard to define why – but one of the reasons was because it was such a relief to get away from High Heroic Fantasy and do something very different; also the characters were particularly wonderful to work with). I loved doing The Crucible, though, as I could indulge my love of medieval history, and I’m looking forward to The Troy Game so much you wouldn’t believe.

The violence against women (almost domestic violence romanticised) in Threshold doesn’t bother you?

No, actually. It was needed for the plot, and I think it works. No one ever comments on the violence against babies in the book (the scene of infanticide at the beginning of the book … and, may I add, a particularly gruesome form of infanticide!), so I guess the violence against women must be the ‘in’ thing to get all huffy about. Besides, the woman who is so violated is less concerned about the physical violence, as the fact that her tormentor forces her to learn to read and write – an abhorrent act in her culture, and one she interprets as a violent rape. Violence in our present society is endemic – I don’t shy away from it, whether against men, women or children.

And the theme of incest in the Tencendor books?

Oh come on, that was just plain fun! *grin* I really do like taking some of the sacred cows in modern western culture and turning them on their heads. I’m too old and tired to be consistently politically correct.

Are there any books I regret writing?

Noooo. There are a couple I might not do again if I had my time over because of the length of research that went into them versus the actual sales meant they weren’t worthwhile spending so much time on, but I’m not unhappy about any of my books circulating out there.

Do you have any say in the covers?

Yes and no. In Australia I generally work closely with the artist. For overseas publications I don’t have any say at all, although both Tor and HCP UK (for The Crucible series, at least) have commissioned wonderful covers.

Can I base an online game (MUD, MOO, whatever) on your characters and worlds?

Only if you purchase the rights to do so. Unfortunately, if you don’t purchase the games rights, then you’re breaking copyright.

Where do I get my ideas from? Where does my inspiration come from? How do I write?

See my page on my Businesslike Approach to Baths to get full details on 1) how I write and 2) where I get my ideas/inspiration from. ‘Ideas’ are the result of many months of hard work. They just don’t ‘pop up’!

Is it difficult working out the plot for a trilogy?

Writing a series can be tiring, mainly because my enthusiasm only seems to last the first two books! By the third book not only has my enthusiasm dimmed somewhat, but I am thinking ahead to my next series, and can’t wait to finish the current one to start work on the next series. Frankly, I’d like to write more stand alones, but they are not as commercially viable in the fantasy genre (apart from one or two notable exceptions) as series – readers want series not stand alones, which don’t seem to sell as well. The Troy Game, my current project, extends over 4 books, but I think I’ve solved the enthusiasm problem as there are going to be four very different books, involving different research and approaches, and that will keep the enthusiasm up. Besides, the final book, set in London during the Blitz of World War Two, is the one I’m really looking forward to!

Plotting for traditional fantasy series tends to be dense and complex, which is something I am trying now to get away from. In the Tencendor books there were plots over plots over plots and a cast of thousands to support them. I now prefer to write books and series with only one main plot, but with a few thousand red herrings thrown in to keep the surprises fresh.

Do you always know the plot for an entire series before you begin work on it?

I always know where I am starting, and I know where I will finish, but the middle book(s) are often a mystery to me to be discovered when I get there. So, I know the starting point, and I know where the series will end, but writing the bit between is a journey of discovery for me.

When is the next book coming out?

I have little to no control over this; sorry, but authors don’t control this aspect of the process.

If I send you books, will you sign them?

It’s way too cumbersome for me to do that: postage costs far too much, and I’d be constantly wandering to and from the post office. I do signings around both Australia and America from time to time, so try and catch me at one of those.

If you write snail mail to me I will generally send back signed bookmarks.

Can you interview me, or have me appear at your function?

Requests for appearances and interviews in Australia can be made through HarperCollins publicity department or through Tor in America (phone number unknown as I never ring them!). But be prepared for a “I’m sorry”. I have a heavy schedule for the next couple of years, and my spare moments are very precious (I also loathe travelling like you wouldn’t believe). I do very little promotional or appearance work compared to some authors, partly because I guard my private time very jealously, and partly because I have a wide (and widening) range of business and gardening interests that just keep me too busy (I won’t travel through the six months of the Australian summer and autumn, for example, as I need to nurse my garden too closely then). I find literary events highly tedious (why in the world so authors spend so much time talking about themselves when they are writers?), speaking engagements too difficult to get to (thank God I live in relative isolation in rural Australia!) and, basically, I prefer to concentrate on my writing, which I enjoy, and my gardening, which I enjoy even more. I don’t think much of the goings on in Constantinople at all (read Voltaire’s Candide to work out what I mean! *grin*).

Am I a witch? A Neo-Pagan? A New Ager?

No. No. No. I am a perfectly ordinary person. I will not join your coven, and I will not be your Messiah. I am distinct from my books (most authors are) and my books offer few doorways into my personal life and beliefs. I am very down to earth, very practical, too lazy to think about the greater issues of life, death and the universe, and don’t have no truck with no nonsense. *smile*

How can people from overseas get my books?

Contact Bob Hoffman at the Australian Online Bookshop if you have difficulties finding my books in your country. HarperCollins in the UK, Ernst Kabel Verlag in Germany, and Tor in the USA all have various contracts to publish my books – but I have no idea on the publication schedules, so ask them, not me!

Can you write faster?

No. I write as fast as I am able, as fast as enables me to retain my sanity, and as fast as enables me to maintain a life. I’m actually slowing down my writing – for 4 or 5 years I put out two books a year, and that’s too much. I need to slow down. From now on it will be one book a year.

Why are my books now coming out in trade paperbacks/hardback first, rather than mass market paperbacks?

Again, this is a publisher’s decision based on marketing research. Authors have no say, so ring or write to HarperCollins or Tor about it. But as to why they do it … well, it is a marketing decision, and it means a bit more money for both publisher, book seller and author. *grin*

What about that interview where you said you were thinking of moving on from writing?

Ah, the panic I caused with that! But I also stick by it – basically the interviewer noted the many changes of career I’d had in my life (nurse to medieval academic to fantasy author) and wondered what I’d do next. I said I had no idea, but that I couldn’t see myself writing for the rest of my life. That got interpreted as “Douglass is going to give up writing!”. Well … one day I will give up writing, but I don’t know when that will be – only when it no longer gets to be any fun or the ‘expectations’ start to get too onerous. At the moment I am very seriously thinking of taking a long (and maybe permanent) break from writing after The Troy Game. By then I will produced 16 novels in under 10 years, and I think I’ll be ready for the scrap heap! I am very very tired of the promotional work and the media demands, and more than anything else the degree to which I am sick to death of those two things will determine when I stop writing.

Where do the names for characters come from?

From several sources: I either make them up, or find them in medieval poetry or other source material, or even from the Bible and classical literature. For the Tencendor books many of the characters’ names came from a wonderful medieval poem called The Song of Roland – Belial, Magariz, Belaguez among others (so, no, I didn’t realise Belial was supposed to be a devil!). If I am writing in a particular ‘culture’ then I will glance at the literature from that culture: for instance, in Threshold I got names from the Bible and sundry books on Egyptology, and others I just made up on the spot.

Why did I kill/maim/be cruel to ‘x’ character?

I am going to use Ray Feist’s answer here: “Because I bloody well could”. Because I’m the author and because it felt good for me and for the integrity of the novel at the time. I don’t particularly like happy endings, and novels where no-one gets hurt occasionally makes for bland reading. Tension requires that the characters which readers get emotionally sympathetic with must occasionally die. Badly.

Recently one of my fans (Hello SinnerStar!) labeled the various nasty ends of my characters as a “Sara Fate: TM”. I rather like that! I often imagine my characters sitting in a tea room somewhere behind the scenes thinking, “Oh God, she’s running out of uses for me, I’m going to die badly very soon!”.

Sometimes a Sara Fate:TM is simply because I’m having a very, very bad day – in the initial scene in BattleAxe where the woman gives birth … well, that was supposed to be a normal birth, but I’d had SUCH a bad day at work, and by the time I got home and wrote that scene … well …

Is Faraday ever going to have a happy ending?

I would dearly like to squash her under a huge pumpkin studded with rusty twelve-inch nails so that she dies a lingering, painful death from blood poisoning and a badly leaking belly, and I reserve the right to do so any time I feel like it. (Of course, by the time you get to the end of Crusader you’ll see that that is not quite the fate I’ve given her … nevertheless, I’ve been nasty enough …)

2005 update: Faraday will not, never, no way José, ever appear in the new Tencendor series, Darkglass Mountain.

Do I like my characters?

Sometimes, sometimes not. As is apparent in the above question, I have never liked Faraday very much, and other characters I get seriously annoyed with when they won’t do what I want them to do. Basically my favourite characters are the secondary characters in any novel: Belial in The Axis Trilogy, Zabrze and Isphet in Threshold, and Baron Raby in The Crucible.

What are you going to write next?

Whatever takes my fancy, and whatever I think I might be able to sell. My mind changes from week to week about what I’ll do next. At the moment (2001-2002) I have jut completed a historical fantasy – a trilogy based around the adventures of Henry V and Joan of Arc (The Crucible). I’m currently working on the research for The Troy Game, which series should take me at least four years to write. After that … well, after that I can seriously see a life beyond writing.

2005 update: The next few years will be taken up with Darkglass Mountain.

Why are so many facts wrong in The Crucible?

Because it amused me! *grin* The Crucible is based in an alternate world and I had a huge amount of fun doing what I wanted with the characters and events, and not what I was restricted to by the dry facts of history.

Are you aware that John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford had four children and not two? This is a terrible error!

The fuss over my giving Gaunt and Swynford only two children instead of four has caused me the greatest astonishment. So many die-hard romantics have written to me telling me I had it all wrong. I think there must be a Gaunt/Swynford Appreciation Society out there somewhere. So, yes, I am and have been always very well aware that they had four children instead of two, but I had no role for four children – I only needed two. The number of semi-hysterical people who have demanded I correct this has amazed me – why is it so important? There are so many other deviations from fact in The Crucible (most far far worse than eliminating two children for the sake of plot), yet this is the only one that seems to bother people. Heck, I have Christ clambering down from his cross and having sex in an alleyway off Cheapside, but no one cares about that … no, I must give John and Katherine the correct number of children, and I must do it now!

Is there going to be a film version of …’whatever’?

I am not particularly concerned about seeing my books turned into films and don’t chase the possibility down. I have no desire to sell the film rights of a novel to see it be massacred for the sake of Hollywood and for zilch returns (authors do badly out of film rights). I’ve had some discussions with directors/producers, but nothing has come of it.

Why don’t I try and get my initial unpublished novels published?

Because I know they’re awful. They were my ‘learning pieces’ and every writer needs them – but not to try to get published. Garth Nix once described the early novels that every writer need to write (and which will never get published) as the booster rockets/stages for space craft. They’re critical for getting you into space, but you never reuse them. Once written, they’ve served their purpose and are never looked at again.

Who do I most like reading? (Who is my favourite author?)

I don’t read much fantasy (many SF and fantasy authors never read in their genre). I honestly have no idea what’s out there at the moment, or know what today’s ‘trends’ are. I sat on a panel with 2 international fantasy authors recently, and they also sat bewildered when asked what fantasy they liked. They just don’t read it. Of fantasy authors, I have enjoyed Tad Williams and some of Ray Feist’s books the most. It would be easier for me to say who I didn’t like … but that wouldn’t be diplomatic!

As far as relaxation goes, I read a great deal of nonfiction (mainly in historical or archeological fields) and I’m only now beginning to appreciate crime writing – Ruth Rendell in her guise as Barbara Vine is one of my favourite fiction authors, but Elizabeth George is also a favourite, as is Laurie R King. I can see myself taking up crime writing one day …

Which authors most influenced me as a writer?

Again, this one always stumps me. I am not aware of any one or any several authors influencing me. I read everything I could get my hands on for the first half of my life, and I guess most of it influenced me in some manner, but I can’t think of a single major one.

What are my hobbies?

Well … gardening and books, really. I also enjoy playing about on the computer a fair bit. Gardening is a fairly new love, one I learned when I brought my first house (with the aid of the advance from the Australian edition of The Wayfarer Redemption) in 1996. For the past 4 or 5 years I have spent just about every spare moment digging up flower beds, and re-digging up flower beds, and cornering fellow-fantasy authors in dark corners at conventions and discussing composting in great detail (some people now run whenever they see me). Gardening is my greatest love. You can follow my gardening adventures at Nonsuch Garden.

But then books have always been a great love as well. With the success of my own books I can now afford to collect in a way I never could previously. At the moment I am building up a library on medieval London. My growing library is also one of my biggest headaches – where do they all go? I desperately need more wall space for more bookcases … (Update on the desperate need for bookcases: Sept. 2001 – I have finally contacted a local cabinet maker and he is to build for me a fully installed library – 9 foot high glass fronted book cases in gothic style – I can’t wait until they’re in!).

How does someone become a writer?

Through very hard work and through years of practice. Writing is a craft as much as dentistry is, or as much as carpentry is, but many would-be authors simply think it is a matter of throwing words on to a page. People are prepared to train as a carpenter, or a dentist, but think they can instantly become a writer. Writing is many, many years of solitary writing and many more years of disappointments. Mostly, is it about learning the craft of grammar and style, and learning how to distance yourself from your work so you can learn from your mistakes. Novice or amateur writers tend to think of writing as an emotional experience, a talent that simply bubbles to the surface. It’s nothing like that at all. Writing is as mundane a job, and as hard and as sometimes even as boring, as going in to the office every morning. If you’re in love with the romantic idea of being a writer, then get over it! It is hard grinding work most of the time. See my pages on Writing for more details.

Should I approach a publisher directly, or should I get an agent?

Tough question, and it will differ from situation to situation and from country to country. Authors always get asked this, and every author will give you a different answer. Publishing is a tough industry to crack, but the best way is to a) be professional and b) be good (and that means the hard years put in learning skills). Some people succeed without an agent, some with. See my section on Publishing and Writing for details on agents and more …

If you don’t have an agent then it is always a good idea to get someone ( a professional, please, not your best friend!) to look over your contract for you or give you some advice on it (a contract lawyer would be your best bet). I know a well known fantasy author who has never had an agent or a lawyer – she told me she trusts her publishers implicitly. She shouldn’t – from what she’s told me of her contracts she’s been taken for a long and appalling ride. Publishers will try and get the best contract possible – for them. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. I also know a first time author, no agent, who has by herself negotiated with a major publisher a contract that many authors with agents would be envious of.

How do I get an agent?

Get lists from writer’s societies, or search the WWW for lists (search for ‘literary agents’ on a search engine … I’ve seen the lists out there, but can’t remember where they are). Some agents are now so overwhelmed by manuscripts that they don’t advertise by traditional means (e.g. phone books). They know that if a writer is professional enough, they will find the agent, and agents don’t want to know about the unprofessional. Whatever, pick an agent who is still taking on clients and who likes to work in your area. Agents generally charge between 15% to 25% commission.

What’s better to write, short stories or novels?

Whichever takes your fancy. Most writers tend to start out writing short stories and then slowly graduate on to novels. This is a good idea for one major reason: if you are writing short stories, you’ll have the benefit of finishing a piece, learning from it, then going on to the next piece and doing better. Novice writers who start out on a trilogy first are probably never going to make it because they will never finish, learn, move on. I started my fantasy writing on a trilogy, true, but I was also a professional writer beforehand with numerous published and non-published works (including seven or eight novels). My first published fiction book, BattleAxe, was the result of fifteen years of practice. Short stories are a very good way to get that practice. Fantasy and SF magazines in Australia and overseas are fairly far and far between. Try Eidolon and Aurealis (both of which have web sites – I can’t remember where they are now, but if you do a search you’re bound to find them), but be aware that they get many thousands of stories a year, it takes them ages to get through, and they’ll probably only take 20 of the three or four thousand they get.

What’s the best way to succeed as a writer?

1. Be professional in everything you do. No-one needs to deal with enthusiastic amateurs when there are heaps of professional writers around.

2. Know how to write. Learn your craft. Don’t just throw words on a page and think they look cute and that because your husband/sister/best friend also thinks they look cute that you don’t need to do any more work. Family and friends are the very worst critics you will ever have. Be prepared to write 3 or 5 novels before you get to something that might be worth something.

3. Find a genre that suits your skills: your favourite genre may not be the best one for you to actually work in. For instance, I adore military adventure, thrillers, but I can’t write them. On the other hand, fantasy is only of mild interest for me, but I know how to write it well. Experiment a bit.

4. Research your market. For instance, what are the current trends in fantasy? What publishers in what country publish what kind of material? What do they look for? A hint: if you have a dragon, a dark lord or a bevy of gnomes, elves and dwarves, you might not have much of a chance. Most editors right now are sick to death of hackneyed fantasy characters and plots. Dragons will almost certainly get you rejected every time. Tolkien may have been the master, but editors hate hopeful writers who can’t think out something original for themselves (and Tolkien-imitations are now so numerous and so boring that no-one wants to read them). Also, make sure your women characters are very strong: most editors in the field are women, and if they see simpering, shallow female characters you’ll never make it to the short list! Don’t write in clichés, unless you know what you are doing and you are very good.

See also my section of Writing and The Publishing World for some other advice. That’s about all the advice I can give you – if you want more, most areas in the western world (as the Internet) are overpopulated with writing courses, associations, groups etc. and any one of those would be glad to help.

Will you read my book/chapter/short story/poem?

No, for varying reasons. Legally, it is a minefield for me to do so because it could easily open me to charges of plagiarism at a later date. Reading someone else’s novel takes a lot of time as well – I simply don’t have the time to take a week off to read and comment on your work. Be professional, send it to an agent, writer’s society, freelance editor etc. for comment. I receive many requests to read material, and while I wish you all the best of luck and appreciate how hard it can be to ‘break through’, I can’t do it for you.

Why don’t I put up reviews?

Because I just don’t have the time to type them up, because some reviewers have objected, but largely because I don’t have time to read reviews. I don’t think I’ve read one of them in 2 or 3 years.

How do I feel about reviews?

I don’t feel much about them at all. Good reviews are fine, and so are bad ones. I often have a good laugh at the motives reviewers attribute to me (reviewers write for themselves more than for anyone else). Genre readers generally don’t read reviews, so they make little to no difference to sales. The reviews that do matter to me are those that are passed down the 9 am tram: “What did you do over the weekend, Jim?” “Well, I read this great book …” My agent once told me that word of mouth sold more books than anything else, and she was right.

©2000-2005 Sara Douglass Enterprises

More about Agents

Editors note: This is an updated/expanded version of To Agent or Not, both are relevant and have been included for that reason.

Some authors have agents, some don’t; some people succeed with agents, some without. Whether or not you decide to go it alone or to try to get published via an agent will be entirely up to you.
It basically comes down to what you want.

First, however, what will a literary agent do for you?

A literary agent negotiates rights on your behalf (whether they be book, film, radio … whatever). He or she also scouts opportunities for you (in whatever form they may take) and often helps to organise publicity for you (although that is not normally part of his or her role). An agent, basically, acts as an adviser to you, and acts as a buffer between you and the torrid outside world of publishing. For this, the agent will take a percentage of your income (which generally ranges somewhere between 10% to 25%). You need to understand that if an agent negotiates rights on your behalf, for a percentage of all income from the sale or leasing of those rights, then the agent will continue to receive that percentage whether you are still his or her client or not. You can leave an agent whenever you wish … but that agent will continue to collect a percentage on all deals he or she has negotiated for you. Some parts of the traditional agenting system are cumbersome. For instance, if you have as your primary agent an Australian agent, then that agent will then subcontract agents in other countries to handle your work there. That means more fees (thus the 25% rate, some goes to your primary agent, other percentages of it go to various subagents), and more distance between you and the publisher. Rather than contracting with a primary agent who then subcontracts in other countries you might like to think about contracting agents in different countries each at a reasonably low commission. This can be difficult to do, however, and most authors seem to go with the primary agent and (cumbersome) subagent system. There are two alternatives to using an agent: do it yourself, or use a contract lawyer. If you do all the negotiations yourself then you get all monies resulting from the deal; if you use a lawyer then the lawyer will generally charge a flat fee for the negotiations and you then keep all royalties that roll in.

Traditionally authors have used agents. Today, however, once authors have established themselves some do move to managing themselves without an agent. If you’ve got a well-known name, and you’re saleable, then you might very well be better off without one (if you’re not well known, and don’t already have a foot, an arm and a leg in the door, then you’re better of with than without!). Agents’ commissions range from between 10% to 25% … and if there is little work involved in selling a good name … then some authors reason they can do without losing that percentage of their income. Another potential problem with agents in today’s rapidly changing publishing world (especially with etexts) is that a traditional contract might really tie your hands in your ability to make free use of some of the new media opportunities. If you’re contracting with an agent make sure the contract doesn’t tie you down so much you can’t take advantage of electronic opportunities.

You could also choose to have an agent in one territory, but not in another. For example, you might like to look after your own affairs within your own home territory (your own home country), but have agents for overseas territories with which you are not familiar. Typically, for instance, authors in Australia might look after their Australian affairs, but contract an agent to work for them within the USA. The publishing world is currently changing at a very rapid rate – do your homework, see what’s on offer, work out what will be best for you. Again, I add the proviso that if you’re just starting out you may have little choice in what kind of agent or agenting agreement you are offered.

©2002 Sara Douglass Enterprises