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Interview by Ciara Grey
Fiction Factor - Do you have a literary agent to represent you?
Elizabeth Haydon - Yes. My agent is Richard Curtis.
FF - Would you recommend that new authors try to find an agent first or approach the publishers directly.
EH - I tend to recommend the agent route, because an agent can give you advice about what needs to be fixed before an editor sees it. Also there are a lot of editors in genre fiction who only rarely even look at stuff that comes in over the transom. But if you can't find one to take you on at first, cultivate an editor and go directly to him/her. Once you're published, it's easier to find an agent to agree to represent you in future sales.
FF - What precautions should an author take when signing a contract with an agent and/or publisher?
EH - Agents should never charge a reading fee, and if they are members of the AAR (Association of Authors Representatives) they should follow accepted practices with their contracts. Don't get into a situation where your agent is charging you "editing" fees, and make sure that you have a time limit on the prospective part of your relationship. Ideally it should contain a clause that says, for example, if the agent has not procured a sale for you within one year's time, the agreement is void.
As for publishers, various writers guilds have a wealth of information about current standards and publishing trends. Some examples of these are RWA [romance] and SFWA [science fiction/fantasy]. They keep current on issues like electronic rights and print-on-demand. I suggest checking out their websites before signing an unagented contract.
FF - Who handled the negotiations for the screenplay to 'Rhapsody'?
EH - Richard (Curtis) did.
FF - Was it difficult retaining creative rights? How much control did you retain?
EH - Control, almost none. Input, a huge amount. You have to be a mega-big hitter to command creative control. I considered myself lucky that I am contractually allowed review and creative input.
FF - Besides editing did you have writing experience in other areas before publishing 'Rhapsody'?
EH - Yes, I've done a good deal of production work too. As an editor I've ended up doing a great deal of writing, but RHAPSODY was my first novel.
FF - Do you think being an editor helped you in your writing?
EH - Yes and no. When I get comments about how tightly written the book is, I am sure that comes from having an editorial background, and I also have enough understanding of the process not to ask for things that are impossible. But it also tends to limit the overflowing font of creativity I once had. I often wish I could write with abandon like I used to and go back to clean it up afterwards, instead of obsessing editorially as I write. While it has helped my writing in some ways, in other ways I think being an editor has limited me as a writer. I struggle to overcome it all the time.
FF - What inspires you to write?
EH - Hmmm. Lots of things. Music. Conversations. Traveling. Poetry. Nature. But mostly I find inspiration on my lawn tractor. I have a very large yard that overlooks a beautiful valley, and I love getting out and mowing. When I'm in the midst of all that noise I hear things clearly in my head.
FF - Have you ever suffered from writer's block? If so, how did you
EH - I force myself to put words down on paper, even if I think they are going to stink. I can always throw them away, but you can't make a call on something you don't have. I don't think I've ever had full-scale writer's block, at least not yet.
FF - My Senior Editor likes me to ask this question: (she sure does - ed.) How did you get published as a new author?
EH - By accident. It's probably not a good story to tell to writers, since it was a "win the lottery" kind of situation, a freak event of luck that probably could not be repeated.
Here, by the way, is my standard advice to novice writers who ask me how to become better at the craft:
- Try as many new things as you can.
- Look carefully at everything around you, no matter how mundane, so that you will learn to describe it.
- Use your senses-concentrate on smells, tastes, feelings, sounds and sights.
- Read a lot.
- Play with words and appreciate them-subscribe to something like that free "word of the day" service on the Net- www.wordsmith.org.
- Travel whenever you can, and keep an open mind about everything you see. In fact, keep an open mind about everything.
- Love people.
- Show, don't tell.
- If you're reluctant to start, or don't feel like writing today, or experiencing writer's block, just put your ass in the seat and write something anyway.
FF - Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.
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