Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

The Value of Awesome Agents

Agents rule. Good agents, anyway. Actually, I’ve never worked with a good agent; I only have awesome ones.

I was talking with a friend the other day who asked me what it was like to be this model of self-publishing success. Am I? I wanted to know. This was news to me. But I’ve had my head so buried in my work that I haven’t really taken a look at the landscape in a while. It took my wife Googling me the other night and listing all the references to the UK and film deals, all the comparisons to 50 Shades of Grey. Comparisons which, incidentally, didn’t get either of us hot and bothered in the good way.

The mentions she found seemed to corroborate what my friend was saying. Shit. People are lumping me in with John Locke and Amanda Hocking. But . . . but . . . those cats are MILLIONAIRES! I’m not one of them. But maybe I do have some responsibility as the limelight swings over me for a moment like one of those powerful beams operated by prison guards.

So let me tell you how these most recent deals came together. With kick-ass agents. Those paragons of the old way of doing things. And I happen to have some of the absolute best in the business working with me (not for me, btw. It totally feels like a team thing).

First off is Kristin Nelson. Kristin became my agent in the coolest of fashions. One of her staff got turned onto Wool by her mother and kept raving about it at work. Kristin picked it up, was partway through the second book, when she fired off an email saying she wanted to talk to me. After an hour-long Skype session, I knew this was the agent I needed in my corner. First off, I recognized her name in the email. She’s that big. And she is aware of the changing landscape more keenly than any person I’ve talked to. Many of her clients have gone through situations similar to mine, and she’s been dealing patiently with publishers who are slow to adapt to the sudden explosion in options that authors face.

What Kristin did very well was establish a top-notch team of co-agents that she has worked with on many other projects. Gray Tan represents my work in Asia. This literary genius did the translation of A Game of Thrones into Chinese. I’ve received emails from other agents in his region who look up to him like a rockstar. Gray has been on top of things from day 1, landing very exciting deals.

Jenny Meyer represents WOOL everywhere else. The deal she struck in Brazil blew me away. And then she went to work in the UK and navigated every twist and turn with stunning ease. I wish I could divulge all the myriad little issues that came up and how she dealt with them. It was stunning. And because of those efforts and Kristin’s guidance, we ended up with the absolute best deal imaginable in the UK and Commonwealth territories. Random House and Century Press would not have happened without her.

Then there’s Kassie Evashevski at United Talent. Kassie is a monster. A very pretty monster, I’m sure, but a monster. Having her on my side meant I could be pleasant with every party that showed interest, knowing she would have my back and protect me when I overextended myself. Again, there were some tricky and unusual obstacles to overcome, and we went unorthodox routes at times to keep options open and give ourselves a chance at the best deal possible, and I feel confident that we couldn’t have done any better. Ridley Scott, Steve Zaillian, and 20th Century Fox are a credit to Kassie and Kristin as much as to my writing. That’s not false modesty, people, that’s an honest assessment. There’s no way I would have attracted this attention on my own.

As great as it is to feel independent and to accept kudos from people who think this is a one-man show, that has never been the case. It starts with my wife beta-reading, my mother editing, my contributing readers and editors who help me polish up my drafts, and even the new cover art from guys like Mike Tabor. And of course, the most important bit, the word of mouth and participation of you all. The reviews. The buzz. The Tweets and Facebook posts. I’m not sure if it should be called self-publishing or selves-publishing. I know this: I wouldn’t be where I am right now without my incredible agents. They are, each of them, the tops. So stay away. You can’t have them.

5 replies to “The Value of Awesome Agents”

That is good to know. Writers have amazing opportunities opening up with indie publishing and smart agents will survive the e-revolution :)

Thanks for the behind-the-scenes detail. I was really hoping when things calmed down a bit that you would give us a feel for how the team was put together and the blow-by-blow account, including your reactions, as the snowball picks up pace. This kind of stuff is fascinating to read about.

I’m super happy about all your success here. Wool is one of the finest books I’ve ever read…

Thank you for sharing more of the process, and for acknowledging the contributions of your agents. I don’t recall another writer ever doing that.

Or this title… “The Value of Not Just Being a Good Writer”. I would bet that most writers would have blown their chances of success, put in your shoes. You took the time to learn the business as well as how to write great books, so you knew when to say “no” and who to say “yes” to. I’m not saying the people ‘you’ve chosen’ to be around you don’t deserve their props, they certainly do, but you did choose them.

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