Monday, June 3, 2013

What I Learned About Writing By Writing, Part 6

The James Bond gig ended at the end of 2002. I'd "had my six." :)

What to do next? It had been an exciting but turbulent seven years in Bondage but I really wanted to write my own original novels. Peter Janson-Smith had served as my literary agent during the Bond years (he was Agent #3), but he handled only the Bond work. So the first order of business was finding a new agent. At that time, agents were still a necessary element of being a published author.

I quickly found that even though I had established myself in a major way as the latest Bond author, I was still starting over from scratch. The Bond credentials easily got my foot in the doors of agents and publishers, but that history also served, in a way, to pigeonhole me. For the first several years after the Bond gig, editors compared any work I did to the type of books the Bonds were and seemed to have blinders on regarding anything else I attempted. 

Agent #4 appeared and solicited me (it was kind of nice having it go the other way) so I signed up. He immediately tried to sell the second original thriller I had written, a piece entitled Face Blind. The first original thriller, Evil Hours, had actually been written during the Bond years and I had tried to sell it myself. No New York publisher was interested; however, a company experimenting in e-books and a website featuring serial novels (remember, this was the years 2000-2001, prior to the real advent of e-books as a phenomenon) approached me for material. I sold them Evil Hours, which was published as an e-book, print book, and serial novel. And then the company quickly went out of business! Luckily, I was able to retrieve the rights.

Well, no one was interested in Face Blind either, but another publisher--based in the UK--was experimenting with Print-On-Demand books as well as e-books. That was a very new concept and Agent #4 convinced me that this was a way of the future and we should do that. So both Face Blind and Evil Hours (slightly revised) were published in this manner. Needless to say, it was too early in the world of publishing for POD and e-books to be successful. They had no visibility and went nowhere.

Agent #4 and I parted ways after two years. It hadn't worked out, although there were no bad feelings. However, around the same time (it was 2004 by then), one of those magical, unexpected career-doors opened for me. The editor who had worked on my Bond books at Penguin/Putnam called and offered me the job of creating two tie-in thrillers based on the very popular videogame Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell. It had been a while since I'd been involved in the gaming industry, and while I knew of the game, I'd never played it. It was work-for-hire, and the money was good, so I accepted. There was one hitch--I had to use a pseodonym... "David Michaels"... which was created by the publisher and Clancy's agent (who happened to be the Hollywood powerhouse, Michael Ovitz). The reason for this was because the publisher wanted to do an entire line of Clancy tie-ins written by several authors, but the marketing strategy was that they would appear to be written by the same person (there have since been, I think, four "David Michaels's"). I accepted the job and wanted a new agent to broker the deal.

By then I had written my third original thriller, Sweetie's Diamonds, so through a friend's referral, I spoke to a reputable agent and said, "Here's a sweet deal--if you promise to sell Sweetie's Diamonds, you can take the 15% of the Clancy profits, which were darned good." We signed up. So, for the next two years, I was "David Michaels" and published two NY Times Top Ten best-selling books (my first to hit the list); ironically, though, they weren't under my real name. But the kicker was that Agent #5 did nothing with Sweetie's Diamonds. When all was said and done, that relationship ended after the Clancy gig (I moved on after the two books).

I ended up selling Sweetie's Diamonds myself to a small publisher after a pitch session at the "Love is Murder" writers conference that is held annually in the Chicago area. By then I was rather desperate to have one of my originals published properly and went with the first entity that expressed interest. It turned out all right, but small publishers can only do so much in marketing and sales.

It was time for a new agent, someone who could really help me establish a Raymond Benson "brand" and "platform," and I'll talk about those two vital concepts in Part 7.

WHAT I LEARNED:  My work as the Bond author established me as a reliable "tie-in writer," which opened a new series of doors that provided me with paying gigs. I learned to nurture that skill in order to get bread-and-butter work. But as for my original work, I learned to be wary of new technology and publishing models until they were tried and proven. I jumped on the e-book and Print-On-Demand wagon way too early and before these methods were considered acceptable. Secondly, I learned that a relationship with a literary agent is like a marriage. You both have to bring something to the table and there must be mutual respect and common goals. You have to find the right "fit." Too many authors sign with the first agent who will accept them, and this can often be a mistake. Thirdly, be careful when signing with a small publisher. There are pros and cons. On the one hand, sure, you're published and have a book to show for it. On the other hand, as one friend of mine put it, "It can be detrimental to be under-published." I now believe my actions at that time were tantamount to a step backwards, considering where I had been in my career. 

To be continued...


  1. Raymond, this article demonstrates what courage and tenacity play in a writer's career.
    A very informative article..thank you.

  2. If it's any consolation, Raymond, I love all of your tie-in novels and I bought more or less all of them before I became a fan of your Bond work. I'm especially fond of your two Splinter Cell novels as well as your Hitman novel. Thanks for writing them.