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Thread: [Agent] Mathew Ferguson

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  1. #11
    Hagiographically Advantaged HapiSofi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Quote Originally Posted by mathewferguson View Post
    Wow, just when I think I've seen all I could of people who don't read, people who respond to summaries of posts rather than the actual post, people who can't seem to understand nuance ...
    Oh, the horror, the agony of it all, never before has mortal been made to suffer as you have -- nor so unjustly! Eheu, eheu.

    After hours in the office one evening, a colleague of mine got to doing that same routine, though unlike you she meant it to be funny. Her boss's boss walked up unnoticed behind her, patted her on the shoulder, and said "Better to suffer unjustly."

    You've got to get over this belief of yours that anyone who doesn't agree with you must not have read or understood what you wrote, since it necessarily assumes you know everything and are never wrong. I know you've been wondering why people keep crediting you with those assumptions. You need look no further.
    I clearly don't agree with the assumptions of what is required to be an agent.
    Yes. That's because you're wrong.
    There isn't clear agreement on it here either. One page says a footprint in publishing and work possibly as an editor or publisher. Another says the only way is to intern or work under an established agent.
    That's not disagreement. They're both right. Some commenters here have explicitly told you so.
    I contend it is a package of skills that one can acquire in many ways.
    Yes, I know you do. That's because you want it to be true. It isn't.
    Vast stretches of basic publishing information I don't know? Yeah ... no. Do you want some agent knowledge quiz? Perhaps you'd care to ask me some questions that an agent should know and see if I'm right? Of course, I admit that wouldn't be any indicator because a quick google would find most of the answers.
    If there were such a quiz, you'd have flunked it when you said "a quick google would find most of the answers."
    So I'll ask: please tell me a piece of basic publishing information that I don't know and tell me how you came to that conclusion.
    Certainly, since you're asking. It's a bit further down.
    Otherwise ... get lost.
    Please don't be deliberately rude. You're not nearly as good at it as you imagine, and it's tiresome and embarrassing to watch you try. Besides, it upsets CaoPaux.

    All the way through this thread, I've been automatically tracking indications of your actual publishing experience. It's not just a matter of the stuff you get wrong. It's how you get it wrong, what stuff you don't know exists, and how you fill in the gaps. I wasn't kidding when I said that learning how publishing works is an immersive experience. It marks your language. Andy Zack knew my job title after one exchange of impersonal comments on an unrelated subject. If I'd never run into Old Hack before reading this thread, I'd still have known that s/he/it has an extensive industry background.

    As for you? I went from notes like

    • doesn't know a query letter from a cover letter
    • hasn't seen much slush
    • has a shaky notion of what book editors do, and a shakier notion of what agents do


    • hasn't worked in the editorial department of a general-interest trade book publisher
    • hasn't worked in sales and distribution
    • has no in-depth acquisition experience in adult trade nonfiction
    • in adult trade publishing, period
    • hasn't done marketing or promotion for a mainstream publisher
    • is emphatically not a professional proofreader or copy editor.

    For a while there I was reduced to thinking you had worked in the Contracts & Licensing department at a fairly large house, which would explain having enough contact with agents to be irritated by them, but no notion of what they're actually good for. This theory took a dive when you referred to having overseen a book from start to finish, and having been the "project editor" on a book. Definitely not the Contracts Dept.

    At that point, I radically revised my model and made two predictions:

    First, the name of the company you worked for would not be one readers normally identify as a book publisher.

    Second, a lot of its catalogue would consist of repackaged content.

    I'll pause on that mild cliffhanger and return to this remark of yours:
    So I'll ask: please tell me a piece of basic publishing information that I don't know and tell me how you came to that conclusion.
    Okay, we're limiting it to one piece of basic publishing information you don't know, and an explanation of how I came to that conclusion. My choice isn't the most important example, but it's clear and fairly easy to explain. Let's look at your screed on would of:
    Would of is wrong wrong wrong. But many people use it so it is right right right.

    Would have is right and so is would of. Would of is correct by common usage.

    So many editors and writers forget that language is a living thing. Whatever way people use language is ultimately correct. If we all started saying “me hungry” rather than “I’m hungry” then me hungry would be correct.

    I remember many arguments … err … passionate discussions with other editors regarding commas. I’m in the commas are upturned chairs on the path to comprehension group and so I edit accordingly.

    For example,
    I found, to my surprise, that he had turned blue.

    I found to my surprise that he had turned blue.

    Oh no! Suddenly people can’t understand it! Pfft.

    Another edit:
    I found to my surprise he’d turned blue.

    And another:
    To my surprise he’d turned blue.

    Anyways, the point is that grammar is very useful and we should follow some rules but not at the expense of the living language.
    As an essay, it has problems. You've failed to notice that what would of is being substituted for is not would have, but the homophone would've. Your title is "Would have versus Would of," and your introductory paragraph is about would have vs. would of, but all the intervening material short of the conclusion is about comma usage, which fails to support your argument about vernacular usage. And you should have italicized or otherwise set off the words and phrases you used as examples; but in this context, that may be a counsel of perfection.

    You made another error when you were discussing your essay on AW:
    I'm absolutely not doing crap editing such as substituting "would of" for "would have". What it seems people have missed from my blog post on the subject is that common usage beats everything. "Would of" isn't common usage. I wrote IF it were common usage then it is correct.
    They didn't miss a thing. Your only "if" in the piece was:
    If we all started saying “me hungry” rather than “I’m hungry” then me hungry would be correct.
    Here's what you said about would of:
    Would of is wrong wrong wrong. But many people use it so it is right right right.

    Would have is right and so is would of. Would of is correct by common usage.

    That was one of the moments when I realized you weren't making noises like an editor when you talked. Same goes for the point where you said the conversation had gotten so long and complicated that no one could go back and check what had actually been said. Editors know that you can't contradict yourself and trust that your readers won't remember. They also know that some readers will go back and check, so you had better get used to doing the same.

    Apologies. I'm digressing. I've been talking about problems in your writing, and diffuse but (to me) telling bits of your self-revelation. The deal was for one piece of basic publishing information you don't know, and how I came to that conclusion.

    Here's the hole: you think would of has to either be right or wrong. It doesn't. As all good copy editors and trade fiction editors know, vernacular language like would of is acceptable in dialogue, first-person narrative, strongly voiced third-person narrative, quotations, excerpts, letters, poetry, and other varieties of privileged speech. Otherwise, you use would have or would've.

    That division between privileged and non-privileged language (it goes by other names as well, though the principle remains) is basic to professional text wrangling. You were unaware of its existence. This didn't lead me to believe that you'd never done editing or copy editing. Rather, it suggested to me that while you've been paid to do jobs called editing and copy editing, you weren't trained to do them by anyone who's worked professionally with text in conventional trade publishing.

    Does this come up in author/publisher/agent relations? It can. There's at least one much-published author on this board who threatened to walk out on his publisher and contracts because his book was badly mishandled by an incompetent copy editor who didn't understand that point.

    My impression that you hadn't worked with people who'd worked in conventional publishing was strengthened by some of your other remarks:
    There are no editorial guidelines around many forms of writing because language strides ahead of the books people write about language. I haven't seen a book on the grammatical rules around things. Like. This. This is a structure that is in use in the world but the books haven't caught up yet.
    Yes, new language is always being used before it appears in stylebooks. It would be odd and rather sinister if it didn't. However, no one takes that as a reason to ignore existing rules and guidelines. They habitually keep track of new forms -- f.i., the way that so without an accompanying comparison has been popping up in place of really and very, or the peculiar grammar of LOLspeak -- just like they keep track of product names that aren't in the dictionary (f.i., Haagen Dazs).

    As for your things. Like. This., they're sentence fragments used for emphasis, found only in strongly voiced text and therefore privileged, and they originated in the fanfic universe.

    So not impressed.

    Back to that mild cliffhanger. As the reader will no doubt recall, I'd predicted that the name of the company MF had worked for would not be one readers normally identify as a book publisher, and that a lot of its catalogue would consist of repackaged content.

    I kept reading, did some googling I should have done the first time the name turned up, and lo, there it was: Funtastic.

    (One warning before I go any further: Australian business sites are really bad about updating their information. It's interesting when you're reconstructing timelines, but it can be misleading.)

    Anyway, Funtastic has been doing business since 1994, and is the largest toy distributor in Australia. It handles a lot of licensed merchandise. In the early years of this millennium, Funtastic decided to branch out into producing as well as distributing licensed product. Some of that licensed product included books and DVDs. Things didn't work out. They've been selling off "non-core" businesses like footwear, children's apparel, and licensed juvenile linens. Their publishing operation got sold last year to Parragon, a large Australian publisher, which immediately fired more than half of the in-house staff.

    There are a number of websites where you can get a sense of what Funtastic's publishing program was like before it got sold off. For example, there's this old page from Business Week, which has a company profile that has to have been written by Funtastic itself. The part about their publishing operation says:
    Funtastic Publishing Established in November 2001, Funtastic produces licensed character books and distributes book ranges from around the world. Its dedication to innovation is demonstrated by its acquisition of Colour ‘N Sound. Colour ‘N Sound uses patented T-Ink technology that allows the ink to transmit current.
    Funtastic's own web page for their publishing operation is still online (see what I mean about not doing updates?) and still has a working link to their submission guidelines (pdf). Core sentence:
    The ideal title will have characters and stories that would translate into toys, movies, and other products.
    These are books as licensed merchandise, not books for their own sake. If you wondered why MF was ranting early on about publishers that don't have the imagination to include a toy with a book, the answer is that where he learned about publishing, the book was an adjunct to the toy.

    For books as repackaged content, try this entry about Funtastic from the Transformers Wiki.

    If you're following these links and you see old stories about the size of Funtastic's publishing program, bear in mind that a lot of that was DVDs, which again appear to have been repackaged content. Here's a 2006 news story about Funtastic's acquisition of Madman, Australia's largest anime distributor:
    "Funtastic has rationalised the deal as a way for them to obtain DVD rights for properties they already hold the toy rights for. Stating that in the past, DVD rights have been passed onto other companies due to their lack of experience in the field, with the other companies frequently benefiting from their Funtastics marketing initiatives. ... Also by combining Madman's DVD knowledge with Funtastic's toy marketing skills, they believe that Madman will be able to further explore merchandising opportunities within the anime market."
    I've got nothing against licensed merchandise. I'm sure Funtastic's good at selling toys. But this is seriously unlike what most of you think of when you hear the word "publisher."

    Another key site for getting a sense of Funtastic's output is the Wheelers Books website in New Zealand, which lists 427 Funtastic titles. Some are straight repackaged content. Most of the others are work-for-hire licensed tie-ins, written to order for established franchises, with no author name on the cover. A thing the rest of you may not find disturbing, but I do, is that almost all of them lack editorial copy. That's a basic bookselling tool. When I look elsewhere, I find that only a few of them ever made it onto Amazon, a site which has been known to list old fanzines produced in 100-copy editions.

    Why does this matter? Because what we're seeing here is a publishing program that's missing a huge range of publishing problems and transactions. The authors are largely powerless and almost wholly anonymous. That excludes all the issues having to do with long-term career strategies, and most things having to do with balance of power between the author and publisher. Figuring out how to position and sell the books is pointless, because the angle is built in: it's Hannah Montana/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Barbie/High School Musical/Harry Potter/et cetera. Subrights negotiations? Forget it, there aren't any. This is all work for hire.

    I could go on like this for a long time, pointing out major editorial and contractual issues that simply don't come up in a publishing program like Funtastic's. Being an editor at a normal publishing house doesn't qualify you to be an agent. I'd question whether being an editor at Funtastic qualifies you to be an editor at a normal publishing house.

    I think it's about time to go back to replying to Mathew Ferguson's comments to me:
    Someone says they are an editor and it is this certain way. Well, I'm an editor too and have worked in publishing for years and it isn't that way. I have evidence, what do they have?
    Me personally? I have decades of experience in newspapers, magazines, and reference and trade book publishing. That's as opposed to working for a toy distributor that took a fling at printing books.

    Hey, you asked.
    As for not putting in the hours to learn the trade ... you have no idea what you are talking about. This becomes clear with your next point: "You have no idea what's in a standard publishing contract and why it's there, ditto is and isn't negotiable, desirable or hazardous in publishing deals.". Don't just disagree you say? Okay, sure. So I'll counter with saying that I've negotiated and worked on many a standard publishing deal.
    I've seen your books. You couldn't prove by me that you've ever worked on a standard publishing deal.
    I've written contact clauses. I've been the contract shark for my publishing company and also in a freelance capacity. I dare say I could write a standard publishing contract from memory.

    How the hell did you come to the dumb-ass idea that I don't know anything about publishing contracts? I guess you didn't read my about page and I'm guessing you haven't read much of anything else I've written.
    Boyo, you just wish I hadn't read it.

    What I know is that you have no in-depth experience with book acquisition. The biggest reason I know that about you is that you've repeatedly demonstrated that you don't know there's an entire battery of arcane techniques for doing advance estimates of the demand for a particular title. You think there's no way to sell a nonfiction book about fitness unless it already has an "established audience," and your idea of how to get one is for the author to start a web page. (That was also where I flagged "Hasn't done marketing or promotion for a mainstream publisher.")

    Worse, you think that online sales of e-books are not affected by the writer already being a published author. That's so staggeringly ignorant of how fiction publishing works that I can't begin to tell where to start explaining. Well, maybe here: the single commonest reason a reader buys a book is that the've read and enjoyed another book by the same author. A vast amount of the appurtenance of publishing -- the quotes, the reviews, the attractive cover -- are mating signals calculated to give the reader the idea that this reading experience is going to be like (yet enticingly unlike) other reading experiences they've enjoyed. These are good signals to send, but in many ways they're just recreating the reaction you have to finding a book by an author whose books you've liked.

    Since you don't know any of that, you can't have gone through the process of assessing and acquiring real free-range books by real authors. And if you didn't acquire them, you didn't negotiate their contracts, either.

    I think it likely that you've done many book acquisitions where the books were licensed merchandising product, the authors were powerless and perforce anonymous, and the basis of the contract was flat-rate work-for-hire; but that's something else entirely.

    Another thing I know, judging from your language, is that you have a low tolerance for frustration. That being the case, I earnestly hope you won't go into agenting, because it'll make you miserable.
    I know that the position of "editor" can confuse some people.
    Don't look at me. I knew the word before I started kindergarten.
    Was I just checking grammar and that is all?
    Given your views on language, I certainly hope that's not where you were spending your time.
    As I've mentioned, my position as editor and writer was very broad.
    Yeah, I've had jobs like that too. It can be a pain to work for amateurs.
    I acquired book series for my publisher. I did deals. I was expected to find new stuff and bring it in, and not just from within Australia but all around the world.
    And your point is?
    Back to why I chose not to work at an established agency first. Clearly, you don't know me and it can be hard to convey the depth of knowledge a person has in back-and-forth forum posts or an about summary
    Mathew, at the heart of editing is reading, and I've been a professional at it for a long time now. If you work at it, you may someday get a sense of how clearly I can see you in your writing.
    but you have no bloody idea what you are talking about.
    Tsk. You ignored me when I said the same to you, word for word; and I really do know what I'm talking about.

    I"m starting to think you should stick to illustration.
    There is a package of skills required to be an agent. There is more than one way to gain those skills and the only way isn't working as an intern for another agent.
    You keep saying that. It was wrong the first time, and it's still wrong now. You're repeating yourself because you've run out of arguments.
    You are 100% dead wrong, misguided and clearly have no idea.
    How would you know? You got all your experience at Funtastic.
    Are you perhaps slaving away yourself somewhere? Desperately justifying a job that isn't heading anywhere because the knowledge you thought you would gain just isn't coming?
    Words can't convey it. Neither can emoticons, or links to appropriate LOLcats, or long strings of internet abbreviations. Nothing so narrowband can possibly encompass the depth, breadth, range, and polyphonic complexity of my snickering at that remark.

    God, you are clueless. Bad-mannered, too. I won't say I've never met anyone who's less cut out to be an agent than you are, but your name turns up on the second or third search page.

    But enough about you. Let's go back to things you don't know, and things you know that aren't so. Our poor readers have been very patient with us, and deserve more return on their investment.

    • When you first showed up here, you didn't know the difference between a query letter and a cover letter.
    • You don't know what agents are good for, and yet you want to be one.
    • You think editors have so much trouble getting enough slush to read that they have to haunt online sites and go incognito to meetings of writers' groups.
    • You think industry contacts aren't important when you're an agent.
    • You think Sex in the City, Cory Doctorow, Emily the Strange, and Bridget Jones's Diary are good examples of "working on building an online presence to increase the likelihood of publishing deals."
    • You think SEO is an important thing for agents to know. It isn't. But then, you have a pattern of thinking things you know are important, and ignoring things you don't know.
    • You hyphenate "proofreader."
    • You think privishing is an important word. It isn't. It's a term used by people who learned about publishing from Wikipedia.

    The whole concept of privishing is stupid. Do you imagine that publishing houses openly discuss, and have a special word for, distasteful situations where a book has to be deprecated for inadmissible reasons?

    If a book needs to be deprecated for admissible reasons, we kill it, or take it off the schedule, or withdraw support, or revert it to the author with a guarantee of proceeds from any future sale, or ... long list.

    If a book's being deprecated for murky inadmissible possibly illegal reasons, it's not discussed openly around the water cooler.

    "Privishing" is meaningless. It doesn't identify the methods used, or the reasons behind them. We already have a much larger and more precise vocabulary that covers that ground.

    It's late. I'm tired. You're rude. Find a different line of work.
    Last edited by HapiSofi; 05-03-2013 at 07:31 PM.
    Winner of the Best Drycleaner on the Block Award.

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