Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tom Dark -- Literary Agent with Heacock Literary

How long have you been agent and how did you get your start Tom & Catt? 
Hi, Jeff, it's me, Tom. Er, Tom Dark. I do adult fiction/nonfiction. Catt does young adult and kids' books. She's tied up with whom she's got, including our 80-million seller Stephen Cosgrove.  Catt got her start interning with her Uncle Jim Heacock, who founded the agency with his wife Rosalie 30 years ago.  She  worked for SONY and Warner Bros. as a supervisor in the interim.  I started officially last March.  How I got here may be worth a book in keeping with the agency mission statement.  Someday maybe.  Such books aren't selling now.  Otherwise, I was an editor for 10 + years before now and independently brought a few of my people to some pretty big deals. Too bad they screwed them up. This time, no screwballs.  
What makes your agency different than any others? 
The mission statement. Otherwise Heacock has sold around 1100 books so far, Rosalie tells me; a few big hits and some venerable authors, like Wilferd Peterson.  
What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?
Highly concentrated writers with highly concentrated personalities. Specifically. Genre doesn't matter, tho' I sure could use some people who know how to be truly funny. Don't  know if I can't take you on right now, but I wanna know who you are.  Maybe down the road we can do business.  
Quality Caveat: I picked a crime writer because he holds the record: 35 RICO convictions in a row against mafiosos. His fiction knows whereof it speaks... An action Sci-fi adventure guy for whom we'll have to change those phone numbers before we publish: they're the ones he used to call at the Pentagon, running their guided missile system...  A Jesuit priest who researched Francis of Assisi for 25 years before his totally documentable historical novel...  An Indian who has photographic memory of Indian history back 3500 years to apply to his present-day novel...  An MD who puts the odor of the hospital up your nose while telling what would really happen to a doctor who discovered he had natural healing powers.  All my fiction writers are like this.  Including the lady with the multidimensional love story.
Nonfiction: a real physicist PhD, not a creationist, reconciling the screwy beliefs between religion and science.  A microbiologist smart enough to solicit the essays of everybody from the Amazin' Randi to a Nobel Laureate on the subject of consciousness, adding observed behavior in microbiology and from other documented academic papers suggesting the "brain" people are full of crap and consciousness IS independent of matter.  An independent thinker whose original theory of gravity -- including experiment to prove or disprove -- got him a multimillion funding pledge from the Hudson Institute, and will point the way to faster than light travel if the experiment works.  A 40-year ad executive chronicling major ad agencies and their jaw-dropping behavior.  A travelogue by a scientist on the Gondwanaland expedition, forced to conclude that Darwin was probably nuts. People like this, who've been there and know what they saw. They can all write like crazy.  I'll help, but only if you can write like crazy to start.
Because of the wording on the website, we get lots and lots of "channelers" whose Great Entities From Beyond have Instructed Them to Save the World with a somewhat tedious raft of platitudes and clanky buzzwords and a "workshop" business on the side for the always-improving-but-never-quite-getting-there crowd.  Real writers write because they have to, not because Bisbo from the Higher Bisbonian System told them to.  One suspects a dissociated ego inflating its way to the Great Beyond, fizzling with little plagiarisms.  
Amen I say unto you lot, read Jane Roberts' work and read it thoroughly, all of it.  I don't appreciate queriers who've copped those ideas and don't mention it. Your notion about improving or capitalizing on work like that is likely 99.9999999% ignorant, and I'm pleased to offend most objectors here. Get jobs.
Same to psychics and "self-realized spiritual teachers." I don't care what Eckhart Tolle sells or which blind are praising the blinder.  I've got a guy who's broken 27 world athletic records -- real ones, not hula-hoop contests -- 22 of them after age 39, using what he learned from Plato.  Now there's a real mystic using genuine powers of the soul.  If you can demonstrably top that in any fashion, I'm interested.  Who did my grampaw used to be in the 16th Century, and which grampaw was it? Answer that correctly and you get a contract.  We need people who do, not teach mainly how quickly is parted a fool from his money.      
 What are you tired of receiving?
Contrived stuff from people who think all they have to do is copy some popular idea, stick it in the slot, and out comes fame, fortune and Oprah. Don't take this to mean that, now that you've been found out, all you have to do is come up with some dumb idea that's NOT like what's out there, and voila, here comes the attention and limousine you've always deserved.  Still being clever?  Don't strain around for ideas to write about at ALL. You're still just looking for a way to get around working for a living.  Some think that worked for the Beatles, but it hasn't for writers since Washington Irving and even he wouldn't kid himself too far. 
Oh.  And lots of people think that since they pulled themselves out of a jam, the world should reward them with book sales.  Bear in mind, especially you ex-druggies and ex-cons and ex-alcoholics and ex nut-cases, that the world AND agents also wonder how you could be so dumb to get there in the first place.  And another thing: there aren't a fraction as many "secrets" to this, that, or t'other that will make everybody healthy, wealthy and wise just like you, as you keep insisting. Success is no secret to quite a few people already running loose.  Not even Karl Eller's book did so well, and I liked it okay.  We want real writers, not ephemeral spielers.  
Vonnegut was right about real writers not making jack, even tho' they do now and again over star-distances not calculatable by marketing departments.  Also, kinda sick of spam and junk mail over here.
How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?
You'll know me and I'll know you.  
Angry replies to form rejects don't bother me.  Sometimes I answer them and we make friends.  Sometimes not.  Sometimes they're memorable.
 How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?
One of my favorite people on the planet so far was an African guy named Simeon Toko.  They keep calling him the Messiah 25 years after his death, and he's probably still hollering at them from wherever he is, saying, stop that, I am not.  He coined the phrase "I am crazy, you are crazy, but everybody else is even crazier." Works for me.  
 What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent that they don't seem to?
Not interested in what writers understand about me.  Am interested in what they understand about their art, craft and the world they know. 
Mind you writers, the most common rejection note I'm getting on your behalves lately is "this is not a right fit for our list."  Neither were the Harry Potter stories, Kerouac, Melville and 'way back.  Even Percy Bysshe Shelley had to self-publish, as he didn't fit anybody's list either. Samuel Johnson cranked out his own little periodical.  Also I just lately learned they were afraid of Dr. Seuss, too, except for Bennett Cerf.  I so far haven't encountered any Bennett Cerfs. Nobody's wearing a cocky smile and recognizing genius. I smell polite fear ekeing stiffly out of my computer.  I can loosen people up on the phone, but that odor is even stronger.  
Because of the news I got when I joined here -- overall industry profits last year were .03% and the average author sold 500 books at 7% royalty (and lately, returns are unprecedented and "alarming," so says an editor friend at a Big House) -- I warn you all as much as myself, wipe those falling stars from your eyes.  If you don't have to write, don't. Same as in going to the bathroom.  If nothing else for those who must, fool around on the internet.  Big changes are coming of necessity.  Not sure what, but there are inklings here and there. Supposing you can waft your work from an ivory tower into a truck waiting to distribute it to the world is a bad idea.  I'm pretty sure "demographicized garbage out, money in" isn't working.  I speak to a lot of smart young men and women and learn their favorite authors have largely been dead for years, and they're not buying what's on the stands.  They're reading each other, though.  Literacy will always be here no matter what the "New World Order" has decreed from its sinister headquarters -- and no matter what Steve Jobs thinks.     
 What's the best way for a writer to reach you?
Dreams?  Otherwise, e-mail's fine.