And Now, A Brief Moment of Public Recognition (and Thanks)

You folks found out about Fuzzy Nation a week ago and it was sold to a publisher pretty rapidly after that, so from an outside point of view it looks like things went pretty quickly. But behind the scenes this process took months and months to happen, and it simply would not have gotten done had not my fiction agent, Ethan Ellenberg, made the effort to make it happen.

I very literally sprung Nation on Ethan unawares, during a period in which I was supposed to be working on something else — there was a phone call that went something like this: “Hey, you know how I said I was writing something new? Well, it’s kind of a reboot of someone else’s book and most of the series is under copyright and I haven’t actually gotten permission to do it and it’s possible some fans will burn me for blasphemy, what do you think?” — and he would have been fully within his rights to be exasperated with me for wasting my time (and his). But he did the opposite: He read it, was enthusiastic about it, and then went to work on it, contacting the right people and methodically unraveling the issues of rights and licenses. It was a lot of work, in point of fact, and if it had been left to me it wouldn’t have gotten done.

It’s a shibboleth of the writing trade that you need to get an agent, but sometimes from the outside of the trade it’s not clear what advantages an agent provides. The Fuzzy Nation process to me exemplifies the advantages a good agent brings to the table: getting behind a client’s work, knowing the right people to talk to about it, having the persistence to get a deal done, strategizing next steps, bringing the work to the right publisher and getting the right deal for the client. I had always been impressed with Ethan’s work on my behalf before this deal, but this deal made me realize I was genuinely lucky to have him as my agent.

I’ve already thanked Ethan privately for his work on Fuzzy Nation, but I think it’s not out of line to let you all know about it too. I’ve mentioned before that for as solitary as writers are supposed to be in their work, if we want to be published we end up depending on the competence of a lot of other people. This is another example of that fact.

25 Comments on “And Now, A Brief Moment of Public Recognition (and Thanks)”

  1. Bravo for Ethan.

    As a selfish reader, however; please get to work on the audiobook rights for Fuzzy Nation so I can be listening to the book as soon as it’s released.

  2. john scalzi you are my hero. you are only the second person i have ever heard use the term shibboleth. well, okay, i didn’t actually hear you use it but you know what i mean. :)

    now about all this fuzziness. i can’t wait to add this book to my scalzi collection and since the wait will be long i guess i’ll wander around and find little fuzzy so i’m not horribly flamed for saying i’d never heard of it before your original post on the matter.

    congrats on the sale and on having such an amazing agent in your corner.

  3. Congrats on the book deal getting done. I look forward to reading Fuzzy Nation when it is available.

    I downloaded and read Little Fuzzy after you original post and greatly enjoyed the read. What are some other classic SF that are must reads?

  4. Michael@5

    Top 100 Sci-Fi Books

    They also have the next 100 & top series lists as well as other sci-fi lists.

    I disagree with the order of many…but almost all of the great ones are there.

  5. You calling it ‘FN’ or ‘Nation’? I like the fn moniker. It’s fn perfect. What’s the fn problem?

  6. “and he would have been fully within his rights to be exasperated with me for wasting my time (and his)”

    Well…no, he wouldn’t. He works for you. But I’m glad he was supportive and did a good job for you and your book.

  7. That’s great to hear. Ethan has been near the top of my list of ‘Agents I Want Should I Finish This Book’.

    I have a rejection letter from him already in my collection (and yeah, it was deserved because that work wasn’t worth publication at the time).

  8. Catherine:

    “Well…no, he wouldn’t. He works for you.”

    No, he works with me. It’s a relationship of complementary skill sets and mutual benefit.

  9. Because of all the praises you sing, John, Ethan is definitely on my list of Agents To Query. When one reads about agent hate and other things on BBSes and the like, it’s wonderful to hear an author actually praising his agent like you do. Both of you rock so hard.

  10. Mr. Scalzi, your comment in #11 defines the author/agent relationship perfectly.

    Many small businesses are partnerships of ‘the person with the idea’ and ‘a person who knows the ropes’. Many small businesses would not get off the ground without the more experienced partner, and are profitable only because of the partnership.

    “a relationship of complementary skill sets and mutual benefit”

    I love it. And someday I hope to have as great an agent and partner as you have.

  11. So… Ethan… If I call you and tell you I’ve written something…. What’s that? Win a couple of Hugos and then we’ll talk? Dammit! :)

    Nice of you John – too many people think it’s just “write something, send it off, kick back” and don’t appreciate everyone else in the process between you kicking Fluffy out of your chair and writing and us reading.

  12. It’s good to hear you have such a strong relationship with your agent! Good on you both.

    But the shibboleth thing…are you saying that without an agent you aren’t a professional writer?

    Like, the a distinguishing factor between pros and non-pros is having an agent?

    Cause as a linguist I’m having trouble parsing the meaning of “shibboleth” in this context…

  13. Gee, all those self-pub types who were crawling out of the woodwork back during the Amazon/Macmillian/Kindle flap, with their “traditional publishing is dead, haha, we don’t need no steenkin’ agents!” Where are they now…? ;-)

  14. Actually, I thought the proper way to thank Ethan is to buy lots and lots of FUZZY NATION, and other Scalzi books.

  15. And this is (part of) what makes Scalzi a class act: recognizing the people behind the scenes that do the heavy lifting so he can do his art and have fun with it (which makes it better for all of us).

    Good on the both of you, writer and agent alike.

  16. Where are you in the process of writing Fuzzy Nation? do you have a complete draft that is ready to be sent to an editor?

    Different authors write different numbers of drafts. Brandon Sanderson said he writes 8 drafts, but did 17 for The Gathering Storm. Other authors won’t do more than 3 drafts.

    Is this something we can expect to see this year?

  17. It’s done, and has been for months, save for some minor editorial adjustments. I wrote a single draft as always.

    The tentative release date, as noted in the previous entry, is about a year from now.

  18. Seconding #5: I went back and read “Little Fuzzy” at Gutenberg and found it very good.
    Piper seems less dated than Heinleins of the same vintage, in spite of his characters smoking like chimneys. I’m not sure why.

  19. @16 – I had to go look up shibboleth. In this context, I take it to mean “a truism” or at the least “a widely held belief.” Ergo, it’s a widely held belief that you need an agent in the writing trade. Which, well, it is a widely held belief. (and just because some people don’t agree with a belief doesn’t invalidate the statement, either)

  20. The jealousy rises within me.

    Geez. You go off on a lark and do something crazy and your agent sells it anyway.

    Why do you get all the cool agents?

    You are now my nemesis.


    Well, you and the vending machine upstairs. It keeps giving me Diet Coke instead of Dr. Pepper.

  21. @24. bill frank.

    i’d watch that vending machine closely. it is obviously evil.

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