Friday, October 9, 2015

6 Writing Myths from THE AFFAIR

Image result for the affair showtime
Last year - like a lot of people - I got addicted to Showtime's new hit THE AFFAIR. Especially since it's about a novelist.

But watching the season opener this weekend, I noticed several myths about being a published writer that I want to clarify. Just in case we're all buying the hype of the 'glamorous author's life.' Which, of course, we all do! ;) There were six of them:


The main character, Noah Solloway, has one failed novel behind him and no platform (i.e. he's not a big name or a social media wiz). So I found it kind of funny that he talked about getting a $400,000 book advance.

Publishing has been slow to bounce back from the recession - as everyone except the 1%ers have been - and advances are much more likely to be in the four or five-figure range - if you're lucky. Be realistic about the money in publishing and don't quit your day job - yet!


Stephen Kunken plays Noah's editor (though sometimes he seems to act like an agent too, so it's confusing). Anyway, they met at a party in the Hamptons last season. Even though Noah was a failed writer, this big time editor was happy to basically guarantee him a book deal on the spot, champagne flute in hand, string quartet playing in the background. No manuscript submitted, no agent shopping, no approval from the publisher - which all editors have to do before they buy a book from you.

I hope this dream scenario happens to you ... but chances are you'll have to get an agent before a big time editor will even blink at you. And if you are one of those lucky Hamptonites and meet an editor at a party, an agent would at least be mentioned!


Kunken also has this incredible corner office with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of Manhattan worthy of Gordon Gekko. My former agents and editors were about as big as they come, but even they had middling views of water towers and other office buildings. So this is another misconception about New York editors. That their offices are big and spacious and sleek, when they're really kind of small and messy and cluttered with books and manuscripts.

Agents, on the other hand, can be more swishy about their offices. As for the view, is there a bad view of Manhattan? Not really.


Kunken's sleek window ledges are rimmed with hard covers of - presumably - his clients' books. I saw James Patterson's Beach House and a J.D. Robb book. The others looked like massive bestsellers, too, one copy of each.

Your agent or editor will have an office with shelves full of books. But I guarantee you they're not going to be a juicy collection of every bestseller the props department could get their hands on. There will be multiple copies of their own writers' books. Anyone else's will be hidden far from view!


Another scene had Kunken reading Noah's manuscript in his office, while Noah waited for him to finish. This is often portrayed in movies. I've seen it in Misery, Romancing the Stone and elsewhere. That an agent or editor will read your entire manuscript in his or her office, while you chew your fingernails, staring thoughtfully out the window, waiting for his or her reaction.  Then, of course, said agent/editor will tear up or laugh or cheer or whatever, when they finish the last page and tell you how brilliant you are.

This does not - and cannot - happen because it takes hours to read a complete manuscript, and most editors and agents have phone calls and other clients they have to look after. You'll probably hear whether or not your editor like your manuscript on the phone, too. Or you may just get an editorial letter with the requested changes.

btw double-spaced manuscripts are very big documents! About twice the size of the pile of pages portrayed in THE AFFAIR or anywhere else I've seen! When an editor goes through them, he or she also makes copious notes on the pages themselves - and Kunken didn't even have a pencil.


Noah and Kunken discuss his advance and Noah complains that he's only received 20% of it. Kunken says he'll get the rest when the book is approved. Book advances actually come in three instalments, not five. 33% when you sign the contract. 33% when you submit an approved manuscript. And 33% when the book is published.

Here's the one thing they did get (sort of) right. When Kunken doesn't like Noah's ending, Noah worries that Kunken won't publish the book. It's true - if your manuscript isn't approved, it's made extremely clear in your contract that the book won't get released. But it's the publisher who ultimately makes that decision - even though the editor would have input.

Still, the veiled threat makes for great drama.

Having said all this, I still LOVE this show. And - as a writer - I even mostly love to see the dream of 'Easy Street' perpetuated on TV and film.

Because if Hollywood portrayed writers' lives the way they really are, I think a lot fewer of us would be at it!

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