Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Ralph Vicinanza, R.I.P.

by Rob - September 28th, 2010.
Filed under: Milestones, Uncategorized.

Literary agent Ralph Vicinanza, 60, died peacefully Sunday night, September 26, of a brain aneurysm.

He was my agent for the past fifteen years, and one of the executive producers of FlashForward, the TV series based on my novel of the same name.

I remember, years ago, when I was looking for a new agent calling many of his clients — the biggest names in the business — and asking if they’d recommend him. Every single one sung his praises, and I was thrilled when Ralph took me on — it was very rare for him to take on a new client personally.

I never for one second doubted I’d found the right person — but, of all our interactions, I think nothing made that clearer than a conversation we had one day about the smallest contract he ever negotiated for me.

The worst-selling category of science-fiction books is single-author collections. Because of that, I’d decided I wanted my first collection to be done only in hardcover and only in Canada (so that the poor sales it was doubtless going to get would never show up in Barnes & Noble’s or Borders’ computers).

The little Canadian publisher I’d arranged to sell it to (long since defunct) had a boilerplate contract that Ralph didn’t like at all, and he spent days negotiating the various clauses. The advance was piddling (I’ve sold short stories for more than I got for the entire book), meaning Ralph’s commission was minuscule. I kept apologizing to Ralph for all the work he was having to do for such a tiny commission, and finally he said to me, “Don’t ever apologize for making me work, Rob. This is what I do, and I enjoy it. Besides, I never think about the commission on a specific contract; I only think about my client’s overall career.”

He did indeed enjoy negotiating, almost always getting me what I wanted, and doing so without ever ruffling publishers’ feathers. I remember several years ago an author who was with the same publisher I was saying he had a suspicion his agent wasn’t doing as good a job for him as Ralph was for me. He asked me to black out the dollar figures on one of my contracts and let him compare the contractual terms his agent had gotten for him with the ones Ralph had gotten for me.

We laid the two contracts side-by-side, and it was clear by the strikeouts and additions that Ralph had worked much, much harder for me than my friend’s agent had for him; in almost every clause of the contract, I had materially better terms, thanks to Ralph.

Eight years ago, I worked on the TV series Charlie Jade, and executive producer Robert Wertheimer met with Ralph in New York to hammer out details of my involvement — and for months afterwards, every time I saw Bob, he went on about what a great afternoon of conversation he’d had with Ralph.

Recently, before Ralph had passed on, I had the pleasure of meeting Isaac Asimov’s daughter Robyn; for many years, Ralph had represented the Asimov estate. Robyn and I hit it off immediately — spending the first half-hour we were together trading stories about what a great guy Ralph was. Indeed, in all the years I knew Ralph, I never once — never once — heard anyone say a negative word about him.

I don’t have any professional concerns: Ralph M. Vicinanza Ltd. will continue in the able hands of Ralph’s associates, including Chris Lotts and Christopher Schelling in New York and Vince Gerardis and Eli Kirschner in Los Angeles. But personally, I’m devastated. Ralph was a gentleman of warmth, wit, and compassion, a raconteur, a truly nice guy, and an absolutely terrific agent.

I’m very sad that I won’t be able to attend the memorial service in New York on Friday; I’m Guest of Honor at a convention in San Diego this weekend, and head there Thursday afternoon. But I will take some time during my programming space at the convention to share some reminiscences about Ralph — who I will miss for the rest of my life.

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2 Responses to Ralph Vicinanza, R.I.P.

  1. My deepest sympathies for the loss of your friend and agent.

    Stay inspired!
    Michelle

  2. I’m so sorry to hear this. My deepest regrets.