Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

On the fifth anniversary of Ralph Vicinanza’s death

by Rob - September 26th, 2015.
Filed under: R.I.P..

Five years ago today, on September 26, 2010, my literary agent, the legendary Ralph Vicinanza, passed away, at the age of 60. Here’s the tribute I wrote to him back then:

Ralph Vicinanza was my agent for the past fifteen years. I remember 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 as a client — 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.

A decade 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.

Ralph M. Vicinanza was a gentleman of warmth, wit, and compassion, a raconteur, a truly nice guy, and an absolutely terrific agent. I know I’m going to miss him for the rest of my life.

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