Pub Rants

Submit Now Or Later?

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STATUS: Work all morning. Meetings all afternoon. That’s New York!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEY JACK KEROUAC by 10,000 Maniacs

Yesterday I had an agent friend who doesn’t handle a lot of adult trade fiction shoot me an email with an interesting question. She asked this: with fiction, she had heard that some agents were not even submitting right now and were planning to wait 6 months to let things settle down. In other words, things were a little volatile right now with lay-oofs and projects that might have been bought 6 months ago were now being passed on in this current cautious climate. (Hard to sell a project if you are unsure the editor is going to be there 2 months from now.) Since I did a lot more adult fiction than she did, what did I think?

Darn good question. To be honest, I didn’t have an answer. I’ve been doing quite a few deals as of late but all for current clients who are already established at their houses. None for debut authors in the adult field. Now I do have some YA submissions out but that’s not the same thing.

Since I’m here in New York, what better way to find out than to ask? Well, the lucky editors at St. Martin’s Press were first up to bat so I asked them, what is SMP’s stance on buying adult fiction?

Here’s what was said:

1. They had wondered why it had been so slow. They weren’t seeing the usual amount of submissions that normally happens for this time of year. (Interesting.)

2. That SMP (and this was emphatically said) was aggressively buying so bring it on. (Nice!)

3. Major accounts were tightening their buy lists. Not ordering as much and not as far in advance. (I’ve heard this from several places—not just SMP.) So if a project is borderline in terms of an editor loving it, they might pass. (Agents might not be submitting right now in order to not risk this.)

So what had they bought recently? SMP just paid big money to lure two mystery authors to the house. One editor had bought two novels—a mystery caper and then a literary commercial novel about a Viet Nam soldier and his specially trained German Sheppard who worked as a team in a special army unit.

You know how much I love dogs. I would have LOVED to have seen that second novel. History. Dogs. A War. Gosh, no one ever sends me that kind of stuff. Oh wait. Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet (although there are no dogs in that one.)

So novels with that intense emotional hook or connection. Check. Historical novels. Check. American based narrative mystery or crime nonfiction (a la Devil In The White City). I don’t do but check. Memoir. Check. And I learned a new term. Editors are looking for midstream mainstream. (i.e. Stuff in the Jodi Picoult realm where it’s ordinary people faced with extraordinary decisions about real problems).

Midstream mainstream. Try saying that 5 times fast! (I think I just call it upmarket commercial fiction.)

Okay, check.

28 Responses

  1. Liana Brooks said:

    How’s genre fiction selling these days?

    Looking at New Releases list I’m a bit disappointed that three-quarters of the books seem to be based on television shows, movies, or games. I’m not sure if this is standard for sci-fi/fantasy or not. Are publishers using those fall backs as “sure sells” rather than backing new books?

  2. Anonymous said:

    As someone who is close to being on submission with upmarket commercial fiction –but without a Jodi P realism– I find this post disturbing. I mean, it was hard enough to get here–to write the book (years) to revise the book (Lots) to get an agent (finally), to revise the book (more LOTS) –but of course all worth it. But to think that it might all come down to this timing, this economy–that it might have sold last year but will not sell NOW. Man, that is almost too much to take. And I’m prepared to take a lot given this business–I mean, I knew this whole thing wasn’t fair–but this level of unfair I’m not sure I’m prepared for.

  3. Dara said:

    Yay for historicals! That makes me very happy 🙂

    Of course that will probably change by the time I get this project of mine done. 😛

  4. E. J. Tonks said:

    I’m so glad you did your homework like this! Your posting was a boost to writers everywhere (and hopefully the agents, too!).


  5. writeon4kids said:

    Speaking of submissions…I just tried to submit a query to you and was given a failure notice for I tried again with the same result and then tried forwarding it. The forward seemed to go through, but I was afraid it might get spammed. Is there a new address that I should be using? Thanks! Stephanie

  6. Jim said:

    If you are indeed intested in heart warming, two box of kleenex tear jerker dog stories I invite you to visit, You will fall in love with Bandit and get a great tour of the Sheep Country in beautiful Montana. Bring a hankee..Bandit will steal your heart.

  7. Ellen said:

    Agent Kristin, I love you … you just sparked an idea for the ending of this new book I’m working on.


  8. Anonymous said:

    This post made my day. My WIP falls squarely in that Jodi Picoult space…though I’m a good six months away from being ready to submit. Hopefully the timing will still be good and the writing too!

  9. Christine said:

    Ah, the Upper West Side, my old neighborhood. If you have a chance, you should head up to Sal and Carmine’s at 102 and Broadway… both the regular and Sicilian pizza slices are incredible (though Sicilian’s my favorite).

    Thanks for all the great information!

  10. Anonymous said:

    Unfortunately, in this day and age, I take most plugs with a grain of salt. Normally, they are the ‘we are doing okay’ sort of style which shouldn’t be taken as gospel.

    The one thing I did find selling and being asked for in the case of two agent friends is exactly what you are saying. Midstream mainstream — in other words, tried and tested stories with a feel all fuzzy ending.

    Otherwise, the industry is contracting. Sorry, but get used to it now.

  11. Aimless Writer said:

    Oooo, I have a dog story but had no idea who would handle such a thing. I actually heard an agent speak last year who I thought might like it but by the time I got home from the conference I misplaced her name.
    Perhaps its time to drag it out from under the bed and polish it off.
    Watch out…everyone will be sending you their dog stories now. lol

  12. therese said:

    Midstream mainstream – hmm…
    Upmarket from what? Genre?

    Have deitors ever asked for:
    -radical unknown author that doesn’t fit any niche
    -books on the borderline of boring
    -novels with wishy-washy emotional hook
    – people faced with ordinary decisions about odd problems

  13. Anonymous said:

    I agree w/ Anon 7:12–editors seem to be publishing the same copycat fiction over and over, no matter what the category…Aren’t readers getting tired of the same old thing? I know I am!

  14. Terri Tiffany said:

    Great information especially about the Jodi Pecoult type since I just finished a rought draft in that realm. Thank you for the encouragement!

  15. Anonymous said:

    This confirms what I’ve been suspecting for awhile (the comments as much as Kristen’s post). Agents & editors really aren’t looking for anything new or creative right now, to be perfectly blunt. Other commenters here are correct, they’re publishing the same copycat fiction (while telling us not to write what’s popular, write what we love, but don’t ask us to represent/publish it if it doesn’t involve werewolves and teenage vampires). I also note that agents really do seem to be combing the Web looking for self-published successes and offering book contracts. (Agent Kristen, does a lit agent have the right to expect her full commission on representing a previously self-published but successful book? Since she’s only doing half the work, shouldn’t she accept only half the commission, at least for that book? Any others of course would be full commission.)

    I also note that you don’t even have to write a book to be published anymore – just put up a stupid web site or blog and the agents will come a-runnin’ (they call books based on blogs “blooks”).

    So basically, I should just shelve my novel-for-grownups for about six months until agents decide they’re tired of quick-hit flash-in-the-pans, or self-publish, make it a success, and fight them on the commission when the slackers are only doing a fraction of their normal work? And editors know whether they’re keeping their jobs or not?

  16. Tweet said:

    I just want to know if that agent who hasn’t handled much adult fiction is Sara Megibow. All of us at AbsoluteWrite keep waiting for her announcement that she’s taking her first client!

  17. Anonymous said:

    ‘Agents & editors really aren’t looking for anything new or creative right now’

    They never did and never will.

    Back in the early nineties, I had this brilliant idea for a novel about the FBI investigating UFOs. No one touched it because it was mixing ‘realistic’ with ‘fantasy’. Then the X Files came along, and I didn’t pitch it because it was so similar. A couple of years later, when I’d had a few other books published, I was asked if I had anything else, mentioned my FBI/UFO book and was told it couldn’t be published because it was an X Files rip off, but if I’d mentioned it a couple of years ago when the X Files was hot stuff …

    After that conversation, my luck pitching novels changed, and it was down to one simple thing:

    I stopped saying ‘this book is a complete original, a bit experimental, it’s unique’ and I started saying ‘it’s just like X and Y and Z’, where X was a bestselling book from a year ago and Y was a book still on the bestsellers list and Z was a novel that had just been made into a movie or TV series.

    I’ve never looked back.

    It’s simple: you go to Borders and see what’s selling. You pretend your book is like what’s selling. You pitch exactly the same book you were planning to write. You get commissioned.

    There’s a herd mentality with agents and publishers – there has to be, it’s how they stay in business. But it’s when they take a risk or make a mistake that leads to them finding Harry Potter, instead of spending their time looking for the next Harry Potter.

  18. Anonymous said:

    Anonymous published author, you have made me laugh, caused me to forward your comments to a fellow struggling writer, and given me a reason to live again 😉 Thank you for your comments. Changing the query letter!