Pub Rants

The Value Of A List

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STATUS: Heading into the final week of meetings and boy the days are packed.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BIG TIME by Peter Gabriel

Here’s my advice for the day. Don’t read too much into these lists I post. I do it because writers are so interested in knowing what editors want (or don’t want in this case). As if there is some magic formula embedded in their “want” list.

The actuality is this. There are certain trends in publishing. Right now in YA it’s the paranormal element—be it a zombie, vampire, werewolf, witch or what have you. Basically, editors end up seeing so much in this genre, they get weary of it. Only THE best projects will stand out in the crowd. Only a really unique story will grab the attention of the sales force in an editorial meeting. In fact, editors contemplate their spin (how they’d pitch it) before they are even willing to make an offer to buy it. If they don’t have that new spin, they’re passing. Market is crowded.

Logically, you guys all know this. So when I say that editors aren’t buying epic fantasy, is that true? Sure. Until I put an amazingly written, wholly original epic fantasy in front of them. Suddenly, they are open to buying.

But what I’m trying to point out with my lists is what editors are seeing too much of—so those books are going to be a much harder sell for the agent. That’s it.

Today I spent the morning at a wonderful literary house—Grove Atlantic. They don’t have mandates. They don’t follow trends. They buy brilliant writers who write screamingly well. (So hard to find I might add…)

They did a title called BROKEN FOR YOU that I wish I had sold. In fact, I’d love more submissions in that vein—literary novels with emotional heart. Oh, that’s so hard to find. The level of writing matched with the emotional complexity of character… A lot of times writers will have one or the other fabulously done. That’s what upmarket commercial fiction usually encompasses. To have both together, well, that’s the trick.

As an agent, I’d love more of that. I’d love to do a book with Grove Atlantic. I waited five years for a book like Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet. I’m willing to wait another five for a title like Broken, but I’m hoping I don’t have to.


11 Responses

  1. Tracy said:

    It is extremely interesting to see those lists, but honestly, we know that even with good writing, this business is extremely subjective. Obviously we hope to have written something that’ll stand out a bit from the crowd. I wish you tremendous success and hope you find what you’re looking for!

  2. Laina said:

    Hello Kristin, just wanted to drop you and Sarah a line and say that I bought “The Demon’s Lexicon” as soon as I could and am on the edge of my seat about to finish it. I have been waiting for good fiction like this for a year! I think I may be perusing more titles in your agency.

    Thank you for the fine reading experience!

  3. Ruth said:

    Heh. The “What they don’t want” list didn’t bother me, as my current ms fits none of those points (except the story poorly told, but that why I’m revising/rewriting it…). It was interesting, though, to see how many people got either worried or upset by the list. I kind of figured it was a case of “We don’t want this… unless it’s really EXCELLENT” – but it’s good to have that confirmed.

    Thanks for all your help and advice, Kristin! 🙂

  4. Jen A said:

    Oh, I outright googly-eyed loved Broken for You. I hope you get a book like that soon, too – just let us all know if you do, as soon as you sell it, so we can look for it!!

  5. M. K. Clarke said:

    That’s why agents/editors always say: Write what YOU want, tell it well, and let the story take a life of its own.

    Thanks for sucn an informative post, kristen. ‘Preciate it.

  6. Anonymous said:

    The reason there aren’t more quality up-market fiction books is because, for the writer, they’re a much riskier proposition. There’s a more reliable market for trashy novels than there is for literary novels. Yeah, you’re not gonna win any awards (that matter) by churning out pulp, but at least you stand of chance of being published and having a readership–and maybe even a paycheck. With literary books, you’re lucky if it gets read at the local community colelge creative writing course. However, if you do hit it big with a n upmarket lit novel, you can hit it REAL big, as in, Hello Oprah, glad I had time to make your show today!

  7. Anonymous said:

    The other reason might be that they’re more difficult and time consuming to write, too.

  8. Torsten Adair said:

    Here’s my pitch… Punchinello (black mask, Naples) meets Guy Fawkes (white mask, England). Hilarity and post-modern deconstruction ensues.

  9. Anonymous said:

    i have books that would be ideal for grove atlantic. i have three collections of short stories and a novel with a second novel in the works. i know that a savvy agent could sell them to grove atlantic. how can i make that happen?

  10. Jenue said:

    Hmmmm… just saw the “what editors don’t want list”.

    I could never adjust my work to please the market. I think that authors write better when they first and foremost write to please themselves.

    My golden rule has always been “write what you like and other people will like it too” — maybe even an editor.