Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

When Trendy Trumps Publishing Sense

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STATUS: Wearing Halloween tights! Of course I’m having a great day.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SKYFALL by Adele

Don’t ask because I won’t reveal the title as this post is a true rant. *grin*

Last year I saw a YA manuscript on submission. The author had gotten an offer pretty quickly so I had to read right away. I read to the end (which is rare for me) and ultimately I decided to pass. The story had a lot of promise but for me, there was a bit of an ick factor and I thought it needed a ton of work. It also had a bit of a bizarre ending that I couldn’t fathom.  The title went on to sell for big money at auction.

I remember just being astonished. Such a quick sale meant that very little work had been done before submission. In my mind, editors were willing to pay big money for a concept. Well, that’s not the first time that has happened. And it’s definitely not going to be the last.

Maybe I just had sour grapes as I had passed. There’s probably some truth in that. From what I can tell though, the book was published in 2012 and it didn’t do as expected.

Just recently it happened again with another YA title I saw on submission and passed on because I honestly did not think it was young adult novel despite its trendy concept.

I’m so so ready for something new and for editors to get excited about something wildly different!

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21 Responses

  1. Tiana Smith said:

    I love seeing agents post things like this – because it means that not everyone in the industry is so focused on SELL THE TRENDS! Also – who wouldn’t be happy while wearing Halloween tights? 😉

  2. K. Victoria Chase said:

    Kristin,

    Do you feel that since the book didn’t do well that you passing on it was the right choice? Clearly the editors wanted the book…

    Would it be harder to sell another book by that author if you had reppped that person?

  3. Patrick Freeman said:

    There’s an old saying Hollywood (also true in publishing and in the auto industry) that everyone wants to be the first to be second.
    Once someone has a hit everyone jumps on the Twilight, or Zombie, or 50 shades wagon trying to ride the wave of that success.
    From a purely fiscal perspective, I guess, it makes some sense. But it speaks nothing of creativity or originality.
    Personally, in novels or music or screenplays, I will write what I love. Each project is like a child that I nurture and raise to maturity. If the world loves my children as I do then great.
    But if not, if they are only looking for the next wave to ride there are other writers to fill that niche.

  4. KayC said:

    I love that you are an agent who goes with what feels right for you and not what you think will sell whether you like it or not!

  5. Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said:

    Trend or not, I would really prefer anything I write to be the best it could possibly be before it is sent to agents, publishers, and the public. As an unpublished author, I want to give my book, and my future career as a writer, the best possible chance of success. I’ve come to learn one major thing about publishing: It is SLOW! If my book was rushed through the process, I’d be worried.

    I don’t want to be a “one and done” author. I want this to be my lifelong career. A rushed and disappointing debut seems to be a bad way to start off.

  6. Ann Stewart said:

    It’s good to know that agents aren’t always looking for the “trend.” I understand you want to make money (so do we) but “the next great thing” is just around the corner and you can’t find it by always buying a mimic of the current great thing.

    (and, Patrick, Zombies rock. 🙂 )

  7. Anonymous said:

    Oh, man I wish you would dish! There is one that came out last fall with a Mary Sue protagonist and the most overwrought prose I’ve ever read. I paid full price for the hardcover because the premise sounded cool and I trusted publishing standards…heh.

    One reason Ms. Nelson is at the top of my list is because I like her clients’ books!

  8. Aurelia Blue said:

    Here’s hoping you happen on the next trend,lol! No, it really is good to hear an agent say these things. I admire your decision greatly. Anyone who reads this blog and listens to your vlogs can see you have a good head on your shoulders. You’re exactly what we unpublished authors want in an agent. I know you’re probably feeling exasperated about the whole thing. But I congratulate you on your intelligence!

  9. jknightsworld said:

    Sometimes that gut feeling is still right even though your choices can have you questioning yourself in the natural. I’m ready for something new also.

  10. Amy L. Sonnichsen said:

    I don’t envy authors who get a quick, humongous deal on their first novel. That’s a lot of pressure! And it can mean a fizzled career if your first books don’t pay out. The ideal seems to be to start small, sell a lot, and work your way up to humongous! 😀

  11. LinWash said:

    Wow. This is so encouraging. Having seen at at least books with the same premise recently, I’m glad to know you’re looking for the new and different.

  12. Krista Van Dolzer said:

    I have a strong suspicion I know which book you’re taking about. I recently read a book that fits this description almost exactly–sold last year for huge money, just came out this one (which doesn’t happen often)–and I didn’t think it lived up to its resume for quite a few reasons.

    I know you generally don’t answer questions in the comments, but I’ll throw this one out there just in case someone else knows: If a manuscript sells in a major deal and the publisher markets it aggressively, is it a Very Bad Thing if the book doesn’t show up on the best seller lists? Does that mean the publisher likely won’t recoup its investment?

  13. Heather Day Gilbert said:

    I think if the writing skill is lacking, many people won’t read it, no matter how trendy it is. That said, lots of NYT best-sellers aren’t well-written.

    Glad to see agents like you who are willing to look for something completely different, yet well-crafted. I have an agent like that, and my book is outside the “popular” historical time periods…but I’m thinking it’s going to garner nothing but rejections b/c it’s not MAINSTREAM enough (read: what is assumed to be marketable). But I write in the CBA, which is a narrow playing field.

  14. Cat York said:

    Dying to know what book it was, but I know you can’t say. 😉 I agree with above statement. Big dea = big pressure. I’d rather start small as well.

  15. Anonymous said:

    All you have to do is watch how our more successful politicians get away with talking to people and talking them into anything. It’s truly an education if you watch closely, and the things you can learn from them about what the general public wants is astounding. Of course you have to set lower standards and the truth doesn’t matter much. Learning how to spin things around helps, too. But as long as people are happy that’s all that really matters in the end 🙂

  16. Anonymous said:

    I realize I’m the odd man out here, but this post left a bad taste in my mouth.

    I don’t know what book or author you’re referring to, but it would probably be fairly easy to narrow it down by going through Publisher’s Marketplace. Which is exactly why this post seems ill-conceived to me. There are many agented and/or published authors who read your blog (including myself) and it’s very possible that this author who was likely very excited to sell his/her book and receive such tremendous support has read your words here and realized that you were “astonished” that their book sold for what it did because you were apparently right to reject them. Honestly, it seems to add insult to injury to an author who originally looked to you for guidance and is now in a really tight spot through no fault of their own.

    After I received my offer of representation from my agent, I did the customary thing and let all the other agents know that I had an offer. One of the agents who requested to read my full later sent me a rejection that intimated that she felt my book needed a lot of “guidance” and so she was going to pass. I’m not sure if I can articulate to you how much it messes with your writerly confidence to get two big thumbs up from one major agent and then two huge thumbs down from another. Especially with a comment that gives me nothing to work with. All I can do is proceed with the one person who believes in my book and hope that they’re right. I’m sure this author did the same thing and lo and behold, it didn’t work out too well. My heart goes out to them. It’s tough to fail on a large scale when you’ve invested months or even years into that project.

    I’m surprised that your very public response to that author’s predicament isn’t one of compassion instead of “I told you so”. As so many agents are fond of constantly reminding us authors – this is a small business. Authors do change agents, and while some writers here obviously appreciate the glimpse into the “mind of an agent”, there are others like myself who are very aware that an agent’s job is to represent their clients and a petty post like this does a poor job of that. You could have very easily ranted about publishers caving to trends without skewering this unnamed author.

    And to everyone else who has commented, wishing they could know which author and which book – why? Why do you want to gloat over someone else’s failure? I hope you remember this someday when one of your dreams doesn’t pan out as you’d hoped.

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