Pub Rants

What Are You Looking For?

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STATUS: Doing meetings in New York all week.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? I’M A BELIEVER by The Monkees

Good question. What am I looking for?

Because I’m rewriting content for our new website (and the submission guidelines are an integral part of that), this question is definitely on my mind as of late. Not to mention, when I attend a conference, invariably I get asked this question. By now, you’d think I’d have a good answer ready. To be honest, I don’t.

We also have to answer this question on our new website for our submission guidelines. Since Sara’s answer is different than mine, we are tailoring our “what are you looking for” list for our specific agent pages.

By the way, the launch of our new website is a bit delayed. Our web developer lives in New Jersey. Yep, Hurricane Sandy.  He actually emailed me to apologize for the delay as he didn’t have electricity. Holy cow! No need for an apology there. We can wait a few more weeks.

But back to our website submission wish list. When I sat down to evaluate what I’m looking for, I find that I’m not interested in creating a nice, neat little list.

Right now our site says I’m looking for literary fiction with a commercial bent, commercial mainstream, women’s fiction, romance, science fiction, fantasy, young adult and middle grade.

Sure, that’s accurate and true but you know what? That doesn’t quite capture what I’m looking for. I want an intense, well-told story and the “genre” is incidental.

This summer I sold a literary cross-over novel that had a lot of horror elements – BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman.

Look at the list above? Do you see the word “horror” anywhere?

Not exactly. Yet, that story was perfect for me.

My book club is going to read Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL.

That’s totally up my alley. Do you see “thriller” on that above list? Nope. So what I’m looking for is not clearly defined by a neat little list that I can post on our website.

And today I had lunch with an editor from St. Martin’s and a bubble tea with an editor from Random House. (I think the tapioca is still stuck in my teeth…) Both had great previous experience in working at genre imprints earlier in their careers and now, neither is a genre editor per se but both love a big story that has a genre element to it. That’s what they are looking for.

And that’s what I’m looking for.

I have to find a way to say that on my page that outlines my submission guidelines. Not an easy trick. I do know that I don’t plan to post a handy little list because that doesn’t really capture what I’m looking for.

I want a good story well told. How you tell that story doesn’t need to fit in a neat little category.

21 Responses

  1. Chelsea Schmitt said:

    Good news for me! I don’t think I can stop genre bending, though it does fill me with new found feelings of terror, though when I think about it, they were probably already there.

    Hi ho! Thanks for another informative and helpful post! 🙂

  2. seilann said:

    Though not unexpected from you, I still find this a relief. 🙂 I consider my current novel “new adult” but feel I have to market it as young adult just because the former doesn’t formally exist yet… I just have to hope that it’s not so big an issue that it keeps agents from reading.

  3. Paula R C Readman said:

    Thank you for giving us an insight into the publishing world. Are you interested in see what I have to offer as I live in England. I enjoy writing dark crime fantasy but I’m never quite sure how I should list it as it not just crime, but a dark fantasy. Then again, it isn’t fantasy because there isn’t any fairies, wizards etc. Sometimes there is an element of supernatural and sci-fi but more of a mystery.

    Get the picture? Maybe I should just send you may opening chapters and hope you like my writing style.

  4. Lauren B. said:

    I wonder if at some point it doesn’t just become easier to state which specific genre/categories you *don’t* take on, and then everything else is fair game 🙂

  5. Tiana Smith said:

    I think bullet lists are hard, because there are always outliers. It’s just as hard for a writer to nail down the exact, singular genre they write in as it is for agents to say what they represent.

  6. Heather Button said:

    Thanks for clarifying. I too love to read multiple genres, but it really depends on the story itself. Not a fantasy fan per se, or a paranormal romance fan per se, but if the two happen to meet in a really good story, I’m happy as a clam.

  7. Anonymous said:

    There are some agents that don’t post handy little lists but instead specify the quality of the writing they want. Then they complain about the genres being submitted to them that aren’t anywhere close to any of the other books they represent so why would people query them with that?

    Whether or not they’re ready, most writers attempting to begin a professional career will think their work is good enough if they’ve started querying. If you don’t have a handy little list, what you’re saying is “send me everything” because everyone thinks they’re good enough.

  8. Colin Smith said:

    I’ve always considered an agent’s “What I’m Looking For” list to be not so much a list of the agent’s favorite genres, but those genres the agent has particular expertise in selling. For example, if I have a horror novel that you love, but you don’t know the horror market as well as the romance, are you really the best agent for my novel? Or is agenting such that now it doesn’t matter how well versed in a market the agent is–what matters is who that agent knows. For example, you might not know the horror market, but you have contacts that can help you navigate those waters to find the best publisher for this novel you love.

    I know you don’t often respond to comments, Kristin, but I would be interested in what you would say to this.

  9. Ashley said:

    Kristin, the problem is that as authors we all think we have a good story that’s well told.

    To me it sounds like you’re looking for passion, by which I don’t mean romance, I mean something with drive and excitement. Something you can get excited about.

    But we all think we have that too.

    A more practical list might be to tell us what you’re *not* looking for. Do you have any deal-breakers?

  10. Debra Lynn Lazar said:

    Kristin, I can’t wait to query you with my latest women’s fiction project. You or Sara have requested pages from me each time I’ve queried you in the past (three times so far!). Hopefully, one of these times you’ll fall in love.

    That said, I agree with some of the comments here re: maybe just stating what you don’t want. Can’t wait for the new website reveal!

  11. Anonymous said:

    Paula, read over the submission guidelines on the website (for that matter, any agent’s website) and follow their instructions.

    Also, I am pretty sure you can find lots of information in this blog’s history about submitting work to agents.

  12. Miss Sharp said:

    “A big story that has a genre element to it.”

    I like this a lot and I think a writer who has one of these in progress will know exactly what you mean!

  13. Aurelia Blue said:

    I like open minded people…I don’t think it compromises professionalism at all. Good for you letting us know how you process! I admire you greatly, and learn so much from this blog. Thank you.

  14. C.E. Martin said:

    I’d sure love to see you review one of my novels… cause every time I read what you are looking for or what you liked, it sounds like what I’m writing. I know I’ve had problems with my blurbs and picking a genre (I now declare it pulp-horror, a mix of men’s adventure and pulp), but dang!

  15. Madam Peregrine said:

    Perhaps it’s odd but I found this blog post oddly hopeful even though I’m nowhere near ready to begin querying. I’m excited to begin the process this coming year though.

  16. M. K. Clarke said:

    Story, story, story. Be it a TV program (“House,” “24,” “Mike & Molly,” and “Malibu Country”), story songwriters (Alanis Morrisette, ZZ Ward, Harry Chapin), or a solid storyteller in a memoir, script or novel (Rod Stewart, Sal Polisi, Jay Asher), it’s always, always, always about how well written and how the story unfolds. All of these mentions were things that drew me in, and I could not stop watching, reading, or listening. I’m excited my first near-completed novel fits this bill, and I’m excited to see what posts come along in 2013.