Pub Rants

Category: conferences

Why 50 Shades of Grey Makes Agent Lives Harder

STATUS: The appointment schedule is firming up! Get ready for some posts on what editors will be looking for in 2012.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THIS IS IT by Kenny Loggins

It’s pretty simple. We agents go to conferences and really drive home the fact that writers need to master their craft. Wow us with masterfully written opening pages. Stop butchering the English language.

Then a work comes along and blows that advice out of the water.

Readers have called 50 Shades of Grey any number of things: campy, fun, spirited, hilarious, worth the money, a fast read.

But well written has not been one of them.

So what do we say when a novel inexplicably becomes wildly popular, sells like crazy, and part of the cultural lexicon?

You got me. Maybe I can say this is a one-in-a-million happenstance of all stars aligning.

But I can say it does make our jobs harder. There will be any number of writers who will be convinced they can do same. Gosh I hope my query inbox doesn’t become inundated. No matter what 50 Shades is, I would not have been the agent to spot its “genius.”

Plain and simple.

The Concern Is Perhaps Premature

STATUS: All my Texas blog readers, Kristin Callihan’s FIRELIGHT is going to be included in the romance round-up on Good Morning Texas tomorrow, Wed. May 2. Station WFAA-TV channel 8. It’s the ABC affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth. How cool is that. I wish I could tune in.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? DOMINO DANCING by Pet Shop Boys

When I was at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference last week, I had a writer rush up to me in a panic to ask a question. She was incredibly worried that she had not established her social media platform for her novel yet.

If her release date was in 4 weeks, then I would say she had cause to panic.

But given that she hadn’t actually finished writing her work-in-progress (let alone begin querying for her agent search), I found her concern a little premature.

*grin*

I advised her that at this point in her professional career, she should focus on writing the best novel she possibly could. Plenty of time to get the social media cranking while it’s on submission. I personally don’t know any agent who would say no to an author for a project they love just because the publicity platform isn’t there yet.

I can build that with an author. I imagine most agents feel the same.

How Do You Know If An Agent Is A Good Agent?

STATUS: Today I crushed many a sensitive soul during my crafting your query pitch workshop. Just kidding. They all said it was great and learned a lot. I’ll take them at their word.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LET’S GET IT ON by Marvin Gaye

This evening, a writer sat down next to me and asked if I knew XYZ agent and what I thought of her. I actually didn’t recognize the agent’s name and so I couldn’t help her by sharing an opinion. Certainly I know a lot of agents in the biz but it’s simply not possible to know ALL the agents practicing out there–especially a lot of the newer agents who are just starting out.

She then wanted to know how she could tell whether an agent is a good agent.

This is definitely a question that has been tackled on Absolute Write and Backspace.org and any search could probably bring up hundreds of forum posts regarding it.

For me, it’s simple. What is an agent’s track record of sales? If solid, then it’s probably just going to be a matter of whether you also connect with the agent as a person. By the way, whether an agent with a good track record is a good fit for you as an author is actually a whole different question than whether an agent is a good agent. One agent might be fantastic for one kind of client and disaster for another client who has different needs.

If the agent is new, how new? Are they with an established agency or agent with a good history of sales so the newbie has a mentor for questions? If an agency is brand new, did the agent work for an established firm before going out solo (so even though the sales record might be small at the moment, it’s understood that the agent comes with a solid background in the field).

Trust your common sense and what your gut tells you. Make sure you’re not wearing blinders when it comes to your publishing dream. The idea that any agent is better than no agent is most often not true.

What Kristin Requested From Pitch-A-Palooza

STATUS: Started out the week with 354 emails in the inbox after being out for RT. Only 203 to go. Progress!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? TUFF ENUF by Fabulous Thunderbirds

Does it say anything about trends? Probably not but just in case you are curious, here are the types of projects I requested.

2 paranormal adult romances
1 contemporary adult romance
3 women’s fiction projects
1 SF romance (haven’t seen one of these in a while–kind of excited!)
1 SF (but not a romance)
2 contemporary YA
2 paranormal romance YA (I have to be honest, this genre is getting to be a tough sell to editors who have seen nothing but this for the last two years.)

And my sincere apologies to anyone that I had to turned down during the Palooza. When it’s a speed dating format like that, I do have to say no to projects that don’t grab me immediately to reduce the amount of material we receive and have to review. We requested 12 projects but I had over 25 pitches that day. That’s a lot in 90 minutes.

(Just a note, this post is from our archives. Some references and links may be from past years.)

STATUS: I feel like I’m being pulled in 10 different directions. I’m here at the RT Convention. On Tuesday, I offered rep to a potential new client. Wednesday I did an hour phone conference with a film producer for another client. Yesterday, I reviewed 5 different offers for a UK auction going down. Today let’s talk about romance. It’s almost time for Pitch-a-Palooza!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? IF IT’S LOVE by Train

But writers can’t help themselves. They still ask this question anyway.

At best, this question is unhelpful. If you start writing for the “next hot trend” by the time you finish your project, that particularly trend is on the way out.

Not to mention, if you ask me the question, “What are you looking for?” I can ramble on about something I’d love to see (such as a completely charming, witty, and fun historical romance a la Julia Quinn) but what I offered rep for just this week would never have landed on my “This is what I’m looking for” list.

I’m constantly taken by surprise by what I fall in love with.

After being here at RT, certainly I can tell you that editors are weary of paranormal romance. That everyone is talking about erotica because of 50 Shades (by the way, I don’t rep erotica so please don’t query me for that.)

That “hook-y” women’s fiction novels (i.e. hooks like a knitting club or cupcake club) are still on editors’ wish lists (which by the way, are topics that don’t ring my bell much).

I can tell you that a lot of the romance editors also rep YA and they might be moved to violence if just one more YA paranormal romance lands in their submission inbox.

I can tell you all these things and then I can also tell you that the minute the “right” project lands in that same inbox–even if it contains any of the above–but it blows them away, they’ll offer for it.

So I can’t tell you what I’m looking for as an agent. I can only say that I’m going to know it when I see it and this: I haven’t taken on a romance author in over the year. I’m opening my universe up to that possibility as I’d love to read an awesome romance right now.

I’ve been in my “dark” phase for the last 7 months by taking on dark and gritty SF.

Creative Commons Credit: Andy.Brandon50

An Observation On An Observation

STATUS: Another gorgeous day and guess what? A lovely walk home is Chutney’s favorite part of the day.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WAITING IN VAIN by Bob Marley

Here’s another culprit that can sink your opening pages or opening chapters.

I call it double trouble. It’s when a writer has a terrific scene, great dialogue, good character reveal, what have you… then the writer feels the need to analyze the scene over again from a main character’s inner thought monologue.

Ack! When I do charity 30-page critiques, I spend a lot of time deleting out this kind of repetition. By the way, established writers sometimes do this too and this is when you hope that the author has a great editor who will judiciously cut these moments.

Writers do it to make sure the reader fully understands or gets the joke.

Trust me, if you did your scene right, you won’t need this inner monologue contemplation.

While I was at the SCBWI conference over the weekend, it occurred to me that I should create a workshop on how to critique. The audience would be critique partners looking to develop their skills so as to help one another.

I think I would call it Critique Like An Agent.

An Observation On Character Development

STATUS: It’s such a gorgeous day in Denver. I’m ready to pop out early and take Chutney for a long walk.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WALK ON THE WILD SIDE Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians

This weekend I did my first SCBWI conference. For those of you unfamiliar with the acronym, it stands for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I just had a blast.

As I’ve done in the past, I did my 2-pages or First pages workshop where writers submit their opening pages, it gets read aloud, and I say yay or nay–would I have read on and why.

This time, I had something happen that has never happened before. My reader chose the first three at random and read them aloud. I would have read on for all three.

That’s rare. I’ve given this workshop a dozen or so times and I’ve usually found only one submission that I would have read further on. 99.9% of what we see isn’t quite ready for an agent to review. By the way, this is not to stay it will never be ready. Just that it wasn’t quite there in this incarnation.

Trust me, I don’t want to stomp on writers’ dreams!

For this workshop, I noticed a couple of beginning writer mistakes that I haven’t really talked about yet so I thought I would tackle some.

Beginning Writer Mistake: Opening scenes that make it clear that the writer has not thought through the character’s backstory and history before writing the scene.

What do I mean by this? I can tell from reading the scene that the writer is simply trying to create an exciting opening and if the writer had stopped to think about it, there is no way the characters would react as written if the characters had a clear history with either the other character in the scene or to the event.

For example, a Grandma loves to drive fast, in direct opposition to most people’s perception of how a grandmother would drive. So the writer wants to show this quirky trait and thus writes an opening scene from the grandchild’s perspective who is reacting wildly to the grandmother’s driving.

However, if the character is often driven by her grandmother, she’d be used to her Nana’s rather erratic speed demon driving habit. So given that history, she wouldn’t react dramatically to it; it would be normal.

Do you see what I mean? The writer should approach the scene with the above assumption. Now the writer can still have this opening erratic driving scene but the grandchild character’s reaction would be written differently with this history in mind.

And if it’s the first time the grandmother has ever driven that character, then that would need to be made clear and then the character could react dramatically. The scene would then work.

But I often see slush pile submissions where it’s clear to me that the writer hasn’t quite gotten knowledgeable about his or her characters before jumping in to writing scenes about them.

Just another writing tip to keep in mind!

In The Author’s Shoes

STATUS: Working all morning. Talking all afternoon.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? CRAZY by Icehouse

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference kicks off today. I’ll be there all afternoon chatting about digital changes in publishing (starts at 2 p.m.). And I’ll probably need all afternoon given there is a lot to talk about.

Last night RMFW had their opening cocktail party and I was chatting with an author there. She mentioned that she had to switch agents recently and it was one of the more agonizing things that she has done in her career. Not having been on that side of the fence, I asked her what she thought was the most important factors to keep in mind when going through the process. I thought it would make a good blog topic!

Here’s her list:

1. Make sure the agent loves your work.

Kristin commentary: I agree–especially if you are looking for someone to rep your whole career. An agent should love your writing–not just one book.

Or, as we continued our chat, have an agent take you on simply because you already have a deal on the table. This author said that for the fellow authors she knew, if that was the reason the agent took the author on, the business partnership didn’t last.

2. Ask the agent what their career vision is for you.

K commentary: This would seem like a straightforward thing but different agents might have very different visions for you. For example, you might be a genre mystery writer and the agent sees you evolving more into literary mystery. Now if the author is aligned on that vision, great. But if the author is happy with straight mystery, this particular person might be a good agent but not right for you.

3. Meet the agent in person.

K commentary: During our chat, the author stressed how important this is. It does make sense because you get a general feel for an agent and his/her style when meeting in person more so then just a phone convo. It happens for me when I meet editors in person. Why not agents? But this author was really adamant on how helpful it was to her when making her decision.

So there you have it.

I mentioned to her that in the last year, I’ve taken to skyping with my clients and any new people I’m interested in representing.

I totally feel the difference. It’s like having a face-to-face meeting–even if the client is half way around the world.

Critique Workshopped The Voice Right Out Of There

STATUS: I’ve had many rounds of civilized tea this morning.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? BEDS ARE BURNING by Midnight Oil

The worst thing you an do when traveling abroad is to succumb to the desire to go to sleep right away on arrival.

The trick to acclimating is to suck it up, stay awake, and try not to hit the pillow until about 7:30 or 8 pm. Then go to sleep and you are, more or less, on schedule for the rest of the trip.

Easier said than done really.

So I rang up Kelley Armstrong who had been on our same flight down. I figured she was valiantly doing the same thing and we could combine forces by going out to dinner.

Can’t say I was the liveliest conversationalist but I think she’ll forgive me. We talked about giving workshops. I’m doing the Agent Reads The Slush Pile workshop tomorrow. As you blog readers know, I always start with a big disclaimer. That 99.9% of what I see during the workshop will not be ready for an agent to see.

Never stops folks though. I think deep down in writers’ hearts, they are hoping to be discovered.

Kelley mentioned the same happens to her when she gives writing workshops. She always begins with her disclaimer that she can’t get any of her writer students published. They are hopeful all the same.

She also mentioned that beginning writers will often suppress their natural voices as they become so focused on the mechanics of writing. In short, one’s voice can be critique workshopped out of them if the writer has a quirky style etc. Often times her job is to allow new writers permission to discover their voice again. (Now it’s not to say you ignore craft mechanics, any good writer is going to figure out how to manage both.)

But since I don’t ever teach writing per se, I thought that was pretty interesting and something new writers need to be aware of.

Live From Seattle!

STATUS: A beautiful sunny day here in Seattle. I feel very lucky because what a lovely city.

What’s playing on the iPod or the XM radio right now? A crackling fire at the Doubletree is all the music I have at the moment

As I mentioned yesterday, I flew to Seattle for the Philip K. Dick Awards on behalf of my author Sara Creasy who currently lives in Melbourne, Australia and couldn’t make the trip.

The awards are part of Norwescon and opening ceremonies began last night. If you are here at the convention, by all means, come an introduce yourself. I’d love to say hello.

But I’m posting this entry today to let you all know that Norwescon is live podcasting the awards ceremony.

If you want to tune in here is the url. Fingers crossed that Sara wins and you’ll see yours truly on the stage accepting the award on her behalf!

Live video by Ustream