Apparently, only one person had an idea for my column. Which I have to write tomorrow. And it wasn’t me. Uh-oh.

And it’s not that the idea is a bad one. Many writers likely want to know how to strike the right tone in a query letter. The problem is that there’s no exact formula. And partially that’s because what might sound intriguing to me could sound innocuous to another agent. When you get down to the bottom line, we’re all individual readers. How many times has something been published and you’ve discovered that all your friends adore it while you just didn’t click with it at all? It happens with agents too. My best advice is to read that letter yourself as if you were receiving it from a stranger asking you to invest in their private business venture. At the get go, that is sort of what one is asking an agent to do. If the agent is a solo outfit, it’s money that could be used elsewhere (say, for a trip to BookExpo). If it’s a larger company, then the agent is accountable to someone.That’s the business side of it.

The commenter actually wanted to know how not to send off a “scary vibe,” either in a query or in person at a conference. I’m not sure how to answer that. I think basic courtesy might cover it. Don’t invade personal space (I got a query letter once that made it quite clear I had been systematically stalked all over the internet and it has made me quite conscious ever since of everything that I say online). Don’t overplay your hand. Hard sells don’t work on most agents (we’re sales people and we recognize a snowjob). Again, I come back to this idea that you should check yourself with the concept of whether you would want a complete stranger to behave this way towards you. I realize that not everyone has the same boundaries, so add that into the equation as well.

Back to my own stumbling block… Now I know that when people ask writers where their ideas come from there’s a lot of rolling of eyes and writers asking how those people manage to stop the ideas from coming. Or something to that effect. I don’t think I could quite make a column out of that one I was given (but thank you to that individual regardless). Or at least I didn’t get more than a couple paragraphs. I’m going to let my backbrain try to come up with something today, but I really wouldn’t mind if someone else proved the muse this time around. Is there really nothing that anyone wants insight about? It doesn’t have to be romance specific. I’ve posted plenty of things there that are more generally industry oriented.

So, any takers?

15 responses to “ideas

  1. What are the current market trends for genre, whether they be specifically for the romance market (urban fantasy, time travel, mystery, chick lit, etc.), or the mainstream market? Does demand for a certain genre of romance typically mirror the mainstream market?

    • oh, that’s really spooky. I had the exact same thought.
      also are there any kind of themes that crop up again and again to the point where you think ‘oh no, not *again*’

  2. Maybe you can write the article about what happens (or how it happens) when a book that was sold gets cancelled, by the publisher, since you’ve unfortunately had that happen recently. Explain the reason why a publisher might cancel a contract, how you handle the situation emotionally yourself, how you handle contacting the author involved, etc. There’s got to be some type of article in that, and I don’t think I’ve read anything about that anywhere. Also, is this becoming more common in your experience? If so, why?
    Just throwing out an idea.

    • I’ll think about that one. It’s actually the first time it’s ever happened to me. And then it happened in spades. 7 books! Ouch. And I don’t know yet how any of those books are going to come out in the end (i.e. whether I’ll be re-selling them or not).

      • I was curious if that was a recent trend, or if you had seen it before. It is strange that you got so many in a row… for the first time. Annecdotes do not conclusions make, but I’ve wondered if there is some sort of shift happening at some level, and you’re seeing the signs.

    • Yes, I was interested in this topic too.

  3. I’d be interested in hearing your take on the “changing genres” question (for probably obvious reasons…) I’ve read a couple of other agents’ blogs saying that changing genres is *death* to an author, and I’ve read others who say that certain genres are dying or dead and it can’t hurt anyone to leave a sunken ship. I’d love to read your perspective!

  4. I would be interested in the ‘writers changing genres’ discussion as well.
    The scope may be too broad, but where do you see publishing headed? Do you think that, frex, the growth of some small presses into medium-size presses may mean that one could build a pretty good writing career without ever selling to the main NYC publishers (a ‘long tail’ type discussion)? Has your job as an agent changed over time, and do you see it changing? As different venues for fiction develop–games, the web, cereal boxes, whatever–do you see a time when your clients are not primarily authors of books as we know them? Would you still want to be an agent if that happened?

  5. With all the talk about the importance of genres, do you think there’s room for a novel that will one day prove to be a classic?
    A literary novel wouldn’t necessarily make the cut, because I think literary fiction’s as much a tight little modern genre as chick lit.
    I mean a contemporary novel with a lot of story in it that people will return to because of the story. Something that’s more like Dickens than James Joyce.
    What do you think will survive out of the novels being published today?
    BTW, I enjoyed your “I in Team.” Thanks.
    Sally Jane Driscoll

  6. ideas
    Promotion from an agent’s perspective: what the author can do, what the agent will do, what’s worth it, what’s not. Maybe even add in a best and worst you’ve seen.

  7. A friend and I were discussing the perceived expectation of the publication of short stories before anyone would seriously consider representing a novel (Actually, an editor mentioned that short-story sales were important, but I would think an agent might be inclined to say the same thing.) How true is that?

  8. I just don’t have time – or money – enough to read everything that comes out in the genres I write in (SF and fantasy). I’m sure you can’t possibly keep up with them all either. How do you keep up with market news, and what do you recommend for writers? I could easily spend all my time doing market research and not getting any writing done!
    And how much attention should I pay to market trends? If I’ve got a project which happens to fall into Last Year’s Overdone Genre, should I submit it anyway? Will my agent suggest I let it wait until there’s room in the Paranormal Sexy Vampire Detective shelf, revise it, or what? Or is there really always room for one more good novel even in an overdone area?
    Thanks bunches for all your advice.

  9. “My best advice is to read that letter yourself as if you were receiving it from a stranger asking you to invest in their private business venture.”
    I don’t care what the letter says, my answer is no. I’d like to think agent submissions aren’t *quite* that hopeless. 😦
    As for subjects I’d love to hear you talk about:
    I hear a lot about what its like for an agent to work with a writer — what’s it like when you are working with editors? Are the materials you send them exactly like the materials we send you? What sorts of communications pass between you?
    You can’t tell us what will make our queries letters perfectly appealing, but maybe you could talk about what appealed to you in a few specific query letters… the more variety you can demonstrate in the things that caught your attention, the more useful the discussion would be to us. Or maybe you could post a sample worst ever query. >:)
    Some of your clients write romance, and some write speculative fiction, how did that happen? What do you think the strengths/weaknesses of the different genres you represent are? What is it about each that especially appeals to you?
    Maybe you could compare/contrast your ideal perfect day at work to what your day is *really* like.
    In theory, it’s easier to get an agent after one has a sales offer. Could you put together a book sale preparedness list, explaining what steps a writer should take should they get that book offer first, in order to find the perfect agent as fast as possible.
    You ended up at the top of my agents list for the perhaps silly reason that I’ve not only read and enjoyed some of your sf sales, but I’ve read and enjoyed some of your regency sales, and I used to write regencies back before I got serious about publication and decided to focus on sf. Does this seem a sensible way to pick out which agents go on the top of our “most wanted” lists? Can you think of better or worse methods? What is the strangest reason for choosing an agent you ever heard? What rather unusual reason have you heard of that despite being strange, is still nonetheless charming?
    Would you be willing to talk about what you do when you aren’t agenting? Your favorite place to be, maybe? What non-publishing related things make you calmer, or annoyed?
    Have I proved myself a real writer yet, or have I merely demonstrated that I am *not* cyberstalking you by suggesting half a dozen things you’ve already covered? 🙂

  10. Hi! I just found this blog, and I wanted to ask a question. I’ve only had a chance to quickly skim through because I’m going to a writer’s conference this morning and have to get moving, so I’m a little confused. Is this a blog just about the romance genre, or fiction in general? I mean, I know a lot of this stuff would pertain to everything, but I just wanted to know. Also, thanks for taking time out to keep a blog up. I know it’s only my first visit, but as busy as agents are, it’s a huge commitment to do this, and it shows that you really care about helping writers get published.

  11. I’d also be interested in seeing what the publishing business entails between agent and editors. As a bunch of authors, we’re all digging deep into what goes on between us and agents. Those of us lucky enough to sell will find out what goes on between editor and author.
    But what happens on the third side of this triangle?
    Not really anonymous,
    Gail, aka Dogma

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