Sunday, January 3, 2010

Agents and Editors and Writers, Oh My!

Last week, I discussed the trek to hunt down and capture that most elusive of creatures -- the literary agent. For those of you who follow the blogs of agents and editors, you've seen that most of them have been out of the office this week. Here's hoping they've had a great holiday and come back recharged and ready to dig into their query files because there are a lot of us out there sharpening our pencils and flexing our fingers over the keyboards in preparation of resuming the hunt once more.

So, the New Year is here and you're ready to send your baby out into the wilds of the literary world in hope of representation. You've checked Preditors and Editors. You've looked at the RWA site (if you're a member) and confirmed that the agents you're considering aren't scam artists. You've done your final check of Writer Beware. So what now? Or, more to the point for some of us, you've read the rejections from the six agents you sent the book out to. What's your next move?

Honestly, for me, it's to look at the rejections and see what they say. I've blogged before about the different types of rejections, but Janet Reid says it much more eloquently than I in her post about her year-end stats. Out of 122 novels she did not sign, 9 weren't right for her but got a referral; 9 were sent back with detailed notes and an invitation to resubmit; 1 got a "not this one but send the next one" sort of comment. But -- and this is what's important -- she doesn't look at any of those 122 novels as failures. Here's what she has to say:

. . . more important than the numbers, it's what you do with them.
There are two ways to look at these results: you, the writer, made progress toward your goal, or you didn't. If you didn't, you use the information you learned in the process to figure out what to change so you'll make progress the next time. If you define failure as not achieving your goal, even good progress is defined as failure, and that's just a recipe for total frigging insanity. If I were a writer looking at those stats, the first thing I'd want to make sure is that I'm writing something fresh and new. So, how do you know that? You don't just write something and assume its fresh and new cause you've never seen it used. Nope. What you do is what Joe Finder did when he started his writing career. He read 200 thrillers. He researched what his genre looked like. . . . If I were a writer looking at those stats, I'd make sure I had fierce beta critics on my team. Fierce critics who would make me want to bathe in medicinal scotch at the end of their critique, but critics who would identify structural problems or voice problems, or plot problems. If I were a writer looking at those stats, I'd say "Good. Now I know what the challenges are." And then I'd make my 2010 resolution: Get Fierce.

I've had rejections with referrals. I've had rejections asking me to send the agent/editor my next piece because they like my writing but feel that my current offering just isn't right for them. Those are wonderful. Those I celebrate because they are successes. They mean my work doesn't suck big time. Even the standard three line rejection is a success because it means I sent the piece out, something I wouldn't have considered doing a few years ago. What I don't like -- okay, I'll be honest, what I hate -- are those agents and editors who accept e-mail queries and do not respond if they are rejecting you. Just, "if you haven't heard from us within X-days/weeks/months, assume we passed." Sorry, it doesn't take but a couple of seconds to send a standard rejection via e-mail. Oh, wait, maybe this should have gone into John's post yesterday about rants. Moving on, people. There's nothing to see here. Ignore the woman frothing at the mouth.

Back to the topic. You also have to know what is selling right now. That's not to say you have to write sparkly vampires and emo werewolves because every teen girl is reading Twilight and the like. First off, they aren't. But, it does mean that if you have something that isn't fresh and well-written, probably also well-researched, it is going to be a lot harder getting your foot in the door if it doesn't follow the current trend. But then, following the current trend means, in many ways, that what you write has to be fresh, have some new twist on it because, by the time it makes its way through the dusty halls of publishing, that trend is now forgotten. Also, when submitting to an agent, you need to know what they are looking for. It might surprise you.

For example, Lori Perkins would "love a Gone with the Wind that's about Scarlett's battle for self in a paternalistic society undergoing sweeping change, not Rhett or Ashley's adventures. I can't tell you the number of books that have come in with male protagonists. The only things that are selling right now are paranormal romance and young adult fiction. I personally love vampires, zombies, the vampire zombie Apocalypse, and kick-ass female characters. Female-centered erotica and erotic romance are always considered as well."

So you've made your new list of agents to send your book to. You've checked their guidelines and
punched up your query letter. Stamps are on the envelopes and you've hit the send button on those electronic submissions. Now what? Well, if you're like me, a lot of angst, even more prayer and then you force yourself to sit down and start the next project. I know, I know, easier said than done. Especially for me. Ask Sarah and Kate...they have to put up with my angsting each time I send something out. But that is the life of a writer, or so they tell me ;-)

In keeping with the tradition, my resolution this year is to be more "fierce" in my writing. One short story a month -- sorry, Sarah, I just can't quite get to the one a week yet -- as well as the novels I'm working on. Not only will I write them, but I'll send them out. GULP. What's your resolution for the New Year?


Anonymous said...

Stop starting novels, and start finishing them!

I love the first drafts, when the ideas are new and the conversations and dalliances spring out of the fingertips.

The rest is just work.:(

But must be done.

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, I know exactly what you mean. I think that's one of the reasons I find it so hard to finish the first draft and go straight into the next phase. I want to step back from it, so something else for awhile before starting the rewrites. Unfortunately, that means all too often that I find all sorts of excuses not to go back. Sigh. Maybe I should add to my resolutions to quit doing that. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Well, if it never gets done, we can't send it into the wilds to live or die.

The only problem is Sarah kicking our derrieres. Oh, and never selling anything, either.

Probably I should be more specific: I will finish the Urban fantasy/horror/romance by end of January. Polish in February. Hunt down some critics in March.

Amanda Green said...

Yeah, Sarah's boots are pointy and metal tipped these days. At least the ones she uses on me. If you need a reader, let me know. And, to make things interesting, shall we post our progress each week? Sort of keep one another on track? My goal is to finish the historical fantasy by the end of January and then finish the steam punk thing by mid-March.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I will finish the five books that are hanging off the machine, waiting for the last polish/last 100 pages. I will do (groan -- I hate this) five proposals for other books. I will be pro-active in publicity and devote a day a week to promotion.
I WILL be a better mentor and read and comment on various pieces waiting for me.
I will NOT sleep.

Anonymous said...

Sarah, those of us awaiting your judgment prefer the variety that comes after a good night's rest.

May I suggest that since you are a well established writer, and likely to have your proposals accepted, that you put out no more than you can write in a year WITH SLEEP!

I mean, five books a year? People will stop believing you are human.

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, as a fan, I love your resolutions. More Sarah books to read. As your friend, sweetie, you have to sleep. And, as one whose posterior is often the target of your pointy boots, you are a great mentor. Still...5 new books from Sarah in a year. WHEE!

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, you still think she's only human? I came to the conclusion a long time ago that Sarah is at the very least super-human. At least when it comes to the number of books she can put out in any given year.

Anonymous said...

My resolution, or goal, is to complete one short a month and keep at least ten stories in the wild at a time. I do write flash, so maybe if not one short, then two flashes.

At some point this year, I would like to start a novel. Since it would be a first, I don't have a plan yet for such a start because I don't know yet what works for me in this length. And especially, I don't have a story for a novel yet. Hmmm...

Linda Davis

Amanda Green said...

Linda, I wish I knew how to do flash. It Sarah more than a year to convince me I could do a short story. I'd never tried one before and it just didn't feel natural. Now I like doing them...I just wish I could sell more. And, just so you know, you've probably jinxed yourself regarding the novel. Every time I say I don't have an idea for a story, I seem to get hit by at least 4, all demanding my undivided attention. Good luck and keep up posted, especially regarding your first novel.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

My goal is to have more book proposals out there.

I've been writing the whole book one of a new series, and often book 2 as well, before writing the proposal and sending it out, but this takes time.

So my new goal is to write a good proposal and about 150 pages to get into the rhythm of the book and characters and then send it out.

I guess you could say I'm trying not to get too emotionally invested in each new series.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, I wish I could do that. But I'm afraid that as soon as I sent out a query on something I haven't finished, some agent or editor is going to want the whole thing ASAP. Worse -- okay, not worse but almost as problematic -- once I start writing a book and am far enough into it that I can put together a decent synopsis I'm invested enough in the characters that they don't let me alone until I finish the book.