February 24th, 2009 | Agents | 15 Comments
Well, Chip, you've proceeded to upset a lot people with your comments about Lifeway stickering a few authors' books. What do you say we move on to some new questions, shall we?
Nicole wrote, "I keep hearing agents complain about the amount of proposals they get sent. If an agent is willing to be a little more transparent and actually give a few examples of novels they love and then detail the specifics of what they're looking for, they might reduce their inbox queries, don't you think?"
Unfortunately, Nicole, my experience is that no amount of specificity is going to stop the onslaught of queries we receive from desperate souls looking for an avenue to a broader readership (or validation in the form of their name on the spine of a book). I wish it were that easy.
A few days ago, right after I posted ON OUR BLOG FOR THE WHOLE WORLD TO READ the fact that I don't read, sell, or represent erotica, guess what happened? You got it — a whole slug of racy romance novels. Holy slush pile, Batman! Give me a break!
Hey, I'll be happy to tell you what I love to read. I do have to confess my reading for pleasure hours have dwindled to near desperate proportions of late, but as I'm getting more efficient at my job, I'm learning to relax a little and allow myself to dive into a good book for the sake of escape, education, or edification.
I simply wish I was Steinbeck. I think Elizabeth Berg's characterization is to die for. I love Donald Miller for his innate ability to tell a story and convey a broad idea while making me laugh — and laughing at himself. Richard Russo makes me want to crawl inside the pages. Jane Kirkpatrick's descriptions are luscious. Jodi Piccoult is scary good, though I haven't read anything new from her since My Sister's Keeper. (I got so completely lost in that story I got absolutely nothing else done for three days. Seriously.) I really enjoyed the imagery and metaphor of Athol Dickson's River Rising. And speaking of rivers, I started reading Anne Rivers Siddons a couple years back and thoroughly enjoyed her ability to weave complex, rich settings into her character-driven stories… but then discovered she tends to go on too many risque rabbit trails for my sensibilities. And as much as I love Steinbeck, Leif Enger's Peace Like a River replaced Tortilla Flats as my all-time favorite novel.
So you can probably tell I love philosophical, literary, character-driven, engaging sagas. Trouble is, there is very limited room within CBA for such material. And, as yet, I haven't collected enough relationships outside CBA to make it possible to take much literary fiction on. I want to — I really do. But, as I've told many an author lately, I can't keep walking around with a bruise on my forehead in an effort to fulfill my personal mission get CBA houses to do more literary novels. That's just not my job. My job is to keep my hand to the plow (thanks, John B, for that reminder), remember that my job is to keep up with what editors want, and place authors who've worked hard at the craft with houses where they can reasonably find long-term success. So I keep looking for good commercial adult fiction in genres that are doing well in the market. We don't represent much in the way of speculative or sci-fi writing, but we're always on the lookout for women's fiction, romance, suspense, thrillers, and inspirational novels.
Having said all that, and in the interest of the transparency you seek, Nicole, I'll let you in on what's currently on my nightstand (besides manuscripts). Surprise Me by Terry Esau, Garden Design by Sunset, and Risen Magazine, a Christian interview magazine I'm absolutely enamored with. Also Where's Your Jesus Now by Karen Zacharias, and Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres. If you notice the glaring absence of titles by my own authors, it's because I simply chose to leave them out. I hope that answers your question, Nicole, though I imagine it might raise more.
Renee wrote to say, "I've been contracted with a publisher for a novel that is due for release in August. I did not go through an agent. I think everything has gone great… Is it always necessary for an author to have an agent?"
Nope, it's not. As some folks have heard Chip say, we're not Agent Evangelists. There are still occasions where an author and editor connect, decide to work together, and things go swimmingly for everyone. Right now, though, as lists get tighter, editors' jobs harder, and open slots for books more difficult to pin down, it's definitely getting more difficult for authors to get in (and stay in) without an agent. If an author doesn't have relationships with acquisition editors, it's very tough to break into the market. And I suppose I could ask if you knew what you were doing when you negotiated the contract. As Chip has pointed out several times on this blog, the publisher has a team of lawyers and accountants supporting their negotiation — who does an author have?
Given the chance, some authors enjoy handling the business side of writing themselves. The pitching, the negotiating, the contract review, and the following through with publishers on deadlines, compliance, options, and the like are things few authors enjoy or do well. Let's just say, for the sake of characterization, that these might be the same folks who don't mind filing and who actually fill out their mileage log whenever they drive to Office Depot for paper clips. But there are also authors who loathe the business side of their writing careers. They would prefer paper cuts on their eyeballs to reading a contract. They just want to write, and claim they don't care about the amount of their advance or the terms of their contract. THEN there are the folks who have written a couple books and feel they can do better in terms of contracts, but just can't find it in their DNA to ask for improvements themselves. Those are all things agents can help with.
Different types of authors require different skills. The bottom line is that most authors simply don't have the breadth of experience or the relationships with editors to get over the hump in publishing. Whatever their motivation, most authors find they prefer working with an agent and appreciate having an idea collaborator, an objective professional, a career consultant, and a cheerleader on their side, not only to handle the details, but to help keep them going when the middle of their novel starts to sag or they need help deciding where to go next to build their platform.
Still, even with an agent, everyone has to get their own paper clips. And do their own filing. Paper cuts and all.
Got a question about publishing? Send it in and we'll offer you our answers.