Monday, November 29, 2010

It was bound to Happen

If you've read even one of my blog posts, or one of my tweets, or one of my Face Book rants, you've no doubt discovered I'm an aspiring novelist. I would say writer, but since I've managed to wrangle a couple of freelance credits, I like to think I'm already a writer. 

For many years now, I've been trying in vain to get my foot in the door with the next great novel.  I've been close a few times, but I've never made it to the show as baseball players say.  A couple of those close calls left a bitter taste in my mouth and almost made me consider packing it in altogether. One such close call involved a less than scrupulous literary agent.

Though it's been a few years now, I can still recall how excited I was to get that request for a partial that was followed by a request for the full manuscript. Then came that day every budding author dreams of.  The agent offered representation, and I signed a six month contract. This turned out to be the worst mistake of my career, but I was too green to know it.  Sure, some things seemed a little off.  The agent only wanted to communicate by email and only wanted to sign for six months.  I told myself these little quirks were because I was an unpublished and unproven investment.  The day she asked me for $200 in materials fees, I knew again something was afoot, and it wasn't good. I knew it, but I ignored it. I kept telling myself I didn't want to alienate the only agent who'd shown an interest in me.  It wasn't until later that I found out she was a scam artist and had even landed on a list of the top twenty worst agents of all time. After stumbling on that information, I decided to get smart for the next time.

With a little web research, I discovered some rather wonderful web sites that educate authors on literary agents. This inspired me to write the article, Beware the Bad Agent, that was published in the March/April 2009 issue of Writer's Journal.  I also decided that from now on when an agent asked to see my work, I'd do my research before I got sucked into any excitement. I should tell you it's probably a better practice to do your research before you send a query, but I find my way easier.  Thus far, I've been lucky.  The few that have asked to see a little more of my project have been above board.  At least they were before it happened.

I got a request from the assistant of an agent I'd queried telling me they were excited by my pitch and they wanted to see more.  Having been rejected so much, I'm always leery of any positive response, but something about this one didn't sit right with me.  The first tip off was the fact that she misspelled my book's title.  I guess that's not a horrible sin, but I was right to be concerned. It seems this agent has an editing service on the side, which is a huge conflict of interest.  She's also had no recorded sales this year and only a few in 2009 and was listing some authors on her web site who were no longer clients or weren't at the time some of their work was published.  Needless to say,  I deleted her email and didn't send a damn thing to her.

Still, I'm a little miffed about this. It seems like a horrible thing for some low life money maker to prey on your dream. With so many agents out there, I guess it was bound to happen. The difference this time is that I'm not the same ignorant kid I was when I started out.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Careful What You Wish For

For those of you who actually read my blog (all one of you), you know that in one of my earlier posts I touched on rejection etiquette writers would love for agents to follow.  Of course this was all tongue in cheek and done in jest.  I know there is no realistic way an agent can personally respond to every query they receive. And after a rejection letter I received over the weekend, I don't think I want those personal responses.

In the last four weeks, I've been inundated with rejection letters from prospective agents.  Though I haven't counted in a while, and yes I've counted before, I'd estimate I've sent out nearly sixty query letters.  This is all electronic queries only.  I like to start with those agents who take email submissions as it's a bit of a time and postage saver. With all these queries going out, the more likely it is that I'll be rejected.  In the past few weeks, I've received many form letters.  Some have even started with "Dear Author", which I'm not ashamed to say miffs me a little since many agencies include the guideline that querying authors must address the agent by name and cannot resort to "Dear Agent".  However, I digress as usual. The point is I get a lot of rejection that's bland and impersonal.  Before it even started this round, I posted an article saying that it would be nice to have some idea of why I was being rejected.  Nothing irks me more than:

"Dear Author, Please forgive this impersonal reply, but as you can imagine we receive so many submissions that we haven't the time to offer a personal reply to each of those. We have carefully evaluated your submission and do not feel the project is right for us. Do not let this discourage you as this business is subjective and another agent may feel differently. We wish you all the success in your work."

Now, I have to wonder how carefully my submission was evaluated when the intern they're probably not even paying to send out the rejections hasn't even included my name in the reply. Again, I'm getting off track. Just a thought though.

So, we get to the heart of my rant this week when the impossible happened. I actually got a letter from an agent who told me exactly why she was passing on my project.  In her words: "The YA market is very competitive, and I don't feel your work can compete in today's market." If this response was based on my query letter alone, I'd offer her the one finger salute and go on another rant about how unfair it is for agents to pass on projects based on queries alone.  I'll save that rant for another time. Instead, I offer you this little nugget.

Be careful what you wish for.  Ever since I entered the professional writing market I've been insisting that agents owe it to writers to explain the real basis of their rejection. This past weekend, it happened for me, and it stung.  Maybe those "Dear Author" replies aren't so bad after all.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Changing Genres

Can a writer change genres and still succeed?

This question's been on my mind a lot lately because I'm trying to do it, sort of.  I say sort of for a few reasons. First, I'm not a mainstream published author.  I'm self-published.  Second, I'm going from contemporary adult romance to young adult romance, which doesn't seem like a true change of genres.

It's not like I'm trying to pull a James Patterson and go from crime to romance novels, which he does really well by the way.  However, I am trying to go from romance to romantic fantasy.  My new novel features some characters and themes that are likely to stir controversy.  Those of you who know me know that I'm not shy about tackling tough subjects, but those subjects have always been gritty and true to life.  At the moment, I'm working my tail off to try and secure an agent for a work that has a strongly religious theme and features Satan and his children as sympathetic characters. How's that for controversial?

While I believe in my work and feel it's a well told story, I know it's sure to strike a chord with some. It will be especially difficult for my few fans that have come to expect a different kind of story from me.

So I say again, can a writer succeed at changing genres?  I sure hope so because I'm giving it a good try.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Do Contests Help a Writing Career?

I've always wondered if entering writing contests helps your writing career or not.  Every writer's reference book I've ever bought, and believe me that's a lot of them, advises fledgling writers to enter them.  I suppose they might be a good tool for those who win the grand prize and get a huge cash payment and a dream writing contract.  What about for the rest of us who enter and place but don't win?

I have no confirmation they help one way or another, but I include them in my author's biography when I query an agent.  To date, my claim to fame is a tenth place finish in the genre fiction category of the 2005 Writer's Digest annual fiction writing contest.  I like to put a little more of a positive spin on it.  When I query agents I say I was a top ten finisher.  I do have a win in the romance category of the 2009 Reader View's Literary Awards that I'm particularly proud of and always include.  Finally, I've made the quarter and semi finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. 

Does this help make me more attractive to perspective agents?  I don't know, but at least it gives me something to include on my resume as an unpublished, waiting to be discovered new author. 

Will they help you? I don't know, but I say go for it.  Just try not to get too emotionally invested in it.  I hear these contests are as flooded with entries as agents are with queries.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Formulaic? So what!

I don't think I've made any secret of the fact that I'm on the lookout for a new literary agent. Wait, that's not exactly an accurate description.  That makes it sound as though I'm just waiting for one to fall into my lap when the reality is that I'm sending out anywhere from one to twenty query letters a day.  The point of this is to set up what today's blog post is about.

As you know, with queries comes rejection. It's inevitable, and for me it feels more inevitable than for others. Last week, I alluded to some of the standard responses agents send out that can tend to drive writers over the edge. I'm no exception to those responses.  I've also been accused, both by agents and publishers, of being too formulaic.  For the first time ever, I'm here to publicly ask: what's wrong with that?

Being formulaic has netted some writers some big sales. For instance, I can tell you that Lurlene McDaniel will always write about teens facing life changing issues such as cancer or drug addicted parents.  The teen characters will always be wholesome and never promiscuous yet she'll sell tons.  Okay, she's a little outdated. Let's take Nicholas Sparks.  Not only do all of his books follow a very distinct formula, but so do his characters.  There's been a teacher in more than one, a law enforcement officer in more than one, a veteran of the armed forces in more than one...  I could go on and on, and I'm not just talking about bit characters. These are main characters, but his books sell big time. Why?  Readers want the formula.  They like it.  It comforts them and makes them feel safe.

So hear this.  The next time I get accused of being too formulaic I'm going to challenge you to tell me why that's so bad.  Good luck.