A real-life vent from a dear friend of mine on the perils of "jumping into bed" with an agent. Thank you for sharing your story, Anonymous Guest. :-)
First, I’d like to thank my gracious blog host, Jessica, for letting me post this. It’s been therapeutic to vent in a “public” venue.
As for jumping into bed with an agent, I’m someone who’s in that bed right now, trying to decide whether to "suck it up” or toss the covers aside and find another mate.
It’s so easy to say: I’m going to research every agent inside and out, read their every blog entry and online interview, talk to their other clients, and ask all the right questions to turn down any agent who answers even one of them wrong. That still doesn’t mean the marriage will be perfect. Even more than knowing your agent (which is virtually impossible until you start working with them anyway), is know your own career path. That’s the only way to assure the partnership will be successful.
I’d been trying to get an agent to notice me for over three years. After writing four books and getting over a hundred rejections, I finally had a top agent call me, interested enough in my work to sign me even before I made the revisions we’d agreed upon. I was so happy, I couldn't see straight. Finally I had validation from the publishing world that my writing—all of those endless lonely hours and words—had been worth it. Everything was going to be perfect. My agent would love whatever I penned, and I would sell books left and right.
Not so. Because I didn’t yet know who I was as a writer.
I did research my agent. I had been reading her blog. As for interviewing her clients—after conferring with my published friends, they made the point that unless you can find an ex-client, you’re unlikely to hear anything negative. Most clients are just so relieved to be repped, they don’t want to diss their meal ticket and compromise that security. So they’re unlikely to spill any criticism, in fear it might get back to their agent (just like I didn’t put my name on this post for the same reason). The only exception is if one of the clients happens to be your personal friend or acquaintance.
Now, asking questions of the agent? That’s where I dropped the ball. Well, kind of. I did ask the legal questions—things that applied to the biz. But I didn’t touch on the more personal questions. Not only of my agent, but of myself.
Again. Validation—in any small dose—is so seductive it’s almost blinding. The one question I should’ve asked above all others, was: “Why didn’t you like my first MS?” A MS that my crit group and several friends had read and loved. A MS that I completely forgot about after hearing she liked the other one.
In my case, my agent signed me on the second MS she read. The first one didn’t appeal to her. But she loved the voice. She asked what else I was working on, and I sent my newly finished, never read paranormal love story her way. She loved it. Wanted it. And signed me.
Now I find out she doesn’t want my other three prior MSS because they’re fantasies which she doesn’t rep. I’ve written two books since signing with her, and they both have elements more conducive to mainstream romance than traditional or single title. I’m having a hard time satisfying her. And in trying to satisfy her, I’m not satisfied.
A little too late, I’m starting to understand the role that voice plays in guiding a writer’s career path. I never stopped to really evaluate my “genre” in regards to style. VOICE drives you to your genre. No matter how hard you try to write something else, voice will win over in the long run every time. I assumed my work was romance with some fantasy/complex elements because a love story was always woven throughout. But what I’ve come to see is that the romance is secondary to plot. There’s an actual formula to traditional romances, and it’s clear that the way my mind works and puts a story into play is mainstream / fantasy. And I can’t even pursue that side of my creativity, because I have an agent who doesn’t have the connections or know how for fantasy or mainstream. She’s a stranger to my genre, yet she’s representing me. Scary.
With the paranormal love story, I had to change a lot of stuff to make it conform to her liking. And to this day she admits it’s still not really a traditional romance. I suspect that might be why we’re having trouble placing my paranormal (been trying for a year), because despite that it’s not traditional, she’s hitting the same editors she would if it were one. On the other hand, an agent who repped mainstream / fantasy would know of editors that would like the more in-depth and complex story leanings and world building, and might’ve already sold the book.
Some of you might be saying, “So what. Now that you’ve got an agent, suck it up and hang in there. Learn to write for the market she’s in, build a readership, then branch out later.”
But should I really, if writing for my agent’s market means changing my style which could possibly pigeon hole me into a genre I’m not meant for, for the rest of my career (or at least a big portion of it)?
There’s something lost when you stop writing your heart’s song. There has to be a balance somewhere between marketability and staying true to your voice. I know that there’s a publishing house out there that will get me, even though my agent doesn’t. I truly believe I’m marketable … just not in her genres. Yes, compromises will have to be made on my MSS all along the way, but not at the expense of the voice that makes me and my writing unique—which ironically, is the very quality that my agent fell in love with to begin with. The quality that to this day she still believes in. So, so confusing.
My advice to anyone seeking an agent for the first time is not only to research your agent, etc… but be sure that you are writing what you’re meant to write. KNOW what genre that is so you can assure your chosen agent represents your dreams, not just a one time fluke, before signing any dotted lines.
Then stand firm. Having felt the warmth of validation, I know how hard it is to turn away an offer from an agent after waiting so long in the cold. But is it really any worse to stand your feet upon a freezing, hard floor, than it would be to keep them toasty warm in a bed where a stranger sleeps beside you, or where you become a stranger to yourself?
Before jumping into bed, know where you want to be when you wake up. That way, you will find your perfect mate. :-)
Are the agents you want to query a good fit for your future writings? Do you know yourself, or are you still discovering where you fit in the publishing spectrum?