Friday, October 30, 2009

Know Thy Self: Guest Post

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?

43 comments:

Gwen Stewart said...

My agent tweeted recently that having a "bad fit" agent is worse than having no agent at all. I don't know that from personal experience, thank goodness, but I've heard it time and again. Anonymous, your experience illuminates this in a real, relatable way. Thanks for sharing.

Tabitha Bird said...

That was an awesome post. thank you for your honesty. I am sorry you are unhappy with your agent and I really hope you find something that will work and that you can feel happy about. I never thought about long term career goals and an agent that fit. That is hard. Because, like you said, you would have to know who you are as a writer and I am only just discovering that. Thank you for the insight. I will think this through :)

Jessica said...

Gwen and Tabitha, thank you for commenting. It's kind of been eye-opening for me to watch my friend's journey. I hope something works out for her too, because she's an incredible writer.

anonymous poster said...

Thanks Gwen and Tabitha. I really hope this helps writers look at the agent search a little more closely from their end. And maybe inspires a few authors to do some soul searching to be sure where they are in the land of genres, because it's a very tricky place to navigate. So many genres bleed into others and it's sometimes hard to know where you really fit.

Jessica--thanks so so much for your faith in my work! And for letting me vent. :-)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

That makes so much sense--know what genre is yours, then find an agent who reps it. That is a gold key, isn't it. I'd hate to be cornered into writing what I wasn't passionate about, in fact, I don't think I could do it. I write for the love of it, and it's grueling enough to write those stories well for me, to have to push for something that just doesn't jive with me would be horrendous.

I wish you success in ironing this mess out, Anonymous!

Kristen Painter said...

If you're that unhappy, then fire your agent and free yourself to look for a new one. LIfe's too short to be miserable or to have an agent who doesn't love your work 100%.

Tamika: said...

Thanks Jessica for sharing this post. Very helpful.

I know for now I am not ready to delve into Agent relationships. I am still finding my voice and creativity. There a hand full of Agents that I follow and have great respect for.

I will remember these questions when the time comes for me. I cannot begin to imagine writing for someone other than me and my readers.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Anonymous: I so appreciate you sharing your painful journey. Hopefully we can learn from it, and be more secure in our voices.

I will pray that the Lord guide your steps. Nothing it worse than finding out after the vows that you married someone not compatible with you!

I have a dear friend who signed on with a not so good agent, then realized the fit was not right, so switched to one who "got" her. She is very happy now.

YOU have a bright future ahead--don't give up your voice!

Jill Kemerer said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. I agree that we have to know our genre and find the one that fits us best. When we find an audience, they want more of the same--can we blame them? That's why it's so important to love the genre we write.


Good luck making some tough decisions.

Linda Kage said...

Oh, wow. That's not something I thought about before. I've got out a YA romance now, but I'd like to focus on my adult romance and slowly weave my way to Romantic Suspense. And I never wouldn't thought to mention all that to an agent to see if she/he cover deal with it.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience and helping us from taking the same wrong turn.

Hope your situation somehow turns out to your favor. Good Luck.

About Me said...

Great post Jessica! Thank you for stopping by my blog! Praying God blesses you abundantly!
Cherie

anonymous poster said...

Eileen, Tamika, Jeanette, and Jill~ thanks so much for the prayers and inspirational words. I really believe this will all work out. It's just been a very eye-opening experience for me, and I wanted to share it with other authors. Any mistakes you can learn from or help others learn through you can't be all bad, right?

Kristen~great advice. I like my agent's editing skills, brainstorming skills, and most of all, her personality. But unless something drastic changes, I will have to break up with her. Since she still has my paranormal MS out to pubs, and I don’t want to sour our relationship until those subs either float or sink, I've got a little time to think on it.

Linda~I'm so glad my experience is making you reevaluate how you'll approach agents. Insight is so much better than hindsight, in my opinion.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Thank you for this post, Anonymous. It's very good advice. I'm sorry you're in the situation you're in, but thank you for caring enough to warn us. Hopefully venting was able to help you too!

Thanks, Jessica! Have a great weekend!

anonymous poster said...

Thanks Kristen. Venting helped a lot! And Jessica is more than generous to let me unload on her blog like this. ;-P

Janna Qualman said...

Excellent post! Clear and helpful, above and beyond. I'm sorry for this position you're in, Anonymous. Thanks to you and Jessica.

Natalie said...

This was a truly excellent post. Thank you Ms. or Mr. Anonymous. That sounds like a very frustrating situation! I hope you can work things out with your agent or find a new agent that is a better match.

One of the main reasons I chose my agent over the other agent that offered representation was that she said I could write anything I wanted (MG, YA, Women's Fiction, Picture Books, Romance, whatever). She felt certain she would love anything I write because she loved my voice. Hopefully she will :)

LuLu Lake said...

Thanks for finding my blog! We are still here in FL! I am loving the heat! It will be cold in Ohio when we get back tomorrow, so I am enjoying the weather!

Have a good day!

T. Anne said...

What a great post Ms. Anon! I have to commiserate with you because many a moon ago it happen to me but I was lucky to remove myself (after two wasted years). I have to say one of my questions for my perspective agent will be do you rep all my genres? If not will you be OK with me getting another agent for my YA? Or my whatever? Believe it or not I've heard this is not all that uncommon. MAybe yours will be OK with it too? BTW, I'd love to talk to you, I feel so strongly about these situations because of the bind I was in. What a learning experience (horrible) I would never want anyone to repeat!!!! (and BTW, I pray you don't have my old agent).

Cindy said...

Thanks for the post! It's interesting to hear this advice from someone who is actually going through it all. I think you're totally right on about writing what your heart wants. And even more, I think it's important to be submitting work that represents who we are, the genre that we'd want to write for the rest of our careers, not just something that will "get us in the door". Thanks again!

Diane said...

My heaart goes out to her. Difficult decisions ahead, praying God's wisdom. :O)

Irritable Mother said...

Ahhh, it is so good to be able to vent, isn't it?
And this stuff makes me glad I am not on the same path as you. Ugh. Big headache.
*grin*

Genny said...

I love how your guest poster points out that voice will drive the genre. That made me stop and think.

Jessica said...

Thank you everyone for your comments. It's been a real learning curve for me to hear about my friend's journey. I liked her comment about voice too, Genny, and also that she acknowledges our part in finding the right fit. It's hard, esp. since she was fairly new to the business of publishing. :-) Maybe we'll get a post out of her when she has her first sale???
Guest, are you there??? *grin*

Kathryn Magendie said...

"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.”...."

I would not say this! Because I know I couldn't write "for the market" -

I've heard, and it's true: Having a bad agent, or one who is not right for you, is worse, or more damaging, than not having an agent at all.....

So sorry your friend is going through this - it's a tough business as it is.

Erica Vetsch said...

This is such a tough subject, and my heart goes out to this guest poster.

Getting that right fit with an agent is so hard, and there's no guarantee that what worked for awhile will continue to work for the rest of your career.

Debbie Macomber said, in a recent conference address, that quite often as new writers, we sign with the first agent willing to represent us, and then we stay out of a mistaken sense of loyalty (and sometimes fear that if we make that break no one else will want to agent us) when we should get out of that relationship as cordially as possible and believe in ourselves and our writing enough to branch out.

It takes a lot of thought, prayer, council, and more prayer, then make the decision that is best for you and your writing, feelings and fears aside.

anonymous poster said...

Jessica~ Of course I'll guest blog someday when the good stuff happens! Sorry, I would've answered sooner but I went to lunch. Heehee.

Janna, Natalie,Cindy, Diane, and Irritable Mother~ thanks so much to all of you for the well wishes and positive vibes. I really feel that I was naive in the beginning. But I've learned A LOT. And I still feel like I have even more to learn.

T. Anne~I'm going to visit your blog and email you. I'd love to swap stories! BTW, I did try to get an agent just for my fantasies (my present agent was okay with that), but of the five I queried, one didn't answer, one said they'd never heard of agents sharing a client, and the other three told me they would want both my fantasies and romances, so I should contact them if / when I ever left my present agent. I think it's a bit harder to do that than people realize.

Genny~ Thanks! It's something I never stopped to think of until this all happened. Now it's so very clear.

Kathryn, YES. Having an agent that might not be suited for your genre is definitely worse than not having one at all. In fact, I've recently subbed one of my fantasy MSS to five different publishing houses on my own in the hopes I can skip the middle man and get this ball rolling.

Erica~ I really respect Debbie Macomber. I met her once at a workshop and her "call" story was so inspirational. Great point about signing with the first agent willing to rep you. If/when I start this thing over, I'm going to be much choosier. At least this time I'll be going in with my eyes opened as to my own standing as a writer. I think that will give me more power.

ElanaJ said...

Thank you for this. It's hard to live a dissatisfying life, writer or otherwise. :)

Stephanie Faris said...

I've thought a lot about this lately. In querying agents, I've found that at first I tended to query everyone to see if anything stuck. But I got "close" with an agent recently who kept requesting revisions. When you have a close call like that and realize you hadn't researched this agent at ALL, you start to rethink your efforts. It's all about long-term career. You can definitely put yourself in a niche, not just with your agent but with a publisher. What if you were Stephenie Meyer and wanted to write a legal thriller? It would probably not do so well. I guess we all need to stop and ask ourselves what we want to be doing for the next 30 years because, chances are, that first novel will set a tone that will follow us forever.

anonymous poster said...

Elena~ Thanks for your empathy. I should point out that this is the only part of my life that is dissatisfying. I have a wonderful and supportive network of people--including my husband, children, and family, as well as my wise and brilliant writer friends (Jessica). I have my health, a secure income, and a roof over my head. :-) There're still lots of blessings that keep me satisfied!

Stephanie~ good job catching the warning signs! They are there, if you look for them. And you're exactly right about falling into niches. Lots of authors eventually branch out from writing one thing to the next. But it's not always a successful switch over, especially if it's drastic. Sometimes, the fans aren't too receptive. I think the secret is to try to maintain some of the same elements conducive to your earlier work, which is where voice would come in again.

Nancy said...

Jessica - That's certainly an interesting tale. Hope your friend finds what she wants in an agent and solves her marketing dilemas.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Thanks for the eye-opening post. I hope things work out for you.

Blessings,
Susan :)

anonymous poster said...

Thanks so much, Nancy and Susan!

Angie Muresan said...

I am so sorry about that. I hope everything works out. I say stay true to yourself and what makes you happy. Write what you like to read. Life's too short to please others.

anonymous poster said...

Great advice, Angie!

Unfortunately, sometimes you have to change some things about yourself if you want to get pubbed easily, such as conforming to certain standards already set up by the publishing world.

In some cases, staying true to yourself translates to: settle in for a long and bumpy ride, because it will be a while before IT happens.

Jody Hedlund said...

Thanks for sharing so openly. It is so very true that unpublished authors are grateful to just GET represented that they often don't evaluate the fit. I'm thankful that I have an agent who has gotten behind my work one hundred percent. I know that doesn't always happen, and I feel very blessed.

anonymous poster said...

It sounds like you're indeed very blessed, Jody. Congratulations! :-)

Terri Tiffany said...

Oh Wow! You just answered a current dilemma I'm in.

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.

I have been struggling to determine if I should change one of my books to fit an agent's niche just so maybe he will represent me. And I don't want to! Cause it wouldn't be the story I wanted to write! THank you for your honesty!!

Lady Glamis said...

So honest and heartfelt. Good luck in your writing journey, and thank you Jessica for posting this.

anonymous poster said...

Terri~ That makes me feel so good that my experience could help you with a decision you were wrestling with! I hope you find an agent soon that loves your work just like it is. :-)

Lady Glamis~ Thanks you. And good luck on your journey as well.

Deb Shucka said...

This was tremendously helpful and soul-deep. The timing is perfect for me as I wait for that perfect-for-me-agent to respond to my query. Thank you so much for your courage and honesty. I wish you all the best.

anonymous poster said...

Thank you, Deb. I wish you all the best, too, on your own agenting journey. :-)

Warren Baldwin said...

Jessica,
This was an amazing guest blog. Whoever this was - Thank you! You have a marvelous writing style and express yourself well; I have a strong feeling that your work will get recognized.

anonymous poster said...

Wow! Thanks so much, Warren. :-) I really appreciate those words of encouragement!