Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Recognizing the Next Big Thing

Pat and I were discussing this few weeks ago and I thought I would share.

During the couple of weeks that Miss Snark did her Crap o Meter I thought it was fairly obvious from the hooks which ones were going to be awful, and which ones had promise. After reading the first 750 words, I thought it was even more obvious. I don't think I'm alone in that. I think that most readers feel they could probably recognize the "next big thing."

But what about when professionals don't?

I'm going to use two examples, both my friends.

First, Pat. Pat received a rejection from an agent at Writers House and his reasoning was basically that he just did not connect with the voice. Since Pat's book is told from the point of view of a 30-some-odd mentally challenged man, voice is everything! If you don't connect with the voice, you don't connect with the book.

But just a little while later Pat was picked up by a lovely agent at William Morris (and received offers from others as well.) She and her agent worked on the book for a little while and when it was ready, they sent it out. It sold in a week, at auction, for six figures.

That is almost unheard of for a debut novelist.

What did the agent at WH miss? He later sent her a very nice congratulatory note, and you have to wonder, were there some sour grapes in there? Was he kicking himself a little? Why did he not recognize the huge potential?

Example number two, my friend Stephenie. She sent out about 15 queries and received two requests for partials. (She says her queries sucked . . . I don't know about that.:)) But a very small, upstart agent requested her first chapter and wrote her back to say that, although it was cute idea, there just wasn't a market for this kind of thing.

Tell that to Little, Brown who offered her the biggest advance they had ever given a first-time author. And believe me, it paid off.

What did this agent miss? She didn't just miss a publishable book, she missed a book that hit the NYT bestsellers list shortly after its release, and the second one debuted there and stayed for over twenty weeks.

Aren't agents supposed to see that coming?

But sometimes they don't.

Kristin Nelson mentioned several months back that she hardly ever regrets the ones that got away. She even did a post where she posted the covers of several books she remembers rejecting and, although she is thrilled for the authors' successes, she doesn't regret not being their agent. She did mention one she was sorry about because she loved the book. But it was very early in her agency's history and it was a genre she was not representing very strongly. But she'd have loved to be the agent and, if she had received that project now, would have taken it on.

My own story is a little weird too (and will hopefully be followed up with some fabulous deal, bestseller, jealous agents, etc. etc. etc. *wink*) As most of you know, Jodi was the very first person I ever sent anything to. And she got a barely better than first draft edition. An edition that was rejected by dozens and dozens of agents. One of the things that is still surprising to me is that she contacted me when she was half-way through that very first edition to say that she was loving it.

By that time, I was embarrassed by that version. The story was essentially the same, but the writing was so-so at best. Jodi was very happy to get the revision and mentioned that I had fixed many of the very things she was going to suggest. But what got her attention, was that first draft. She saw something in my book that she was intrigued enough by to let me know she was already seriously thinking of taking it on, halfway through that awful version. She saw something she liked enough that--had I not had a revision for her--she was willing to spend time working on to make it right.

Did she see something real? Is it something anyone else will see? I guess we'll find out.

It's amazing to me what agents do and do not see. And I know every agent has the unpublished book on their shelf that they love, love, love, but that nobody else loves. But we don't hear about those very often, but I know they exist. (Man, I hope that's not in my future.)

I wonder if this shakes their self-confidence sometimes. Both the ones that they let go, and the ones no one else seems to want. Because I have to believe that agents do take their clients' work personally, if not to the degree that the writers do.

Anyway, sorry for the novella here. But it's really been on my mind.

Thoughts?

Ciao!

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very good story about agents whose opinions are polarized. Somewhere in your heart you know when NOT to change just because So-and-So asks you to change. It's just that 'voice': Don't go there! I brought this up before about James Lee Burke. After many rounds of rejections--some of them were downright insulting from editors--he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for that very novel. Talk about having the last laugh!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure there are a few agents kicking themselves. Take the ones that rejected Hary Potter. I know I would be banging my head! Jodi sees your book as the wonderful story it is. You have put a lot of work and talent into it. I'm amazed and so proud of you. Go you!

KC

brian_ohio said...

Inspiring stories... I'm sure you'll be adding your's (well... at least the new successful ending) as well.

I've had bits of success with my novel, an agent I'd love to have now has requested revisions to ponder over. Here's hoping she loves the voice.

I think most agents may be disappointed that they let one get away, but if they live by the mantra... "I have to absolutely love it to want it," then the disappoinment should'nt morph into anger. (Unless said author decides to throw their success in the rejecting agents face. I wonder if that has happened?)

Nice post. I hope the editor's love your book. I have my thumbs crossed for you.

Anissa said...

It is such a subjective process, which is probably for the best. It hopefully matches the author with the agent best able to be her advocate.

It's interesting to ponder about each agent's criteria. I imagine they have things that they want to see and represent. But really, they must also enjoy reading books by authors with whom they don't have a relationship.

In the end all we as hopeful authors can do is work to find that one person who will love our novel as we do.

Best of luck with your upcoming submission!

Maprilynne said...

That's very true, Anissa. I actually had a very popular, very well-known agent look over my query and first five pages and she wrote me back a handwritten note that basically said that she liked my pitch, she liked my writing, and she liked where it was going, but she was evry uncomfortable asking for pages to a novel as long as mine. She gave me a range she would be comfortable with and asked me to please query her again if I could get it down into that range.
Jodi, on the other hand, wanted to see more scenes and we actually bumped my book UP 10,000 words. I was really, really concerned about that and asked her if she was worried about my word count. She said, very quickly, "Oh, not at all." She also has a history of strong sales with longer than average books. Clearly a better match for me in this case. I would be frustrated with an agent who was uncomfortable with my initial length since I had worked really, really hard just to get it down that low. So in this case, the agents' individual tastes really did work outin my favor.

Maprilynne

Holly Kennedy said...

I loved this post! And it truly does show aspiring writers that the reality behind "subjectivity" should help cut the pain of rejections in half.

I don't read science fiction, but if it's a good story and it catches me, I'm gone. Maybe it's the mood I'm in that day, who knows.

With each new rejection you DO grow thicker skin, and you learn to trust that voice inside that simply won't bend on the issues that are important to you in a story.

Anissa said...

I'm glad it worked out so well for you! Jodi sounds like the perfect fit. Like Holly said, you have to stick to your guns on those things that are important to you.

Literary Fiction Writer said...

Fantastic post!

I could have spared myself so much self doubt and crushing dissappointment in those early days when I first started to submit my writing to journals and contests. I wish I knew "then" what I know "now".

All aspiring writers should be required to take a "submissions ed" course, you know like "driver's ed"

Hopefully, your post will help new writers safely steer over all the bumps on the road to publication.

Literary Fiction Writer said...

Fantastic post!

I could have spared myself so much self doubt and crushing disappointment in those early days when I first started to submit my writing to journals and contests. I wish I knew "then" what I know "now".

All aspiring writers should be required to take a "submissions ed" course, you know like "driver's ed"

Hopefully, your post will help new writers safely steer over all the bumps on the road to publication.

ORION said...

Thanks for the props!
*smile*
This is post is so true. You have to really keep your spirits up and believe.
One agent's "Not for me" is another's "Love it!"

Levi Nunnink said...

Interesting thoughts...

Speaking from personal experience here, there's some stories that just hit me in the gut from the start. I connect to the book, y'know. Then there's some that no matter how great the writing is, never draw me in; leave me stand on the outside.

It's probably the same way with agents. I'll bet Jodi had that connection with your book. It tickles that part of the soul that makes us love stories in the first place.

Kiskadee said...

Great post!
The Writers House agent who rejected Orion's ms also rejected mine - for the very same reason; he didn't get the protag's voice. A few weeks later, one of his WH colleagues snapped it up - and she LOVED the voice.
I do hope that first agent gets to kick himself in the butt for the second time - and soon!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like it was meant to be for you and Jodi! good luck