Thursday, February 15, 2007

But why can't I sell in three genres simultaneously?

Or, Once more with feeling....

I understand that behaving professionally might collide with author dreams of making three separate best-seller lists at the same time, but unless you really are Stephen King, it's not going to happen. So stop, breathe, and thank God if one of the 1200 or so credible literary agents in this country actually want to work with you.

Most of you got this on the first go round, but a handful still don't get it, so I'll try to S-P-E-L-L it out real slow. Unless you have been published in reputable book form, YOU ARE UNPUBLISHED. Almost every first novel I have ever sold has needed work - a lot of work. Usually two rewrites guided by me, and then one rewrite guided by the editor. Until you have been through that process, everything you write whether it's science fiction, horror, romance, young adult or literary fiction, will need editing. If you are writing non-fiction, I will also have to guide you, even if you've been writing articles for The New York Times for over a decade (possibly more so if you've been writing for the Times for a decade). You don't know how to write a book. You don't know how to pace 300 pages. Believe me, I know.

Once you've sold a book and you look at what you wanted to send out without that editorial guidance, you will want to change your name and gender. So having three books that need work go out in different genres, probably isn't going to help establish you as a writer.

Agents also guide your career. They will tell you what genre you are most likely to do well in. After your first sale in that area, you should do another title in that genre. Then, if you really must show the world that you can write martial arts fiction and picture books, by all means give it a whirl, but don't be surprised if you don't get an offer or if the offer for your first work in another genre is much less than that in your established genre.

So yes, many of my authors who write both fiction and nonfiction or romance and horror or mysteries and sci-fi, or even erotica and YA, but they establish themselves in their best field first and then go from there.

Is this clear?

In the case in the last post, the author says the second novel is a "dark literary" novel, which usually is a pretentious way of saying a horror novel that I want you to try selling in hardcover. It is not as if he's selling SF and romance. I am sure Mr. Famous read it and said, "this needs a lot of work. Let me see if I can sell what I have." Agents usually work on one book at a time, unless they're willing to handle your nonfiction and fiction.

Editors also work on one book at a time and publishers and editors get kind of pissed off if they find out they are making an investment in you and then that you have these other book commitments that you never bothered to run by them. When you actually have a contract, then you can go to another editor/publisher and say GREAT AMERICAN NOVELIST publishes horror at NAL, but they don't want to do his romance, so we're looking for another publisher in this genre. But it's not done before that because you don't know if you're any good in horror.

If one of my clients writes something that's not for me, and I think it's publishable, I'll refer them to another agent who handles that material and the other agent and I will work together.

We expect you to know what you're best at.


Anonymous said...

What if what you're best at isn't selling? Let's say that author X writes a time-travel series and a publisher buys it, but the publisher folds after publishing the first two books and author X is left in the lurch. To pay the rent she writes erotic romance, all the while working on a fantasy series. The fantasy series sells to a small publisher, but doesn't pay the rent. Author X then writes an urban fantasy and lands an agent. The agent sends it to 4 big publishers, all of whom like it, but not enough to buy it. Agent suggests to author X she write 4 proposals, which author X does. Agent then suggests author X try a thriller, since proposal rocks. Author X writes thriller, but then agent dumps author X without looking at thriller.
Author X now has an urban fantasy, a thriller, a time travel series, and rent to pay.
Author X queries another agent about thriller and gets a request for a partial. Meanwhile, author X starts a new urban fantasy book and blogs about it. Another agent gets wind of it and asks to see it, even though it's not finished. Now author X is in a dilemma. Has she written herself out of a career?

Anonymous said...

Useful comments. Can you expand a bit in one area, please.

What happens if you have the usual stash of four unsold books, and you've been submitting. You get a nibble from a small publisher, and sell a book to them. They also want a second book, which I'm more than happy to provide.

Can I not submit a different book in a slightly different genre to a bigger publisher, now that I have a credit under my belt? While the books would be in related genres, they are not exactly the same, more a riff on one bigger genre.

The small press book isn't coming out for more than a year, and then it would take about four years to establish at that publisher. I'm hoping to get an agent also on the basis of this sale.

I'm not stupid, nor am I looking to burn bridges. But I'd like to get some traction under this as a career. What would you suggest?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the clarification. I got it now.

Tyhitia Green said...

I always knew that I liked to freak people out, scare them, and make them not want to look under their beds or in their closets. Horror has always been for me.

Even though I have written a screenplay, short stories, a children's picture book, and several poems, the only thing I have submitted thus far was my second manuscript (dark urban fantasy), because I am focused on writing horror novels, that's it. If I eventually sell the others, I'll be ecstatic; if not, so be it. I think writers overwhelm themselves. I am focused on frightening people.

Unknown said...

But I'm good at everything and my genius MUST be recognized right NOW by the ENTIRE WORLD.