Agents and Editors Share–Pitches We’re Sick Of!

What do agents want? What are publishers sick of? At Balticon52, I got the opportunity to hear a few of the industry leaders voice their opinions.

The panel was entitled “Pitches We’re Sick Of (And One’s We’d Like To See More Of), but since that’s not enough to fill an hour, it turned into a Question and Answer session.

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Whose Opinions Were Shared And Why Should You Care?

Joshua Bilmes is the President of JABberwocky Literary Agency, which he founded in 1994. His clients include NY Times bestselling authors Brandon Sanderson, Charlaine Harris, Peter V. Brett, Jack Campbell, Elizabeth Moon and Simon R. Green.

Neil Clarke is best known as the editor and publisher of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning magazine, Clarkesworld. He is a six-time and current finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Editor Short Form.

The panel was moderated by Sarah Avery. Sarah’s first book, Tales from Rugosa Coven, won the 2015 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Fantasy Scroll, Great Jones Street, and Jim Baen’s Universe, as well as Black Gate, where she was a regular contributor on series fantasy and teaching fantasy literature. With David Sklar, she coedited the Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic anthology.

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Skull and bones, half buried in a forest.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Pitches They’re Sick Of*

  • The Paranormal Boom is DEAD.
  • Superhero piles are getting supersaturated.
  • Zombies are rotting.
  • Some urban fantasy subgenres are being overplayed.
  • Oz.

Note: Even if stories are still being published in a genre, that’s often because publishing contracts and schedules are arranged years in advance. Even when a genre is dead, it can take 2-3 years for a publishing agency to get rid of their backlog.

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Pitches They’d Like To See More Of*

  • ‘HopePunk’ (even if the term stinks)
    • I *think* it’s a dystopian future, where we actually solve current crisis. Like climate change or evolve into a more accepting species.
  • Diversified stories
    • It’s what the publishers are looking for
    • As the book reviewers themselves become more diverse, a wider variety of stories resonates with the reviewers.
  • Vampires seem to be coming back
  • Steampunk can’t be counted out for the next 3-5 years, but it’s on a downswing.
  • Short Sci-Fi sells better than short Fantasy.
  • But really? Whatever you’re passionate about! Agents can tell if you’re just chasing trends, and earnestness shows through. THAT’S the spark they want.

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When To Approach Agents or Editors

  • NOT when they’re going into the bathroom – that’s their safe place
  • If they’re attending a convention and are on panels, they typically want to be found.
  • If they’re in a restaurant?
    • Is it next to the convention?
    • Are they at the bar, chatting away? Or off at a table in the back with one of their writers? Pay attention to context clues.

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Rejections!

As any querying writer can tell you, a personalized rejection is worth its weight in gold!

What does it mean when an agent/publisher says, “It’s too similar to something I just bought/sold”?

It depends.

  • For some, it’s a polite brush-off.
  • For others, they only say it when it’s true.
  • For anthologies? Very likely true.
  • For magazine publishers? They can stagger release dates if needed…

*** Now, we pause for a brief interlude and the story of…***

Rejectomancy!

Once upon a time, Joshua submitted a story he was excited about from one of his writers to an editor. And this is what he heard back.

“I had to get a second read…”

“… because I couldn’t believe you’d sent me something so bad.”

Even agents get rejected.

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Player 20 winding up to throw a pitch.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Pitching Your Story

The Dos and Don’ts of Preparing Your Pitch

  • Don’t use an adjective to describe your book itself
  • Don’t go over a page!
  • Don’t be cute or suck up
    • Your query letter is somewhere between a job interview and a cover letter for a resume.
  • Don’t write it from the main character’s point of view
  • Don’t summarize your story, especially when querying a short story
  • Don’t have a query longer than the story itself
  • Do include wordcount
  • Do follow the guidelines
  • Do pick a genre
    • Decide where your book goes on the library shelves and pick one.

Is it ever appropriate to respond to a rejection letter?

  • If they personalized the rejection, you can send a very brief ‘Thank You’ note.
  • NEVER respond negatively. If you can’t say anything nice, this is when you really shouldn’t say anything at all.

Is ManuscriptWishList.Com useful?

Joshua doesn’t use it, but at least one of his other agents does. Lack of inclusion doesn’t mean the agent isn’t skilled, inclusion doesn’t mean they are skilled. You still need to do your research.

Comp Titles

Comp titles (comparison titles) are often included in a query letter. Typically either two authors with similar writing styles and markets, or mash-ups where you can specify what aspect of that story you’re using. They have to be under 5 years, (preferably under 3), in your genre, and not run-away successes.

As I’ve said before, what sold 50 years ago isn’t what appeals to most modern audiences. Pacing, themes, POV preferences change.

So, what did our panelists have to say?

By using current novels, you’re showing that the trend you’re writing for isn’t dead.

Verdict? Useful for novels, but only if it’s a good match. If you’re trying too hard, it’s obvious and you should skip it.

Joshua noted here that no one can use Game of Thrones as a comp, (even if it wasn’t too popular) because there hasn’t been a new one published in over 5 years.

Not useful for magazines, but can be useful for anthologies.

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Writing Contests Tips

  • NEVER pay to enter a contest or pay a “reader’s fee”
    • EXCEPT – Tenure-track professors often pay the entrance fee for college magazines…
    • EXCEPT – Some contests offer critiques/other services as a matter of course for having entered (RWA)
      • Fees currently should be <$50, preferably under $30
      • Verify their validity first, though.
  • Look at the contest’s readers
    • Who are you writing for?
      • Is that the path you want to go down?
  • Look at the past winners’ work
    • Did they write just for the contest, or are they writing like they want to be published?
      • Often, these will read very differently
  • Pay attention to how much time it takes away from your writing
    • Do you have to campaign for votes?
    • What other obligations does it create for you?

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And finally:

When Is My Story Ready To Query?

As long as you feel that each round of edits is significantly improving your story, keep at it!

Storytime!

Brandon (Sanderson) submitted several manuscripts to Joshua. And Brandon kept getting rejected despite his wonderful (and steadily improving writing) because he couldn’t plot. Finally, when he submitted Elantris, Joshua looked at it and saw that the plotting could be fixed. That’s when he made the offer.

Submitting different stories to the same agent can pay off. But only if you keep working at your craft.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

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Make sure to reread these dos, don’ts, and preferences! And best of luck as you work towards perfecting your craft.

* Yep. I ended those with prepositions. Whatcha gonna do? Throw red ink at me? Besides, it was the title of the panel!

The Washington Capitals WON the Stanley Cup

I know, I know, this is a writing blog and I’m not a huge sports fan. But I’ve been casually following hockey, especially the ‘Caps’ since 2002.

How I Got Into Hockey

That was the year my boyfriend at the time played through 3 seasons of video game hockey. I napped some, I read some, and I watched some.

I liked the game. They played a lot of games, but not like 5 days a week, so you could keep up with it (looking at you, baseball). It was fast-paced, stoppage of play was rare (looking at you, football), low-scoring (looking at you, basketball), but scores did happen (looking at you, soccer), and physical! where FIGHTS were allowed (so long as they didn’t get out of hand).

I mean, a sport where you’ve got to hold the other guy’s jersey, or their skates will slide them out of reach when you go for a punch? The absurdity of it appealed to me. Plus, if the fight didn’t get too out of hand, it was just a 5 minute time-out penalty.

Plus? The game didn’t work without real teamwork. At least not at that level.

Although, after video game hockey? When I actually saw the REAL Caps play, I was confused that all the best players WEREN’T on their team. And where was the cross-checking champion, Hrothgar?

But as time went on, I haven’t lived in a place with cable since 2008, so I just hadn’t watched a lot of games.

For years, I considered myself the biggest Caps fan that never watched a game.

In the last couple years, I’ve started to watch their games.

Last year? My old job gave us the last-minute opportunity to watch a game live, from a box. It was an awesome experience and completely solidified my love of the sport and the team.

capitals_bench_283423275618529

Washington Capitals vs the Vegas Knights

Last night, for the FIRST TIME IN FRANCHISE HISTORY (i.e. since the team was created), the Caps won The Stanley Cup, making them, (at least until next year), the top team in the world.

In hockey, for the play-offs, it’s a series of ‘best out of 7’ games. And their last series was against the Vegas Knights, a brand new ‘expansion’ team, made from taking players from other teams.

Shout out to the Knights – The fact that a brand new team, especially in a sport that is all about teamwork, made it not only to the playoffs, but to the finals was INCREDIBLE. According to announcers, it’s basically unheard of in any sport.

One more thing. The Knight’s goal tender? Their goalie is Marc-André Fleury, formerly of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and a major reason the Caps hadn’t made it to the Stanley Cup finals, especially in 2016 and 2017.

We started off with a loss against the Knights. But then, we came back. And entered in game 5, with a 3-1 lead. One more game and we would win the championship.

We’re DC fans, we know our teams are incredible at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. We were scared to believe, fearful that our hope would doom us.

Then last night, around 11:30 pm, during game 5 of the series, we won the Stanley Cup! Watching the players take a lap with the cup, watching their joy, their tears, and the way they came together as a family was heartwarming and endearing.

Congratulations to the Washington Capitals on a hard won victory!

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Teacher Appreciation Week

I grew up blessed.

Blessed with a family full of readers.

Blessed with teachers who supported and encouraged me.

Blessed both my own personal what-to-read-next advisor and access to all the books I could want.

 


In honor of teacher appreciation week:

An empty classroom looks at a white board and podium.

Here’s to Ms. Quesinberry, my long-term substitute teacher in 2nd grade–who was there when I got moved to the accelerated reading group and helped foster my love of reading.

Shelves full of books, in a decently lit library.

Here’s to Ms. Firesheets, my elementary school librarian, who introduced me to so many books, taught me how to use a card catalog (the year before we went electronic), and made the library into a second home.

Coverless side of 7 thick books.

Here’s to Ms. Haney, my 4th-grade teacher, who, one day after she took away 2 books, and I pulled out a 3rd during class, had me empty both my desk and my locker and return some to the library. There were 7.

A hand balances 3 notebooks on the palm.

Here’s to Ms. Hardt, my 6th, 7th, 9th, and 10th-grade social studies and English teacher who encouraged my writing, supported my genre preferences, and taught me that edits are suggestions that I should mold into my own image.

pexels-photo-339805.jpeg

Here’s to Ms. Hoppe, who scared a group of 8th graders–on their first day, during their first period, in the big, scary high school–with an amazing Gollum impression, and allowed us as both 8th and 12th graders to act out our Shakespeare. (Despite our initial discomfort, doing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet with Michael wasn’t too embarrassing. )

Grape hyacinths, blooming at dusk.

And here’s to my mother. A retired high-school librarian and former children’s librarian who can read stories with the best of them, keeps her shelves full, and always knows what to suggest for me to read next.

P.S. Sorry I went through the Foundation series in two weeks. Thanks to Game of Thrones, I now know the pain you suffered between books.


Happy Teacher appreciation week to ALL the teachers out there.

And Happy Mother’s Day.

Your support and encouragement are remembered and appreciated.