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.
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.
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.
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”?
*** Now, we pause for a brief interlude and the story of…***
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.
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 (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.
As long as you feel that each round of edits is significantly improving your story, keep at it!
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. )
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.