Thursday, May 26, 2005

SORTING THROUGH ALL THE ADVICE

Everywhere you turn online and in various writing communities—and even on certain illustrious agent’s blogs—there’s advice to be had. Open any writing magazine, such as Writer’s Digest or The Romance Writers Report and there’s yet more advice. I’m sure over at http://www.romancedivas.com/ you’ll find even more input on how to succeed. How to Be Published. How to Land an Agent. How to, how to, how to, and on it goes. So how do you winnow through the multitude of conflicting opinions and form your own?

I would say that my, ahem, advice on the matter would be to follow your instincts. For instance, I saw somewhere recently where a writer posted that I had said paranormals were hot, but then this same author heard a guest on an RWA-sponsored pro loop say paranormals were already past their prime and not selling anymore. The poster remarking on my RWC comments then said, “What am I to believe? Who am I to believe?”

Well, in the immortal words of my man Spock, what would logic dictate? I would think that any examination of what’s currently selling would be clear on this point. I don’t mean just in the bookstores and on the bestseller lists, but also by glancing at any of the daily deal reports. Further, if an agent who is in the trenches day after day says paranormals are selling, common sense would say to follow the agent. Not because they’re super human or omniscient, but for the simple fact that they’re in the more objective, informed position with the least at stake in forming (and promulgating) an incorrect opinion. The same sort of reasoning goes with any other kind of advice: you give it a listen, or a read, and place it against its most logical context and backdrop, and then reach your own conclusion.

Like this month’s RWR, for instance. There’s an article by Jennifer Crusie, who is a wonderful author and a tremendous encourager to aspiring writers, but whose opinion on New York agents I don’t happen to agree with. Her position is that a writer needs an agent based in New York City in order to be successful. Well, she’s a hugely successful author, surely she knows, right? I say take a look around in the publishing market and you will see that the “New York Agent” theory is based on an antiquated model of doing business. In the old days, deals were brokered mostly over lunch and you had to be in the city to keep your ear to the ground. But we’re living in the Internet age, where agents all over the world know what’s selling the moment it’s posted online, or often long before. Using our agency as an example, we trade many emails a day with NYC. We get faxes, make phone calls and regularly visit the city (we’re going next week as a matter of fact.)

So then why does Jennifer Crusie say otherwise? I’m not entirely sure, but I would imagine, for one thing, her advice comes from her own experience. It is also the traditionally held opinion on the matter. However, one look around the market these days and you will realize that her advice simply doesn’t jive with the track records of the countless incredibly successful agents who are based all over this country. I’m on an agent loop called The Agent Cartel. We have some amazing ladies as part of our group—our own Pamela Harty and Nephele Tempest, as well as Kristin Nelson, Helen Breitweister, Pam Ahearn, Pam Hopkins, Pattie Steele-Perkins, Roberta Browne and others. Many of the ladies on our loop are based outside of NYC. They also consistently make major impacts on the publishing marketplace. For instance, this week Pam Ahearn (based in New Orleans) has a #13 bestselling author on the NY TIMES. Last week Kristin Nelson (based in Denver) had a huge pre-emptive bid from Hyperion on a first-time YA author (this was a very large six figure deal.) In the past month I placed both Diana Peterfreund at auction for a “major” six figure deal to Bantam Dell and Shannon McKelden as a launch chick lit author with Tor (just two of many sales I’ve made this month.) All of these agents have had authors on major lists, in big deals and the like.

Beyond that small circle, I can easily think of many other successful agents who thrive outside of New York—Jody Rein, Michael Larson and Elizabeth Pomada, Ashley and Carolyn Grayson, Jan Miller, David Hale Smith, Whitney Lee, Amy Rennert, Helen Heller, Sandra Dijkstra, Danielle Egan-Miller, Elaine English, to name only a small number. Big sales, major deals, bestselling authors—all outside the Big Apple. For anyone to state unequivocally that an author needs a NYC-based agent flies in the face of logic. And yet, this advice recurs repeatedly and from people who one might consider expert in the matter. So that’s where I’d urge you to return to the process of filtering opinions and ultimately arriving at your own conclusions. If you know that massive deals are going down on a regular basis and that there are A-list agencies all over this country, then you can reason that the advice to “only go with a NY agent” is inherently flawed.

And on that note let’s turn to another kind of advice--what of your good friend who has just been through the submission process at a big house or agency where you’d like to land and has “all the inside knowledge”? This one gets to me in particular because the operating assumption behind this advice is that all writers (and writing careers) are created equal. I would liken an author trying to “hitch a ride” on the career advice of another author or their agent as being akin to self-diagnosis based on a doctor’s medical advice to someone else. Would you really want to take a Tylenol for a minor headache if you actually had a brain tumor? Or would you want to decide you were terminally ill if you really just needed a massage?

As you can see, in the end I’m offering yet more advice—which only serves to prove my point. Those of us “on the inside” seem to have a hankering to advise would-be authors, and perhaps it all drives out of the need to help. But at the end of the day, you must be true to yourself and arrive at your own conclusions. Take whatever you hear with a grain of salt, know your own career and strengths, and most of all, this is the primary reason to find an agent—a good one—who you can listen to and follow with implicit trust.

Just like everything else in life, it’s about balance.

Deidre

33 Comments:

Blogger TJBrown said...

Thank you, as always, for your sage "advice". I have learned more about fiction publishing from reading your blogs in the last few weeks than I had in the previous few years. Of course, I was too busy building a non fiction career (filthy money issues;) to work too hard at learning about fiction,(beyond writing my own) but you always post solid information on the industry. Thanks for your willingness to share!
Teri

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 10:36:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Jana J. Hanson said...

I have a list of agents I plan to query when I finally finish something. And you know what, not a single one of them lives in NYC. Not. A. One.

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 11:08:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Jeanne Damoff said...

Well-stated, Deidre. You should be a writer. ;)

I love my agent. She's thoughtful, savvy, energetic, and (best of all) hot.

Have fun in NYC next week!
Jeanne

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 11:11:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Bonnie Ferguson said...

These words are only too true. I guess you could liken it to the whole internet explosion. It's fabulous to have so much information at our disposal and yet it takes careful sifting and weighing matters for ourselves before we can figure out what we deem to be applicable. Have to concur with TJ about the valuable info I've gleaned from this site already :) Thank you. It's been much appreciated!

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 11:13:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Kristen Painter said...

The only bummer about not having an agent in NYC is the inability to use visiting your agent as an excuse for a shopping trip. :o)

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 11:22:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diana Peterfreund said...

Wait, you're going to be in New York next week? We should totally have lunch! ;-)

Great post! And, for the record, whether or not an agent lives in New York was never once a factor on my "what to look for in an agent" checklist. You can't swing a cat in New York without hitting a lit agent, and some of them are *not good* -- they just have fancy addresses.

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 11:23:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Actually, Kristen, I'm seeing two clients in the city next week--neither of whom live there. Saw one last time. So you CAN make it work for a trip to the city just by having an agent! :)

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 11:39:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Jaci Burton said...

*plotting how she can get to NY to meet with her agent, and wrangle a shopping expedition out of it, too*

hehehe

Jaci

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 11:57:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Gina Welborn said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 12:28:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Kristen Painter said...

The above comment was from me, not Gina - I was logged in as her (helping her customize her blog) not myself and didn't realize it. Sorry for the mix-up.

What I said was:

Deidre, now I want you more than ever. Of course, I mean that in a purely platonic, agentorial kind of way. Haha!

(I love NYC - I went to school there.)

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 12:33:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Gina Welborn said...

Who to believe...who to belive...

Your "issue" with what Jennifer Crusie said and my "issue" with what Tami Cowden said last month is why I get so frustrated sometimes with RWR, although I always read it the day it arrives. As an unpubbie, knowing whose advice has the most merit boggles my mind.

And I suck at Boggle.

:-)

Enjoy your trip to NYC.

Gina

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 2:09:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jax said...

Excellent advice and I'm glad I read it because I thought everything you said was right on. At conferences, meetings, etc. I always get conflicting data on what's in. It's frustrating for unpublished authors who feel they have to change gears when they're told a different thing every time... but I tend to stick to my guns on what genre I write.

Kristen - so that would mean I would be in your suitcase, right?

I would love to have an excuse to go to New York, but my agenda would purely be for the broadway shows and the museums! I don't shop much, but I do like my spa when I can go.

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 4:52:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Edie said...

I read Jennifer Crusie's article too. When I came to the part about NYC agents, I thought, uh-uh, the Knight Agency is making some terrific deals.

Edie

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 6:43:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Jax,
What was in LAST month's issue? I often find the information in RWR to be as wrong as it is helpful--and I mean in an objective advice perspective. Especially when it comes to agents they tend to issue "hard" information that can be confusing and misleading.

You guys are rolling here! I can hardly keep up. :) I've had a horrid day with mega-technology woes. Server problems, blackberry problems and on and on.
GRRRRRR.

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 9:25:00 PM EDT  
Blogger ma said...

Thanks for the wonderful post, especially when you talk about 'hitching a ride'. I've been enjoying your blog.

(And I've certainly noticed the conflicting advice on paranormals. They're hot! No, they're passé or, the market is flooded. No, they're still hot! Etc.)

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 9:43:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Kristen Painter said...

Blackberry problems? Try cream and sugar. That never fails. :o)

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 10:15:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Gina Welborn said...

In April's (not last month, sorry) issue, Tami Cowden wrote an article about romance "rules." I tend to think of these "rules" more as guidelines to be aware of that are also okay to go beyond when it's fitting. Most of "rules" Tami C said we should ignore I'm fine with. But not all.

One objectifying body parts is fine. Really? Is it physically possible for a guy's *eyes* "climb her body from toes to head, lingering for a moment on her joyful cleavage" or for their eyes to "dance together in the moonlight"?

Another rule she said writers should ignore is head-hopping. Since Nora Roberts proves it can be done, then we shouldn't see frequent pov shifts in a scene as a bad thing. If everyone notices Nora's head-hopping, then how is the way she does it "masterful" yet when an unpubbie does it, it's "jolting"?

Please don't get me wrong. I love being a member of RWA and reading RWR. But it's odd that something can be equally encouraging as it is discouraging. Then again, maybe I just need counseling. :-)

Gina

Thursday, May 26, 2005 at 11:40:00 PM EDT  
Blogger moonhart said...

Deidre,

Thanks for addressing this.

I, too, read the Jennifer's article and scratched my head. But then, I also found it amusing that after writing four pages on the agent search, she refused to name hers. Odd.

As a member of RWA for 2 years, I take many articles with a grain of salt. It is a single opinion. Unfortunately, many young writers may now tattoo Jen's words upon their wrists and miss an opportunity.

I hope you plan to send a note into the editor.

Friday, May 27, 2005 at 7:53:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Jenny Turner said...

Coming in late here, but wanted to say I get a little thrill when I query a non-NYC agent :)

I'm from a very small town and the idea of the big bad city isn't much appealing. Oh, sure, there's the adventurer inside me that wants to see it before I die, but NYC isn't my idea of a great place to get away too :) Being from Wisconsin, I would much prefer a Southern location--someplace I can fly to during the winter :)

New Orleans, Georgia, Dallas . . . all sound like wonderful road trips for the whole family in say, February.

Besides, I'm also sort of afraid of the big, BIG, big NYC agencies with ten or twenty agents on staff--I don't want to get lost in the shuffle of so many talented authors :) Okay, I hope that doesn't come off as brown-nosing *GRIN* but it's totally true--totally ;)

Warmly,
Jenny:)

Friday, May 27, 2005 at 7:54:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Trace said...

Well said, Deidre! Thank you! I agree with you. I query agents from all over.

Friday, May 27, 2005 at 12:09:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Natalie said...

I'm tempted to post this anonymously because I don't want to disagree with someone (several someone's, actually) that I really respect. But anyone who knows me know I just can't keep my mouth shut.

I did not take Jenny Crusie's comment about agents and NY the same way everyone else seemed to. I don't have the article in front of me, but I recall her to say HER preference for HER OWN agent is to have her be in NY, though she knows very well there are excellent agents outside of NY and other people won't have the same requirement she does. I thought that was most of her point--that you can't go by what other people say is right or wrong about an agent, you can only decide what is right or wrong for YOU. (Also, she might not have been deliberately hiding her agent's name--she has given her shout-outs in public forums before.)

I do agree that it can be confusing to a new author when people's advice conflicts. But I also think there is enough information out there that it should quickly become apparent to those authors that nothing is concrete and they have to (as Diana said on her blog and repeatedly in the past) select what works for them. It's the authors' responsibility to seek information and sort through it--not the adviser's responsibility to be "right" when there's A) no such thing and B) when people DON'T give advice we get blasted for being selfish, stingy, mean people. It's helpful to remember that the majority of those offering their advice and opinions are doing so with the best of intentions.

One final, rather snarky comment--in speaking of general masses (rather than individual people), I don't care how much bad advice they get. There's more than enough good competition already. [VBG]

Friday, May 27, 2005 at 12:13:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Deidre,

I'd like to say I've always heard only good things about you and your advice on this subject is excellent. People need to almost develop a wise ear when listening to experts weigh in. Back in late 2001, I was working with a high-powered NY agent on another project, when I read about the launch of RDI. I immediately became certain that another book I'd put on hold, The Thin Pink Line, about a woman who fakes an entire pregnancy, would be perfect for them. But when I showed it to Agent X, he said that while he thought the book was hysterically funny, that sort of thing had been "done too much already" - what was the last fake-pregnancy book you read? - and when I further asked if he'd be willing to submit it just to RDI, he declined, saying he knew for a fact the editor there didn't want anything with a London setting. Red lights went off in my head. So I asked if he would feel as though I were stepping on his toes if I submitted it just to them. He gave me a very scathing, "Well, if that's what you want to do with your time..." I wound up selling The Thin Pink Line to RDI myself as part of a two-book deal and was offered an additional three-book contract before the first book even pubbed, at which point I got an agent, who I've since had to replace. I do adore the agent I work with now, but I would always advise others - yes! more advice! so take it for what it's worth! - to assemble all the expert advice you want, assimilate it, and then make your final decision by following your own head and heart.

Friday, May 27, 2005 at 12:14:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Natalie said...

Dang it. Please remove the ' in someone's in line three of my above, too-long post. [sigh]

Friday, May 27, 2005 at 12:15:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Natalie,
No need to be anonymous here. I love that this is a place for discussion precisely because I don't consider myself an "authority from on high." (Which was actually a major point of the article--that "authorities" all have their own particular opinions and that those listening have to figure out their own path.)

I do think you're probably right about the context of Jennifer Crusie's comments in the RWR, and in absolute fairness I will say that my reaction wasn't even so much to this *particular* article as it is being subjected (year after year) to a New York bias within some of the RWR (and RWA, for that matter) information on the agent topic.

There's a whole group of us, hardworking agents all--with many bestsellers and big authors to our credit--who have felt repeatedly slapped in the face by an organization we work hard to support. (By the way, I'm now posting at large and not just answering you--I may take this over to the main blog once I write it out!)In fact... I shall take it there instead.

BUT, I do agree that she was stating her preference although her description of what an agent does (takes the subway to work in NYC) as a *true picture* still belied her words that there were plenty of good agents outside the city. You see what I mean? She was saying one thing and yet creating a portrait that was at odds with what she claimed. THAT was what got to me.

I take the subway. From the upper story of my 100 year old Georgia home to the downstairs. Boy, don't I hate the crowds! :)

Thanks for the fabulous post.

Saturday, May 28, 2005 at 9:36:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Thanks, Lauren! A totally great example of how good AND bad agents (or at least ones with bad advice!) can be found anywhere.

Saturday, May 28, 2005 at 9:39:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Jorie, and others re: paranormals--
The bottom line is that what's "hot" switches by the day in publishing. Even with our ear totally to the ground, we may report back something different within a very short frame of time. A great example would be in late 2003 I was told by an editor (one with whom I work a good bit): "Just don't bring me any vmpires. God knows we don't need any more of those!"

A year later she offered to me on a major vampire anthology saying, "People just can't get enough of vampires!" Even the EDITORS don't know. We're all feeling our way as we go.

Btw, it appears historicals are on the verge of a comeback! That's my most recent realization, one that's been slowly growing, but as of this week I have come to the conclusion that they really are coming back. :)

Saturday, May 28, 2005 at 9:42:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Sarah McCarty said...

Dierdre,

Great blog. Just found it. Decided to cruise the internet as kids are having a slumber party and current bad boy in WIP is being bad. (I've left him hanging with a nic fit as punishment while I amuse myself elsewhere) I'm very excited to read your statement that Historicals are definitely coming back. I love Historicals. Love to write them and love to read them, but I am darned tired of having to whip out sales figures to support my stand that I have not masochistically chosen to be a ghost haunting the halls of a dead genre just because I do write them.

It's that advice momentum you were talking about. Current advice: Don't write Historicals. Historicals are dead. Only Paranormal sells. Write Paranormal. People thought I was nuts to lead off my publishing career with my Promise series rather than the paranormal series or the contemporary series, but the series has depth, and that niche in the market was starving for reads, so I went with it and haven't looked back.

*happy dance* Oh, yeah. Historicals are back. This makes my weekend. I will have historicals to read again. I'm practically giddy. Thanks for the news.

Sunday, May 29, 2005 at 12:08:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Well, I think the historical return may take time. But I'm hearing from more and more editors, "historicals are working for us." I think PW is doing an article this coming week that will include some info on the same. :) So, alas, it does appear that things are warming back up. It is ALWAYS cyclical. That's one reason I've always told people that about the time they think they've figured out the market it will change again. :)

Sunday, May 29, 2005 at 9:08:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Sarah McCarty said...

Too late for caution. You said they are coming back and I'm holding you to it. *laughing*

I read everything and have enjoyed the suspense, paranormals and contemps, but I love historicals and have missed having them in the mix. I'm really interested in seeing how the new Historicals will differ from the old. All those years of chick lit, Suspense, and Paranormals are bound to have Historical authors loosening their belts and testing a few boundaries. too. I'm anticipating a fully revitalized genre.

Thanks for the heads up on PW.

Sarah, mentally erasing that "alas" out of Dierdre's post. *g*

Sunday, May 29, 2005 at 11:00:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

No "alas" erasure. That's what I get for an early Sunday post--it was an incomplete sentence. :)

I love historicals! The "alas" was part of a bigger sentence about it taking TIME.

I do think that the genre is coming alive with a new spark. I have Lydia Joyce's book on order and it's off to a great start for a first historical. My FABULOUS author Jennifer St. Giles is putting a very cool paranormal-touched spin on the Gothic. (Check out THE MISTRESS OF TREVALYN!)

I still love even "tried and true" Regency era authors like Julia Quinn myself.

So, alas, I shall not say alas unless it's followed by the words: but it may take time. :0

Sunday, May 29, 2005 at 11:07:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Sarah McCarty said...

Ok. Leaving alas in *g* and checking out new books. I'll add them to today's Borders excursion if I have the energy.

I'm not as young as I feel I am apparently, and two hours of sleep is just not doing it for me today.

Sunday, May 29, 2005 at 11:13:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Natalie said...

Thanks, Deidre, for your wonderful response!

I think I've been in this business too long...at the level I'm at (I know, terrible grammar, sorry). I read the post about being told not to write historicals, to write paranormal, and I thought, "who's saying not to write them? I never hear that."

But that's the thing. I automatically put everything I hear or am told through a filter of what I "know" to be true. So if anyone ever says, "don't write historical, no one's buying historical, write paranormal" I hear "Write what you can write but be aware of what you're facing."

FWIW, I've always considered The Knight Agency to be a top agency, and never heard anything from anyone (inside or outside the context of RWA) to proclaim otherwise. Perhaps that filter at work again...:)

Natalie

Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 1:18:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Lynne Connolly said...

I love this!
And you know why?
Because I live a thousand miles away, in the UK. I wrote for years and years as a hobby, occasionally sending the odd manuscript off and getting the inevitable (to me) 'we like it but we can't see a market for it' response, then I discovered a wonderful group of readers in the States. And somewhere I seemed to fit better.
I was in a chat room last week with people from India, the USA, the UK and Australia. Not writing, for a change, but we were discussing my (other) obsession, doll's houses. To be more precise, how to fit out a tiny box for a pair of duelling pistols in twelfth scale.
New York is a grand total of 6 hours away for me. Although I write historicals as well as paranormals, there is absolutely no way I would go back in time, given the choice. What, and miss all this good company?

Friday, June 3, 2005 at 7:36:00 PM EDT  

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