Though I’ve only been with BookEnds since April, I’ve already made some shifts in what kinds of projects I’m looking to represent. Some of this has to do with changes in market trends, but a lot really has to do with my personal reading preferences. I want to be enthusiastic about each and every book I work on, and if I’m just not getting excited about submissions in a particular genre, I think it’s better for everyone if I concentrate my energies elsewhere. With that said, my focus is absolutely still on a wide variety of full-length, adult romance and women’s fiction. I’m not actively looking for YA, novellas, or nonfiction.
To help give you a better idea of what I’m looking for, maybe I should tell you about some of the clients I’ve taken on. I have a bit of a spread. So far, I have clients who write historical romance, historical erotica, paranormal erotica, category romance, romantic suspense, women’s fiction, and African literary fiction.
That last one may have surprised you, right? It’s actually not quite as outside of my stated interests as you might think. While I am looking to focus on commercial fiction, I absolutely love women’s fiction set in exotic locations, and would love to receive more projects set abroad. I have a special interest in books set in Iran, India, and Southeast Asia, but would also welcome more submissions set in African or European countries, or set in the US but with a focus on immigrant communities.
I’m looking for a wide variety of contemporary romance, but I’d particularly like to see more small-town books in which the town and community are richly developed. Southern settings and New England settings work particularly well for me. Overall, I tend to gravitate toward darker voices and storylines, but quirky, comedic stories can be great, too.
With historicals, I have a strong preference for very sexy Regencies and Victorians. Also, it’s probably worth noting that I tend not to enjoy historical fiction as much as I do historical romance. As with contemporaries, I tend to like darker voices in historicals, and I like books with seemingly insurmountable obstacles to the protagonists’ relationship—like a story about a duke and a fishmonger’s widow.
While I still am looking for paranormal romances, I’m no longer looking for urban fantasy. I love kick-ass heroines, but I prefer to see them falling in love. What I really want in paranormal is something so different and original that I’m incapable of even coming close to now imagining what that might be. I enjoy a good vampire or werewolf tale, but the market (and my in-box) has been so saturated with them that it’s difficult for me to find something I get excited about.
For erotica, I’m mostly looking for books in which the central storyline is m/f. These can be contemporary, historical, and/or suspenseful or paranormal, but I’m probably not the right agent for anything futuristic or sci-fi. A few things that are absolutely necessary to me in erotica are emotional depth, rich characterization, and an actual plot. I may live to regret saying this, but it’s pretty darn hard to shock me with erotica. Graphic, kinky novels are welcome.
The above doesn’t encompass everything I’m looking to represent, but I hope it gives you more insight into my preferences. As always, I look forward to reading your queries!
When I host #askagent sessions on Twitter I get a lot of questions about genre. People ask about the use of the genre term "new adult" or "romantic adventure," for example. I've also been in discussions with authors about the term "romantic thriller." Now, some agents might disagree with me, but I think using all of these is fine.
The point of genre is to find the reader. In other words, readers who read mystery want to know that a book is a mystery. That's the genre they read, so knowing ahead of time will help them place the book before seeing if it's something they'd like to buy. In addition to finding a place in the bookstore, the genre is also, more important, a description. When I say mystery you all know exactly what I'm talking about. The same holds true for romance, fantasy, paranormal romance, memoir, business book, etc. Now, technically romantic thriller isn't a genre, but I guess you could say that there's no romantic suspense section in the bookstore either. That's okay. When I hear "romantic thriller" I know exactly what you're talking about. The description works. If you tell me, however, that your book is a mystery, romance, and fantasy, I have no idea what you're talking about. Where would that go in the bookstore? It's a little of everything, which probably leads to a lot of nothing.
The term "new adult" keeps popping up over and over. I hear it from writers a lot. Oddly I haven't heard it from any of the editors I've been talking to. That being said, it is a term that's being tossed around so you're unlikely to shoot yourself in the foot by using it. Unless of course it becomes a trendy term like "chick lit" and one day it's in, the next is out and you've missed the day it left.
So when thinking genre think description, just make sure it's a description that makes sense and, with anything, if you doubt the term you're using, then don't use it.
Steampunk is Not for Me
by Jo Barney
Graffiti Grandma is out to three agents. Wednesday Club, the script, is entered in a contest and is sent to two producers, and Solarium just got its twentieth rejection, one more to go. I don't know where Mom, my hockey novel, is. Its cards have escaped my card file. Marshall, the miniature horse, has not made it into the card file yet. He's romping around in SASE land. I've thrown all of my literary children to the winds. Likely, they'll never return. "Just not right for me," their epitaphs will read somewhere out there in the ether.
The only thing for me to do now is write something new. Margaret is shuffling in the wings of this computer. She's seventy-six, straight bodied, aching in only several non-essential parts, and she doesn't know what she's in for. This old lady is going to be manipulated, mulled, cut into pieces, disdained, wept over, and then, if she's like the rest of my literary offspring, laid to rest in my Zip for someone to find when I myself lie in the same sort of quiet place.
I sometimes think how angry I will be if my human children, posthumously for me, discover my Zip storage system, send out its quiet occupants, and make a million dollars in movie rights, and at just the right time for their retirements. I'll really be pissed. If one can be in that condition sans bodily components.
My timing has always been off. I wrote of sad divorces in the early 80's, a few years after most of the debris from the free love decade infiltrated stolid 50's marriages. Then Umarried Woman and Jill Clayburgh took all the wind out of my muse's sails.
I described of the travails of being single with children just after Jane Smileys Ordinary Love came out and said it all for me. Elizabeth Berg covered the drives of singleness: sex, loneliness, missteps in choosing while very needy, even as I was being driven all over the map and not writing.
One of my novels dealt with foundering young sons when my own sons headed out into the world. Research into the genre revealed that not only Salinger but Brad Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney, even if I disliked their books, got into a young mans psyche a lot better than a mother could.
Remarriage, oh god, with children, led to six unpublished articles, right about the time Joanne Trollope Viking wrote Other Peoples Children and dissected a stepmother role as precisely as it can be done.
I can write as well as a few of these authors. I just need to find my niche before someone else does. What will sell three years from now? What will be at the front edge of the next wave? I don't do vampires and I get too depressed with dystopic scenes. Who wants to eat a friend's finger? Or sacrifice a person you've just had sex with?
Wait! I can imagine that, sort of. Perhaps I can create a new genre, a hybrid combination of romance, mystery, fantasy, dystopia, and chick lit.
I Googled "genres" and found one that might be work, slightly adjusted: Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story. The modus operandi seems to be the use of a normal story to simply explain difficult and/or dark parts of human life.
I will call my new genre Geriatric Bildungsroman. Coming-of-old-age stories. I know its been done, but not by me yet, not the way I'm thinking about Margaret.
* * *Jo Barney is a retired educator who is delighted to have time to write even when it means rejections every once in a while, or more often. S
I've been going through, not kidding, years of blog questions submitted by readers. I go through them regularly and pick and choose those I want to answer. Some I store away because I don't know how to answer, others wait because the answer is more complicated, and so many wait because I feel I've touched on the subject before. That being said, there are a lot of questions in there that are important, but don't get enough of an answer for a full blog post. The answers are short and sweet. Here are some of those.
I have a quick question, if that's all right. So many different agencies state that they are not excepting "science fiction", but fantasy is often classified with Science Fiction. If I've written a fantasy novel and I'm looking for an agent, should I assume that the agent won't accept my genre simply because they don't accept science fiction, or vise versa?
Fantasy and Science Fiction, while often shelved in the same place in bookstores, are two different genres. Therefore, an agent could easily represent one and not the other.
My novel just happens to be christian fantasy, but is that considered a cross-over genre? Because there are those out there who want fantasy but not christian, or christian but not fantasy . . . or who will except either but not if the two are combined. It gets really confusing.
It can get confusing, but don't overthink it. Submit to both Christian and Fantasy agents, especially those who do both. Some might feel it's too Christian, others too Fantasy, but you won't know, and won't find the right agent, until you try.
Are published authors required to make public appearances and give interviews or is that optional or does it vary per publisher?
It is typically in the publisher's contract that the author will be available when needed. If there's a specific reason you can't or won't, that should be negotiated up front.
A lot of agents prefer to receive email queries (definitely easier). I've
noticed that some agents will tell you to mail in your query, synopsis and
first 3 chapters with SASE. Then they will tell you that if you prefer to
e-query to just send the query. My question is which is better? Do I want
to package and mail out the hard copy (they are asking for more that way) or
is it better to just do the e-query and let that be all they see?
I guess what's better depends on the agent. I think that anytime you can get your work in front of an agent, your actual writing, that's better. That being said, sending a query via email is definitely cheaper, and if the agent isn't interested in your genre you haven't wasted the postage.
STATUS: This is a first for me. CBS films has a dedicated FB page for LEGEND the Movie. And you get first peek at the just released cover. Sweet.
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? MISSIONARY MAN by Eurythmics
This is actually a good question. A quick look shows that we have 8 full manuscripts in the queue to be read. And here’s where they fall:
6 titles are Young Adult (breakdown by genre, 3 fantasies, 2 paranormals, 1 contemporary)
1 title is adult literary fiction
1 title is adult women’s fiction
We just sent responses to an adult fantasy that we passed on as well as a middle grade title that had several agents interested but ended up not being quite right for us.
Of the 3 clients Sara just signed: adult SF novel, adult Historical Romance, and Paranormal YA.
And as a bonus, here is Kristin as a talking head yet again. This time I’m reading a short excerpt from the Philip K Dick nominee SF novel SONG OF SCARABAEUS for the awards ceremony last Friday. The sound is not the best so you’ll probably have to turn up your volume all the way up to remotely hear me. Warning, this scene will probably hook you in!
The author Sara Creasy thought I looked quite spiffy!
What am I learning about writing lately?
One thing I'm learning is that the possibilites of what types of writing I can pursue are as endless as the subjects about which I can write. Sometimes thinking about all the things I could write and submit is a bit like walking down the cereal aisle of the grocery store. It's overwhelming--especially when you're hungry.
I need to focus on narrowing my
I'm writing a novel about three 15-year-old high school students who are bullied and come up with creative schemes for solving the problem. The target market is middle grade and young adult. Along with some lighter moments, the story becomes quite dark and violent (before progressing into a happy/satisfying ending). There's swearing, bashing, blood, minor knife violence and a shooting. The violence isn't gratuitous, it's integral to the storyline and assists with raising the stakes throughout each stage of the plot.
Am I writing a novel for a target market that's too young to be exposed to the material? Would the older end of the target market, say 18-25-year-olds, still be interested in reading about 15-year-olds? Have I completely ruled out both ends of my target market, and will publishers reject the book because of this?
My immediate concern when reading this question was not so much whether the market is too young but that your target market is “middle grade and young adult.” You really need to pick and choose. Certainly, I’ve represented a lot of books that have crossed genre lines, and I love books that cross genre lines, that appeal to readers of two different genres, but I think when writing a book you have to essentially choose your market so that you’ve chosen where the book will be shelved.
I also feel that crossing genre lines between middle grade and young adult is trickier than, say, fantasy and young adult or fantasy and paranormal romance. While you might have kids willing to read both, they will tend to be middle grade readers. In other words, you will likely have middle grade readers who read up, but unlikely to have young adult readers who read down.
One of the things I love most about today’s young adult market is that the books cross over to an adult market. Harry Potter and Hunger Games would not have been the huge successes they’ve become by appealing only to a young adult market. They’ve been break-out successes because everyone is reading them, everyone from kids to adults.
Without having read your book it’s difficult for me to say what target market it’s best for or if the material is too heavy for a middle grade audience. My gut tells me that you might have more success with a book like this if you raise the age of the character by a year or two. I’m not sure why exactly, but I don’t always understand my gut, I’ve just learned to trust her and, honestly, to me the book sounds better suited to the young adult market.
Occasionally on Twitter I host an #askagent session that allows fellow Tweeps to ask me questions live. If you’re ever up extremely early in the morning (roughly 4 a.m. EST), hop on to see if I’m hosting.
In a recent session I was asked about a recent submission that wowed me, and I thought this was a great question to share with my blogger friends as well. Very often when I read an amazing submission, or an amazing book, it makes me want more of the same. So to give you an idea of where my head is at this very moment, here is a list of some things I’ve read recently that have blown me away.
In no particular order, here are five things that I’ve read that have blown me away. Keep in mind that one of the biggest reasons they’ve all blown me away was because of the author’s voice.
- A narrative about a puppy and the animal control system.
- A memoir by a mommy blogger
- A steampunk YA
- A cross-genre fantasy romance
- Warrior by Zoe Archer
Believe it or not I seem to be opening more and more to memoirs and current affairs narratives.
I absolutely loved the steampunk YA. Can’t stop thinking about it. I would love to see more like this.
I’ve always really enjoyed the cross-genre fantasy romance and feel that some of the books I’ve done definitely fit this area. In my mind, they are books that go beyond paranormal and appeal to both types of readers.Warrior
is just a great book.
I finished my first novel, a humorous women's fiction (chick lit), earlier this year and began querying agents. I received my fair share of rejections off the bat, and I began to think that part of my problem is that chick lit has taken a drastic dive in popularity. But, as I had spent a year of my life writing the blasted thing, I persisted. In the meantime, I started and almost finished my second novel, a modern day Bonnie and Clyde that would probably appeal to the YA market.
In recent weeks, I have had several agents respond to my first query, asking to see partials and fulls, and one offer of representation.
My question is this: Should I abandon my second novel for now and start writing some more humorous fiction in order to build a following? Or should I finish my YA ms. and then switch back to chick lit? I hate being confined to one genre, because after spending a year writing in one style, it is very tempting to try something new. But I don't want to confuse my fans (assuming, of course, that I get any).
The simple answer to this question is that you need to talk to your agent if you choose to sign with one. Personally, I think there’s definitely a correlation between what was once chick lit and what people are writing as YA now. We’re seeing a lot of former chick lit authors go in that direction. However, yes, it could be a problem if you’re published as a women’s fiction author and suddenly switch to YA, unless you feel that you could write two books a year, let’s say, and do one of each.
If you choose to sign with an agent, or are considering signing with one, this is a discussion you should have before signing. Find out how the agent envisions your career and what she thinks about your two directions. Having this discussion may help you decide if she’s the right agent for you or what you should be doing.
One of the best parts of my job is the thrill of the hunt. Sure, I am frequently overwhelmed by the hundreds of queries I find in my in-box, but when time allows, there’s nothing more exciting than sitting down and sorting through them in the hopes of finding that one big thing. Think Indiana Jones and the search for the Ark of the Covenant. There’s no doubt that the pit of snakes was a little much, but in the end, the thrill of the hunt and the final prize were worth every slithery creature.
As I said earlier, I have had time to refresh myself, clean out my in-box, and take a deep breath. And I’m back at it with a vengeance. With the new year comes renewed excitement for something fresh, something that will make me stand up and take notice and a book I can sell with enthusiasm.
While of course I’m looking for every genre (within the confines of those I represent, of course) there are a few things that I’d really like to see right now.
Steampunk. Please, please send me steampunk of all sorts. Adult, young adult, romance, mystery. I personally love this genre and can’t get enough of it.
Historical mystery. I represent a lot of cozy mysteries, but very few historicals, which is funny since historical mysteries were what I cut my teeth on. I would love to see more historicals like the one I sold, Amy Patricia Meade’s Rosie the Riveter series featuring a real-life Rosie the Riveter in WWII-era New York City.
Contemporary romance with a sense of community and big issues. Books that face life head-on and prove love can be found. I have a couple on my list right now and I’m excited about this genre. Many of the books have a flare of women’s fiction in them and more and more editors are asking for these types of books. Examples of books in this genre are those written by Kristin Hannah or Susan Elizabeth Philips or Susan Mallery. Or, of course, our own Bella Riley (yet to be published).
Big fantasy romances. Romance that crosses over into the realm of fantasy, beyond simple paranormal. Worlds like J. R. Ward's or our own Elizabeth Amber's (although it doesn’t need to be erotic).
Historical romances. I really love this genre and would love to see more. I have to admit, my preference in historicals tends to still be Regency England. I love the sweeping historicals like those of Sharon Page as well as the lighter, more contemporary feeling historicals like those of Sally MacKenzie. And I suppose all of this ties nicely into my desire for more historical mysteries and steampunk.
And last, in nonfiction, I’d like to see more journalistic narratives like the one I’m currently representing about the animal control system in the United States.
Let me reiterate that I am still looking for all sorts of great mysteries, romances in all sub-genres, fantasy, women’s fiction, and nonfiction. These are just the subject areas I’m most excited to be reading in right now.
There’s always a lot of talk, especially among unpublished authors, about switching genres. Many of you are writing in multiple genres and want to continue doing so after you are published. Which inspired this question . . .
Is switching genres with each book a bad thing?
I currently have a Fantasy book finished (final re-editing, working on query perfection, etc.), but I started writing a chick-lit in the first half of the year. I also have some good ideas penned down for a sci-fi and a crime thriller. So, based on your post, should I be focusing on just one genre or continue with my whole "branch out and conquer the world" process? I am not working on all of these things at the same time, but still keeping the ideas for the future.
To some degree, yes, I think it’s a bad thing. Remember, once you decide to get published you are building a writing career and not just writing anymore, which means your goal is to find an audience. While you might find it fun to switch things up from book to book, most readers are fairly loyal to what they read. In other words, few fantasy readers will happily jump to chick lit with enthusiasm. Let’s face it, most readers read within a few specific genres. If your fantasy readers love your first book and look for your second, they might be very disappointed to discover how different it is. Most important, it might turn them off from picking up your third.
Most publishers want you publishing at least 9 months apart, so if you can have two different names and publish each name 9 months apart (writing a book every 4 to 5 months), then you can easily write in two genres. If, however, it takes you 9 months to write a book, you might want to stick with one genre, at least until you’re established.
As for writing prior to publication, I think it’s great to write in various genres and explore your strengths.
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I had fun collecting stats on my sidebar polls last week. Thanks to all 1,453 of you who answered the questions!
→ 93% of you are writers
→ 85% of you are writing fiction
→ 73% of you are not yet published
→ 77% of you are writing for the general (not Christian) market
By far the most interesting info I gathered was the genres my blog readers are writing (or at least those who chose to vote). Here's how it stacked up:
26% Fantasy or sci-fi
21% General/other (non-genre fiction)
12% Women’s fiction
10% Supernatural or paranormal
7% Historical (romance or not)
I was particularly interested in the fact that the largest percentage was fantasy and sci-fi. I don't typically rep fantasy or sci-fi, so I really appreciate all of you reading my blog!
When the numbers first started coming in, I immediately noticed the large percentage who checked fantasy/sci-fi, and I wondered whether there might be a disproportionate number of writers
in that genre vs. readers
(hence the difficulty many of you are having getting published). I set out to try and run the numbers, but it's ridiculously hard to find accurate data on book sales by genre
. So I went about it a different way. I decided to look at recent book deals
as listed on Publishers Marketplace.
I chose two months: April, 2011, and October, 2010, and looked at all the fiction deals reported. There were 309 total deals. Here is how they stacked up by genre:
38% General/other (non-genre fiction)
I realize this isn't scientific, it's strictly anecdotal. But the anecdotal evidence supports the initial instinct I had when I saw the numbers. While 26% of those voting report writing fantasy or sci-fi, sampling from two recent months suggests only 6% of book deals were done in those genres. That's not a minor discrepancy...it's a significant difference.What do you make of this? What other conclusions might you draw from these two lists of (unscientific) statistics?© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent