Thursday, June 11, 2009

Your Writing Career: More Than One Novel

I'm at an interesting crossroads, and it has occurred to me that discussing it with you might help you clarify your own "I'm going to be published" vision.

For more than two years, I've been shopping my middle grade fantasy, all the while working to make it stronger, all the while continuing to work on other projects. I've had some tantalizing close calls, some amazing feedback, some uber-encouraging moments. I even have an agent who wants me to send it again after revisions.

Yet I remain unagented.

Now, as you know, I'm cheek-chewingly close to finishing my YA dystopic SF. Close, as in three or four chapters out.

Who, me? Over-the-edge excited?

Anyway, I've already got my Lucky You list of agents I'm going to query first. Which brings me to the interesting crossroads. Some of the agents I'm planning on querying this time around don't do middle grade. I'm feeling confident that a few of them will express at least mild interest in my new work, but this leads me to an important question: What happens to my middle grade novel?

Make that novels. I've completed a "book 2" along the way. And there's a book 3 bubbling around in there, too. (Think lots of juicy, dangling threads at the end of book 2.)

Frankly, I'm not willing to set my beloved middle grade aside. I'm passionate about it--so passionate that I am undertaking a complete, hold-nothing-back rewrite to make the first book even better. And I'm going to keep working at it until it's absolute magic.

That's what I'm shooting for. Absolute magic.

So. Where does that leave me in my new agent search? I want an agent to fall in love with my sparkly-new YA (which will, of course, be spending the summer in the grist mill). But what if the agent who falls in love with my YA doesn't represent MG? Do I pursue a relationship anyway?

Or do I move on to the next opportunity?

It's no small question. I have discovered that I love--I mean love--writing YA dystopic. I could certainly do more of it and be happy. But I'm equally passionate about MG fantasy. In fact, if I had to choose a "first love," it would be the MG fantasy.

So I've got think this through. It's always foolish to cut off your proverbial nose to spite your face. Assuming a snooty, how-dare-you-not-also-consider-my-earlier-works attitude won't get an aspiring author anywhere. Of course, I'm not that kind of author. I'm not snooty. And I think I'm savvy enough to know when to say "yes" to just the right offer.

Still. The whole concept of "My Entire Writing Career" is something we all have to take into account as we continue our agent hunts. For me, it isn't about writing and publishing one book. It's about writing and publishing books for the rest of my life.

Including the middle grade fantasy that nobody has quite loved enough yet. Liked-a-whole-lot, maybe (even passing it around the agency, hoping someone else would take it), but not loved-till-death-do-us-part.

So that's what I'm dealing with as I finish up this first draft and prepare to dig in to my first round of edits (ah, glorious edits!). (And no, that wasn't parenthetical sarcasm; I really do love to edit.) Sending my fresh query to agents who love YA dystopic SF and MG fantasy is going to severely narrow my list. I need to walk carefully, think clearly, decide what it is I really want.

I also have to ask myself this: In the end, if breaking out means indefinitely setting aside my beloved MG fantasy series-in-the-making, am I willing to do that?

Oh, yes. That's a big question. I'm working it out day by day.

And there you have it. What about you? What's your passionate vision? What do you see yourself publishing for the rest of your life? What does your "perfect agent's" I-love-this list need to encompass?

And what are you willing to set aside to Make It Happen?

Onward, one and all. (Talk about catharsis. I feel better already.)


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  2. I was there...and passed it. I wrote and edited and re-wrote that story for two years, thought it was perfect, queried six agents, and realized that quickly that the plot was too weak, spent another year re-writing several times, queried another dozen, only to realize (again) that the plot is too weak. So that book is on the shelf. I still love it, but I'm too close to being sick of it to do another re-write right now.

    But I'm extremely excited about this YA fantasy I'm working on. My writing skills are twenty times what they were when I started that first book, so I'm hoping this book will end up far better than the first, many times faster. I hoping that, God willing, I won't spend a year on this one, only to realize it'll never be strong enough to be a debut novel with. I want to write a novel, see it finished, then be able to look back on it four months later without sighing at how much work it still needs! (I suppose that's a sign of rapid growth...but it also really makes me doubt what I think I know right now.)

  3. ***grrr*** sorry about that double-posting. Blogger told me it had an error and that the first didn't post... and then it showed up anyway.

  4. Oh, I truly understand your dilemma. I've been working on my recent novel for 8 years now. I do a great deal of revising, making it as perfect as I can before sending it out. Once a year, I send the newly-revised, newly-improved novel out to about 30 agents. Nada! Nothing! I ponder, cogitate, I go back and rework the novel,year after year. After about 5 years I thought maybe this book just wasn't going to sell, so get on with something else.

    But unfortunately those characters haunted me. I couldn't get them out of my head. I knew it was a good, funny, timely book. And so I'd revise and refine it more, send it out again, another 30 rejections.

    I'd work on other projects, but they never truly engaged me.

    So, here I am, just finished with my latest rewrite, and I am truly pleased with the result.

    This time I've decided I won't try to nab an agent. This time I'll go directly to publishers. I know thatgoes against all conventional wisdom. I've read all the material about how you have to have an agent. However, I sold my last book to St. Martin's without an agent. Why not this one?

    Of course as soon as I sold that book, I got an agent, which, at that point, I didn't really need one. She was great though and I knew she'd be able to help with the second novel. But, alas, she retired! So I'm starting all over again.

    That's a long way around to saying choose the genre you are most passionate about and try to get an agent that specializes in that genre. If you feel that in the long-run, you want to be in MG Fantasy, then aim there. Hopefully that agent will also be able to market your YA.

  5. Let's be realistic.
    Sell whatever sells. When you're a published author who's been on a few lists, bring the loved MS out, polish it up, and give it to your agent. Until then, write something else. Write, write, write!

  6. I think you need to take this from a different angle as you can 'what if' yourself to death.

    Ultimately they want something they can sell.

    I'm looking down the barrel at 100 rejects so far, much of which I'm sure is due to the crappy queries and synopsis I had submitted at the time. Newbie learning curb. I am getting some interest now but my source to pull from has dwindled.

    So, I'm considering a different tact. Continue writing my series, but maybe take a hietus and write the 'other' book.

    Thought being, get in the door with the 'other' book, then I can get more attention by agents to consider the first one.

    Ask yourself about your MG SciFI...
    Do I like it? Do I believe in it? Do I enjoy it? I'm sure your writing has improved greatly since you first started. (I try not to look at my first attempts as they make me cringe!) So if these are 'yes's then don't play the 'what if they don't like it game.'

    Hell, I believe in my book so much, that I'm considering offering it for free to drum up buzz to bring in an agent for subsequent work in the hopes that it will be well received. (I'll finish my querying first though!)
    That's a scary leap, but it could work.

    Put it this way, If they don't like your MG, I don't think they'd drop something they had interest in.

    Does this help?

  7. Don't limit yourself with the 'what if . . .' question.

    I agree with Julie - 'sell whatever sells' first, and then worry about that 'i just love it' MS.

    I have a similar dilemma. I'm really in love with the project I'm currently querying. I have another project in revision stage which I love as well. They're similar, but not similar enough that the same agent might represent them both. Now, what if first project doesn't have an agent by the time second project is ready to query? What if second project gets accepted first? Whoa!

    Well, yeah, I have this other project I absolutely love, might not be right for the agent who loves project two . . . and I could drown in the what-if scenarios.

    Have faith in yourself, your writing abilities, and keep forging ahead. If YA sells first - woo-hoo. If MG sells first - woo-hoo!

    I think if we narrow our agent search too much by considering all the 'what ifs', then we miss out on a ton of agents that might be just right for us.


  8. I went through that dillema last year when I realized that as much as I love writing sci-fi I do branch into comic fantasy sometimes. Just for fun.

    But they aren't the same genre and to build a fan base and platform it really is best to have your first several books (5-10 minimum) be in one genre.

    I'm focusing on writing and editing a set of science fiction novels. I'll finish them, query them, and plan on selling them. And I'll keep my fantasy novels for a later date.

    On the flip-side is the fact that just because an agent doesn't rep the genre right now doesn't mean they won't.

    Kristin Nelson at PubRants didn't originally rep YA. But a friend asked, and she asked her stable of authors, and now she does represent several very successful YA series.

    For you I think the priority is finding out where your strength is. You may passionately love MG fantasy, but if your writing shines with YA than it's in your best interest to shop the YA novel and find an agent with that.

    Your writing will improve with time and if you are still passionate about MG, you can come back to it.

    But you need to know your genre and what you write.

    Good luck!

  9. I'm in the same place as you. My first book was a YA which I was sooooo freaking close to getting an agent with. I all but had an offer of rep, but there was what I'm calling a "miscommunication" and it fell apart. That gives me hope that the YA is good, and I have some ideas to make it great, but I've been writing adult novels since then. Even though several of the agents at the top of my list don't rep YA, I've decided to query them anyway.

    I think it might have been Kristin Nelson who originally didn't rep YA stuff (if this is the wrong agent and someone knows the right one, please correct me!). Then one of her clients decided to write a YA book. She ended up liking it, sold it, and now reps tons of YA. I figure that could happen with other agents as well. And if not, maybe your agent will be okay with letting someone else rep your YA. There might even be someone within the same agency who can do it.

    So, yeah, I'd query agents even if they don't rep everything I want to write.

  10. I'm in a bit of the same boat as you. There's a book series I'm co-authoring with a friend that eats up all of my thoughts, dreams, waking and sleeping hours, because I love the genre and I love the kind of story. And while we're polishing up this book, there's another one that I'm working on. Except this is YA and the first mss is adult urban fantasy. And I know that there are other stories in me that I want to tell as a writer, but almost all of them aren't in the same genre as the series.

    Does that mean, when the new mss is done, and I go looking for an agent while already shopping around for the first book, that I'll have a keen eye for an agent that does both?


    It would be a dream come true, I think for any writer, to have an agent who loves the author and his/her work so much that it doesn't matter what genre the next book is in, the agent will stick with the author. That's a life time career partner right there. And if he/she is out there, I'd like to find them.

    But you're right. The odds are very slim. The list of possible candidates gets narrower. And it also might be that the best agent you find for yourself has a forte in one genre, but not so strong yet in the other. And that brings in the question of if that latter book will suffer because it's not your agent's strong point.

    I don't think, especially if it's a story you love, that you should give up on it when you have another story that sells. I don't see choosing one over the other. I understand practicality, and that opinions on one's work changes over time. But we make concessions in our lives so many times already, that making one over something you're passionate about seems too much of a sacrifice to me. I wouldn't, but that's just me and where I'm at right now. And that's fine.

    There's a great quote from Jasper FForde's interview at Writer Unboxed:

    "I always feel that if you don’t believe in your own material, then it will show. And no matter what you write about, across all the different genres, one always respects the passion even if what you’re writing about is—to me—totally ludicrous. The passion about what you’re writing, because you love it, will shine through and make it that much better."

    And he writes the strangest fiction I've ever seen. He doesn't fit in any genre category. And I love it. It took him 10 years to get published. But he liked his stories and kept writing them, and as an avid fan of his work, I'm grateful he did.

    So I say, keep going at your MG fantasy. Keep improving your craft. If you're willing to overhaul it because you believe in what you're writing, then I say do it for however long it takes, because that's passion right there.

    And if the agent you find who's perfect for your YA book doesn't think he/she'll represent your MG, then find a different agent for the MG. Tell your YA agent about your plans, of course, but find a different one for your MG. Because you want someone who loves your book. And there's nothing wrong with it being a different person. Writing is subjective. Reading tastes are too.

  11. Right now, I'm simply improving my craft. All WiP, IMHO, reach a point of saturation that ruins the story. Long before that happens, I prefer to move on. I watched one great story fall into over editing hell and I don't know if it can ever come out again. Isn't it better to always be looking forward? Applying what you learned to new work?

    However for your dystopic SF -- at MileHi in Denver last fall Anne Sowards put out a call for her current love-- dystopic SF. (Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs etc.) You might try going direct without an agent. *Now I sit back and wait for the sage comments on that route!*

    She had a great presentation and I liked her as a person, which I always think is how business should start between two people.

    Here is her website:
    (ALSO if your WiP tends to the military SF, mention that. It was her other call for manuscripts.)

  12. Query the agents you want to work with and if they offer representation, then have the discussion about your MG novels. There may be an agent within the agency who would be interested, or your agent might be able to offer suggestions. Either way, don't put the cart before the horse. All the agent blogs stress communication and this seems like a very good question to ask an agent before you sign a contract. Best of luck!

  13. There's nothing wrong with seeking an agent for the YA, even if they don't rep MG. After the YA is signed and sold, you can either see if the agent would work with the MG, or get a recommendation from him for a MG agent.

    No worries!

  14. Your second paragraph is duplicate to my situation except for one thing: right now I'm only planning to write YA novels.

    I haven't read what others have to say (my 5 year old wants me off the computer to play with her), but I'd suggest finding an agent who wants to rep your SF YA novel and see what happens later on. She or he may be more than happy to rep the MG book at that point. Things are alway changing. Of course, you might want to focus your search at first for agents who rep both.

    For me, I need an agent who reps YA and likes urban fantasy/paranormal stories.

  15. I also agree with what Julie said. Submit your strongest work, regardless of the genre. Once you're published, you'll likely find a home for the other works, probably with the same agent. If not, so what.

    Fortunately, for me, I like to write in only one genre--suspense. So, if I find an agent for one of my books, hopefully, they'll eventually take an interest in the others.

    I queried a number of agents for my first novel and received some decent feedback. Enough to understand where it needs the most work. I had already started writing a second one before I returned to apply revisions to the first.

    Based on chapter critiques to my second novel, and my own sense of where things stand, I realized that the second one was way better than my first. I think there's a better chance as a debut novel, so that's where all my attention is going nowadays.

    Good luck!

  16. I think its great that you have a whole new batch of agents to look at. Go for that right now. And when, not if, you get that new book sold, you'll be in a much better spot to sell the other.

    I'm in exactly the same place. Beginning to realize that my fantasy book is just not selling and though it will always be my first love, I'm trying a whole new genre and excited about using what i've learned to make that second book and second selling better.

  17. Well, I've spent time contemplating my navel, because my work computer was down for most of today.

    I'm unabashedly willing to do whatever it takes. I understand that agents and houses more experience. If they make a suggestion--then I would trust it. They are the pros, after all.

    However, I'm perplexed about your question, "And what are you willing to set aside to Make It Happen?" It sounds so--sad and I sense great anguish in your asking it.

    Do we ever put aside what we have created? Perhaps imagining it residing on your own bookshelf with a place of honor, knowing that you could pick it up again anytime you wish, would help? You aren't killing it, or locking it into a dungeon somewhere, right? You'd never do that anyway.

    Is that so sad to say, 'not at this time?'

    Am I mis-understanding? *Hugs dear Authoress* and then more *hugs*

  18. I do have an agent and I do have PBs under contract, but your question still hits home for me. I have 3 MG manuscripts - 2 complete and 1 under first revisions - and here's what I've learned.

    While I work furiously on my latest WIP and the other 2 rest in the drawer, my perspective on the "resters" changes. But I'm not at all ready to give up on them.

    But the more distance I gain and the more I write, the more objective I become regarding what might improve my "drawered" stories. I know when I read them again, I run the risk of falling in love with them all over again. But before I do that, I might develop a list of ideas based solely on my memories of the stories and the feedback I've gotten.

    And if I were still querying agents, I'd focus on my most marketable manuscript and discuss the others if and when representation was offered. Sometimes it's easier to sell a second book once you've broken out. And of course, I'd keep writing.

  19. I think my current MS has the potential to sell (but then again, don't we all in a way?). I decided to make it into a series of at least 4 books, because, to me, the story can only be told to completion that way. And these four will undoubtedly take me YEARS. Heck, just the first one has taken me over a year already. I'm so obsessed with what I'm currently writing, though, that I've not had much time to think of what else I might write after it...except for maybe a book about one of the questionable characters. We'll see.

    But oh how I long for that day when I can finally start querying. AND that day when I can hopefully say that writing is my career--and will be for the rest of my life.

  20. Sounds like a lot of people are in the same boat! So am I. For the last nine years I've spent most of my writing energies on a five-book fantasy series. I've got a tidy little pile of rejected queries for the first book, and I was all set to send out some more when the idea for a new novel popped into my head. I wrote it in under two months. It needs a lot of revising still, but I'm starting to contemplate focusing on getting it out there because it's a single book with a simpler plot, and it might be a little easier to market. Thing is, it's definitely fantasy, but it's probably also YA. Not quite the same category as my series. I'm trying not to worry about it. The important thing is to keep working at getting an agent and getting published - after that, if my writing is good enough, (big if!!) things should work out.

  21. Are there some agents who do handle both MG and YA? Then obviously, query them first.

    Second best idea is to query agents about each one.

    I do agree with earlier poster that you bring up the other genre during the interview after you get a nibble. Be ready with a follow-up story idea for whichever genre he/she would be repping, as well as the other genre.

    Warning, though: most agents and editors want you to be ONE thing because you build an audience faster and bigger that way. Be prepared for resistance to two genres. They want readers to see your name and know what they're getting--that's how sales grow.

    The solution, of course, is to publish under two different names--one for each genre.

    Don't give up anything—especially before you have to. Just be reasonable. Recognize, too, that speed of production is required these days, so what can you write well but at the fastest speed? They want a book a year, minimum.

    I'm sure it'll work out.

  22. I haven't got a manuscript to the querying stage yet, but I have two on the go at the moment. I work on each alternately, polishing one while resting the other.

    One day I will face the same dilemma you're facing, because my two manuscripts are in completely separate genres. One is YA fantasy, the other is thriller.

    I would start your search for an agent with those who rep both of your genres. If that fails, go to the second tier, those who only rep one genre but belong to a house where another agent reps your other genre.

    Failing that, I guess all you can do is pick which work you think is strongest, and go after agents that rep that genre. Hopefully, once you're successful enough in one genre, your agent may consider repping your work in other genres - a few people have already mentioned Kristin Nelson, who did this.

    I hope these comments help, even if it's only to realise that you aren't alone!

  23. It's time to move on. Work to sell your YA series. Once you have hooked an agent/editor bring out the MG novel. It can sit, but you need to move on.

  24. I've had this same issue. I write YA and adult. Different genres. And I've decided to seek those who I'd want to work with, no matter whether they handle both or not. I'm not going to limit myself.

    If one agent loves something, but doesn't want to rep the other, then I'll find one that will. And who knows, maybe one book will be such a success, that they'll decide to take the other book as well. :)

    You are very talented, don't limit yourself. Just go for it.

  25. Funny...I just wrote an entire blog about what you are talking about lol.

  26. None of this matters.

    It really doesn't.

    It's putting the cart before the horse.

    Your worried that publishing one instead of the the other will end your writing career before its begun. To have a writing career you have to have a book published. The rest is a bridge you cross when you come to it.

    If someone says I want to sign thee up, I say hell yes (unless they're a scam artist). Not, Oh but I have ten books under my belt and I want to publish them all so I'll only take representation from you if you fall in love with all my books.

    I worry about things I can control. Writing well. That's it. Agents happen when they happen and for most of us they never happen. Which is why we applaud those who make it and secretly hate them too.