When To Take the Market into Consideration

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our most frequent story starter — idea, milieu, character, theme, what-if, trope, editor request, etc. Come on over to find out why this is a practical decision for me. 

Sarah Younger and Jeffe Kennedy at RWA 2016

At Last: My Big News!

Sarah Younger and Jeffe Kennedy at RWA 2016So, I’ve been making vague remarks about big changes in my writing career life. More than I thought, because a number of people have asked me about it! But there were Reasons I couldn’t say until today.

The NEWS:

I’m moving to a new agent and agency!

As of today I’ll be represented by Sarah Younger of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency. I’m super excited about this move. Sarah just celebrated her 80th deal (which just happened to be a fabulous one for my wonderful friend, Grace Draven). She’s also just a lovely person all around – and not just because she loves my books! Here’s us at the Harlequin Ball in San Diego last summer (2016), at the RWA annual conference, long before either of us had an inkling we might work together. 

What’s funny is – and you longtime readers will particularly appreciate this – Sarah read and loved PETALS & THORNS way back when I published it under my Jennifer Paris pseudonym. Let me tell you, finding an agent who’s read your books for pleasure is a fantastic feeling. She really groks what I write and I think we’re going to make an amazing team.

So, as of today I’m bidding a fond farewell to Fuse Literary. I notified them and my previous agent, Connor Goldsmith, back at the end of February that I’d be making this change. My agency agreement with Fuse (like many), required a 30-day notice to wind up business with them. I will always appreciate what Fuse and Connor have done for me. Agency partner Laurie McLean really worked hard to find a place for me in the agency after my first agent (Pam Howell) left. (For those who don’t know, an author signs with a literary agency, not an individual agent, so if an agent leaves the agency, the author has the option of following them to the new agency or staying put and working with a new agent.) In the end, I approached Sarah about moving my work in a new direction. I liked what she had to say and was hugely gratified that she offered to represent me when I asked. 

Big changes like this never seem to be easy, even for the person who initiates them. The last month of conversations and logistics have been surprisingly emotional for me. It’s kind of like filing for divorce and planning a wedding to someone new, all in the space of 30 days. 

Plus there was that whole RITA finalist thing in the middle. 

All good things, but – WOW! – I’ll be happy to settle into a steady, quiet routine again. ~fans self with hankie~

So, stay tuned for news. Exciting days ahead!

Be Careful Pulling That Self-Pub Trigger

columbineI’m not usually the one to give self-publishing advice. That’s because, while I’ve done a bit of it – a couple of backlist books (Petals and Thorns and Negotiation) – I’ve put a lot more focus on the traditional path. There are a lot of reasons for that, which aren’t really pertinent to today’s point, though I’m happy to talk about it if anyone wants to know.) That said, I will be doing more of self-publishing in the future, including a fab anthology project and an exciting secret something with Grace Draven.

Still, I feel like I should say something to up-and-coming writers who decide to self-publish.

Apparently there’s a lot of bad advice out there, because this particular question keeps coming up on my author loops. A gal going to RWA Annual Conference asked for advice on pitching to agents and editors. Which is great that she’s asking! I pitched for many years and it’s not easy. However, she said that she self-published the first book in her series and it’s not doing well, but the second book is almost ready. She wondered if she should pitch the first book or the second.

The answer? NEITHER.

And I should caveat this by saying that she is FAR from the only person to do this.

So here’s the deal. We all read the stories about the self-pubbed book that gets picked up by a major publisher because it did so astonishingly well. This makes for great news in part because it’s SO RARE. It doesn’t seem like it, because the stories are so high profile, but statistically this is hugely unlikely to happen. This is one of the very worst reasons to self-publish, especially the first book in a planned series. Seriously. Here’s why.

If the self-published book does not do astronomically well – and that means tens of thousands of copies – then a traditional publisher will not want it. That’s just the facts of the industry. The book has been market-tested and will hold no appeal for a traditional publisher. Which means that an agent will not want to represent it, because they know they can’t sell it to a publisher. Simple logic.

Also, pretty much no publisher will pick up the second book in a series. There are some exceptions to this. Occasionally a traditional publisher will drop a series after two books and another will pick up the third. But again, this happens when the original series did decently and I’ve only heard of it working when a bigger traditional publishing house drops it and a smaller, usually digital-first, publisher picks it up. I don’t know of any cases where they’ve picked up more than one book. It’s really a gamble that lovers of the series will buy that final book to round out a trilogy. With a series, most traditional publishers want to control the packaging and marketing from the beginning.

So the upshot of this is: 99.9% of the time, once an author self-publishes the first book in her series, she has to commit to self-publishing the entire series. If she wants to try for a traditional publishing deal, too, then she needs to pitch an entirely new series to agents and editors.

(Also, if she really wants to go the agent route, then it’s best to pitch to them first, and let THEM pitch to editors, but that’s a whole other post.)

I want to add that committing to self-publishing a series can be a terrific plan. I have several writer friends doing very well that way. One, Elizabeth Hunter – whose book THE SCRIBE (book 1 in the Irin Chronicles) I’m just *loving* – told me that she saw no significant audience for her books until she published book 3. Other people have said book 4 or even 5.

Sure, self-publish a series! But commit to that path for it and don’t look at self-publishing the first book as a stepping stone to getting it traditionally published. It *can* open the doors to having another series traditionally published. But once that first book is out there, it’s out. If you harbor hope of taking that series down the traditional path, think very carefully before you pull the trigger and click that “Publish” button.

How *Not* to Talk to an Agent

spring blossoms, Eldorado, Santa Fe, NMRecently I had occasion to research my agent’s Twitter feed, looking for a link he’d posted. Along the way I found a number of writers commenting on him not responding to their queries fast enough. Some of their tweets had a fairly terse and impatient tone. One was downright antagonistic.

It truly gave me pause.

First of all – I totally get the frustration. I queried agents (and editors) for years. Some I never heard any kind of response from. Others took approximately forever to reply. One in particular sent me a rejection a year after I’d signed with my first agent. On one level, we hear what they tell us – that client work comes first, that queries come at the far end of a long list of priorities – and intellectually we understand that. But emotionally we also understand what they’re too polite to say: that we are not that important to them at that stage.

Now, before any agents jump in and argue that, OF COURSE queriers are important, that this is where they get new clients and they’re always looking for something exciting in the slush pile – which is all absolutely true – let me clarify. A potential client is exactly that: a possibility. This person and their book lie in the intangible realm. Whereas the agent has very tangible clients and books to deal with. No matter how much as authors we believe in the vast potential of the book we’re querying, no one else has that same emotional charge as we do. And it’s painful.

It’s cranky-making.

It made me cranky, too.

But here’s the thing. The crankiness never goes away. Publishing is a strange business. Things can move at a glacially slow pace. There’s rarely ever a direct relationship between any two things. Hard work does not necessarily equal success. Brilliant writing does not necessarily equal great sales. Awards and rave reviews don’t mean the book will succeed. People you thought supported you turn out not to. Exciting things happen out of the blue and expected things evaporate. Yes, it’s exciting and creative and I wouldn’t trade it for any other career, but my point is this: it’s a cranky-making business. Everybody gets cranky at some point: authors, editors, agents, publishers, marketers, etc.

So, here’s my point. Agents know this. They know that there will be times in working with their authors that things will get stressful. There will be annoying contract negotiations, offers will fall through, books will fail to live up to expectations, editors will change their minds, difficult conversations will be had. This is part of the business. In point of fact, I mentioned in a blog post last week how I was cranky and snarky to my agent about advice he gave me. He probably didn’t love me for it, but he also gave me some latitude on it. (At least, I *think* he still loves me…) And I’m taking the advice, I decided once my cranky subsided. But part of why I get a bye (the one I hope I got) is that’s as cranky as I get. (And we have a pretty easy relationship at this point, where we get each other.)

To him. Or in public. I absolutely get crankier than that in private. That’s what DMs, IMs, text messages and tearful, ranty phone calls are for. Otherwise, I try to keep my professional relationships relatively cranky-free.

Imagine then, if an author is hostile and impatient with an agent they don’t know, have never talked to and have no relationship with. This is like the standard dating advice: he or she is not going to get BETTER after you marry them. Nobody turns out to be sweeter, better behaved and with more diligent hygiene AFTER the vows are said. No, when we’re dating and courting is when we are wearing our best selves. An author who’s impatient about queries, and is cranky about it, is not likely to be pleasant to deal with when the chips are down and a deal is going badly. If you think agents don’t know this and consider it, think again.

Most agents are in the business out of love and passion, much as authors are. There are easier ways to make money. But there’s also a reason we’re not stockbrokers. Agents want to love authors, want to love the books they write and help bring them into the world. If they make a bunch of money doing that, even better. But no book is brilliant enough to make an agent want to work with you if they think it will be a miserable experience.

Because life is too short.