Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chasing Trends

I have felt for some time now that agents/editors blogging is both a great and slightly unhelpful phenomena. It's great because it removes some of the mystique behind the publishing process, demonstrates, you know, that agents and editors are human beings. These blogs also provide practical information: the art of the good query letter, what that particular agent likes to represent etc. They also offer excellent networking opportunities through the comments sections.

They are less helpful when they confuse authors.

The problem with these blogs is that each agent has a slightly different philosophy on the industry. Each agent has a slightly different set of requirements for his/her query letters. Each agent . . . is different. And authors sometimes can find themselves trying to appeal to every agent in one magical query letter or whathaveyou. This is next to impossible. (I wrote about this idea in more general terms here).

What also makes life more confusing for authors are the posts about current trends. I personally find them very interesting, and love it when agents talk about what's hot and what's not. But unless you just happen to have a completed novel in one of those genres of the hot variety that you've been scared to send out and this news gives you the impetus to do so, I say, enjoy these posts on a "Well now that's quite interesting" level.

Because, seriously? Current trends are pretty darn meaningless.

The thing is - publishing takes a long time. A very long time.

Let's say you have an agent already. Let's say that agent has sold your work. It will still be close to TWO years before the book is on the shelves. And there is simply no predicting what will be popular in two years. Before the DaVinci Code came out, do you think editors were looking for religious conspiracy novels? Ah, no. In fact I would venture to say if such books crossed their desks the response would be along the lines: "Too controversial." Yet suddenly this book strikes it huge and every other book on the shelf looks like some cheap knockoff (yes, even those books knocked off by Brown himself somehow still managed to look like that).

I'm not saying it isn't important to keep up with what's hot in the industry right now. I think being educated is always a smart move.

But instead of freaking out trying to write an epic love story about vampire pirate time travelers, because some agent mentioned it once in passing, try freaking out about writing a really compelling novel. Something that interests you, something where your passion obviously shines through.

My personal experience is a pretty good example of this. Alex was rejected because it was "too old fashioned". In fact when you look at the facts, Alex is definitely not what you would consider trendy. First off it's long. Around twice as long as most novels in its genre. It's also episodic, which is an outdated form of storytelling. These days we prefer our soap opera, what happens next, kind of stories. The protagonist is a girl, and I know that many MG editors are looking for male leads to entice boy readers. The language is complicated, sometimes even archaic. And I use author intrusion, which while very popular in Lemony Snicket, really is not what is desired in novels in general, let alone children's books. In fact I have read articles advising strongly against it.

Yet . . . I still managed to find people interested enough in spending time with me to edit it and then eventually publish it.

There are so few things we can control as authors. We can't control what an agent/editor likes or dislikes. We can't control the economy. We can't control readers deciding they'd rather watch a movie. But we can control the words on the page. We can write our story, choose our words, play with characters. We can edit a manuscript over and over again until it shines. That, at least, we should feel some power over.

So I say instead of grasping at some trend's tailcoat, let's start our own! It will be brilliant! It will be delightful! It will be the trend to end all trends!

. . . and we shall call it . . . Carl.


hwalk said...

What a great post! The sort of thing I wish I would have read before I started to read all these crazy blogs trying to find answers . . .

I think you are so right about the trends. And I think that you are the perfect person to talk about it, since your book is so magnificent, and it isn't trendy. It's just good. And trends are always started by books that are just good.

Love your book for what it is, and I'm so glad that you did author-intrusion and episodes and wrote old-fashioned and the length that it is in, because it was so delightful to read. I loved it because it wasn't what everyone else was writing and reading--it was different.

Kelly M said...

Thank you for that! It's great to read about your experience and what you've learned. Is there somewhere on your blog you talk about getting your agent and your publishing deal? Two years... wow. I hope you didn't have to wait two years to get paid!

Adrienne said...

hwalk - I am so happy that you liked the post! And thrilled how much you like my book. Thank you so much for the compliment, it means a lot to me!

kelly - glad you liked it too! And yes, I have written about getting an agent etc. If you go down the side bar of my blog you'll see a section that says: "My road to publication" with some links to past articles. Also you can always go through the archives at the bottom! I've had the blog for a while now, and I've written A LOT of info about writing and publishing.

kelly m said...

Hi thank you for replying so fast! I read the old posts and can't wait for more :) Thank you, Kelly

Ross said...

ok so I just want to say thank you to you Adrienne. Which is weird cause you don't actually know who I am. But anyway, I am currently in college studying to be an actor. Anyway I just finished Alex and the Ironic Gentleman and I have to say that I LOVED it! Usually when I find things that are brilliant, or extremely creative, etc. I go to their websites, which I did for you. And doing that led me to your blog. And I have to say you really helped me. You see the other day I was in a down in the dumps sort of mood, because I had gotten to thinking about how scared I am of the future... like what if I don't make it as an actor. Pretty normal thoughts I guess for someone going into their senior year in college. Once thats over its the (gulp) real world. So yes, I wasn't to happy but then I started reading your blog and honestly it gave me hope. Like you did and still do these amazing things, even though you are out of school, and its all fantastic, even when its not you still seem to keep going with a smile on your face. So I thought, why not? I am going to do the same! I will not give up! And you inspired me to that, so thank you. You are a wonderful writer, and even though I haven't seen you act, I have faith that you are a wonderful actor as well.

brian_ohio said...

Hi Adrienne,

Look at you... a posting fool.

And this is good stuff. Re: the agent Blogs... if I still had to query (Yay! I don't!) I'd use them specifically to personalize the opening of the query. Also, they're good to research agent tastes and clients.

As you mentioned, the 'What's Hot' stuff is bogus. Write a great book. Great books are always hot!

And count me in on Carl. (well... metaphorically speaking, of course.)

Adrienne said...

ross - wow. I'm glad I could help like that, truly! And thank you so much for all the compliments. I am thrilled you enjoyed my book that much!

The thing about being an actor or a writer is it is very hard, and a lot of people are going to convince you it is impossible. But it isn't. There are practical steps that can be taken, and yes while a lot of what we have to do is rely on luck, we have to be ready for the luck when it strikes. So keep up the good work, taking courses, honing your skills, and keep the faith. You can do it. It isn't easy. It is down right painful. But . . . it isn't impossible either.

brian - you make a good point about the personalising queries. Agent blogs are great for learning about an agent, and letting us make informed choices, even maybe cross a few off our list. And glad to have you on board for the Carl revolution!