April 21st, 2006

books

likes/dislikes

A little while back I was asking for information on what writers like to see on an agent's webpage. I got several very helpful replies and my thanks goes out to those who took the time to offer an opinion. I'm still trying to work on my CSS, but hopefully I'll get a new and improved site put together in the not-too-distant future.

In the midst of all those comments, though, several people expressed a desire that I should post a list of not only what genres I represent, but what subgrenes I'm interested in as well. Along with possibly any pet peeves I might have about certain proposals. And I find myself a bit stymied by this idea. I have always hated that question so often trotted out at q&a sessions at conventions: "What are you looking for?" Because, to be honest, that can change based on so many factors that any answer I give seems ultimately unhelpful both to myself in finding new projects and to writers seeking representation. I might not know I'm looking for something particular (they've been known to occasionally sneak up on me), or an editor might mention a kind of project they're looking for just as it crosses my desk (synchronicity can be lovely). I don't want to have those novels not come to me because I might have said I wasn't looking for them at some point in the past. Or the market could drop out of the bottom of a particular genre. Or I could read several novels of a certain type and not find what I'm looking for and conclude (in error) that I don't actually enjoy that kind of book, only to finally discover the one story that changes my mind. Of late, I've taken to answering that often irksome question by saying that my needs are two-fold: (1) I have to like the book (and I mean like-like, not just so-so), and (2) I have to think that I can sell it.

I'm not trying to be difficult. Really. I just really want to find all the best books I can and represent them. (Even if that is an inherently subjective judgement in the end.) And I come by this resistance honestly. Here's a story. Once upon a time I said over and over again that I wasn't a big fan of first person narratives. I repeated this at many a conference, firmly believing that I was helping myself avoid books that I wasn't going to like anyway and saving the writers the time and expense of submitting them to me. And then one day, at a fateful conference (which one I've long since forgotten), a friend of mine happened to be sitting in the audience when I made this claim. Aftewards, this friend told me that a book that I represented, that had been published a few years previous, was written in first person. I didn't believe them. So, off we went to the dealer's room, and sure enough.... first person. And apparently so well-written and so compelling that I hadn't remembered it as being a problem in that instance. Ergo, a retraction of that statement (which is just as well because I now have more authors who write in first person when the muse so strikes them).

That's not the only example either. Plus, I've even ended up representing a number of writers that I initially rejected. Long story, short: I don't want to limit myself. And I don't think writers should limit themselves either. Sure, target the agents you think might be best suited to your work and don't waste your time on those that don't handle anything even vaguely similar to your project. And, yeah, make an A-list (and shoot high - why not?) to start your search. I'm definitely not saying you should settle. (Sidebar: This reminds me of some comment I saw the other day - not sure where - in which an author said they were only going to query agents that accepted email... This struck me as putting a limitation on their search that seemed rather, er, unwise and not relevant. Wouldn't one choose their list based on the quality of the agent?)

In any case, I guess that means that I'm not sure how to put such a detailed list on my website and have it actually be practical and useful. I can certainly put current titles on there -- that should help, and some general information about what I represent and what areas of the list need more filling out. But I don't want to box myself in or get typecast. Broader horizons are good. Variety is the spice of life. And, with that in mind, I'm going to see about this next batch of submissions that's awaiting review...
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