Literary Agents


#204

If you are able to produce a quality book - you do have options. But it’s not easy. You have to master MANY talents: writing, project management, hiring, pricing, distribution, and on and on. Think of it this way you not only have to be an exceptional author, but you also have to do (or hire) a team of about a 1/2 dozen to replace what the publisher does.


#205

Let’s assume this so-called “Luckiest Man in the World” existed…and he doesn’t have the ability to write his way out of a paper bag. I don’t think he’ll be published. What will happen is he’ll have more “nibbles” – the door will open for him at virtually every turn. But at the end of the day, the poor writing will prevent an offer…imho.


#206

We’ll have to agree to disagree. In my estimation, the author will miss many opportunities (due to your “bad luck”) definition, but if they keep submitting they WILL eventually land a contract. That’s assuming, of course, that they have a book that meets all the requirements for being “picked up.” If they don’t have that…then no amount of luck will help.


#207

Yes, judging writing as “good” or “bad” is 100% subjective…based on what the reader is looking for from their book. I should have said this before (I usually do). That I define a book as “good” if it generates a word-of-mouth following. In other words “good books” have people champion them with their friends, family and anyone they meet. A “bad book” is something that no one feels strongly enough to recommend. By that definition “good” and “bad” is determined by sales, and both Twilight and FSOG would be deemed “good.”


#208

I agree with all of that.


#209

Well I DID give up writing…for more than a decade. It’s one of the few regrets I have, but my failures that led to that were 100% because my writing wasn’t good enough…not lack of luck…and when my persistence was gone, I quit.

But it’s never too late. My first published book came in late 40’s. I have some author friends who put out their first book in their 60’s.

Nowadays I know the only thing that will stop me from writing is when I die. I enjoy it too much to quit again.


#210

Well, I’m not sure the author is self-aware enough to be able to answer that. Readers are the ultimate gatekeepers, who decide which books have “it” and which don’t. But let’s say for the sake of argument you have a book that really does have the “it” factor and it’s still overlooked after years of querying…well if it were me…and it was…because that is where I was with my 14th book. You turn to self-publishing. But as I mentioned elsewhere self-publishing ONLY works if you produce a high-quality book – one that is every bit as good as the traditional publishers.


#211

Again…I agree with all that.


#212

I agree with you that much of Twilight has been done before…and the same goes with Harry Potter…Ancient evil rising again, a boy destined for greatness, a wise wizard mentor, a poor but friend that you are loyal to, a smart know-it-all girl. These have been played over and over and over.

But both Twilight and Harry Potter had that “spark.” The secret sauce that people fell in love with. People were riveted to the story being told. And it was that…not their “timing” that made propelled their successes.


#213

Exactly.


#214

That certainly is a good sign but like Mr. Wonderful says on Shark Tank…“If they aren’t writing you a check, their opinion on valuation is meaningless.”

An agent owes you nothing when you aren’t signed to them…so a form letter after months of a partial shouldn’t be something that upsets you. Again, if they reply with a "form rejection (which is what “not right for me is.”) It’s generally because they saw problems and didn’t want to crush your future writing by giving honest, and painful feedback.


#215

The Star Wars movies are in a VERY successful franchise, so long-time fans will go in the HOPES of them being good.

The point is that when making a new property – Twilight, Harry Potter, and so forth – it is word-of-mouth that makes or break it. If you have people recommending the book, it succeeds, if they don’t it’ll fail.


#216

Writing quality is subjective. What isn’t disputable is the fact that the books sold extremely well. And a big part of that equation was word-of-mouth referrals. When you are hearing from what seems like everyone you know that “you have to read this book” you’ll pick it up…if for no other reason than to see what all the hub bub is about.


#217

I agree with all of this.


#218

On this we agree.

I’m sure there were some number of sales from people who wanted to be see what all the fuss was about…and another group of people who wanted to be educated before they berated it. But neither of those “pools” account for the level of sales those books had. The “heart” of their success was people reading, enjoying, and convincing others to give them a try.


#219

I do think there are a core number of people here that “really know their stuff” when it comes to publishing and I’d add you and @XimeraGrey to that list as well. You may not have been at this long…but you have listened and learned and generally seem like you have a good head on your shoulders. And you have also sold a nice number of books. I don’t recall the exact number of Crimson Queen sales, but it is MORE than respectable, especially given your 2nd book has only recently been released. In fact, you were far more successful with self-publishing your first book than I was with mine. So, I expect your success to continue to grow.

I agree with that. I’ll take hard work over luck any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

[quote=“AlecHutson, post:202, topic:37258”]
If you can’t tell the difference you shouldn’t be submitting to agents because they CAN recognize the difference, and it will take a truly amazing idea to overcome that lack of ability in the craft. [/quote]

Yes, when traditionally published, the book must meet a “minimum requirement” there is a bar set and you have to be “at least this tall to ride.”

Which is one of the reason why self-publishing does very well. There are readers who are willing to overlook certain deficiencies if the story captivates them. Blood Song is a good example. In its original self-published form it had MANY MANY grammar errors. So much so, that I was oftentimes distracted by them. But I kept reading…why? Because “the story” was compelling and I cared about the characters and the “spinning of the tale” was well done (in other words it was hitting on almost all levels, and the one it was lacking, wasn’t enough to make me turn away.

Now that said, I should mention that there are some self-published books that were 100% perfect from day one. The Martian is one that comes to mind.

And it should be noted that self-publishing isn’t the last resort of those who don’t have “the right stuff.” There are many people who can get traditionally published and CHOOSE to go self.

Yep, ratings, # of reviews, and # of shelvings tells a lot about a book and it’s sales.

Part of the problem is there have been successes…now many of these are older than 3 years. Mark Lawrence and Joe Abercrombie are two great examples.

Still, I think part of the reason my books have done so well is they were anti-grim dark and that made them stand out from “the trend.” And my sales are currently out-pacing theirs, so you may be right about the grimdark trend not being as strong as it once was.

But Joe and Mark have another problem…and it has to do with the low royalty rates of traditional publishing. Let’s look at a snapshot of sales, right now using KDSPY (A program that translates ranking into sales)

  • Mark Lawrence’s monthly Amazon ebook sales: $15,653
  • Joe Abercrombie’s monthly Amazon ebook sales: $15,942
  • Michael Sullivan’s monthly Amazon ebook sales: $33,808

Now those numbers seem great but when you consider Mark and Joe actually “take home” about $2,050 of that money…and I’m earning $10,700 (because I have self-publishing sales), my income profile is even stronger.

You are right…no one really knows what will sell and what doesn’t…but the publishers did do pretty well for the early grim dark stories.

I wasn’t aware Kings of the Wyld had a tiny advance. But it certainly outperformed if that was the case. Nicholas better get a much bigger advance on his next project, or he should self-publish.

I haven’t followed the recent debuts (those from 2015 - 2018) but my graduating glass (2009 - 2011) did fairly well. But again, I think for continued success many of them should be looking at self-publishing going forward.

What I can say…is many of the indies in the 2015 - 2018 class have been absolutely killing it. And are still selling very well if you look at current snapshot data with KDSPY.

I don’t think the “herd mentality” is a bad as you are painting. Even at the height of the grim dark success they were still publishing works by me, Katherine Addison, Helen Weckler, Erin Morgenstern, and many more. Now that said, sometimes a type of work is considered “essentially dead” by the agents and they won’t touch any work in that genre. There was a time when non-PNR urban fantasy was off the table unless you were Butcher or Hearne. New authors really couldn’t break into that sub-genre if going traditional. The same with steampunk, which has a hayday but is now out of favor.

It’s possible that platform is starting to be a bigger deal than it once was. If that is true, it would indicate that publishers are stating to “wake up.” But historically they have not been ones that are on the cutting edge. As for the recent deals…I think it has more to do with self-publishing sales then number of followers. And yes, everyone has pretty much said, if your self-publishing numbers are rather good, it can move the needle for a traditional deal. What I haven’t seen…and maybe you can give me names…is people who haven’t published but have big social media accounts that have been signed…in other words bloggers and the like.


#220

I’m not that tapped into the industry, especially on the trad side. But my impression was the Anna Smith Spark (Court of Broken Knives) and Ed McDonald (Blackwing) were already quite well known in the British fantasy community before they got their deals. She was a fantasy blogger, I think? More recently, I’m a member of a closed Facebook fantasy group for authors organized by an unpublished author, and when he finished his book he got an agent immediately - I saw his query letter, and he made a prominent note of his role as the creator of this author group, which includes a bunch of big names, and when I saw the agency’s announcement of their signing him they mentioned it as well. Another fantasy book-blogger personality I’m Facebook friends with was scooped by the first agent she sent her book to, though they have since parted ways. Basically, I think if you can approach an agent and in your query say ‘I have a blog that gets XXX hits per month discussing fantasy and I hobnob with Mark Lawrence and Joe Abercrombie’ I think you have a massive leg up on those who query without connections to the industry and a strong social media presence.


#221

Didn’t know that…probably because of them being in the UK and I’m most familiar with the US. That said, while there was certainly a good amount of “hype” for Blackwing, it has certainly underperformed based on Amazon Ranking, and number of reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. I’d say it would be doing “okay” for a standard advance $5,000 - $10,000 but if it got six figures (which I think I heard it did), then the publisher isn’t too happy right now and the last book better really turn things around. Watch the price of book #1…if you see a lot of deep discounting, it’s an indicator that the publisher is trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Sometimes it works. Brian McClellan’s sales for book #1 were highly underperforming so before releasing book #2 Orbit put book #1 on sale for like $1.99 for six months or so. It worked…in that Brian is a strong mid-list author. But I do think his initial advance might have been a bit overvalued.

I haven’t been watching Anna’s release, but again, at the moment, it’s not looking very impressive based on the online metrics.

In these cases…it sounds like there is/was representation but no book sold. Is this right? Getting an agent is an accomplishment, I don’t mean to say it’s not. But the real proof comes in (a) getting a deal and (b) the amount of the advance. Until that is reached, the represtation means nothing in the grand scheme of things.


#222

This is the debut list I often reference (I can’t find a similar one for 2015 and 2016).

I also consider these writers my ‘class’ as I published in December 2016, making me essentially a 2017 debut. Looking at the list the first thing that pops out is that the YA fantasy books have far, far more Goodreads ratings than the adult fantasy. The Bear and the Nightengale and City of Brass were the biggest debuts (55k and 14k, respectively). My guess is that YA sells much better, but maybe teenagers are also more excited to brag about their reads on Goodreads than adults. Not sure.

My second takeaway is that the most hyped debuts were mostly Grimdark (Blackwing, Court of Broken Knives, Godblind). The first two writers I heard got 6-figures advances. Based on their Goodreads ratings they haven’t come close to earning out or taking off (2k, 1k, 1k). The other big British release - Age of Assassins - that I remember getting a lot of buzz did okay, but not great (1.5k ratings so far). On the American side, most of the fantasy releases eschewed traditional high fantasy and focused on diverse fiction, either that the author was diverse, the characters, or the setting. River of Teeth, the Tor novella, had prominent non-binary characters and has some of the highest number of ratings (4.4k). The Tiger’s Daughter was Chinese inspired epic fantasy. Jade City was Chinese-inspired urban fantasy written by a Chinese American. The Black Tides of heaven (3k) was Chinese inspired fantasy. Amberlough (1.6k) featured a gay main character. All great, but you can tell that publishers are making a serious effort here.

Another interesting post is this one by Mark Lawrence. He tracks the biggest fantasy debuts by year.

http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.com/2017/08/the-biggest-fantasy-debuts-in-past.html

(Gah, this link isn’t working. If interested you can type ‘Mark Lawrence biggest fantasy debuts’ into google and this should be the first thing that pops up)

Michael is on the list (so am I :slight_smile:). It seems like debut numbers are getting smaller - outside of books that are YA (Bear and Nightingale, Blood and Bone, Poppy War). It certainly looks to me like publishers are having a harder time ‘crafting’ bestselling adult fantasy books. On Mark’s list about a third of the debuts with the most ratings over the past few years have been indie (Dawn of Wonder, Benjamin Ashwood, Crimson Queen) (and Bloodsong, Shadow Of What Was Lost, and Theft of Swords started self published)

The question in my mind is: are those debuts struggling because fantasy publishers seem to have gotten away from what I would consider traditional high fantasy? It’s almost impossible for me to find a release from a major fantasy publisher from 2017 that isn’t grimdark or very obviously ‘diverse’ fiction in setting or character or author. Are the publisher’s ideals getting in the way of their best business sense? I’m for more diverse fiction, and, for me, I decided that if publishers didn’t seem to want my Western-Europe inspired high fantasy (many agents I was considering querying flat-out stated they were no longer interested in that setting) with a white male main character that’s fine and I’ll just go off and self-publish. Whatevs, I’m glad traditionally overlooked groups are getting their chances. But Kings of the Wyld was one of the few releases on that debut list that stuck out as a nostalgic, fun, European fantasy, and it has done better than all the non-YA rest.


#223

[quote=“AlecHutson, post:222, topic:37258”]
This is the debut list I often reference (I can’t find a similar one for 2015 and 2016).

That is a really small sampling. #1 has only 60 votes and the two books you mentioned by Anna and Ed have 36 and 34 respectively. A better analysis would be to look at Amazon for all books released in the years in question, see which ones are debut titles, and look at Goodreads # of ratings to rank them.

YA has historically been very good performers…and even more so in the post-Potter years. But yes, their numbers on Goodreads might be slightly inflated because of the main demographic being very active on social media.

Yes, that concurs with my analysis, these titles are underperfoming their six-figure advances.

It’s an interesting observation, and you may have something there.

It is a good sign that the indies are seeing such good track records.

It’s a valid point. Food for thought to be sure.