I had an interesting response from an agent the other day.
First, some back story: While I’ve been working on Ambeth and the edit for Oak and Mist, I’ve also written another book, called A Thousand Rooms. I haven’t quite finished it, it’s probably 85% done but I know how exactly how it’s going to end – it’s just a case of writing it. The genre is women’s fiction with a twist of fantasy, so it’s a little different to Ambeth – however it’s a story that came to me almost complete and I’ve really enjoyed writing it.
So I sent out a couple of initial queries, one of which I’m still waiting to hear from. However, the other agent did get back to me and this is the bit that was interesting. She didn’t dismiss my idea at all; in fact she was intrigued by the initial premise and very encouraging. However, she reminded me that I needed to ‘be aware of publishing trends.’ Her point was that, as the market for women’s paranormal fiction was fairly full at the moment, publishers weren’t so keen to back new books in that genre.
This was frustrating to me.
Not because I didn’t appreciate her advice – I know she meant well and I very much appreciated her taking the time to personally address my query letter. No, it was frustrating because I write the stories that come to me. I don’t look at trends and think ‘Oh, there’s some popular books about vampires or zombies or people with cancer, I’ll write one of those too.’
I realise that writing is a business and that we need to present ourselves professionally, positioning our work in a competitive marketplace. I’m also aware that publishers often don’t make back writer’s advances and so have to rely increasingly on the Zoella’s and Lena Dunham’s and David Walliam’s of this world, people who already have a large and established audience, to make back the money they lose backing less well-known writers. So I get that side of things.
But, as a writer, I can only write with the voice I have. To do otherwise would be false and, I know this sounds a bit weird, I think that if I did take that path, whatever it is that sends me stories would stop doing so.
So I shall keep plugging away. As I say, I’m only at the initial query stage and have yet to finish the book, so we’ll see what happens when I send out submissions later in the year. Perhaps trends will have changed or perhaps I’ll just find someone who really likes the story. Whatever the case may be, I’ll keep writing just like I always have, telling the tales that come to me.
How can anyone write a book to order, unless it’s non fiction?
And is it usual to send an incomplete book/story to an agent?
Exactly what I thought as well, Barbara 🙂 And no, normally you would have the book finished before sending it out, but as I was so close I thought I’d send an initial query to see if this agent was interested. Her feedback was very helpful and I do think I’ll submit some chapters to her once once the book’s complete – it was just the comment about trends that I found frustrating.
Hmm. This is an interesting variation on the advice not to try and write to a trend “because you’ll always be behind it”. I didn’t realise there’s a school of thought that this advice extends to tracking publishing trends and dismissing ideas that are too “over-done”. In a way it makes a sort of sense but in another, as you suggest, it is a bit dispiriting. After all, we’re not all the sort of writer who has several ideas at once to choose from.
And I just don’t know how we’re expected to do it. If you have a cracking story that you love telling, who cares if there are others in a similar genre? It seems like just another hurdle to jump in the uphill struggle to get published. I just can’t write to order – the stories I have are the stories I have – they are the only ones I can tell 🙂
A number of industry people say NOT to write according to market trends, because by the time it is trending, the market is saturated. I think you’re better to just write what comes. Who knows—you might actually START the next trend—JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer started theirs …
Exactly! And I really do believe that, as storytellers, we can only be true to the words that come to us. If we try to force our books to fit current trends, then we lose that unique voice that makes our work our own. As you say, let’s be the trendsetters rather than the followers 🙂