What not to say to literary agents.

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Paul Whybrow

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As I've admitted before on the Colony, I miss the obvious, sometimes.

I realised something recently, from my latest querying campaign, which might have been glaringly obvious to most of you, but I somehow overlooked it. When reading an agent's requirements for a submission, many of them request that you state your influences, and, more specifically, who you write like. On the surface, this is a reasonable thing to do, as it demonstrates to the agent that you know your genre well. Also, it shows that you're self-aware, that you'll be able to sell yourself as an author and your books as a good read.

You might be giving away too much information.

Let me demonstrate. My Crime genre influences include John Connolly, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Kate Atkinson, Walter Mosley, James Lee Burke and James Oswald. I only discovered Oswald last summer, after seeing him mentioned in an interview with fellow Scottish crime novelist Stuart McBride. I've since read all of his Inspector McLean crime novels, enjoying them, but a little disturbed by how much my Cornish Detective protagonist resembles the M/C in his series. I wrote most of my stories before him too. His were eventually traditionally published (he self-published first), mine have just been self-published. It's going to look like I copied him. I know he didn't copy me. It's synchronicity.

One of the agents I submitted to last month is Juliet Mushens of CaskieMushens. She represents James Oswald. Naively, I thought this to be a good thing. But, it's not. Of course, it's not. Why would she want to represent someone whose books are similar to an existing client's work? It's a common reason for agents to send form letters of rejection.

I'm a dope!:rolleyes:

Don't you be!

iu
 
They want something safe and similar- but daring and different. They want what they know they can sell. Which depends on their contacts.

This business of 'who else is writing this stuff', is only because they know that you know who your readership might be. They need to know this writer isn't operating in a bubble. We see it on Pop Ups. A lot of writers really are in their own bubble, lacking awareness of what is out there, and where their offering fits in the pantheon, and they're just not ready yet, not developed.

Derivativitis.
 
It's about getting the balance, isn't it?

Pete has said once or twice that derivative can be good in marketing terms, because things that feel familiar tend to sell...as long as they don't feel too much like a rip-off or re-tread of something else.

Take a trope, but make it feel fresh.

And yes, I guess if you're inhabiting too much of the same territory as an agent's existing client, there's going to be a clash. But at the same time, you want an agent with the right kind of contacts for the type of work you're trying to sell...
 
I've read that they don't want their clients to be in competition with each other in the same space.
I've heard that too. For a small agency I would say they would not look for another Gothic writer if they have one; but with bigger agencies I've seen different agents representing similar genres that another agent in the same agency is representing. So they want more than one Gothic writer, I suppose, otherwise it just would not make sense having different agents representing the same genres.
 
Derivation is unavoidable. There is nothing new under the sun. But there is definitely such a thing as a derivative voice as opposed to a distinctive voice. If the voice is sufficiently distinctive, developed, the writer won't necessarily be seen as in competition with another writer handling the same subject matter or even tropes. The writer will create their own space. Book-ending the sub with references to other titles in the letter, shouldn't hurt in that instance. Grab factor. Authorial authority. Everyone knows it when they see it, whether or not the book is their cup of tea, which implies roolz, even if no-one can say exactly what they are. Pop-Ups demonstrates there more talent about, and potential, than hard skill. Huge mileage required, all the writers tell us, who've been there, but made it to publication.
 
Derivation is unavoidable. There is nothing new under the sun.
I dare say that my book, The Second Symbol, is something new under the sun. Whether it's good or not, I personally think that it is, but I'm sure I'm about to get second and third opinions, as I've just posted the Prologue into the Writer's Room. Please have a look if you have the time!
 
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As I've admitted before on the Colony, I miss the obvious, sometimes.

I realised something recently, from my latest querying campaign, which might have been glaringly obvious to most of you, but I somehow overlooked it. When reading an agent's requirements for a submission, many of them request that you state your influences, and, more specifically, who you write like. On the surface, this is a reasonable thing to do, as it demonstrates to the agent that you know your genre well. Also, it shows that you're self-aware, that you'll be able to sell yourself as an author and your books as a good read.

You might be giving away too much information.

Let me demonstrate. My Crime genre influences include John Connolly, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Kate Atkinson, Walter Mosley, James Lee Burke and James Oswald. I only discovered Oswald last summer, after seeing him mentioned in an interview with fellow Scottish crime novelist Stuart McBride. I've since read all of his Inspector McLean crime novels, enjoying them, but a little disturbed by how much my Cornish Detective protagonist resembles the M/C in his series. I wrote most of my stories before him too. His were eventually traditionally published (he self-published first), mine have just been self-published. It's going to look like I copied him. I know he didn't copy me. It's synchronicity.

One of the agents I submitted to last month is Juliet Mushens of CaskieMushens. She represents James Oswald. Naively, I thought this to be a good thing. But, it's not. Of course, it's not. Why would she want to represent someone whose books are similar to an existing client's work? It's a common reason for agents to send form letters of rejection.

I'm a dope!:rolleyes:

Don't you be!

iu
I don't know why an agent wouldn't want another writer similar to a successful writer they already have in the same genre. How often will a writer put out a new book? Months, years? How often will readers want another book? Days, weeks? There really wouldn't be direct competition, but in fact they would be filling a need with another book they represent.
 
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I don't know why they wouldn't want another writer similar to another successful writer to one in the same genre. How often will a writer put out a new book? Months, years? How often will readers want another book? Days, weeks? There really wouldn't be direct competition, but in fact they would be filling a need with another book they represent.
Now there’s a lady who thinks! Good points! Any takers?
 
Now there’s a lady who thinks! Good points! Any takers?
I agree, I sent my ms on exorcism to the same agent who represents Matt Baglio who wrote "The Rite" which describes the making of a modern exorcist, namely Fr Gary Thomas, whom I quote in my own fictional memoir "Stained Glass". Not heard anything yet.
 
I dare say that my book, The Second Symbol, is something new under the sun. Whether it's good or not, I personally think that it is, but I'm sure I'm about to get second and third opinions, as I've just posted the Prologue into the Writer's Room. Please have a look if you have the time!

Ah, I used to think my first novel wasn't derivative of anything, until I realised my subconscious had simply rewritten "The lives of others", combining it with "Pan's labyrinth" whilst using the narrative structure of "Wuthering Heights". :)
 
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