I have come to know Kelly as an incredibly kind, passionate and positive person, and I'm super happy she agreed to kick off #WritingTipWednesday for me. Kelly, thank you so much for taking the time to write this! To everyone reading it, I hope you find this blog as passionate and inspiring as I did. <3
Working for an agency, I feel many people ask me a lot questions about the industry and what's expected of them as writers. I've only been with Corvisiero for a little over a year, but according to most in this business, I'm still fairly new and I'm sure at times, I can seem very naive. Just from my small time spent working in this industry, though, I've learned five simple truths that many in this industry may not tell you.
1. Write what you want to write, but be smart about it.
I've seen writers panic because they just wrote this amazing vampire romance, but vampires aren't back yet and they finished it too soon, but they just had to write it, and now they're crying and having an anxiety attack because they'll never get sold and--
Don't be that person. You're a writer. You're inspired by life, creativity, and freedom and you should be able to enjoy these things without an industry telling you what you can and cannot do. The truth is, we CAN'T tell you what you should and shouldn't write. What kind of professional cheerleaders would we be if we did that?
As agents, we're supposed to support you in whatever professional ways possible. Telling you what to write is not one of them. We can tell you that maybe it's time for you to try out that one Sci-Fi idea that you've been throwing around for a few months because it will hopefully come back into the business once you're finished. We can also tell you to take that shape shifter fantasy off the shelf that you wrote a year ago and see if we can sell it because it's about that time! As a writer, you're the only person that can dictate where your inspiration is pulling you, though.
As I tell everyone, write what you feel you need to write, but be smart about it. Know what's happening within the industry and if your friends or agent is telling you that it probably won't sell yet and to shelve it, listen to them and seriously consider it. Understand that even if your manuscript is the most amazing and self-satisfying piece of literature you've ever written, the world just may not be ready for it yet. And that's OKAY. Honestly, that's okay. You're a writer, so be smart about it, and start finding inspiration for your next piece. This is not the end of the world. It's just a stepping stone.
So, write whatever your heart tells you to write. Just keep in mind that the industry may not be ready for it yet.
2. Writers need agents as much as agents need writers.
I've had so many people get about one word away from breaking down in front of me at conferences. I can't even tell you the amount of amazing writers I've had who suddenly can't speak because they're so nervous to even be talking to me in person. Even some writers on Twitter freak out because I respond to their tweets! The funny thing about that is I can understand it... But I really don't understand it.
When it comes down to it, all of us in the agenting business are the people who stand behind the scenes. We're like the people you put in the credits to a movie or the acknowledgements of a book who helped you push through to the end. No one really has any idea who we are in the long run and the only people who even know about us, and what our job entails, are writers. I can turn to any person I meet and tell them I'm a literary agent, and I get a look like I have three heads, but the person I'm speaking to isn't quite sure whether they should mention how crazy I seem or not, because honestly, "What the heck type of job is that?!" We're not that special, and let me tell you why.
Agents need writers as badly as writers need agents. You all need us to get to the larger publishers and audiences. We need you to actually provide something to pitch to the larger publishers and sell to the larger audiences. If either one of us really tries to do this without the other, it doesn't turn out too well. Writers and agents create their own team. We support each other, push each other, bounce ideas around, and share in disappointments when we get rejected. Granted, as an agent, we do most of the support and cheering, but still, it works the same. When your manuscript gets rejected from a publisher, it's a rejection for both of us. When your manuscript gets sold, it's a celebration for both of us. You need both sides of this team to make a masterpiece, which brings me to my next point...
3. No. One. Is. Rich... Unless your JK Rowling and just got kicked off the billionaire list for giving to charity.
Seriously, let me tell you a little secret. Most of us in this industry work another job while trying to make it in this one. Let's sit down and do the math. We all know that writers are not rich for the most part, correct? You get paid advances and royalties from the publishers. We all know that this amount of money will not make you rich and that you will more than likely not be buying a mansion any time soon. Now here's the kicker: Agents get 15% of that money. This literally means that if you get a really amazing payment of $50k, we would get $7.5k of your payment. So you end up with $42.5k and we still only have $7.5k. One is a yearly salary, while the other is a payment of a ten year old used car. If that doesn't put it into perspective, I'm not quite sure what will.
Now, please don't believe that I'm complaining in any way. I'm not, and let me reiterate that I. Love. My. Job. But please don't be fooled by thinking either of the following things:
-We're all rich and living off your money.
-You're our only/biggest client and deserve all of our attention.
In order to make a living, agents need to have multiple clients and be successful in consistently selling GOOD work with GOOD deals. We really can't be rich unless you're rich, and unless you're the next JK Rowling, unfortunately it probably won't happen to most of us.
4. One bad query letter is not the end of the world.
I will be the first to admit that a bad query letter can really turn me off from your manuscript. In reality though, query letters are check lists. You have the following:
-social media links.
That's it. That's all there really is to it. And if you want to move to the advanced checklist, you're looking at putting voice into your query letter, making sure it's personally addressed, and double checking that you have attached the correct requested materials. If you have completed the second checklist, you're already ahead of most.
Most of you who are reading this probably know that I have over a thousand queries still sitting in box, so please keep this between us... I skim query letters. Unless your letter is the most amazing thing I've ever read and the voice just grabs me and holds me, I skim letters for the information I need (i.e. Word count, genre, general premise, background in writing). It's your first few pages that will be what grabs me. I always tell writers I meet at conferences that you can have the worst query/pitch in the world and be the best fantasy writer I've ever seen. I honestly don't believe Fiction writers are meant to write essays and factual letters. Have any of you even seen query letters from JK Rowling, Sarah J. Maas, and other famous authors? They're honestly nothing special because it's your first pages that grab your agent.
Even if you get some feedback on your query, take it with a grain of salt, think about it, fix it, and move on. Focus on those first few pages and make sure that those are attention grabbing enough for that special agent to know they need to read more. Even if it's not perfect the first time, remember that there are many other agents out there, we're all subjective, and queries and manuscripts can and will always be changed.
5. Most of this industry is timing and luck.
Stay with me for this one.
The publishing industry is constantly changing. Yes, it goes in cycles, but then you have one huge best seller that changes the entire cycle and brings something new to the table. Then all hell breaks loose in the industry, for a lack of better words, because we all want the next up and coming thing. Most of us don't even know what that is until we have it, or until it's here. We just look for what we want to read and hope we find something that's different enough to catch the attention of publishers and audiences... Just like you all hope your manuscripts are different enough to catch the eyes of agents.
When I'm asked about how I know what to sign and what not to, my answer is usually "gut instinct mixed with a little bit of logic." It's how the entirety of this industry works. And not only that, but talking about cycles and best sellers and changing the pattern, you just need plain old luck to succeed here, and that's scary! It's terrifying for all of us, and I think it's part of the reason so many of us in this industry stay quiet about it. Living your life and your career off gut instinct and luck is not the most soothing truth to hear.
Seriously, let's think about this for a second. How do you decide what to read next? Instinct and the words in the synopsis? Probably. Will that guarantee that you like it? Will that instinct and those words guarantee that you won't DNF a book, throw it across a room, trade it to someone else? How do you choose what story inspires you next? Do you just wake up one day and say, "I'm going. To be inspired to write this contemporary today!" No... No. Nonononono! Is this how any of you actually function? I can't even imagine that. None of this is certain because everyone in this industry chooses what to read by instinct. It's luck that you like it...
What I can tell you is that when you get an agent, you need to know and understand that this agent loves your work so much that they're willing to put a decent amount of their career on the line for you. They want to see you and your work succeed so much that they spend time on it and make sure that you both have fine tuned your manuscript to the best that it will be before sending it out. And sometimes it doesn't sell. Sometimes it's not the right time to get an agent for you, but that's why you have friends to support you. It's just not your time and you'll have better luck next time. Sometimes you just can't get an editor to take it, but let me tell you that it happens...and thankfully it usually happens when you have an agent to support you and believe in your work as much as you do.
So even though this life is filled with luck and gut instinct, when you finally succeed and sell that book, you will know that you have an agent, editor, and publicist behind you that believe in your work so much that it beat all instinctual odds in this business. That in itself is the most satisfying feeling in the world. You're not alone... And neither are we. :)
Overall, I just want you all to know that you have control over your future. You have control over your writing career. Don't let nerves and anxiety overcome you and just "do you," whatever that may mean to you. Be yourself, write for yourself, and your time will come. In the meantime, us agents really aren't going anywhere! We'll still be here, waiting, when your hard-earned manuscript is ready for us.