Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Specifics on What

In a recent blog post about how Timing Counts when sending your material to agents, I said, “At the time of the original query the proposal fit those guidelines. By the time it landed on my desk, however, the holes for that kind of book had been filled.”

And based on that comment one reader asked for more specifics. He said that he would like to see more posts on what exactly those holes are and what hooks are in vogue. He said he doesn’t want to hear vague answers like “looking for more historical romance,” but instead specifics like what hooks editors are looking for and what holes they need to have filled.

Unfortunately, the answers to what those holes are, are vague. Editors don’t say to me, I have a hole on my list, but to fill it I need a historical romance in which the heroine only wears pink dresses, eats donuts, and swears like a sailor. No, all of us, always, are only looking for really great books. What I meant by “holes” is that times have changed and trends have changed. Two years ago, for example, I might have been looking all over the place for really fabulous erotic romance. Now publishers have filled a lot of those holes, and while they are still actively buying new erotic romance, they aren’t buying as actively as they were two years ago. Because of that, the way we all look for and at erotic romance has changed. My guess is that if you look for what I was posting two years ago I was telling readers that publishers were looking for erotic romance.

I think I do keep you up to date on those trends and what those holes might be to the best of my abilities. Unfortunately, there’s no magic answer to getting the timing right. The best thing I can tell you is get out there and do your research. Look at what editors are buying and agents are selling and keep track of the trends that way. Mostly, though, don’t follow the trends at all. Just write your book, submit, and, trust me, you’ll find your time.



Carol Doane #pearlofcarol said...

Is it a hole or does a great book fit a new need then others follow suit? After taking a great novel writing class the writing exercises proved any theme can be adopted, but the one most interesting is the one that comes from the creative hole in me and my need to fill it. Specifying needs is like trying to pin down why a piece of art is lovely, the beauty is perceived by the viewer. Can’t change anyone else’s perception. CAN keep working on the art.

Kathleen MacIver said...

I've always assumed that this hole isn't so much something that agents and editors are looking for, specifically...but rather something that is written really well AND somehow stands apart from 99.9% of what's in the slush piles.

Agents and editors can't say exactly what that special something is...if they could, they'd want to be an author and write it.

But they DO know what that 99.9% consists of...so when they see something that's different, they know it. That's the 'hole.' In essence...it's not what agents are looking for, but rather the alternative to what they're NOT looking for. (I know, a double negative.)

The whole reason the hole changes shape is because that 99.9% changes. A book that's a perfect fit for a market that craves something different (but not too different) one year most definitely isn't going to be the same, the next year. Of course! The market changes and what the reading public wants to buy changes.

Anyway...that's my take on it, in case that helps anyone...if I'm right.

Livia Blackburne said...

How long do these holes exist for? It seems to me that by the time you do your research, generate a plot idea, write, and revise a book, things may have changed in the market.

Anonymous said...

Nicely said, "Just write your book, submit, and, trust me, you’ll find your time."

That's all I can do...write what I write, then, we'll see what happens. I keep my eye on what's going on the best I can, but no one has a crystal ball....

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Sure, we could "find our time" if only agents would find the time to read requested mss.! Sadly, agents offer all sorts of excuses why they don't have time to respond to queries or mss.

By the time they finally do, the author's window of opportunity may have already passed...
Can't agents find a more efficient way to read and respond to submissions so writers don't waste MONTHS and YEARS of their time?

Marie Devers said...


I feel your pain, but I don't think you can blame agents for this.

I should be reading smart, non-fiction books about solving world hunger. Instead, important books wither on the shelf while I devour YA fiction daily.

Is that my fault? Maybe. But I give credit to the YA authors who write stories I CAN'T PUT DOWN.

Get it?

It's up to us writers to create work agents can't put down. They have no responsibility to read boring stuff just because it's what they should be reading.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Thanks for the clarification. This is what I already assumed. And I don't write fast enough to find out what's hot at the moment and then write something on that, so I'll take your advice and just write what I'm writing!

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

I'm not sure why anyone would want to write something that's not in their hearts to convey. Writing is an art form. An artist doesn't create their art because it's "what's popular" at the time. She creates her art because it's what's in her soul to be spoken. Write what is in your soul to be spoken and trust that your words will fall upon the right ears (or eyes!).

Bill Greer said...

I don't know about other novelists, but I don't approach a novel by studying what's currently hot or not in fiction. I write whatever particular story is tumbling out of my mind. What's important is the story I want to tell and the way I want to tell it.

Where these stories originate in the deepest recesses of my brain, I have no idea. The muse beckons and I have to write.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I think it's problematic to write to fill a hole anyway. In trying so hard to include this element or that in an attempt to perfectly tailor a book to an agent's/editor's taste, it's easy to lose sight of the story you want to tell. To a large extent, you have to write for yourself, or else it becomes a chore and it's clear when the book suffers for it. You can't force a compelling voice or that spark that will make a book stand out from the rest. (I could add more, but Kathleen MacIver already said it very well.)

Now I'm not saying it's a bad idea to try to write something you think will work well for the market, based on what you think will be trendy. If you know that zombie pirates are going to be hot, and you have a zombie pirate book inside you, write it! But often I think it might be better to just write the story you want, then worry about tailoring it if you can. If it's good enough, it will eventually get published. And if it just doesn't work... well, hopefully the next book will.

Juliana Stone said...

"How long do these holes exist for? It seems to me that by the time you do your research, generate a plot idea, write, and revise a book, things may have changed in the market."

9:02 AM, March 31, 2009

Livia, this is the crux of the matter. Really, stuff that's hot now, flooding the market now, are books that were bought a year, to two years ago. You can research what's being bought now, but can you have a book, done, polished and subbed to an editor, by tomorrow? If so, that editor might not get to it for months...by that time, your story might not be so "hot" anymore...I think in the end, you need to be aware of what's out there...that's just being smart, but ulitmately you need to write "your" story and do a damn fine job of it...let your voice be heard, and hopefully it will resonate with an agent, editor and if the timing is right, you'll get your, sale!

Mark Terry said...

Here's the tricky thing: everything's been done before, so you need to try something fresh. Or at least it should feel fresh. So if you're writing about a PI, well, it's going to be tough. Or a cop. Or a spy.

Sometimes you can make it "fresh" simply by writing about women in the more male-oriented genres. Sometimes not. Child wizards? Tough one right now, but it's not like JK Rowling invented the concept.

Read a lot and try to write about some angle you've never read about before... but not too fresh or publishers won't know what to do with it.

Sookie said...

I think trying to follow a writing trend is like trying to fall in love. It can work, and has worked, but not as smooth and easy as writing something or loving someone who naturally moves you.

Confucius says; he who will not economize will have to agonize.

Anonymous said...

Marie, you missed the point--agetns are supposed to read their queries and REQUESTED mss. as part of their job. They wouldn't request mss. if they were boring. If they find their clients' work boring, then maybe they can help with the feedback and revision. It's hard to be timely when agents sit on mss. and queries for MONTHS and waste our time as we wait for their responses.

Kim Lionetti said...

Anonymous 12:24:

First off, I'll be upfront and say that I'm most likely the worst offender at BookEnds when it comes to timeliness of response. I hate that and feel guilty about it, but I try my best with the time that I have.

That said, I have to disagree that it's something I'm "supposed" to do as "part of the job." I'm not paid by the hour. And every minute that I spend reading submissions is a minute I'm not working on my clients' projects -- the stuff I actually get paid for. Obviously if I have the time and the desire to build my client list, then yes I need to scout my submissions. But my existing clients are my top priority. If that weren't the case, my title would be "query reader" not "agent."

Vacuum Queen said...

I never understand it when people get mad at agents and editors and want to know "What is it do you want?" As if they could magically write a werewolf mystery if that's needed.
Write what you write! Geesh!!! And query many many times until you hit the one that works, but don't assume you're such a great writer that an agent will walk you through exactly what they want. Drives me nuts.

Number One Novels said...

It seems like it would be impossible (especially as a debut author) to try to plan a novel based on a hole in the market. There's so much work and time that goes into a novel, it seems to me that you'd spend more time reworking your WIP to fit the newest hole that you'd never get it published.

There never, however, seems to be a slowdown in the publishing world for requesting really great stories... Maybe that's a hole that never gets completely filled.

Anonymous said...

No problem, Kim--you're not the only agent who is too busy!

I just wonder why agents continue to solicit submissions, attend conferences and request mss., then don't bother to reply to queries or REQUESTED material? Maybe overworked agents need to take a break and quit accepting and soliciting queries and mss. if they're too busy to read them. After all, writers don't get paid by the hour either and our time is just as valuable. Just a thought!