Monday, May 28, 2012

An Explanation: Where I Have Been

Mailing my Literary Contract (September 2011)
Eight months ago, I signed a contract with a literary agency--and then I sat back and waited for my fame and fortune to come rolling in. I had scored a literary agent, after all. I was part of the 2% club, and all my hard work was over. Right?

Wrong. It turns out there's tons of hard work on the other side of the curtain, and it turns out the world of literary agencies is complex and imperfect and ever-changing--just like everything else in this life.

Literary agents really are just people. Sometimes, the variables change for them, too.

My brand-new literary agent was a wonderful person. She was friendly and approachable and invested in my success, but she had a life outside of her agency, too. When she unexpectedly got pregnant and quit the business, I was incredibly happy for her.

But I was also two months into our contract, and I was in the middle of submissions.

I was assigned to another literary agent in the company, but it became clear very quickly that there was no future for me there. This is when I realized how important it is to not only have a literary agent, but to have a literary agent who is passionate about your career and invested in your success.

Without this level of commitment, your career is most likely never going to get off the ground. It doesn't matter how powerful the agency is or how many books the agent has sold. If the agent doesn't have his or her heart and soul behind you, you will be lucky to get anywhere.

Of course, there's always the "spaghetti theory" of novel submissions. A literary agent takes on a bunch of new clients, does very little editorial work with them, and then throws their novels out into the world and hopes at least one sticks. If it does, great. If it doesn't, no worries. At least he or she didn't waste too much time working with them beforehand.

Now, this works for some novels. I wouldn't be surprised if many successful novels started this way. They had what it took, so they stuck. Nothing in the world could have stopped them from making it out into the world.

But... I don't know about you, but I don't like the idea of my hard work becoming one of those novels that didn't stick--one of those novels left abandoned on the floor because it wasn't quite ready, or it hadn't had quite enough TLC to shape it into what it was supposed to be.

I'm not saying literary agents are miracle workers. Sometimes, a novel just isn't supposed to make it, and there's no amount of love or TLC in the world that can save it. But sometimes... Sometimes literary agents really can do amazing things. They can recognize the potential in a client's storytelling ability, and they can help shape them into making the appropriate edits and changes themselves.

Sometimes, it's all about building confidence. Many first-time novelists are so insecure about their abilities that they subconsciously hold back. They don't want to get burned, so they "play it safe" with their storytelling. They don't pour their souls into their words, because they don't want to risk someone trampling on them.

Other times, writers make rookie mistakes. They aren't sure how to structure things correctly, so they over-complicate or over-simplify. They hang on to a literary tic. They rely on adjectives or gerunds, or they turn their villains into cartoon characters because they are so excited the climax is finally happening.

I understand literary agents can't waste tons of time shaping a novel, because they don't get paid until we get paid. We can't--and shouldn't--expect them to tell our stories for us. That's our job, and we need to be able to do it ourselves.

But we don't want to relegate literary agents into middle men, either. Some of the literary agents I have had the pleasure of interacting with have been some of the most insightful, creative and encouraging people I know.

And--just like we can tell when a teacher genuinely cares about our success--we can often tell when agents are in love with the projects they represent. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and that energy often leads to beautiful things.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us with the realization that we need to look at more than just agency reputations and book sales when we discuss potential partnerships with literary agents. We need to look at things that can't be quantified quite so easily: compatibility, enthusiasm, passion, and the drive and determination necessary to follow-through--not just for one book, but for the duration of our careers.

After all, it's that intrinsic, abstract quality of "rightness" that is often the difference between success and failure. And in a business as competitive and unforgiving as book publishing, I will take every advantage I can get.

P.S.- So where do all these developments leave me? You may have noticed my extended absence from the world of blogging for the past several months. Beginning in February, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and poured my heart and soul and everything I had into a brand-new project. It's a YA novel called ESSENCE, and I just put the final touches on it a couple of weeks ago. It's in the hands of my beta readers now, but I plan to jump back in the game as soon as it's ready. And this time, I know exactly what I will be looking for.


Angelina C. Hansen said...

Thanks for this, Lisa Ann. You've reminded me why I appreciate my agent so much. She's my creative partner and plans to be with me for the long haul (barring pregnancy or some other unforeseen occurrence.)

Hope your betas give you the feedback and direction you need to make your story sparkle. I'll be here to support you when you go out agent hunting again. said...

I'm so sorry things didn't work out for you the first time. I read the synopsis of your first book on query tracker and it sounded amazing!

Best of luck as you head into queryland once again.

LTM said...

Good for you, LA! I am SO excited for your new prospect, and I know you'll find just the right person to get you where you want to be! You deserve it, and you've already done it once!

Here's to your success. I can't wait to see it! :o) <3

Brent Wescott said...

The only thing I know that works 100% of the time is perseverance. Good luck with your new work.

Robin Weeks said...

So what's happening with your first novel--the one that got you the agent?

I so admire your good attitude. So many authors would take that setback as an excuse to throw in the towel.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sorry it didn't work out, but I understand that happens more often than most people realize.
Glad you are working on something new!
And don't forget your other options. I never even tried to get an agent - I went straight to sending queries to publishers.

LisaAnn said...

@Angelina: Yes, I absolutely cannot wait until I feel that way, too! You are very lucky. :)

@Bethany: Thank you so much! That novel was my heart...

@LTM: Thank you, and we need to catch up soon!

@Brent: Well said. Something I have definitely learned this year.

@Robin: That one is unfortunately on the back burner right now. A few of its bridges got burned, and the wave of its trend has receded a bit. I haven't given up on getting it out there some day, but I'm come to terms with the fact that perhaps it wasn't meant to be my first novel. If that's the case, I am learning to be okay with it.

@Alex: Very good advice. Definitely something to keep in mind as I move forward!

Linda Jackson said...

"We can't control the wind, but we can adjust our sails to reach our destination."

Good for you for adjusting the sails. Much success to you.

Lydia Kang said...

So sorry that this happened, but on the other hand, it's great that you're taking matters into your own hands and going forward. Hugs.

Pam Asberry said...

I'm so glad you're back! Thanks for sharing your experience, and best of luck with your current project. I will be first in line to buy your book when you release it! :-)

Christa Desir said...

So very happy to have you back!!! And this is such an important lesson. Not everyone is going to be perfect, but you need to know what are your deal breakers. What can you live with and what makes you feel like this is the best partner for you!

Christa Desir said...

So very happy to have you back!!! And this is such an important lesson. Not everyone is going to be perfect, but you need to know what are your deal breakers. What can you live with and what makes you feel like this is the best partner for you!

Donna Perugini said...

Lisa Ann,
If anyone can get to the finish line, it's you. I believe in your abilities and your perserverance. You are well on your way, girl!

Kate said...

Congratulations on your new novel! Here's to hoping that things will stick really soon...Cheers.

Eliza Tilton said...

Sorry it didn't work out with your agent, but it sounds like you are on the right path.

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Welcome back, LisaAnn! And you are so right about so many things here. An agent doesn't guarantee instant fame and fortune, and they are just flesh and blood humans like the rest of us. You have to feel an agent is a person you can trust to "get" you and guide you through a tough process because she believes in your work and shares something more with you.

All the best with ESSENCE. We'll be keeping fingers crossed.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I've had several friends who have had to leave their agent. (That's what you did, right?) It's such a hard thing that requires so much bravery! But works out a million times better in then end. I wish you all the best!!

Tara Dairman said...

Ooh, you finished the new book! Hurrah, hurrah! If you're needing an extra beta, or someone to read it in the next round if you make some changes, hit me up!

Charlie Holmberg said...

Oh wow, what a story! Talk about your heart through the wringer! I had no idea you had been picked up at all--that's good news, and will definitely make your future query letters stand out! Are you not going to find another agent for this book, though?

MUCH luck with Essence, you're so close!! Let me read your pitch even if you don't need any help with it because I want to know what this book is about!

Bethany Myers said...

Sorry, you had to go through this, but things will work out for the better.

I'm on my second agent and it will happen for you again, just as exciting as the first time.

Congratulations on the new book. You're doing all the right things, Lisa Ann. Thanks for sharing your story. Success WILL come.


Jenny Phresh said...

It's funny b/c your former agent was one of the few who had my ms when she quit, and the last words I had from her were: "I think you're an amazing writer." Sigh. I admire your good attitude about all this, because I got a wee bit depressed. I have also gone underground to write another book (now 45,000 words and growing) and so glad to check in with you and hear that you are also writing and making new stories! Blogs may go dark briefly but we persevere.

LisaAnn said...

Oh my gosh, I am completely humbled and overwhelmed by how amazing you guys are! Thank you so much for taking the time to come over here and support me. THIS is why I blog; I know the greatest writers in the whole, wide world!

unikorna said...

You and your friends are just beautiful, I love people who can love the way you do :).

unikorna said...

And I am sure you'll soon be talking about book signing tours...I wish you the greatest of luck..:).

Cherie Larkins said...

Lisa, I'm so sorry! I've been thinking of you (before this post came up--sorry it took me so long to comment! Been away from the laptop) and wondering how you were. I'm sorry things didn't work out with the agency. But look at you, such spirit and bravery to push on. To keep moving forward. With your strength and determination and mad writing skillz, it won't be long before we hear good news from you once more.

*BIG HUGS* said...

The writers who succeed are those who obviously never gave up. I'm going to buy your book at a bookstore someday - I just know it! =)

The Redhead Riter said...

"Of course, there's always the 'spaghetti theory' of novel submissions. A literary agent takes on a bunch of new clients, does very little editorial work with them, and then throws their novels out into the world and hopes at least one sticks. If it does, great. If it doesn't, no worries. At least he or she didn't waste too much time working with them beforehand."

That was the paragraph that made my heart sink. What a roller coaster of emotions you've gone through with your journey.

I hope the YA novel gives you a better foot in the door for your other project and a HUGE boost in self-confidence!

BTW Awesome pics of you with the animals. I can't think of a more fulfilling job. Animals love us no matter how many books we publish or don't publish. That's a comfort for me. :o)

LisaAnn said...

@Cherie: Thank you for the hug! I definitely needed it, and I'm so happy you stopped by!

@GirlParker: Awe, shucks... Here's hoping!

@Redhead: Thank you so much for stopping by, and I'm glad you like the animals! Every single one has made my life richer. :)

Lori M. Lee said...

LisaAnn, welcome back! You were missed <3 I'm sorry things didn't work out with your agent (didn't you have two agents?). But I'm so glad that you've got a shiny new book ready and that you're jumping back in soon. I know you'll do great!

Deana said...

What kind of writer friend am I?? I had no idea:-( I guess, now you can look back on it and know out was all worth it:-)

Dinda Amanda said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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