Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Query Questions: I'm the kiss of death

I have an odd question. I’m multipublished in both fiction and nonfiction with major NY publishers, which is kind of a miracle, when I think about it. It’s been a while since I wrote fiction for publication and my previous half-dozen novels sold abysmally badly due to a variety of weird circumstances. (For example, signing a multi-book contract with a line that announced it was closing in a year right before first book was released and 6 months before second book; all booksellers immediately canceled orders…neither book sold worth beans.)

I realize I shouldn’t mention previous bad experiences with agents (one had nervous breakdown and left the business, one died, one was a crook) or bad editors (two died, one while negotiating a contract with me, two others left publishing entirely, one was a secretary who knew nothing about writing and was filling in while the line closed down), or dissolving publishing houses (I think at last count 4 actual publishers I wrote for have shut down and two others shut down in final stages of contract negotiations with me—thus, no sale to them).

In a wildly optimistic (or vindictive?) attempt to reboot my fiction career, I decided a change in genre was needed. Along with a change in name—a new pseudonym to match the new genre. And a new website, Facebook, and online persona. I no longer have a (living, sane, still in the business, not-a-crook) agent.

Obviously, it is of interest to any prospective agent that my writing has consistently been considered good enough for other agents to represent and for publishers to publish. On the other hand, my personal tale of writing woe reads like a penny dreadful horror story. What rational agent would take on a client with such a history? It’s a potential death sentence.

Since I’m changing genres, names, everything, what do I mention in an initial query about prior writing experience? And should an agent express interest in representing me, at what point—if ever—do I bring up this horror story of a career?

I would like to offer you a word of thanks for the incredible dose of sanity and humor you bring. In my insane writing career, that’s a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, my new genre is not one you prefer. Dang it.


The Typhoid Mary of Publishing

This is where your sense of humor will serve you well. You query as normal but you mention at the close that you've had a rather hilarious bout of bad luck with publishers and agents, most of which was created by the changing landscape of publishing. You'll include a  rundown like you did for this query question but very much reduced-in-size.  Think three sentences, not thirty. I've highlighted the ones I like best. And trust me, we're all going to ask about the agent who was a crook.

But honestly you're going to be better off meeting agents in person. This is where writing conferences and conventions are well worth the investment of time and money.

I've taken on clients who needed a reboot but it was almost always because I knew them, knew their work, and knew they weren't crazy on expectation juice, or an ego frenzy.  You don't mention what genre you're writing in but most genres have conferences/conventions that agents attend.

And honestly, as a client, you come already tempered by the craziness of publishing, so you're actually not quite as undesirable as you fear. Having a client who understands how quickly things can unravel and appreciates an agent who is not dead, not a crook, mostly sane, and actually knows her stuff is a pretty good start on a good relationship.

Good luck!


Just Jan said...

Glad to see you back on the blog. Hope you're feeling better!

Joseph Snoe said...

When I started reading this post, I thought Typhoid Mary was a crisis magnet. Then I reflected. I’ve published two books geared to law students (one book out of print and one in its fourth edition). Because of the dramatic changes in law book publishing, it seems every edition is published by a different company (sometimes there are two publishers listed on the cover); and I’ve had a different contact person on every edition. Luckily, these are major companies in the field taken over by other major companies in the field; and the marketing and distribution networks remain in place.

V Brown said...

this first part of this post had me laughing out loud. i feel sorry for this person, but no doubt they have talent.

i guess the agenting industry is as stressful as you always say.

Anonymous said...

I don't imagine there's anyone in publishing who wouldn't understand that all kinds of crazy stuff happens and it's nobody's fault. So I wouldn't sweat it too much. Some agents will see you as the kiss of death (been there) but those that don't are the ones you want anyway.

Steve Forti said...

How I imagine this writer felt after yet another setback:
(Game of Thrones spoiler, sorta)
Man, that's quite a history. Good luck!

Dan McFadden said...

Sinus shark, glad you're back! Your continued absence made me fear that some gray whale had made snack of you. And my morning reading had lost its briny taste.

Dan McFadden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LynnRodz said...

I personally wouldn't mention my past and let my work speak for itself. It's evident that the author's writing is good enough to have had his/her work interest agents and publishers in the past and will in the future. If I were an agent/editor/publisher and I was aware of the author's kiss of death touch, I would be more than wary taking on this person as a client. But, hey, that's just superstitious me.

(Glad to see you're back in the swim of things!)

Anonymous said...

@Dan McFadden - sinus shark...that was funny!!

Yes, glad to have you back! This writer definitely has a voice, and the sense of humor to take them a long way, and hopefully, this time, without any publishing drama. If she can weather all that...wow.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey, glad you're back.
Missed ya while swimming laps and trolling for krill.

You can tell the truth,we won't rat on ya...you were in Tahiti, huh.

Seanna Herring said...

I think this is an excellent story line for your next book!

Steve Stubbs said...

Very pleased to read that you are feeling better.

Oh, yes, there was something about a query question in this post, wasn't there?