I'm going to talk about something today that I don't think I've ever discussed on this blog. Which makes it unbelievable scary for me. Especially since it involves my ongoing search for an agent.
You have to be careful what you share on a public venue, such as a blog. But frankly, I'm tired of pretending that this issue doesn't exist (for me personally, not in general), and some of you might be in the same situation. So here it is.
I write too many different types of things. And that horrible, horrible cliche' keeps repeating in my head -- jack of all trades, master of none -- which gives me the impression that I'm not allowed to write everything I want to write. I have to focus on one thing, master it. And then maybe down the road, after I've established myself in one area, I can risk branching out into another.
I've seen this sort of thing discussed between agents, editors, and published authors quite often, and they all seem to agree on my conclusion above -- you can't break into publishing as a "jack of all trades." Meaning, your sophomore novel is going to be very similar to your debut, because that's how you build a loyal readership, and without those loyal readers, those fans, your sales won't be high enough to warrant releasing a third book. And so on.
I completely understand this. On the business side of my brain it makes sense.
But the creative side of me is on the brink of cardiac arrest.
I've always been a multi-tasker, and I've always been immersed in artistic pursuits. That's why I excelled in fashion retail management. I could do a billion different things at once, yet my attention to detail was crucial to maintaining an eye-appealing merchandise presentation. I could rearrange an entire department floorplan in my head and then plot the steps needed to make it happen, how much time I had to do it, who I had available, what their strengths were, etc. I'd even troubleshoot possible issues ahead of time so they could be dealt with quickly or (better yet) avoided.
My work in that career field was a combination of strict business and artistic freedom. I still work for the same company, but not on the management side of things. I will never look at retail the same way again. I will never complain that there is only one cashier ringing on a busy night at (for example) Wal-Mart because I understand how payroll works in conjunction with previous sales (not the sales of that particular day), and how much of what is done at the store level is mandated by the corporate level. Etc. Etc. Etc.
All of that is to say, I've taken my experiences in a different business and applied them to how I view the publishing industry. I feel I have more understanding of (or perhaps compassion for is a better term) why certain things are the way they are in publishing than the average unpublished novelist. I understand...
But I don't like it.
Here's the dilemma I've been having for a few years now.
Science fiction and fantasy are my first writing love. My very first novel (now trunked) is a space opera. It still holds a very special place in my heart, even if it never again sees the light of day. I'm a science nerd. Always have been, always will be.
I also enjoy writing fantasy because I can be as "unreal" as I want to and somehow make it plausible for the story. I have fantasy short stories published. You can look me up in the sff database, and I think that's really quite awesome.
But... I'm also a contemp writer. My second novel, which I discussed a bit here, is contemp women's fiction.
Oh and, let's add YA to the mix, too. Because it's the bomb-diggity. (stole that phrase from my 10 y/o step-nephew. love it.)
Historical? Sure. Why not? I love historical fiction.
And just about everything I write, whether it's a novel or a short story, has a splash of romance.
Oy my goodness. What is all that?
It doesn't take much to see there's a problem with this. You cannot market yourself as a SF/F-contemp-historical-YA-romance author.
So I had to sit down with myself and ask some tough questions.
Q: What do you enjoy writing the most?
A: young adult
Q: What have you already proven you can write well enough to be published?
Q: Have you finished anything in the other genres/types?
A: Yes. I finished a women's fiction novel two years ago, and the YA novel I finished this year is technically considered historical. My first completed YA novel is contemp. My first novel ever is science fiction.
That may not seem like it helped, but it did. I realized that, although just about everything I write has romantic elements, I've never actually written a true "romance." So I felt I could, in good faith, knock "romance author" off the list.
Q: If you had to give up one thing (in the publishing arena, that is -- you can write whatever you want "for yourself"), what would it be? This doesn't mean you're giving up on it forever. Just for now.
A: anything considered "adult" fiction (in novels), which would include women's fiction, even though I've finished a novel in that area. Through experience I've learned that my best writing is in my YA novels, and I know exponentially more about the YA market than I do about the adult fiction market.
At this point that I felt I was finally getting close to a solution. I decided to focus my novel-writing on YA. This was a huge step for me. It meant I could rightly call myself a YA novelist and not feel I was leaving out anything vital.
But there is still a problem with this. YA is not a genre.
So when I have a YA novel that I feel is ready for an agent's review, I'm not just looking for someone who reps YA, but I'm looking for someone who reps YA contemp, YA sci-fi/fantasy, and YA historical. No matter what the novel is that I'm querying, I need someone who is going to consider ALL of those other things.
Because (and this is just my personal approach) I'm not interested in publication for ONLY this project that is ready NOW. I'm interested in finding someone I feel I can work with for my entire career.
I often see conflicting advice on the matter. On the one hand, you can't be too focused on the long-term because you haven't even sold one novel yet, and this industry is so very uncertain. You never know what tomorrow will bring. You never know what sudden trend might work for or against you.
On the other hand, you want to be optimistic and you want to be prepared. What if your novel does sell?
Let's say I'm querying a YA contemp novel. Let's say the novel I'm working on while I'm querying (because you should always have something in the works) is a YA sci-fi.
What happens if I query an agent who has absolutely no interest in SF/F, but they are all about YA contemp? And what happens if that agent offers me representation? And what happens if that agent brokers a two-book deal with an editor for that YA contemp novel, and suddenly I have to drop my work on the SF novel and write another contemp -- one that wasn't organically inspired, but forced? And what happens if the agent later wants to know what I'm going to offer next, and the only thing I have finished is a YA sci-fi?
Those are a lot of what ifs. This is the trouble-shooting part of my brain going into overdrive. But I want to be prepared. I really don't want to have to NOT work on something that I'm really loving simply because my agent is not interested in it -- even if they were interested in my other stuff.
I just can't do that.
Fortunately, there are a lot of agents who have multiple genre interests. But this is still a problem because it isn't likely that you're going to partner with an agent based solely on your shared genre interests. Within each genre there are sub-genres (sub-genres for historical fiction, in my opinion, are divided by time period/era). And you may both enjoy YA SF... but maybe you write only time travel SF and the agent hates time travel stories. They actually prefer alternate history.
And even within sub-genres there are different types of stories that will dictate a person's reading tastes. For example, in YA contemp you have issue books, music books, romantic comedy, etc, etc, etc.
So everything else about this agent might be perfect, but you can already sense a future conflict. For me, that would be enough to not bother querying the agent at all. Others might feel that is a moot point, though, if the conflict doesn't involve the novel you're currently pitching. Why miss out on an opportunity because of something that might happen?
And therein lies the plight.
The business side of my brain and the creative side of my brain are at odds. I'm used to them working together harmoniously to achieve the desired goal. And this isn't only about finding the right agent -- this is about my entire career plan.
I don't have an answer for any of this (and maybe I never will). I'm still in the process of figuring things out, hence the reason I've been avoiding discussion of this topic for so long.
Have any of you been (or are you currently in) the same situation? What would you do?