Agent Anonymous #4

The bear trap is obvious and in the middle of the path, it's jaws cranked wide, plaque-like rust scabbing its teeth. I'm in my Camp National Novel Writing Month shorts, which are about two inches too short and the color of olive rage. Their pockets bristle with pens and rolled-up manuscript pages.


"Just going to step around this," I say, keeping my eyes trained on the bear trap.


Which is why I don't see the snare trap until–ZIP SWOOSH SMASH!–I'm dangling by my feet from a high branch, swaying in mid air, my pens and pages trickling out of my pockets and onto the trail below. As I rotate, I see a Bowie knife embedded into the trun of the tree, pinning a scrap of paper to its bark. I pull the knife out, pluck the paper from its tip, and begin to read.


Welcome to our fourth installment of Agent Anonymous! The blood is rushing to my head, so let's just dig in!



When a publisher gives a big advance, is it because the publisher is going to “push” the book, because they anticipate its success, because they see it as a great midlist work, or what?

As far as I know, when a publisher gives a big advance it's because they're anticipating it being successful in the market, and if they anticipate it being successful then YES, they are going to push the SHIT out of it. Publicity, marketing, cover art, you name it – it will be worked on.


Is it worth it to go to these conferences and meet agents? Like, clearly I’m charming because I have over 400 followers on Twitter. Isn’t that enough? No, seriously, if going to these conferences is worth it and will help a writer “get” an agent, what exactly happens there? I went to a speed dating yoga class once, so I imagine something like that, but with books.

It's definitely not yoga. Yoga is ostensibly relaxing (I've tried it lots and it definitely doesn't relax me). These conferences where you meet agents… I don't know, man, it's like think about it: agents are sitting there all day listening to people, and it's exactly like speed-dating in that you'll maybe click with someone and most often not. Often I get queries from people who've talked about meeting at one of these conferences and if the story isn't compelling when actually on the page, well… then it doesn't make much of a difference, does it? 


What’s the average advance most authors get?

That is not a question I can answer because there is no such thing anymore as far as I know. A debut author can get as little as $10k for a two book deal (which is abysmal) or as much as $2m for a deal (*cough*Garth Hallberg*cough*). It all depends on the genre, the publisher, whether it's a big five or a small press (small presses sometimes give an advance of $1k, which is also nothing, but it's what they can do). INTERESTINGLY, though, the way you're measured in sales is not by advance but by the percentage of how much you sell. So if you publish one thousand books with a small press and sell all of them, you've got a one hundred percent sales rate, which looks amazing to big publishers; whereas if you have a print run of 500k books and sell 200k, that's only forty percent, and doesn't look as good. 


I’ve heard of some agents/publishers shying away from YA fiction that explores gender intersectionality. Is this an acknowledged trend in publishing and something that agents have also acknowledged and are working on? Or is it like that Marvel/Disney bullshit where they think the numbers aren’t there to justify the effort?

That's so interesting. I feel like, if anything, YA is getting more and more INTO gender, race, class intersectionality because the Tumblr generation of teens knows so much about it. I feel like there's an active effort by agents (on #MSWL for instance, on Twitter) to find books like this. 


What are the genres and subgenres you’re sick of seeing? Because I have this mashup novel that takes The Walking Dead and combines it with Finding Nemo that is bound to be a bestseller. Fleeing Nemo. Seriously…………… 


I'm not sick of genres, really. I'm sick of repetitive stories. There are weeks where I'll get three pitches with the word "mirror" in the title, or three pitches about the rural south, or twelve pitches about the same crime done in the same way. That's never the authors' fault. I just often worry (and I am the minute minority here) that novels are being written that follow very exact guidelines of "How To Write A Bestselling Novel" and that is often really tedious – when you know the structure of everything that's coming, where's the surprise and the thrill in reading?

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