Getting introduced to someone else’s agent

Jennifer Jackson is answering questions about agenting, on her LJ. And today she was talking about the role of net-working and conferences. It’s worth reading, but she basically says that all the net-working in the world won’t make a difference if the book isn’t good. Then she says:

On the other hand, Elizabeth Bear introduced me to Jay Lake, who in turn set up a meeting with Ken Scholes, and he recommended Mary Robinette Kowal, who became a new client of mine last month. (That makes it Mary’s turn….) So, it certainly has its advantages. They still all had to write really, really, really, really ridiculously good books.

Which set me thinking… See, the thing is, that Ken’s introduction let me jump the slush pile. BUT if I’d sent in my first novel, Jennifer would have rejected me. The novel I signed with is the fourth that I’ve written.

The evolution goes like this:

  • Novel 0: Took ten years, starting from high school, to write. It is well and firmly trunked. (Shape-shifting cat/human aliens with wings anyone? Did I mention my D&D character has the same name? Yeah… trunk. TRUNK.)
  • Novel 1: Middle-grade Fantasy – Six months. I think this has potential, but there’s a flaw in the first three chapters that I can’t seem to fix. I sent this out to publishers on my own for a while, and always got requests for partials but no requests for fulls. Now. This is book one in a series. Did I write the second book in the series next? No.
  • Novel 2: Science Fiction/Murder Mystery – Four months. Better. It needed revisions, so I set it aside to think about before diving into it. Meanwhile, I wrote:
  • Novel 3: Urban Fantasy/Chick Lit – Three months. Good. Needs revisions… Meanwhile:
  • Novel 4: Regency romance/Fantasy – Three months. Good! This immediately felt stronger than the others and I had a clear view of what changes needed to happen. So I didn’t wait on the revisions. This is the one I signed with.

The point being, that it took a while for me to learn to write something salable and that if I’d sent in any of the others, I think I would still be without an agent because those books aren’t there yet. I do think they can be, but the course I chose to take — and mileage varies — was to write novels in several different genres to see which one stuck. I have sequel ideas for all of them, but until I knew that I had a book one that worked, it didn’t make sense to invest time in a string of books in the same world.

At the moment, I’m doing revisions on Novel 2 and continuing to work on short stories. Right now, I’m at a point in my career where I have the luxury of taking a year off from a novel before doing revisions. Since I’m a better writer now than I was a year ago, waiting to revise the novels is like earning interest on my skills. Seriously. I re-read Novel 2 and it was dead easy to see where it had gone astray. The revision process is like swimming downstream.

Now, let’s say that Ken offered to introduce me before I’d written Novel 4. I knew Novel 1 was flawed, so sending it in would have been wasting that opportunity. What’s more, it would have been embarrassing to Ken.

I’m sure that someday I’ll introduce a writer to Jennifer, but I can almost guarantee that it won’t be with their first novel.

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44 Responses

  1. Jay Lake

    All the networking in the world does squat if you got nothing going on. And the total number of people I’ve referred to Jenn, in the formal sense, over the years is exactly two. Both of them she took on. I am very parsimonious with my recommendations, and very protective of her. I will handshake anyone to her, if she is in a public setting, but that’s different.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Yep, and though it was very tempting, I never asked you to introduce me. While it should be obvious what a bad position asking to be introduced puts someone in, it’s probably worth noting explicitly.

      If a fellow writer likes your work enough to recommend you to his agent, you won’t need to ask.

      1. Jay Lake

        Ken and I talked quite specifically about you at one point in this exact context. While I like and respect you immensely, I haven’t read enough of your work to have referred you in good conscience. I only referred Ken after reading Lamentation, which escalated him from a ‘handshake’ to my first full on referral.

        My second referral was for Kathy Sedia, on pretty much the same basis — I’d read her full length work and was sufficiently impressed.

    2. Jeff

      Jay (yes your sir) has been a bit of an inspiration me… I went into writing (with the intent of publication)head first with the long-form-uber-novel-series several years ago. It took me less than a month to complete my first novel, and about the same for the second. I shopped the first around and after reaching my designated threshold of rejections I paid a lovely freelance editor to rip it to shreds and tell my why it didn’t work.
      It was painful. It also told me what I already knew (but needed to hear it from an industry pro): I wasn’t ready for publication.

      After meeting Jay (via LJ) and reading his short fiction I decided that perhaps mastery of shorter pieces would tighten my writing to the point of publishable quality. I think there’s something to that approach— and the world can blame Jay Lake if my short fiction gets published.

  2. Elizabeth McCoy

    I confess, I’m over here via the obvious livejournal track, and my little ears have perked up at the Novel 4 mention. …is that, by some happy chance, out yet where I could pounce on it?

    (Second confession: I’m working on something vaguely kinda sorta similar and I want to see what works, that I might take the lessons, sea-change them, and use them myself.)

    If not out, I, a complete internet stranger, am now crossing my fingers that its sale and/or publication goes smoothly and well for you. O:>

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Welcome, Elizabeth! I was posting chapters of Novel 4 in password protected posts as I was writing, but I should probably check with Jennifer to see if it’s okay to still have that available. If it is, I’ll send you the password.

      And good luck with yours!

      1. Elizabeth McCoy

        Ooooo! If it is deemed acceptable, my utmost thanks!
        And if not, I shall practice patience and see if I can hack a few more thousand unwanted words off my pretty little pet here, instead. *grin*

  3. Chang

    OOOH!!! PICK ME!!! PICK ME!!!

    I’ll take back everything I said about the ISS and the picture in the attic. I’ve never seen you look better in fact! πŸ™‚

    Seriously, the process of submitting work is harrowing. I am on eggshells waiting for my book to get out of the slushpile and under someone’s eyes. It’s nice to see these posts as they give one an understanding of how this weird world works.

    Oh, but wait, I should be writing another book now instead of surfing, posting and commenting so I will say goodbye.

  4. Chang

    Yeah, never mind. Mine’s in with someone I was sent to via a mutual friend and I’m almost as deperate to not make waves as I am to know what the verdict is.

    Okay, I’m done writing. Back to The Sopranos.

  5. Aliette de Bodard

    I wish I could write in as many genres as you. I can do fantasy, and that’s pretty much it (most kinds of fantasy, but that’s still subgenres). I could probably write an SF novel, but my heart wouldn’t be in it.
    But I’m totally with you on progress. The amount of progress I made between novel #0 (YA, embarrassingly bad) and novel #3 (fantasy mystery thingie, almost ready to make its own way into the world now) has been immense. It really takes several hundred pages of bad writing to get to not-so-bad writing πŸ™‚

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      I think the ability to write in different genres comes from years of designing shows to match other peoples’ styles. I learned to break down the elements and incorporate them into my own work. Or at least that’s what I’ll blame it on.

      1. Elizabeth McCoy

        I was going to say my first novel didn’t have cats, but then I went back to the high-school Mary Sue novella… Hm, no, that didn’t have cats, either, though it was a series of stories and the cats got in there eventually, so maybe that counts. *grin*

        1. Elizabeth McCoy

          *chuckle* In my defense, in spite of creating a Mary Sue self-insert who fell into a book-world… The book-world was entirely original and no one else’s creation. (The fictional book being fictionally badly written, among other sins that include far too many “thees” and “thous.”) But yes, we got telepathic cats after a while, so there’s all the bases covered.

          (Must. Finish. Chainsawing. My. Book. Here. So I can reward myself with someone else’s book and not worry that I’m going to unintentionally absorb someone else’s style. Because that would be rude.)

  6. Chang

    My first novel had catfish!

    Giant, walking catfish!

    Top that!

    (Actually it was my 2nd novel. The first had crap. No, not carp. Crap!).

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Nice! Did the giant walking catfish fly?

      Oh. Did I mention that my winged-cat-human-aliens also regenerated… nine times? Not that this is an adequate defense, but the regeneration thing came from Dr. Who.

      1. Chang

        The catfish didn’t fly. They… lumbered, I think. I’ve done my best to destroy all remnants of this novel. There are still a fe copies of it floating around. It’s nothing but a mess of paranoid delusions, bad sex, weird music and poor clothing choices.

        Hang on. That was high school. Oh my god. They were one and the same!

  7. Mike F

    OK, I didn’t write a novel in sixth grade, but I did write a story about a Christmas tree that was alive. I wish I knew where that was… This was a very informative post. Thanks.

        1. Mary Robinette Kowal

          I actually had that moment today where I was trying to explain a story I was reading except it was a horror story and I was talking to an eight year old. Once you stripped out all the scary bits, the basic premise became kind of sweet.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Deep breaths, Lawrence. Deeeeep breaths.

      I realized that I should have mentioned that Ken Scholes booked with Jennifer on the basis of his first novel and immediately sold it in a five book deal. As I said, mileage varies.

  8. Michele Lee

    I’d too, would like to get mailed a password to read more of your work, if you approve. Version one of my Novel 1 was… amateur. Version 2 got a lot of really promising comments from agents, 6 full requests out of 10, and almost all in the end said that the story couldn’t sell on the market. I wrote two other novels between First novel Version 1 and Version 2. When Version 2 started shopping I started writing novel 4. Now novel 4 is out and I find myself drawn back to novel 1 again. I think the execution is at fault, but that the idea, and the characters are solid.

    Novels 2 and 3… they have been declared “first drafts” and I might, some day, go back to them. Unlikely as my focus as a writer has shifted since then.

    Novel 1 is: Werewolf love story-Sex and Violence version
    Novel 2 is: Wannabe rock star werehyena vs vampires
    Novel 3 is: A werecat story. Does that could as the required cats?
    Novel 4 is: Post apocalyptic CSI complicated by the existence of shape shifters and vampires

  9. Ami

    Interesting you should talk abut that. We were just having this discussion on Codex.

    I’m still convinced that somewhere we have to believe that our first novel will be the exception, or else we won’t write it. Combination naivete, ego, whatever. It has to get us through. Unless it’s a pure word marathon like NaNoWriMo, which is an great exercise.

    I wonder if many writers stop at the first novel though, because their ego dashed, they will no longer work on the novel. The difference between the successful writer and the failed one is simply a matter of perseverence. We may have lost some of the naivety on the second novel, but we have to still believe this one will work, and we believe that because we think we’ve learned enough.

    Either that, or we just love to write no matter what.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      IÒ€ℒm still convinced that somewhere we have to believe that our first novel will be the exception, or else we wonÒ€ℒt write it.

      Oh, sure. I mean, Ken sold his first novel in a five book deal. It definitely happens. Heck, I’m still sure Novel 1 will sell eventually. I think the thing that made everything click for me was when I realized that I didn’t have to try to sell the novels in the order in which I’d written them.

  10. Jen

    My first novel had cats! It was a mess. My second novel had cats! It was less of a mess, but still no good. I’m on my third, and there are no cats. Needless to say, this one is actually pretty good so far.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Watch out for those cats! Tricksy little critters.

      You know… I just realized that Novel 1 has cats. Darn. I’ll bet that’s the flaw in the first chapters I couldn’t identify. Maybe if I make them penguins…