May 14th, 2012

Marshall Payne

Agents and a big sea change

Some of you probably remember that almost two years ago I signed with Cameron McClure with the Donald Maass Agency. What most of you don't know is that we parted ways last May.

Over the nine months of our association I rewrote Petrol Queen twice. Each time she read it she had more and more concerns that weren't there when I signed with her. Many of them I agreed with and fixed. In the end I think what happened was she didn't know how to market Petrol Queen, telling me it's not really urban fantasy, nor is it steampunk. What I told her was that it's really sort of a cross between China Mieville's Perdido Street Station and Swanwick's The Dragons of Babel, which didn't mean much as she was unfamiliar with both novels. In all our conversations, I came to the conclusion she wasn't firmly grounded in the fantasy genre.

Anyway, we parted ways amicably, and I set to work writing Jimmy-Don and the Texas Hill Country Ordeal with the plan of finding a new agent who was a better fit.

Having finished Jimmy-Don, I started querying agents again in December of last year. Then the oddest thing happened. Out of 64 queries sent out, I only heard back from 25.

Wow, that's 39 agents who couldn't even bother to send me a form rejection. Sure, a few of them were "only respond if interested," but many of them were agents I'd received feedback from before. Three of them were agents I'd been referred to and used that person's name, a person who was a friend and/or colleague of said agent.

I've since learned that I'm not the only one with this dilemma. Two other writers I know are being completely ignored by agents. So what's up?

Who knows? My best guess is that with the big change in New York publishing brought on by the e-book revolution, agents are feeling the pinch, perhaps trying to ride out the sea change to see what happens. Don't know what else it could be.

I've since come to have serious reservations regarding the whole traditional publishing thing. Frankly, what I'm writing probably doesn't fit in with what they're looking for. The only two authors I can truly point to who've been doing the sort of thing I am are Tim Pratt and Michael Swanwick. I really like Pratt's Marla Mason series, but he's now self-publishing the latest book in the series since Spectra decided not to continue the series. And Michael Swanwick used to be with Tor, but his latest book Dancing with Bears is out on Nightshade, a publisher with a lot of internal problems.* Gee, if Michael Swanwick can't get a deal with the Big Six what chance do I have? Oh, I probably could if I persisted. I could write a slick commercial novel and leave out most of the things that make my stuff me. (I could also go sell life insurance.) I've come to the realization that life is too short to not have fun at this writing thing.

So what's a writer to do? Same thing so many others are doing. Self-publish and join the e-book revolution. I used to hate the idea, but now I'm embracing it with a new sense of freedom. This will be fun. I've already got a short story collection I'm about ready to put out, and two completed novels I can release soon. And two half-finished novels to complete.

So that's the current state of MP. Been wanting to make this post for a while but have been waiting until I had a plan of action. And perhaps some of you searching for an agent have had the same difficulties. I had no problem with writing another novel and to keep querying agents, but when the last batch of queries didn't even get much response... See what I mean?

*Ironically, as I was about to put up this post I saw that Cat Valente has parted ways with Nightshade.