Wednesday, December 7, 2011
5 Reasons to Drop In on the Agent Auction
Miss Snark's First Victim blog runs a yearly Bakers' Dozen Agent Auction, and it's one of the best ways I know to get a read on publishing industry trends, particularly in Young Adult fiction.
60 aspiring authors
(middle grade, young adult, and adult) submit log lines and their novels' first 250 words. Sixteen well known literary agents bid on the submissions, offering to read 5, 25, 50, 100, 150 pages, or the full manuscript. The agent who bids highest "wins" a first look at the ms. And the author, of course, "wins" a read by an agent.
This year's auction was fascinating, on a lot of levels. You need to hike over there and have a look at the comments on submissions, written by both readers and agents, and in some cases by editors. Here are some global judgements, based on this small sample:
1. Young Adult Fantasy, Dystopian, and Paranormal is saturated.
You have to be really, really smoking in these genres to break out of the pack. Trolls, plagues, wizards, succubae, witches, dragons, the Grim Reaper, priestesses, kelpies, flesh-traders --you think you've got a great idea? Trust me, somebody else has had it. And their manuscript is complete.
2. Young Adult Steampunk/Sci-Fi is trending
There were a lot of interesting submissions in these genres (maybe it's me: I like). But if you're planning time travel, or even further, a time-traveling telepath, be careful. These ideas are hot right now, and you could get burned.
3. Agents tend to agree on what they like.
As much as we hear the old saw about how you have to find just the "right" agent who will "fall in love" with your manuscript: Well here's the sad news. If you're querying and not getting requests, there's a reason. The glamorous submissions in this batch (#59, #56, #45, #38, #2 among others) attracted active (vicious, hysterical, energetic) bidding: It was like trying to get a date at a party once Angelina Jolie and Kate Winslett show up. Quieter but very well written submissions got less attention (my favorite of these dark horses, #22, got just one bid, from agent Sarah LaPolla).
(The exception to this "agents agree" rule is the bookalicious Sarah Davies of Greenhouse. This lady really charts her own course. As far as I could tell, she only placed one bid, on #38.)
4. You can pick em too.
Read all 60 entries without looking at the comments. Rate your favorites on a scale of 1-10. My bet is you'll find you're as good at picking winners as these famous New York agents. The cream sits right on top, so the cats can dip their whiskers in. Concepts stand out because they're unique. The hook is something you've never read before. The prose is sharp: apt word choices, characters that grab you by the wrist and shout, "Come on!"
5. A caveat:
Sometimes, the problem is genre. Adult genres in general didn't do so well. Not because they didn't have interesting concepts or tight writing (all entries had been pre-screened, so these were already polished submissions). Agents did go crazy for literary and/or quirky middle grade. But at least for this auction, Y/A still rules.