On July 28, 2012, Evan Gregory of The Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency, who said,
I’ve become rather bored recently with MG or YA fantasies in which the protagonist falls into, or suddenly becomes aware of, some magical otherworld that pulls them out of their humdrum existence. This trope is so shopworn, that it takes a Herculean effort on the part of the writer in order to make it fresh and compelling. Unfortunately for me, this sort of disqualifies 90% or so of the MG and YA fantasies authors write each year. So while I wouldn’t say not to send me your YA or MG fantasy with a magical otherworld, I would say to think very hard about what makes your otherworld better than all the Hogwarts, Narnias, and Wonderlands we already know and love before you prepare your book for submission.
I read this interview a few hours after I finished writing the first draft of the final book in my first trilogy, the Queen of the Night series, where (you guessed it) my main character travels to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia and finds out she’s descended from people with paranormal gifts, and her dormant gifts are the most powerful of all.
Naturally, I fell into a deep fugue state of depression. I’d spent two years of my life dedicated to penning this YA fantasy; I’d fallen in love with these characters and had grown invested in their success or failure. Now, according to this guy, no one else would ever read and enjoy my story because the “trope was shopworn.”
How was I supposed to sweep an agent off of their feet and entice them into captaining my future writing career? If I couldn’t attract an agent, how would my books ever reach a publisher willing to give me a fantastical advance for the publishing rights to my trilogy? The truth hurt. I wasn’t going to get those things.
As I continued to research my options, however, I began to notice a few things about the book publishing industry today that were different from my pre-conceived notions. More and more authors were becoming vocal about how much work they did to bring their books to market, and how little their agents and/or publishers did, besides take all the profits.
I read more interviews with literary agents on Mr. Sambuchino’s site, and a pattern emerged. The agents repeatedly said they only wanted submissions from authors who had a large fan base, say several thousand blog subscribers, had already become famous through some other means, and who had already finished everything necessary to launch a book. A few articles suggested that the author submit their marketing plan along with their book synopsis or sample chapter.
New author websites sponsored by large publishing houses like HarperCollins (Authonomy.com) and the Penguin Group (BookCountry.com) require the author to submit not only the text of their novel, but a book cover comprised of artwork over which they have complete rights to reprint, a ten-second teaser, and a back-of-the-book pitch. One web site, Swoon Reads, a subsidiary of Macmillian, requires that the author give them exclusive rights to the book and all associated materials for six months.
This raised the following questions in my mind: what good are literary agents or publishers, then? To launch my trilogy, I’ve designed my own cover, line-edited my own text, found my own beta readers, formatted it for publication and obtained an ISBN number through CreateSpace, obtained reviews and the rights to reprint them, written and designed all marketing materials, developed my own marketing plan, started a blog, created Facebook pages for both my author brand and for the first book in the series, and set up my own on-line and in-person promotions. I would love to hear from anyone who can tell me what value a literary agent or publishing house can add to my process.
I realized one more thing as well. The reason why ninety percent of book submissions are YA fantasies is because the world enjoys them. My trilogy is set in a part of the country which has been negatively impacted by a poor economy for so many decades; poverty is a way of life. A light-hearted fantasy which allows the reader to escape their lives for a short time, and to find a twinge of hope for a better future, will never go out of style. I say bring them on, the more YA fantasies, the better.
That’s why I’m taking the plunge. My first novel, SEEING MAGIC will be released next month in paperback and Kindle format. Enjoy!