Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
As I mentioned yesterday, the course of a writing career doesn’t always run smoothly, and knowing how to ride the waves is a contribution an agent can make to the author. The agent also can help the author through another common writerly malady, the mid-course slump.
Many of us have the misconception that the toughest part of developing a writing career is finding a publisher. Nope. In actuality, most careers have a slump or two built into them. These often occur just when you think you’ve built up some momentum, such as when you’ve written and had published about six books. What kind of advice can an agent offer at this crucial moment in a career?Everyone’s situation is unique, of course, but here is a peek at some of the advice I’ve given.
Break the chain. If you’ve had a string of mediocre sales for your books, you might need to spring free from the type of writing you’ve done and try something different. Give yourself a chance to break out by having a fresh start.
One of my clients, Jane Orcutt (who died a few years ago of cancer at a young age), was one of the finest writers I could hope to represent. She had created a number of historicals that took place in the western United States, each of which had received strong reviews but puny sales. Then Jane hit upon a masterful idea. She wrote a sassy Regency. Full of cheeky wit and a spunky but deliciously impractical heroine, All the Tea in China was a delightful reading experience. And it sold at a lively clip. It would have broken Jane out of the doldrums. Unfortunately, before it released, Jane died, and she never saw the wonderful response readers had to her novel.
Rather than writing another novel, maybe you need to try your hand at a memoir. Rather than writing another nonfiction book that lines up beautifully on the bookshelf with all the other nonfiction books you’ve written, you need to dip into a different topic you feel passionate about. Or find someone with a strong platform, great message, but no writing ability. A collaboration on a topic you care about might suit the needs of both you and the wannabe author.
Find a new publishing venue. I’m all for an author finding a publishing home and staying put for as long as possible. But I’ve observed over the years that sometimes a ho-hum attitude develops in the publisher-author relationship. Shaking things up might be called for at this point. A new publisher, with a fresh take on how to position you in the market, might be just what the doctor ordered. (I am compelled to add that you must have a zinger of an idea to make this transition because, after all, you are trying to get out of a slump, which means you have low sales you’re dragging around behind you.)
Know when to stay the course. Sometimes an author needs to patiently work at producing fine projects that are a perfect match for what he’s passionate about. It takes a much larger volume of work to develop momentum than the casual observer realizes. New York Times best-selling author, Debbie Macomber, says she was an overnight success after 20 years.
As advertisements in which trained drivers whip cars in and out of traffic or over cliffs, with the viewer being advised not to try the driving maneuvers at home, don’t try these tactics without the aid of an agent. Each has inherent risks, and you need to understand what those are and how to attempt each with as much finesse and grace as can be mustered.
Teri D. Smith
Obviously Books & Such has a lot to offer their authors. There’s nothing like a lot of years in the business to get a handle on these things.
Wow. Great insights.
Cindy R. Wilson
Thank you for the post. A wonderful reinforcement to the fact that finding an agent is a smart choice at the beginning of a writing career. That kind of guidance is invaluable even for authors who have several published books under their belt.
May I ask how this fits into Wendy’s “narrow rivers run swift and deep” approach to career building/branding?
Valerie, in response to your question about Wendy’s view that “narrow rivers run swift and deep,” she and I are in agreement that developing a brand and sticking to it generally is the smartest business plan a writer can come up with. That perspective would fit in my “stay the course” approach, in which the author and I agree that it’s going to take longer to build readership than we had hoped, but that the author needs to continue to create what he is passionate about and is convinced is the kind of writing he should continue with.
A mid-career slump is addressed in different ways depending on each author’s situation. The problem is like a car being stuck in the mud. Doing nothing is not an option (i.e., not having a plan). What option you use varies depending on your vehicle, how much muck you’re in, and road conditions (how widespread is the mud). No one answer fits every circumstance.
This week’s posts are timely and excellent. Thank you!
Janet–Wonderful advice. Thanks for sharing your expertise with us.
Julie Surface Johnson
Great advice. Underscores the need for authors and agents to have a relationship based on trust as well as confidence in each other’s expertise.
Thank you for the follow-up, Janet. Love the car in the muck image too. It very much feels that way at some stages of this writing business.
Thanks, Janet, a good reminder of what can happen, and how to leap out of it. I call it the ‘feast or famine’ routine. Some years you might have several books out, the next year there is nothing. You wonder what you did wrong! Weren’t you working just as hard? But it all does go in cycles.
The trick is to realise when it’s a cycle and when it’s a doldrum!
“An overnight success after 20 years!” I hope that’s going to be the same for me too… I qualify for the 20 years bit.