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Is the Agent Correct?

I was coming up with a blog for today about agents in the field when someone popped a comment into a post I wrote a year and a half ago (you know, like, back in the neolithic era?). It gave me a good excuse to revisit something I mentioned over at Sarah Hoyt’s blog last week about the struggles to find the “right” home for the Christian Cole YA novels.

A big, big chunk of the problem is me. I refuse to change one key aspect of the entire series. Some people have told me that if it meant getting represented by an agent or keeping the story the same, they’d change the story for the agent. I normally would agree, except… well, since when did the gatekeeper status change from publishers to agents? I’ve had seven agents now tell me they, and I’m not quoting verbatim here, “We love this concept and story, as well as the main character. Just one thing… would you be willing to make so-and-so the bad guys behind the scenes?” to which my reply has been “No, they’re not the bad guys here”. After that, I seem to always get the “Thank you but at this time this does not fit what we are looking for” response.

I could sell out, I suppose, and just give in and make them the bad guys. The problem here is that everyone expects them to be the bad guys (thanks, Dan Brown and all the other thriller writers who couldn’t come up with a better villain) and, when I introduce them in The Green Jewel, everyone is going to be screaming “Ooh! Ooh! Bad guys!”

That would be a major distraction if they are the bad guys, because the reader has been anticipating it since the second chapter of the book.

So I refuse, they reject, and I’m back to the “do I go the indie publisher route or am I still gunning for that Scholastic/Hyperion dream?” dilemma.

Part of me really wants to wait. I’m not saying that these books are going to be the next Harry Potter, but to me, they’re special. I’m not going to short change my characters just to fit the need of some agent who believes that the Catholic Church needs to always be the villain. I have friends in all aspects of the publishing world, from publishers to agents, all the way down to NYT bestsellers and people who are polishing up their first novels. I understand how this game is played, but I’m also very aware of just how chaotic the landscape of publishing as a whole is right now.

The other part of me wants to see these books out of my hands. Eight books are in the series. Yes, that’s a hard eight. There is no story for Christian after book eight. I’m not even considering a “well, I always wanted to tell it from so-and-so’s point of view” because I don’t. This entire series belongs to Christian, and it is his story alone. Sure, Jake, Brisa, Arianna and the others get their time to shine but in the end, this is the story of the boy who wasn’t The Chosen One, the boy who wasn’t destined for greatness or born to play the hero. He’s not particularly brave, not particularly strong (though he is intelligent, he’s not Stephen Hawking). It is, and shall remain, the story of the boy who chooses to be a hero.

And that, it seems, is where the second problem comes in. It seems that a lot of agents and publishers want the reluctant hero, the anti-hero. The good old hero from the 50’s and 60’s is gone, replaced by the guy (or girl) who does everything reluctantly and is moody. They seem to have nothing to prove and, to me, have nothing to motivate them. “Yeah, I’ll save the day, since I don’t have more pressing needs” seems to be what everyone is writing. Hell, look at Harry Potter. He just wants to be normal and sh*t keeps happening to him. Sure, by the end of the series he is going out to fulfill his destiny (ah, Fate… whatever happened to choice? The Calvinists and you seem to be on the same page here), but it took a lot of prodding, murdering and the death of someone else right before his eyes before he finally said “Okay, enough”.

Okay, that was a bit colored, but it does seem to be the only way to get the point across.

But… can the agent predict what will be hot 5-7 years down the road? I know for certain that back in 2005, not many people believed that sparkly vampires would be all the rage. Nor in 1995 did anybody believe a boy wizard would rule them all (okay, sorry about the LotR reference). Can publishers? Can writers?

Me? I know what I like to read, and I write what I enjoy reading. So… a checklist:

  • Heroism — check. Christian is a hero, though he wasn’t supposed to be. Someone else was The Chosen One, but Christian ended up holding the pointy end of the stick in he right direction.
  • Love — check. Unlike almost all of the current stuff out there, Christian’s family situation is pretty solid. There was a recent tragedy in the family that has pulled it at the seams, but they are struggling as a family to pull through.
  • Hope — check. There is hope that this brave group of teenagers can put an end to the Wanderers and their bid for domination of Earth.
  • Exciting — check. I love action, and Christian always finds himself as the eye of the tempest. Chaos around him, but he is calm and centered in the storm of war. It makes for a clearer picture of what is going on and who is destroying what.

Patience. It seems to me that the longer I wait, the more likely I am to figure out just what I want to do with this series. If some publishers I love to read were into YA stuff, I’d be submitting it to them in a heartbeat. Others I have to wait, due to a clause we started at SBR about reviews and submissions (to protect against any seemingly biased opinions or reviews).

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One response to “Is the Agent Correct?

  1. Barb Caffrey June 12, 2012 at 2:40 AM

    In general, Jason, I’d do what you are with regards to the important plot points. I think making the Catholic Church the obvious villain is counterproductive (then again, I’ve read CC #1 and at least a bit of #2). I also think that as a writer, if something inside you is screaming “NO!” at the top of your lungs, you should listen to it even if you don’t entirely understand. (But right now, you _do_ understand, a major plus when it comes to screaming.)

    So the answer to your question is, “No, the agent(s) is (are) not correct.”

    And the whole thing about agents being the gatekeepers to publishing is spot-on; I often have felt frustrated by this for the same, exact reasoning you’ve given here. (I wonder if DUNE would’ve been able to get published. Or LORD FOUL’S BANE, book 1 of the “Thomas Covenant” series by Donaldson. Or if Stephen King would’ve ever made it out of “agent Hell,” either, were they all trying their MSS _now_ . . . . )

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