Mein Hut der hat drei Ecken
Drei Ecken hat mein Hut
Und hat er nicht drei Ecken
Dann ist es nicht mein Hut.
My hat it has three corners
Three corners has my hat
And has it not three corners
Then that is not my hat.
I learned this song as a child in Germany, where I spent some of my childhood. I always think of it when I think of my tri-corner career in publishing, which echoes the song: writer, editor, agent. I began my literary life as a reporter, worked for nearly 20 years as an acquisitions editor, and joined Talcott Notch Literary as an agent seven years ago.
Writers and editors and agents
All three roles inform my work life as agent, author, and content strategist—and each feeds the other. And yet they can be conflicting forces. I often have to qualify my answers to questions asked of me by writers by switching—and naming—hats.
Here are two questions I get all the time:
Question #1: mash-up
I’m writing a mash-up, a story that’s part romance, part mystery, part this, and part that. What do you think?
Writer Hat: That sounds great! I love writers who make that work, like Diana Gabaldon (Outlander), Gregory Maguire (Wicked), even Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). Create a whole new sub-genre. I hope you pull it off.
Editor Hat: Great idea in theory, but I wonder if you have the chops to pull it off. It takes a high level of craftsmanship to integrate different genre story threads into a coherent whole, as opposed to a hot mess. I don’t want to edit a hot mess. Even if you pull it off, how will I ever convince the sales force to take a chance on it? And even if I could, am I willing to risk my career on it?
Agent Hat: Anything that does not fit neatly into a genre or sub-genre is hard to sell. That’s the terrible truth of it. But if it’s very high-concept, I would definitely take a look. And hope that you execute that high-concept idea well.
Question #2: typecast
I hate the idea of being typecast. I have ideas for all kinds of stories. Do I really have to stick to one genre?
Writer Hat: Wow. That’s so cool. I really admire writers who move easily from one genre to the next: Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, Agatha Christie/Mary Westmacott, Anne Rice/Anne Rampling, J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith. And who wouldn’t love to have two author names?
Editor Hat: Not what I want to hear. I’m going to spend a lot of time and effort and resources helping you find your audience—and that usually takes more than one book. I need authors who understand that, happily and diligently producing a number of books in the same series/sub-genre/genre. That’s how we build your brand together.
Agent Hat: You should be so lucky to be typecast. It’s hard enough to establish yourself as a brand name in one genre. Certainly, debut authors should focus on establishing themselves in one genre at a time. (Note: It may take some time—and lots of writing—to figure out the genre in which you are most likely to flourish.) That said, I work with lots of writers who write in more than one genre. But it’s a juggling act meant for experienced and seasoned authors.
When in doubt, switch hats
Writers, editors, and agents all want the same thing: to write, edit, and sell stories that find an audience and make a profit for all concerned. But each has a different perspective—and understanding those different perspectives can help you see your story in print sooner rather than later.
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