"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, September 12, 2011

Striking Colorado Gold

Corny title aside, this weekend I was at the Colorado Gold Writer's Conference here in Denver. It was brought to you by the letter L and the number 13 and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

So here I am blogging about it instead of writing. Instead of putting the finishing touches on Trendy Poseurs Go Home.

This was much grander than the conference I went to in San Francisco in July. There, it was about 50 people, in a small conference room at a Best Western. I didn't even have to check in when I arrived. I could have just walked in and pretended I belonged. Who needs to register and pay? Not that that conference wasn't worth it. I ended up with a pitch that worked well enough to convince three agents to request partials of my Trendy Poseurs manuscript.

I was pleased with that outcome. I am still awaiting responses from two of those agents. One has already responded. Just two days before the Gold Conference, I received a gracious email that said they thought I was a great writer and they discussed my submission at length. However, considering the current trend of publishing YA fiction mainly for girls (i.e. Twilight and the millions of copycats), they could't see a market for my boy-centered story. As rejections go, it could have been much worse.

So going in to this past weekend, I felt pretty swell about my writing skills and hoped to garner more positivity through communion with like-minded people. The conference included hundreds of people at a snazzy hotel and offered a variety of workshops all day Friday and Saturday, and half a day on Sunday. I tried to concentrate on the courses that would give me valuable information about publishing, querying, agents, editors, and the like.

Then the last class I went into on Friday turned my mood a little sour. It was about writing for reluctant readers, which basically means teenage boys, and the presenter was a guy who'd published a YA novel about six years ago but hasn't been able to get published since. His advice: lower the age of your male teenage protagonist, give him a girl sidekick, and add something paranormal. This all came from his agent who wants him to get published again. And it's good advice, I guess. I mean, who am I to say it isn't. Agents know what sells, right?

The Saturday schedule included a pitch session with the agent of your choice. Fortuitously, it turned out, I received an email last Wednesday that said the agent I chose had cancelled, so I was rescheduled with someone else from the same agency and offered a second pitch with anyone else who had an opening. I was a little irritated until I realized that I would now have two pitches instead of one, and that was better. Duh.

See? Boys read.
But by Saturday, I wasn't at my peak form of awesomeness. What was I to do about my 18-year-old protagonist with a love interest and an internal conflict? I couldn't do much in the intervening hours, so I relied on the pitch that moved me forward before and got two immediate requests to see my manuscript. Both of them told me they are always looking for "boy books," despite what it seems that no one buys or even publishes them. Because obviously they are out there, and many agents and publishers are tired of the YA paranormal dance of the vampires and angels and Loch Ness Monster love triangles. Cool for me, then. (If you're interested in this issue, read this article: "Boys and Reading: Is There any Hope?" by author Robert Lipsyte.)

One request was for thirty pages, which was great. I could do that immediately. The other was for the entire manuscript. Which puts a crimp in my neck because I haven't found the time to rewrite the ending that needed to be done after the July conference.

That's pretty much the conference for me. I sat in a helpful class about time management, not because it taught me anything I didn't know, but because they made me sit right there and write out goals and a weekly schedule, stuff I would never do on my own. I've decided I have to write for an hour or more every night, no matter what time I get home, even from late night soccer games. And Saturday night, writer Bernard Cornwell gave a rousing, funny speech that was mostly interesting due to his British accent and timely use of a couple of swears. And Sunday morning there was a good hour where a successful agent gave some specific, practical advice on what turns her off of a manuscript in the first pages.

I also met a couple of people who are part of a critique group in my area and hopefully they can help me get cruising on my Ghosts and Aliens story that stalled out back in June or July. Altogether, successful weekend.


  1. It's good to hear you are making progress and keeping your hopes up. Can't wait to hear the sunny smile on your face when you do get published. Boys do read nowadays. They just don't show off about it as much as girls do.

  2. Yay for getting some good pitches done! I'm looking forward to seeing your name and your work in print! Good luck with everything, and remember us lowly bloggers when you're on the NY Times Bestseller's List! :)

  3. Why market it as YA? Market it as adult fiction and get out of that whole female dominated market. There are "men" that read. George R.R. Martin's audience is almost entirely men and he's sold 15 million books.

  4. Congratulations on the partial and full requests. And Good Luck! The book I'm just now starting to shop is also a YA with a male protagonist who has a female love interest and a lot of internal conflict. And I got the same response from an agent--loved the book, but pass. She said she didn't know how to market it...

  5. Congrats on the requests for manuscripts! Keep plugging along. I don't know why agents think that girls won't read a book with a boy protagonist. They will if he's interesting and they can relate to him, for ex., Going Bovine. The daughter is reading that now and is liking it just fine.

  6. Sounds productive. I think I'll go hide in my office and revise.

  7. Is GRRM's audience really almost entirely male? That's devastating. I adore his books and wish there were more like them-- character-driven, gritty, but not violent for violence's sake. Maybe that's my issue-- put down the chick lit and pick up more boy books.

    So have heart, dear Brent! There are girls in the world who prefer boy books. If anything, it'll be girls who are sick of reading about vampire boyfriends and nail polish.


  8. Brent I also wanted to add that "I Am Number Four" by James "Pittacus Lore" Frey is YA with a male protag and is making millions from the Lorien Chronicles. He followed a very formulaic approach. The difference is that Harper Collins backed him up with a marketing campaign.

    My point. Boys read. Guys read. Girls read. Women read. All that stuff you hear from writer's conferences comes from people who failed and blame themselves instead of the publishing company. A publishing company can sell books. They just have to get behind an author. The thing is...they only get behind the upper class rich people.

  9. @ darev: Girls do like to show off, don't they?

    @ Candice: No one around here is a lowly blogger. I think highly of you all. but I'll probably forget all about you when I'm famous.

    @ Michael: The issue of boys reading is also an educational one, and I see reluctance every day. I don't think the presentation I went to was designed to be negative; it was just telling it like it is. If you're a first time writer looking for publication, chances are higher if you don't write YA boy books. Of course you're right. I can think of dozens of boy books on my shelves at school, and they're all awesome despite me trying to get boys to read them.

    And doesn't Frey have some sort of cadre of writers working on the Number Four series? He's hit on the formula that sells, but it's got to be cheating.

  10. @ Julie: Thanks, and good luck to you. If you discover the secret or just the right publisher, let me know.

    @ Lola: It's interesting because studies show that girls will read both girl and boy books, but boys won't really read girl books (and they seem to have reluctance to read boy books). My daughter will read anything. Except Ender's Game. It's because I keep telling her to read it.

    And Going Bovine is pretty cool.

    @ Charlie: I also went to an e-publishing session and have some information for you to consider. Contact me elsewise.

    @ Nicki: Thanks. Now we just need to convince the publishing company of that.

  11. Yes, he's totally cheating because he's smart. Writing YA is a formula...period. It's just like writing James Bond is a formula. Every single plot is essentially the same. Only the setting changes.

  12. It is harder to sell a boy a book, isn't it? Joe hates to read, not because of the content but because he is dyslexic so we buy books on CD for him. My brother, however, has always been a reader and he will read anything.

    Good luck Brent! I'd love to read your book! Glad you could attend the conference and get some good info and advice. It always helps. :D

  13. @ Michael: My story is certainly a coming of age story, which every YA book essentially is. But it's no more formulaic than any other genre. I suppose a new take is always welcome.

    @ Natalie: That's okay. I'll sell an audio book. As long as it counts as one of the million, I'll take that sale.

  14. Looking forward to your picks for the blogfest on Monday!

  15. Yes - SO SO SO many agents SAY they want a boy POV, but they don't. Not really.
    I have a boy POV that my agent put out some small feelers for - keeping all the things you just mentioned in mind -
    This is what I got back - writing is stellar, love the characters, love the story, not enough of a commercial hook.
    I KNOW there's a market for it out there, people are just afraid of it.

    I didn't change my story, it just took us a little longer to find a home for it. Maybe this isn't what you want to hear, lol.
    I do know that if you keep shopping it around, you'll find a home for it.
    It just might take a while.

    (Wow, I"m just a bright ray of sunshine today, lol)