third person

Questionable Advice Literary Agents Gave to New Adult Author Colleen Hoover

In a post I wrote yesterday about New Adult fiction, I linked to an article where they mentioned self-published New Adult author, Colleen Hoover, where literary agents gave her questionable advice even after her book had come out and hit the NYT bestseller list.

I found it interesting that Colleen Hoover was told by literary agents that she had to change the novel from the first person to the third person…for my own personal reasons.

“I did try to query agents and I got a lot of rejection letters and about how I should change it to third person and take out the poetry,” Hoover said. “The book had already come out and I was getting rejection letters after it hit the New York Times.”

That’s right. The New York Times. Hoover bypassed publishers and literary agents and made it onto the acclaimed bestseller list five months after it was a Christmas present to her mother. Hoover cleverly gave away free copies of “Slammed” to key influencers and word of mouth ricocheted around the Internet.

I can back this up from my own personal experiences. Although I don’t have any published novels out in the first person, I did once try to query agents with a novel written in the first person and I received the same exact advice from them. That novel is in my files and hasn’t seen light in years. In fact, one of the reasons why I don’t have any published novels out in the first person to date is because of that advice. I eventually plan to change this.

The short stories I have out written in the first person have always been bestsellers in their genre. In most cases they’ve sold more copies than stories I’ve written in the third person. And I’ve received more reader feedback from them. To be honest, I prefer writing in the third person because it’s a comfort zone for me, and I think I get more freedom with my characters. But I do plan to write a novel in the first person very soon just to see how it works for me. When I tell you that I truly feared writing anything in the first person for years because of this advice I’d received from agents I’m not exaggerating. Unfortunately, writers take this seriously.

To take this to another level, I’ve seen and read other recent books written in the first person that have surprised everyone and become huge bestsellers. And one of the reasons I was so surprised these books became bestsellers is because of that old advice I’d received from Literary Agents about not writing in the first person. I literally read excerpts thinking, “Wow. How could this be? He wrote this in the first person.”

I don’t have a huge point with this post other than this: take all advice you get from anyone and then listen to your heart. Colleen Hoover did that and she proved that all the advice she received was questionable advice.

Although I’m pro-agent, and I believe authors need good agents, I’m not a fan of many of the things associated with the query system as we’ve always known it. And agents handing out this kind of advice to new writers is one of them. This may have worked ten years ago when we depended on the specific tastes of literary agents for our published books, but it’s becoming more evident each day (with proof) this same advice isn’t working anymore.

And this isn’t the only example of where you’re going to get bad advice as an author. I’m not singling out agents in this post by any means. I have a future post about something that happened to me with an editor that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. It deals with how one single editor can rip the emotion from the most intense scene in a book. And how I let the editor do it because I wanted to avoid confrontation. I still regret this. The reason I’ve waited to post about this is because I wanted to be far removed enough from the topic to keep my own emotions separate.

Do what you think is best for you, and for your readers. They are the only ones that matter.