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How to Change Your Writing Style But Keep Your Agent

td23.jpgEarlier this year, novelist Tony D’Souza finished a novel that completely broke out of the style of his first two novels, Whiteman and The Konkans.

When he turned the manuscript in to his agent, Liz Darhansoff, they seriously discussed publishing the novel under a pseudonym to avoid confusing his readership base. What would you do?

In the short essay that follows, D’Souza (pictured) explained what happened over the course of the submission process, as he was forced to ask himself a hard question: “What does one do if one and one’s agent disagree?’”


D’Souza writes: “This new novel, The Mule, was really different for me. Not kind of different, but exceptionally different. My first two books certainly had elements of crime and danger in them, but not to the level that The Mule has. It also tries to tap into the contemporary ‘American’ moment in ways I haven’t before. Obviously the subject matter lends itself to a heightened level of stress: a young professional couple with a new baby have an opportunity to become drug mules fall into their lap after they lose their jobs in the economic downturn. Unlike most people, they decide to take that opportunity.”

“I did a ton of research and entered the world of ‘mule’ culture in Northern California for good parts of 2008/09 as a freelance journalist, but I kept what I was doing up there to myself. I got to know people in that ‘business’ very well, gained a certain level of trust. It’s not like I just showed up, I had lived there and rubbed elbows with these folks for about the past eight years; they knew me as a writer the whole time, and engaged me that way.

“When I turned the manuscript in to my agent, Liz Darhansoff, I think that it caught her by surprise, especially when Whiteman and The Konkans were these multicultural, international works. We had a long afternoon discussion about the book, about how some of my readers might be disappointed in the subject matter, about whether I should use a pseudonym or not.

“I definitely did not want to use a pseudonym. It was tense for me because I knew she didn’t have to represent The Mule if she didn’t want to, and knowing all the things she’s done for me and looking back at our six year relationship, I certainly didn’t want to go anywhere else. So I was basically wondering, ‘What does one do if one and one’s agent disagree?’”

“But Liz did represent the book. She understands my interest in writing on a wide range of topics, and said, ‘I understand it can get boring when writers produce the same book over and over.’

Jenna Johnson at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt picked up The Mule last month, my third novel with them. I’m delighted. I don’t think that any of my readers will be disappointed…The Mule is a post 2008 book set in an America where we live in a state of uncertainty that many of us haven’t experienced or even imagined before. It’s not a stretch to imagine people getting caught up in the mess that my characters do.

D’Souza concluded: “So in the end it feels really wonderful to be moving forward with Liz and trying new things. She has been, and continues to be, the best agent in the world.”

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