Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Obstacles to being published

Characteristically sensible post here from Rachelle Gardner. There's nothing I haven't said myself, but it's all succinctly phrased and, especially if you are new to the approaching-publishers-and-agents lark, useful.

There are two points that I thought I'd elaborate on:


Pitching several books in different genres. Why not? Because although you can have a wide writing career later, you need to be launched with one book and create the expectation for your readers that if they liked your first book they will like your second. It is simply easier (at first) to sell you as a writer of a particular sort of book than a writer whose next book could be entirely different and for entirely different readers. Therefore the agent (and, even more, publisher) wants to know the one book which is best to launch you with. Don't muddy the waters; don't seem too undecided.

Not being able to name a genre for your book. (Even if that "genre" is literary fiction.) It's the selling thing again, damn it. It is, quite simply, easier to sell a book which fits a genre properly. Put it another way, you need to be able to know which readers are most likely to like your book. Also, readers like to know what they are getting, odd people that they aren't. Humans like patterns, familiarity, expectations. Help them out; humour them. You make life very much easier for yourself if you work with the world as it is, not as you wish it was. Of course, the latter approach is very commendable, but only in the same way that it was highly commendable of the cavalry at Balaclava to charge straight towards the cannons.

As Rachelle says, none of these things mean you can't get an agent or publisher. But they are obstacles. Either remove them or jump higher.

17 comments:

Fran said...

How interesting that you did this particular post today. I have an agent for my first book, and she loves and believes in it. But, according to her own requirements, she doesn't care for anything paranormal (my second MS) or mystery (my third), although I do remind her of their existence now and then. I am hopeful she'll go for the fourth, which is more like the first in style.

As it's taking so long to find a publisher for that first one, I've considered querying new agents who indicate an interest in the genres of the middle two books.

Perhaps I'll rethink this, after seeing your blog.

Most writer sites speak about selling the first novel, but I've never found anyone addressing the complexities associated with having several books in the wings.

Thank you. It's nice to know I'm not alone in the dilemma.

Nicola Morgan said...

Fran, thanks for commenting. It's worth my saying that if your agent has taken you on she has taken you on and not one book. Therefore, if she sells the first one, her personal preferences should be irrelevant and she should then work on whichever of your other books she a) believes can sell and b) believes is right for you to have as your second book. She should rise above her personal preferences. My agent isn't a big fan of fanstasy but if i wrote one and she thought it was good enough, she'd work her socks off for it. As I say, your agent is the agent of you, the author, not just your book.

Nicola Morgan said...

PS - Fran, if you have a contract with your agent, you can't query others... You do have a contract, don't you? Does it say she is only agenting one book? (That would be unusual...)

Dan Holloway said...

Mashing this up with your previous post, I would say that whilst this is undoubtedly true for getting an agent and publisher, the idea that self-publishing ebooks is absolutely made for you if you don't fit these pigeonholes is a complete misconception. Whilst, yes, you can choose to write under different names (though how you'd cope with double the marketing is beyond me), one of the things that has surprised me most (it shouldn't have) about the ebook world is that it is even more genre-bound sales-wise than the print world. Amazon's genre ranking charts, genre-specific fiorums and "customers who bought this also bought" lists are the absolute cornerstones of success - that and writing lots of books that are very similar so people who liked one will buy others (write a different one and even if the one after is back to the first genre, your readers will have moved on).

I say this as someone who has 5 ebooks self-published in 5 different genres :p If I had even a shred of common sense I would write down the middle thrillers. Lots of them. Sadly I have no common sense at all so I persist in writing poetry and YA paranormal and experimental shorts and any other shiny genre that catches my magpie eye. At least it gives lots of interesting data for other people who do have common sense to learn from!

Redleg said...

I'm just impressed The Light Brigade got a shout-out in this post.

Nicola Morgan said...

Redleg - probably the first time I have used them. (Am I pathetic that I felt bad trivialising their sacrifice? Especially since they were undoubtedly only obeying orders.)

Dan - "the idea that self-publishing ebooks is absolutely made for you if you don't fit these pigeonholes is a complete misconception." How true! I have also fallen into the mixed-genres trap and struggle sometimes to remain proud of myself for doing so in the face of meagre income.

Guuye said...

Thank you Nicola for bringing this up. I like your comment 'your agent is the agent of you, the author, not just your book.' After your book Write to be Published I set up my website and started blogging in different styles to establish my readers in different genres. Early stages, but I love it. Thanks to your advice I'm promoting myself as an author while writing my non-fiction book.

Helen said...

As co-incidence would have it, I was reading the part of Write to Be Published where you discuss genre last night. One thing I'm still confused about is general versus literary fiction. How can you tell whether something is middlebrow general fiction or literary?

Nicola Morgan said...

Helen - it's a fair question except that there is no clear answer. It's all about perception and opinion, like asking whether something is high or low-brow. One person's low is another's high. Frankly, if it's difficult/slow for many/most, focusing on internal stuff and form more than readability (gah!) or plot,, it's probably literary fiction. And that is a very inflammatory position, as is any pronouncement about lit fic!

Nicola Morgan said...

Helen - it's a fair question except that there is no clear answer. It's all about perception and opinion, like asking whether something is high or low-brow. One person's low is another's high. Frankly, if it's difficult/slow for many/most, focusing on internal stuff and form more than readability (gah!) or plot,, it's probably literary fiction. And that is a very inflammatory position, as is any pronouncement about lit fic!

Fran said...

Nicola,

Woe is me. The agreement is for the one title, this then variously called "the project."

Am I in trouble?

Jane Smith said...

Fran, I wonder: has your agent actually taken a look at your other books, or have you just assumed she won't be interested?

I ask because it's really not usual for an agent to take on a single book, rather than an author. It happens: but not often, and usually because the author has written a book which is way out of their usual genre, or because they've written a book which needs specific skills to sell it, which few agents might have.

I've heard of agents working this way when that's not the case: but I can't say it's usual, or that it's necessarily a good way to proceed. Have you discussed with your agent any other agents you might for your other books? Or how you'd go about working with them while being represented by her for this one book?

Nicola Morgan said...

Hi Fran, no not in trouble! I didnt mean to stress you. Obvs my first answer was before I realised that your agent is just for the one book, which obviiously makes my first answer irrelevant. However, the sort of set-up you have isn't usual (though not unheard-of) and therefore it's hard for me to advise. Your agent may have a good reason and you may have a good reason for it being for one book. What will happen if she sells the first one? Do you have to negotiate with her to take one more? One concern I have is about those books she doesn't like - if they are publishable, will another agent take you for them? Unlikely, tbh, as most agents would not take individual books only. That would be somewhat fraught.

I hope hugely that she sells your book, and then you can make a decision. At that point, do take advice. I'd like to think she would take you on fully then, if you would like her to continue.

Nicola Morgan said...

Jane was writing her comment while I was, obviously, and beat me to it! Thanks, Jane.

Fran, Jane's last sentence is crucial and is my concern, too. It feels fraught with problems working with more than one agent for the same sort of books - different genres, yes, but still all commercial fiction. So I feel that it's likely that you can't move forward with your other books until a decision is made on this one. If she can't sell the first, what does she plan next? Is there a strategy? These are not negative questions and are NOT meant to worry you at all. It's great that your agent believes wholly in your book and that's really valuable.

Fran said...

Thanks so much, Nicola and Jane. It's good to get professional views on this odd situation.

She loves my writing, AND my protagonist. Although I've mentioned my other books once or twice, she simply suggested putting them to one side for the time being (with no questions about the genres or plots). It makes for problems when I'm now in Sydney, and she's in Connecticut! I'm relying on email only. I can't be phoning her on my cellphone (no landline) to hammer it out, and I also don't want to be too pushy.

I think she intends to look at the others when this one is sold, as Jane suggests. I guess she sees it as a credible entree to an editor because she enjoyed it so much. As I said, two of the others don't meet her requirements according to her blog and website, and I'm the one who made the assumption she could baulk at them.

Jane seems to have it right in suggesting the others will get their turn with her IF the first one is picked up. And, yes, it is a somewhat quirky and older-female-issues read which she initially thought could be a tricky sell. My only fear is that she might not be successful, and would then be less enthusiastic for the later ones.

This is all so very confusing. On top of that, she has had health issues recently, so I can't bother her, but she swears 2012 is the year she'll sell it. At no point has she suggested I look for someone else.

Finally, when an unpublished writer finds an agent who wants your book, it's not likely that there would be much serious, business-like discussion about what comeslater, despite all the advice online. Everything becomes NOW! One book is better than nothing, we tell ourselves. It took me over a year to find her after twenty plus rejections!

You have been so kind to talk to me about this. It doesn't solve anything but it gives me a new insight. Sorry for such a long comment!

Helen said...

Thanks for your response, Nicola. It makes sense that its all in the eye of the beholder but when even the Booker Prize committee say they're looking for readability the future doesn't look good for literary fiction. I'm wondering whether, in these straitened times, an agent or publisher would stop reading a submission if you put the label of literary fiction on it.

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

Very interesting comments for me, as I have my first novel which is women's commercial fiction and called The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in England coming out in April with an independent publisher, who has just accepted a collection of literary short stories to be published in 2013. I'm not confused about the two genres and have decided to turn it around and make it into an agility thing - I had a great story to tell in popular novel form, but I am also a great lover of short stories.

Hope I will survive!