Monday, August 04, 2014

Query Question: Should I give up before I start?

When does sticking with a project, and believing in its significance, become futile?(you haven't even started yet!)

The structure of my memoir has, as far as I can research, no comp.

Years ago,  Jonathan Livingston Seagull opened up the publishing world to small books with substance. Harry Potter’s length and actual size defied publishing’s idea of what children would accept as readable. Their actual structure confronted the norm, which could have stifled publication, (tragic), if someone hadn’t taken a risk. Do publishers take risks anymore? (all the time, and they have the balance sheets to prove it)

The substance of what I have written engages, entertains and enlightens, (my opinion which I know means little at this point), but the way I have structured the story/stories opens up a new way of presenting memoir. Do I search for an agent with a couple of big ones, a publisher with vision, go it alone or give it up?

I am within days of beginning the query process and will stick with my belief that ‘different’ isn’t necessarily a dirty word. I just want to know if I should pad my head before I start banging it against the wall.

This is the kind of question that makes me beat my head against the wall.  The problem is you only see the books that worked, not the books that didn't.  For every Jonathan Livingston Seagull there are THOUSANDS  of little books that didn't work.  That book wasn't acquired in the usual agent/editor etc process either but most people now don't remember that.

Harry Potter is seen as a landmark book because it WORKED, not because of anything else. You check any publisher's catalog the year that book launched (here or in the UK) and you'll see a lot of titles that you've never heard of. In other words, books that didn't sell.

Both of these books are examples of anomalies in publishing. The experience is NOT replicable by anyone else.  Every year or so there's one of these. 50 Shades of Gray was a recent example.  Bridges of Madison County another.  DaVinci Code another.

These books don't prove anything except that publishing has weird aberrations every few years, and some of them are more permanent than other.

When I hear someone say they've done something crazy with the structure of their book, I'll tell you honestly, I'm very leery.  Most often what I find is someone who has been unwilling to revise, or edit to make the story work in a more usual fashion.  It's akin to someone telling me the book is in 27 points of view cause they REALLY needed all of them.

But if you think this structure works, why would you not query? What's the worst thing that can happen?  Form rejection or silence.  I can tell you right now those things won't kill you. If they could, Brooklyn would be a whole lot less populated. 


Alice Gabathuler said...

You never know before you've tried! You might not find an agent/ publisher for your project - but you certainly won't if you don't try. And oh yes, it will hurt if your project is rejected. But as Janet writes, you won't die. If you are a writer, you'll keep writing.

Talking about structure. I had this crazy thing in my head (start with the end / 3 different "I" perspectives / one "he" perspective/ chapters with dialog only - not even "he said / she said - and a very hard, basic voice) Wanted to try it. Did. Publisher loved it. It's one of my best sold books. Go ahead. Try.

Anonymous said...

You will always wonder "what if" if you don't try.

LynnRodz said...

I agree with Alice and Donna, you can't give up before you even try! If you're so convinced that what you've written "engages, entertains and enlightens" then why would you even consider not trying? It doesn't make sense. Instead, it makes you look like someone who gives up too easily. I read somewhere (don't ask me where) you can put your novel in the trunk after 100 agents reject it, but not before.

You've done the work and maybe 50 agents will tell you no, but along the way some will give you pearls of wisdom that you'll use to improve your manuscript. And who knows, by the time you reach agent 99 with those changes he or she will say yes.

At least, that's how I see it. Yes, it's scary to get to the query phase, I myself am almost there. And there are moments when I think I have something good to offer and other moments when I think my ms is a piece of shit, but after all the time and work I've spent, I would never consider not querying even if I get rejected time and time again. So put on that padded helmet and get started! Good luck!!!

Janet, how many POV is considered too many before an agent starts to worry? I have two main POV and several minor, but "I really need them."

Colin Smith said...

And Harry Potter was picked up by the first agent JKR tried, and adored by the first publisher to whom it was submitted, yes? NO! Not by a long shot. After many submissions (to big, well-known publishers), it took one relatively small publisher in the UK (Bloomsbury) loving it--or at least intrigued with it--enough to give it a shot. I think the initial print run of the first novel was 2,000? JKR received a modest advance--not enough to quit her job. For her, the excitement wasn't in the money but in achieving her life-long ambition of being published. Everything else was unexpected icing on the cake. The first book sold largely through word-of-mouth, and the money really didn't become significant until the bidding war with US publishers. By that time she was already working on book 2. Again, it was ONE person at Scholastic who loved the book to the tune of a little over $100,000 that won the deal. Given this was an auction, there were other publishers in the mix that weren't prepared to gamble that much. Thankfully for Scholastic, the gamble paid off big time.

This is why we writers MUST focus on the writing, and writing what we believe in, and writing to the very best of our ability. We can't control markets, tastes, or any of these other variables. All we can do is what we know how to do: write, and hope people want to read what we write.

If your memoir is "different," and doesn't work as well in a more conventional format, then stick with it. But query widely, and be prepared for a lot of rejections (like that not unusual anyway). Maybe look to some newer agents who are still building their lists. They're usually more willing to request fulls and take chances. Janet has some great advice on this blog, so beware the pitfalls (e.g., look for new agents at established agencies rather than newbies going it alone). Querying is a long and hard process (for the vast majority of us, anyway) even with a "conventional" work. Just keep at it. Be Tenacious! :)

Terri Lynn Coop said...

One of the abiding rules of my life is the saying:

"You miss every pitch that you don't swing at."

And the second part that you seldom see:

"And if you hit .300 they'll put you in the Hall of Fame."

In other words, if you only hit 3 out of 10, you are a success.


Elissa M said...

I want to believe this writer has truly come up with something structurally unique that indeed engages, entertains, and enlightens. I honestly do. But--I've been in the writers' group trenches for several decades now, and I've heard this sort of author rant more times than I can recount.

Fact: Writers who believe in their work do everything they can to see their dreams to fruition. They don't give up before they even get one rejection. They aren't afraid to revise, rework, or start all over from square one when they realize their initial concept isn't actually making sense to anyone but themselves.

And this makes me beg the question--has this structurally unique, engaging, entertaining, and enlightening memoir been through the critiquing process? Have experienced alpha and beta readers given their feedback, and did the writer pay heed to their critiques?

Being different isn't bad. Being intractable, unrealistic, and blind to one's shortcomings is.

DLM said...

There's a bit of the O My Beloved Ice Cream Bar special snowflakeyness in the tone here, which makes me think the author *wants* reasons not to proceed. As everyone's saying, not trying guarantees the failure you seem to be aiming at. Elissa is right - be realistic, try to be objective ... and also, be professional. The work of an aspiring author is a real job, and to get the promotion to "published" takes good, smart work.

Lance said...

The author sounds as if the choice is between not querying and jumping the gun before the ms has been critiqued and beta tested.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

As they say up here in CT Lotto Land you can't win if you don't play.

Linda Strader said...

Take the plunge. You do have nothing to lose. I've been querying for a year, had some interest, lots of rejections. However, I learned from the rejections, and am now in the middle of a major revision. Don't give up. Be flexible to change. It's the only way you can make your story the very best it can possibly be. Good luck.

Jenz said...

There are plenty of things Harry Potter did that weren't at all original. The wizard school concept. The hero's journey, starting with young hero discovering strange new world. The Chosen One. All of that had been done. So there were plenty of comp titles that Rowling could have used. Wildly different as Jonathan Livingston Seagull is, it's still about a life journey.

It's tough to learn how to find comp titles. You need to think in terms of finding similarities instead of only seeing the differences. If your manuscript's structure is so unique, then surely it has some theme or arc that you can relate to another title.

JD Horn said...

I can attest to the fact that if you do fail, what you learn through your failure can be used to help you succeed the next time around. Suck it up, and get it going.