Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Night at the Question Emporium

 I’ve been shopping my mystery around to agents. But just recently, I revisited another novel I wrote a while back and have decided it’s actually a pretty fine book. Therefore, I’m thinking of launching a parallel agent search for that book as well. But it’s not a mystery, falling instead in the women’s fiction/general literature category. My thinking was that I would see which book found a home first, and decide from there which genre to pursue. First question: Is this a wise thing to do, or will I somehow shoot myself in the foot by not focusing on one genre?

Ideally I’d like to find an agent who handles both genres, and I have in fact identified one agent who would be my dream agent in that regard (as well as several other regards). I’m currently waiting for a response from her on my query for my mystery. So second question: Is submitting a query for a second book, in a different genre, breaking some type of querying protocol? Would Ms. Dream Agent find it strange and/or annoying, or would she be impressed with how versatile an author I am? 

Versatile is not what I'm looking for in a writer.  I'm looking for someone who can turn out a compelling mystery every year. That's a HUGE challenge. Being able to do that well is a rare thing.

If you query me in more than one category, I wonder if you've read enough in each category to know what's fresh and new, what's not, what the category requirements are and who breaks them well.

One of the best books I ever read about writing was about music. WAITING FOR DIZZY is a collection of essays about musicians.  One of them talks about the fact that the very best musicians play one instrument very very well.  They know how to play others of course, but they focus on the one instrument. It's their performance instrument.

A lot of good athletes face this same choice. The athletes who letter in three sports athletes in high school have to choose which sport to do in college. Even the athletes who do more than one sport in college have to choose which sport to turn pro in.

Querying to be a published writer is like putting yourself in draft consideration for the major leagues. You have to be very very good at one thing, not reasonably good at several. (Sure there are exceptions you can cite, but thinking of yourself as the exception to the rule is a fast way to be out of consideration.)

In a way I had to make that same choice when deciding what to focus on as an agent. I enjoy reading romance and women's fiction. I've read some science fiction, and fantasy. But I knew that I had to read widely and deeply in a category to represent it well, and thus the choice was easy: crime fiction. I've read more of it than any other category, and I love it. Even the schlock stuff.

You need to think about your goals. What do you want to keep writing in the future? Which category are you best suited to write? Which category do you enjoy reading the most? Resist the urge to show how many categories you can write, and focus on showing one category you can write VERY well in.


NotaWarriorPrincess said...

The exception that pops into my mind is Ursula K. Le Guin, who writes all sorts of genres BUT crime (though who knows, by now she probably has something in that too; it's still before ten pm on the West coast...) She is Ursula K Le Guin, though, and I have a feeling if I looked in the mirror and saw someone who wasn't Ursula Le Guin looking back at me, I shouldn't try to spread out as far as she's been able to. She's also pushing 90, and has been publishing like a crazy woman since about 1950, so it's not like she's trying to break through. How many writers are there that are as versatile as that? Stephen King, maybe? Years ago I might have said Scott Card, but he's been milking the Ender cow for so long I don't know if he does anything but one WORLD any more. Now I have something to obsess about all night!

Mim said...

A questions about this--what about the genres that blend together mainly dystopia/sci fi/fantasy/horror? These are so similar that I wonder if some authors can write all of them well or have elements cross over from each genre that they write.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

I think javed just tried to query you for a non-fic financial book. I think you should take it straight to QueryShark for a tune-up.

Just wanted to wish you a blessed Easter and to say I like the new paint and wallpaper on the blog.


Janet Reid said...

Thanks Terri!
Those spammers get through sometimes cause I only have comment mod turned on for older posts.

Janet Reid said...

NotAWarriorPrincess (ButATerrificWriter),

I don't know what Mrs. LeGuin's submission strategy was but I think she wrote only SF for a while at the start.

My comments are intended for writers at the start of their career not people like Stephen King, or Ursula LeGuin who are established masters.

Melinda Szymanik said...

So if I write widely across children's fiction - Picture books, short stories, historical, contemporary, mystery, thriller YA - would this be of concern to an agent?

Prill said...

That all makes so much sense. Of course, now I'm in a real quandary about which way to go. Life's never straightforward, is it?

Thank you for the time you take helping out we newbies trying to break into this crazy world of publishing. You give us all so much to think about.

Peace and blessings.

Janet Reid said...

Melinda, that's exactly what I mean. A writer at the START of his/her career should focus on being great in one category.

The amount of prep and practice required for one category is enough to keep even the most talented writers pretty busy.