Friday, September 27, 2013

Question Emporioum: what sells? What doesn't?

You mentioned on the blog that agents cry into shots of JD about What Will Not Sell. The answer may be too long to answer, but if it is not, please tell us What Will Not Sell.

I think we all know that warming over something that was not hot to begin with would be on that list, especially if it is the tenth rehash of the twentieth overdo. They do it in the movies all the time and spend tens of millions, but publishers would not consider spending a few thousand on it, eh? What else? Comments would be welcome 

There is no One True Answer and if there was I'd be on the writers conference lecture circuit charging a filthy amount of lucre for you to find out.

However, almost every editor has a list of books they've loved that have failed. The longer the editor's been in the biz, the longer the list.  The trick is listening carefully as they weep into their shot glass to discern what category those books fall into.

I know bad writing sells.
I know derivative writing sells.
I know stuff that makes me wonder if English is the writer's first language has sold.

The trick is to find work I like and want to read that will also sell. I'm lucky to be working in crime fiction cause I (mostly) like the stuff that sells in this genre. I like it and I can pick it out of the slush pile (mostly.)

I like poetry a lot too.  I can pick what I like but is it good, or will it sell...not something I know.

Same with Westerns, romance, women's fiction, or books about sloths.

The real question you're asking though is  "How can I not waste my time writing something that you can't sell."

There are two answers:
1. Other agents sell things I can't sell. Barbara Poelle and Sorche Fairbank regularly knock my sox off with amazing books  I would have missed.

2. I've sold things other people can't sell.

Write the book you love. Write something that isn't what everyone else is writing. That means you MUST READ YOUR CATEGORY and read it deeply. Know what you love about your category. Know what you don't. Think about your book as part of a larger whole.


Mister Furkles said...

“Same with … or books about sloths.”

Well, damn. And I’d just about finished my novel about sloths. Guess I’ll have to rework it for porcupines. Or would coatis be better?

Melissa said...

Mister Furkles, is it a cowboy sloth who solves crimes? Because that I would read.

What's also so difficult about this topic is that it's not about what's selling now as we write but what will be selling a few years down the road.

LynnRodz said...

Melissa, my WIP is a western romance about two sloth ranch hands that sit around all day reading poetry to each other. I was going to tell Mr. Furkles that I had to put mine on the back burner as well, but if there's a readership, maybe I'll keep plugging away!

Lenny Liang said...

Thanks for this thoughtful and nuanced answer Janet. It shed light on an ongoing debate I've had with a buddy about whether publishing people really care aboout the writing craft, or if they're just in it for the money, regardless of how bad/derivative the writing is. I appreciate your balance of finding books that will sell but that you also enjoy. And thank you again for answering these questions and everything you do to support writers. It is greatly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

You always manage to chew and gnaw the gold nugget out of the questions, Ms. Janet.

(i.e. the real question you're asking though is "How can I not waste my time writing something that you can't sell.")

And the answer you gave is really the only answer that makes sense. There is no magic equation of write this, not that = success. Yet, we are astounded when Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, and all the rest make it big...when all they did was what you said. Wrote something no one else had. Wrote a story they loved. I ought to post this where I can see it every day.

(And I second Lenny, thank you for all you do on this blog.)

Kyler said...

Your questions (and answers) have been so à propos to what's been going on in my mind lately, that maybe you should have been my agent after all! What a psychic connection. Thanks, Janet.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I second and third Lenny and Donna. Hey Donna, I added another 2000 words yesterday. I am hot baby I am hot.
Novel number three is almost a hundred pages in and I'm loving it. It's right out of the headlines.

Linda Strader said...

This post was quite timely. I received a rejection letter for my memoir that said "since memoirs are very competitive and as unique as your book is, it would be hard to sell." I was stunned to say the least. Did she mean because my story is unique, it won't sell ever? That's not what my critique group says. So, back to querying.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I work in a public library, and I see what sells, and what people read. And I have to tell myself "We don't judge." I mean, at least people are reading, right? And it gives me hope that something I have written will one day sell.

(Somebody should sell more books about pitches and query letters. Yup.)

what about ridiculous, slothless book covers? Can we talk about that?