Thursday, July 31, 2014

Query Question: niche, very niche appeal

I've written a whole series of novels (I'm on the seventh and final one). I know you're not supposed to complete a series unless you can sell the first one, but I quite literally couldn't help myself. The world drew me in.

I just started querying agents on Book One, after going through it with critique groups and beta readers. It's not a shelf's far from perfect, but I think it's good, and I don't think I'll change my mind about that with time. My problem, besides my inexperience querying agents, is that it's not a broad-audience series. They're decidedly weird books, hard to pigeonhole into an exact genre. I mean, imagine if Hunter S. Thompson came back to life, huffed a bunch of ether and said, "I'm going to write a young adult fantasy novel!" (Except maybe the ether impaired his glorious writing abilities a little. And to be clear here, I don't huff ether).

If I continue having no luck with agents (only queried about 15 so far), would it hurt me so badly to self-publish this series and try to market to my narrow audience? My future books might be more marketable: I'm having very good luck getting my little narrative nonfiction anecdotes published, and wanted to compile them at some point into a memoir. My idea for my next fiction novel seems more mainstream, too.

You think there aren't small publishers out there who appeal to very niche audiences? You haven't done enough research my friend.

Of course, some small publishers are complete and utter disasters, whereas others are chugging along  producing beautiful books.  Your job is to find out who they are and which side of the line they live on.  You can do this instead of writing and it still counts as work! Wheee!

A small publisher can be a whole lot better than going it alone. For starters, you have comrades in arms (other writers on the publisher's list) and that will help you when you need to learn how this
publishing game works. And you have people to ask if it's just you or if everyone's royalty statement is late.  Or a bunch of people to contribute toward the PW ad that features all your titles. 

Small presses are a great place to find the niche audience you think will be yours. 

And having niche work is no barrier when you have wider appeal books in the future.  Everyone in publishing understands that there's a limited audience for dinosaur erotica....or was.


Steve Forti said...

Good advice, but I'm sad you didn't yell "fiction novel!!" A suddenly vegetarian shark?

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

No, I think the audience for dinosaur erotica is still limited. The rock has just been pulled up for the time being so we see all the wigglies.

One problem we at the library run into with buying books from independent publishers, though, is distribution. Even if something makes it to Kirkus for review (or...I can't remember if it was Publisher's Weekly or Library Journal which had the HUGE indie spread several months back), ordering it can still be an issue. Which is a shame, and probably fixable, but there it is.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that before this writer does anything, s(he) take 100 or so looks at Book One. If even (s)he thinks it's "far from perfect," no decent small press will accept it. The really good small presses have a very small acceptance rate (like 1 in 3000) and none of them will come anywhere near a book that's just a few steps above a "shelf novel."

Self-edit it until it's perfect.

Colin Smith said...

Christopher raises an interesting point. There may be some that consider small or indie presses as being an "easy" option. They're small and, therefore, desperate to publish anything, right? But given their limited resources, I assume they have to be as selective--perhaps even more--than the big publishers. So, whether we go Big 6, 5, 4, however many are left after mergers/acquisitions, or Indie, our work needs to shine and be ready to compete against other worthy novels for publication.

Janet Reid said...

Small presses, in my experience, are more selective than larger presses. This isn't a place you'd send your "almost good enough", but it IS a place you'd send things that appeal to a small, niche audience. Yanno, like the readers of "fiction novels"--a very select audience indeed.

Anonymous said...

That's certainly what I've found. I almost succeeded at selling my first novel to a small press, but one guy in the sales dept didn't like the book. The editor, who had been really enthusiastic about the book, explained to me that since they published only 5 books a year, they needed 100% staff approval. Later a Big 6 (now Big 5) company bought the book.

But you know... that was my first published novel. I have at least half a dozen trunk novels. There's only one of them that I still yearn to have see the light of day. And maybe some day it will. But for the rest... we keep writing, and we keep learning, and we look at our earlier work and blush.

Elissa M said...

I would never publish anything I thought was "far from perfect". I know my writing will never BE perfect, but I'm damn sure going to work on it until it's at least across the street, if not next door to perfect.

(I deleted my previous post because of a typo--see, not perfect but trying.)

Dor said...

The first MS I queried, I would have described as "probably not that bad" at the time. I thought there were flaws - it sounded like one thing but was actually another - but I hoped I'd at least get a couple of full requests. Guess what I actually got.

Some time later, I dug it out to see if I might self-publish it. It probably wasn't that bad, right? Except it was. The opening - which I'd thought reflected the disconnected state of mind of MC in addition to laying the foundations for Things Which Would Be Important Later - was actually tremendously overwrought. The protagonist, who'd I'd always thought was not a Mary Sue although she did sound a bit like one, was a TOTAL Sue.

Yes, there were some really good bits in it - one I harvested for a short story which has earned me tiered rejections from the kind of Lit Magazine which publishes writers who win prizes - but overall, the kindest word is juvenalia.

It took over a year in a drawer for me to see my first MS with clear eyes. Has the writer of this letter had that kind of distance from theirs?

I'd recommend the writer goes somewhere like AbsoluteWrite and crit their query letter - if it *is* an unusual idea the peeps there may come up with some good comp titles (which may be useful). It may also make a good reality check, because I've seen many claim to have a weird or completely unique idea, but I've never seen one.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me like this email was a little premature. They've only queried 15 agents? I read that the average published author received 1 offer per every 52 queries when they started out. When I start clients on the query process, I tell them to send at least 50 queries in their first round. This person may need to self-pub, but they should query a bit more before coming to the conclusion that it's not going to get picked up.

Janet said...

"Of course, some small publishers are complete and utter disasters, whereas others are chugging along producing beautiful books. Your job is to find out who they are and which side of the line they live on." Please, how do we tell the difference? And most especially, how do we tell the difference when the new press is a recent start-up?