Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Round and round we go, writer fiends

Your Sharkliness,

I’m writing a story right now that, as I step back and examine it, is completely insane. It’s a historical-fantasy book that I’ve put an incredible amount of effort in, and it’s crazy. Alice in Wonderland crazy. It’s the sort of thing that any buyer is either going to adore or despise, and it’s far from mainstream. Very far.

In other words, I haven’t even finished it yet and I’m highly doubting that any agent, much less a publisher, is going to take a risk on my project, and thus I’m considering self-publishing. However, being an avid reader of your blog and currently in the query pool for a novel I finished last year, I’m hesitant. I have a not-insignificant amount of money that I’m willing to devote to my little project, editing and good covers and marketing and all that, though I, being a shy little bird, don’t have a major amount of Facebook or blog followers or the like ready and set to go buy my stuff.

So my question is: am I giving up on traditional publishing too early? I’m I considering self-pubbing for the wrong reasons and, if I do end up self-pubbing this book before Book No 1 can or does get an agent/small publisher, will I regret it?

This might be a bit too personal, but I can easily see another woodland creature being put in a similar situation.

Thanks much!
Nervously yours,
2 Spin Cycle Lane
RodentWheel New Jersey 00000

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That's good cause at this point today I'm not sure I could spell a thousand words correctly.

As a writer, you know research is key to making your plot sound and feel realistic.  Why you think you don't need to research the viability of your book in the marketplace is beyond me.  Maybe you've just addled your brains with all that running on the rodent wheel.

You don't know ANYTHING about whether agents want your book until you ask them.

Ask them = Query Letter.

Asking is not looking at #MSWL and throwing up your paws in despair.
Asking is NOT listening to professional level chatterboxes on writing boards who speak with absolute certainty about what's hot and what's not.

Asking is NOT NOT NOT letting that malevolant whisper of fear have any kind of say in what you DO.

Asking = querying.

Now, get off that damn rodent wheel of doubt, finish that book, figure out how to entice me to read it and GET FUCKING QUERYING.  Ok?


Linda Strader said...

Yes, I also say finish the book and start querying! Why shoot down your project before you've given it a chance? And how many queries does it take before you've really given your book a chance? Trust me, it's not 10, 20 or even 100. It's whatever it takes.

Adib Khorram said...

OP, there's a lot of "weird" stuff getting published. Agents and editors are dying to see something they've never seen before.

Only two years ago, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE—a book about two sixteen-year-olds in Iowa unleashing the end of the world, via plague of six-foot-tall praying mantises—was released.

If you have the means to self-publish, why not set aside a little of that money and go to a writing conference, or sign up for a manuscript critique?

Unless you really want to self-publish. But it sounds more like you're trying to talk yourself out of querying again before you've even started.

The Sleepy One said...

Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair was published and found an audience so there's clearly room for "weird" books.

Seriously, try to write a query or cover copy, or just try to explain the plot of one of Fforde's books out loud in a few sentences. It's difficult, but possible.

Kitty said...

...it’s crazy. Alice in Wonderland crazy.

And look at that book's success. You won't know until you try. Self-pub can always be an option for later.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Weird is good. Weird can be fun. Lots of literary agents are weird (in a good way) so finish the book. Then jump on into the query trenches. The water is fine albeit turbulent and full of sharks. You'll be fine.

MA Hudson said...

From what I've learnt hereabouts, your debut novelist status is gold. Don't throw it away on a self-published book. Query your crazy book, keep querying your other book, and write new books until someone takes a bite.
As Janet said the other day, people who read usually buy five books a year. Why would they bother with a book that only has one person championing it?
If your crazy historical fantasy never gets picked up by a publisher, wait til one of your other books gets published and maybe then self-publish it. Hopefully you'll have a massive fan base by then and they'll pounce on anything written by you.
Good luck and keep at it.

nightsmusic said...

In my various travails through the Amazon jungle, I have seen bug porn, flat earth theorists, believe in your inner sanctum and a variety of other things too...unmentionable to mention here. Most were not self published. Obviously, there are some very strange agents out there who will accept that sort of thing so until you've queried until your little fingers fall off, don't give up! You just never know.

Donnaeve said...

Depending on what is meant by weird...does the story line make sense? Are the characters, no matter what they are, (insects? Aliens?) likeable? Is there enough conflict? Will a reader understand what's going on?

Who knows? Maybe you've written The Great American Story, for all you know. I do understand the question about whether or not you think you're on the right track or not. You don't want to waste a year or more of your life, so to speak, investing in something you're not sure will sell. That said, isn't that what writing is all about? I've got two manuscripts - completed, that may or may not ever be published. One went on submission, one didn't. Did I question whether they were worth a crap before they were finished? Yep.

Like QOTKU said, you can't know until you finish and start querying. Who knows, you might get some early feedback - like this is too bizarre. I'd want more than one person telling me that, though. And maybe the feedback would even lead you to correct what's too "out there."

And honestly? In this day and age...I'm having a hard time figuring out what's too weird.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

The three most important words in writing:

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I loved Grasshopper Jungle so what does that make me?

RachelErin said...

I've seen a lot of weird mash-ups published lately. In fact, in the past 12-18 months there were Alice in Wonderland Queen of Hearts origin stories published (Heartless and Queen of Hearts). At least in YA, a lot of people are looking for magical realism, and anything weird, twisty, and hard to categorize.

Plus, if you do follow MSWL, or "how I got my client/agent" blog posts, about half the time they say "I was looking for this exact thing and this MS fit it," and half the time they say, "I didn't know I needed this until I read it."

Happy finishing/beta-ing/querying!

Adib Khorram said...

Sharyn, I loved GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE too! It makes us possessors of awesome and discerning taste. And weirdness.

Lennon Faris said...

Ah, nothing like a pep talk dropping the F-bomb to get your butt in gear! I love it. Thanks, Janet :)

OP, I'm betting a lot of the 'crazy' authors never dreamed they'd actually make it. You never know till ya try, right?

Julie Weathers said...

Well, I needed this one today.

I'm starting to have doubts about Rain Crow. It should be enough that war is descending on idyllic Virginia and a twenty-one-year-old young lady is having to fight off the financial wolves from her land, the Rosemount Plantation, when her father dies. "Oh, by the way, Lorena, your father had agreed to be a spy for us, would you consider taking his place."

"He did what?"

"We must end the war as quickly as possible. The war will be fought in the south and she will be utterly destroy if it lingers very long."

Ok, that will make an interesting story.

Lorena thinks, I should go visit my friend who was recently release from the insane asylum and see how she's doing since her father took over her dead husband's land and her life. "Oh, Elise, there was the most beautiful blue butterfly on your shoulder when I walked into the garden. He looked like he was whispering secrets to you."

"Hello, Lorena! He was. That's My darling Willie's spirit. My poor little boy worries about me so he stayed to look after me. He said you were right to be suspicious about Mr. Stossel's death. He didn't commit suicide. Someone very evil on Rosemount murdered him. The ghosts of Rosemount know the truth."

I keep thinking back to something the last agent said to me about Far Rider I have ten pounds of story packed in a five pound bag and I fear I'm doing it again.

The story would be just fine without the paranormal elements. I don't know why I had to go there. I guess I just like driving myself nuts.

Jerrianne Hayslett said...

Dear WriterWart:

Ask Them = Queryx100+more

Dear Janet:

Thank you for your sanity. Although both of my parents were Republican, I've never registered as anything (political-party speaking). I vote for candidates not parties. In this election, I have far too much self respect as a woman, as an American and as a member of a family with five members who were/are career military officers to vote for the Republican nominee.

Colin Smith said...

Opie: Short answer: Uhhh... what Janet said. :)

To Self-Publish or Not To Self-Publish? The question you should be asking is: "Do I want to self publish or do I want to go the traditional route?" PEOPLE! Stop thinking of self-publishing as the path of last resort! It's simply an alternative publishing option with its own joys and sorrows, victories and frustrations, etc. It's not better or worse, just different. Choose your path and go for it. The only reason (IMO) you would self-publish after trying the traditional road is because you are convinced there is an audience for your book, and the resounding feedback you're getting is of the "I love your writing, but it's not for me" or "great voice but I don't know that I'm the right agent for this" kind of advice. That is, the agent affirms the quality of your work, but doesn't see a viable market.

But, as Janet says, don't ASSUME there's no viable market. Remember, agents track markets and talk to editors. And not every agent knows every market. This is why you query widely and query a lot. There might be one agent who knows of a very deep niche market that is perfect for your book.

So, the sum of my morning rambling: Unless you really want to self-publish, query. Don't self publish because you don't think trad will work for you, or trad is too slow, or you assume no-one will understand your work. Self publish because you want to, and you believe that's what's best for your novel and your career. Otherwise, craft a winning query and head to the trenches! :)

Greg Scott said...

By all means query - You have nothing to lose and maybe you'll find a situation that works. But don't be married to the traditional way of doing things. Here's my experience.

I queried every single agent I could find in publishersmarketplace.com with the word, "thriller" in the profile. Somewhere around 40 came back with a form rejection, the rest are on track for pocket vetoes. A couple told me nobody wants to publish cyber thrillers and especially not cyber thrillers where Iran and ISIS are the enemies. One said she was looking for thrillers and then responded with a screen full of grief that I pitched my thriller. One told me that since I self published my first book and it hasn't taken off yet, she's not interested in even looking at book #2. I found another one who says she takes her authors to France periodically and only wants exclusive queries. And if those who query her don't hear back in 3 months, she's not interested. I didn't query that one. She was a couple standard deviations away from normal.

I explored the traditional approach first. Now I know what it looks like. I don't have to guess. So do I keep bruising my head by pounding it against a brick wall? Or do I look at a more creative option?

Also, consider - even for books published with a traditional publisher - marketing is apparently on authors today, not publishers, so that makes me question what value traditional publishers bring to the table these days for the rest of us, especially since there are plenty of great editors and cover designers out there.

Traditional publishers are shrinking, while all kinds of other alternatives are apparently growing. And since agents' jobs are to sell books, it might make sense for agents to expand their horizons and look for other outlets to sell books, other than to shrinking traditional publishers. I would gladly share the risk and reward with a true marketing partner.

- Greg Scott

Susan said...

Basically, everything that Colin said. ;)

Opie: The encouragement to keep querying and not give up should be heeded, especially if you truly want a traditional publishing deal. Self/indie publishing is not for the faint of heart and should be considered as an alternate path, not a replacement. I chose the indie route because I know there's an audience for my book (which I'm happy to say is starting to pick up momentum, but not without a lot of work on my end), and also because I adore the work itself. I love the business of publishing--I love being in creative control, keeping track of the financials, doing my own marketing. It's exhausting and my energy is limited at the moment, so I'm probably not doing the best job at it, but it gives me purpose. And that means more to me at the moment than anything else.

If you truly want to self/indie publish, I encourage you wholeheartedly--it's incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. But it sounds like you might be basing the decision more on a fear that your work won't be accepted or belong anywhere--which, while I hear you because I have those same concerns, you don't know until you try. So write your heart out. Finish your story. Take it for a spin and see what shakes. Listen to your heart and see which path speaks to you.

Never give up before you try.

Karen McCoy said...

Yes! Do not shy away from the weird, Opie. If anything, it will make your book stand out. Good luck!

Craig F said...

I don't think Tim Dorsey was worried about weird when he did the Serge A Storms books.

It is the quirks and foibles that make your characters unique and memorable. Of course the plot and narrative arc still have to work smoothly.

Since I am not sure where I wish to be pigeon holed I have been putting more effort into a sci-fi manuscript. Sci-fi is inherently weird and I have read some that I had to re-read to get past the weird. At times I think that is the object of writing; to get a reader to re-read your offering.

To do that you book needs to be available to the masses. Query, query and query some more. It is only the last one that counts.

Craig F said...

What happened to the psychedelic background?

mememe said...

OP here!
Thanks for all of the great responses here!

To be clear: I know weird books do get pubbed all the time, and I'm not afraid to query my book, but my main concerns are twofold.
1. It'll take too long to find an agent. I don't doubt there's one out there, but finding them might take ages.
2. I'm a bit iffy on the traditional route when it comes to this one. This really is my passion project, so I'd like to have as much control as humanely possible if I can.
3. Like Greg said, traditional publishers and small publishers also often force you to market yourself, and that's the main issue I have, so if I'm going to have to market myself either way and I have the money to hire a very good cover designer and editor and everything this little hamster needs...why spend so much time searching for an agent?
This isn't, by the way, a bash against agents or traditional publishing: I'm still looking for an agent for Book No 1. I've been following Janet since I trunked my first novel years ago (silently...lurking) and I respect her opinion. I'm just not sure that for THIS book in particular traditional publishing is the best route, but I wouldn't want to cast it aside out of hand. Woodland creatures are well known for not making sound decisions.
But of course...I haven't even finished the darn thing yet! :) So maybe this isn't the time for panicking. It might take awhile, a few years even, to finish, edit, all that, so for now I think I'll take the suggestions mentioned here: shop around Book No 1, hope it gets picked up, and continue to scurry on my wheel until then.
Thanks Janet, and thanks everyone! Your comments are all very encouraging!
Now I need to go read Grasshopper Jungle...

Karen McCoy said...

Yes! Do not shy away from the weird, Opie. If anything, it will make your book stand out. Good luck!

BJ Muntain said...

Weird or not, this is the same doubt that every writer feels about every book they write. I'm guessing you're about 1/4 to 1/3 in - that's the normal time for these doubts. And those doubts are what keeps most writers from finishing a book.

You're among the minority of writers who have actually finished a book. So you know you can do it. Can you finish this one? Or is that why the doubts have appeared - not so much because of the weirdness, but because you're just not able to finish it?

Now is not the time to worry about whether anyone in publishing will be interested in your book. Now is the time to keep yourself interested so you can finish it. Once it's finished, you may want to pass it by some critique partners and beta readers.

If you're truly interested in a career in traditional publishing, you will query the hell out of that novel before you even consider self-publishing it. If you're not interested in a career in traditional publishing... well, that's a decision to make AFTER you finish the damn novel.

Colin Smith said...

Hey, mememe! Don't rush to publish. Enjoy writing your book and getting it right. Waiting on agent responses can be excruciating, but you don't want to run with the first agent who shows an interest. Waiting is a pain in the butt... and yet many bad decisions are made in haste. Patience! :)

I'm sure Donna can address the issue of marketing with her recent experience, but it seems to me you have to do a LOT more marketing if you self-pub than if you go traditional. With a publisher, you are tapped into a network, and you have visibility you wouldn't get on your own. If the CEO of the publishing house loves your book, you can be sure he'll be talking about it to all his publishing buddies. But they also have marketing departments that will promote your book. There are, however, natural avenues of promotion where you have more effective reach than a publisher--e.g., social media. You have a stronger influence in your friend circles than some faceless publishing professional.

Just a few thoughts. All the best with your work! :)

Joseph Snoe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ardenwolfe said...

Self-doubt really is a demon. And every, hopeful writer is Satan sitting on their throne torturing themselves.

. . .


Barbara Etlin said...

Before Harry Potter, it was conventional wisdom that you couldn't sell a book about witches and wizards to the children's market.

Editors say they want what's fresh and new. Why not your book? You don't know until you try.

Janice Grinyer said...

Okay JR. I did what you said I could do at a pitch rather than pitch- I showed an Agent my query letter rather than stammering for ten minutes.

But I still ended up stammering.

Her opinion of my query letter? I watched her hem and hawed for a few minutes on whether she would sell my fire story as a narrative non-fiction or as a memoir. This was good, right? I mean she skipped right over all the writing I worked so hard on after analyzing Queryshark for months. Didn't even comment. So that part was good?


She muttered it could be called a Memoir non-fiction hybrid, then looked accusingly at me.


"Who is your market?" she asked, eyes narrowing.

I stuttered. "People who live in remote areas, people who like a good survivor story, Vacation home owners, Farmers, ranchers, hmm, preppers?"

"Preppers?" Eyes are now at a squint. Gulp.

"There's a large market for people who want to live autonomously, live off the land or be prepared for disasters. I have a multi-million dollar company and its marketing director who-"

"Too small of a market, if that's where you are headed you might want to self-publish."

Sigh. 3.7 million preppers and I forgot to add that number in when giving her the above info. All I could think of with the few seconds remaining was to ask her what she thinks I should do- She replied that if I want to traditional publish, I should write it as a memoir and then query it.

My Book proposal is almost completed. And I am being told that I should write it completely out.


After going to my hotel room and laying face down for a bit, I went to a Non-fiction Workshop, taught by another Agent.

When she opened the floor for questions, you guessed it; I asked if my topic with helpful information is a memoir or a narrative non-fiction.

"Oh, definitely Narrative Non-fiction; You need to prepare a proposal."

I spent some more time face planted in the hotel's soft mattress.

Theresa said...

Another tidy morsel to add to the Reider lexicon.

Happy Tuesday everyone.

Cheryl said...

I'm not sure there's any such thing as "take too long to get an agent". It takes as long as it takes. There's no time limit.

Caitlin Lane said...

Pretty sure that I'll be printing this "Now, get off that damn rodent wheel of doubt, finish that book, figure out how to entice me to read it and GET FUCKING QUERYING" and taping it up next to my monitor.

BJ Muntain said...

Janice, I suppose it could go either way. Choose your own vision - do you see it as narrative non-fiction? Or as memoir?

That agent obviously wasn't the agent for you. Neither was the agent I queried at Surrey this year the agent for me. That's one thing about pitch sessions - you learn a bit about the agent and whether you may or may not be right for each other. Of all the pitch sessions I've had, so far I've met two agents who 'were not right for me'.

Keep going. There are many more agents. And wasn't it Ms. Sharque herself who said she wanted to read this book?

Good luck!

Joseph Snoe said...

I just finished reading A.G. Riddle's The Atlantis Gene. It's the first book in a trilogy. He self-published and now has sold over one million books in the series. I can't find out if he tried traditional publishing or not. In one piece he said his total marketing expense was $18. He also said he sold almost no books for a long time before things picked up fast. Here is what he thinks was critical to marketing his self published book:

"It turns out The Atlantis Gene had made it onto a list on Amazon called Hot New Releases. If you’re a first-time novelist, this list is your whole life. . . . I don’t know what it takes to get on that list, but I assume it’s some amount of sales (and possibly reviews). Your goal should be to get that critical mass of sales to get on that list and climb to a noticeable level."

Ly Kesse said...

Ah writerly doubt. Know that well.

Me, I stumble down traditional publishing path, while learning to write a professional book. I know from news (which I wrote for a few years) that certain locutions and verbal tics give away the amateur. I hope to clear that bar before trying to publish myself.

I have been fortunate to have found some help along the way.

Good luck, OP.

Anonymous said...

mememe, I think the absolute best you could ever hope for is that people will either adore or despise your book. I imagine the worst would be that everyone had a middle-of-the-road opinion about it. Sounds to me like you're on the right track here. Keep going. Don't even think about publishing until you're done writing. That way lies madness, and most of us don't need the extra push. Good luck!

And that poor hamster. I feel such empathy.

Anonymous said...

wooooo yeah! listen to Janet!

Panda in Chief said...

The next "big thing" will never come from following a trend. Finish the book, query, and then decide.
What everyone else says.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Wart, maaate. You're giving up on commercial publishing waaay too soon.

Finish the frickin' book. DO NOT be afraid of its weirdness or attempt to pull it back in any way. Let your freak out in all its glory. This will come across as genuine voice and will actually be very much in your favour.

Strange sells. Weird sells. Alice-in-Wonderland crazy sells. It's fresh, it's unique, it's honest. Believe me, it sells a whole lot better than the tepid, more mainstream type ideas.

Really, it sounds like your book's in a pretty good place when it comes to market.

No, you're not considering self-pub for the wrong reasons. You're considering it so you can bring a book that might not have a commercial market to the world.

HOWEVER... As this is your reason, at least give commercial publishing a go first. And we're talking an honest, wring-out-the-washcloth go. Query a hundred agents in batches of ten. As soon as you get a reject from one agent, send out another query.

Collect ten rejects. Analyse them. Are you getting any nibbles? If not, revise your query letter. If you are, keep pitching to agents until you run out of agents or sign with one of them.

If you're getting partial/full requests, but they're getting rejected, then you can consider small press or indie.

Steve Stubbs said...


When you think as poorly of your book as you do, it will never sell. Your attitude will come across in the queer-y. More than that, it will come across in the MS.

I don’t understand why anyone would consider self publishing. It would probably be cheaper to have a copy printed and bound at Kinko’s. You can put cover art on it that you will cherish forever by giving your two year old a box of crayons.

If you are suffering from a grievous oversupply of money and want to make some of it disappear, don’t give it to an editor. Contact me and I will send you my paypal address. That is a much better way to do a cash-ectomy on yourself. You will never see it again either way, and I promise to put it to good use.

DeadSpiderEye said...

My view concerning journalism differs from Ly Kesse's, there's a strong tendency for working journalists to adopt an idiomatic and repetitive phraseology. You also see readers adopt it when they get much of their vocabulary from the media. It's got worse over recent decades, it's a kind of media studies syndrome, too much rote being metered out I suspect. I'm not quite sure why it persists in what should be a professional context, I suppose it's a case of perceptual filtering, like those news readers not understanding how daft they look with all that hairspray.