Recently someone asked me if I thought they should query their novel even though they know they're dying. Honestly, I didn’t know how to answer them. I couldn’t.
I wanted to say, “You’re not dead yet, you ninny! Go for it!" After all, writing is what they love and they, like so many of us woodland creatures, dream of receiving that offer of rep and being traditionally published. Plus, they have no interest in self-publishing.But…A rotten, practical side of me reared its ugly head and reminded me that publishing moves at a glacial pace and this person has been given a short, cruel timeline. And while IMHO people do not have and should not be given expiration dates, their question has forced me to wonder whether an agent would take on someone they knew wasn’t long for this world? Is dying something that should to be brought up in a query letter?
First, let's make sure everyone reading this understands the asker isn't the person dying.
If the person who asked this wants to query, and feels like querying will make what could be their last months or years here happier and more fulfilled then absolutely go for it.
But leave it out of the query. Of course it would give us mercantile minded agents pause. That's why you leave it out of the query.
What's important is that this writer, facing down what sounds like a very difficult diagnosis, do things that give them purpose and fulfillment.
I still mourn the loss of a writer named James Farmer. He had a terrific concept for a novel and we wrote back and forth over a couple of years working and revising his book. The last time I spoke to him he was in the cardiac ward for some surgery. The next email from his account was from his brother letting me know James had passed away.
His brother of course was keen to find out if there was anything to be done with the manuscript, and sadly there wasn't. Unlike brand name authors who pass on to the book store in the sky, publishing a writer who is a debut and dead is pretty much impossible.
I'm glad I didn't know James was going to die. I'm glad he had the opportunity to talk about his work, and work toward the goal, even if unrealized, of publication. I would not change a thing we did, other than work a LOT faster.
None of us are promised tomorrow.
Do what brings you joy.