Monday, November 14, 2005

Is it unpublishable?

Anne Merril asks in a comment have you ever considered that maybe the book just isn't publishable? That it is too flawed, too out there, or maybe just not what editors are buying? How is your second novel going? Are you having trouble with that one, too?

No, I'm one of the psychotic who is convinced there's a conspiracy against me.

There isn't a writer who's ever received a rejection who doesn't question initially "is it me?" F. X. Toole, the author of the series of short stories that were made into "Million Dollar Baby" (and whose collection has been renamed to fit the movie title) described on NPR's "Fresh Air" once that rejections were like the broken noses he received boxing. The only time they don't hurt is when the previous letter your opened up was an acceptance. But even then, you ask yourself "why doesn't the whole world like me?"

It's because writing fiction is one of the most-personal things we do. The only human creative activities that seem to come close are writing poetry or acting (where you can be Sir Laurence Olivier and Dame Edith Evans rolled into one, except that the director is looking for a young blond with huge knockers and a silky voice).

Unfortunately Ms. Merril's questions are too broad to be answered succinctly in one sentence. And what writer doesn't welcome the chance to wax prolix? So here goes.

1.) Is Beyond You & Me unpublishable? The simple answer is "no." I'm currently in discussion with a start-up POD erotica company. My reluctance stems from the relative newness of POD (print on demand), and the small track record of the company. But the owner has been very patient with me while I have sown my wild oats in the commercial publishing arena. One way or another, the book will find its way into print.

2.) Is it too flawed? Hard to say. Interestingly, the criticism from agents rarely falls into a coherent form. In other words, it's not like everyone hates the characters, or finds the plot weak, or the ending unbelievable. But we always assume if the agents don't want it, the reason must be a fatal flaw in the book itself.

3.) Too out there? Hmmmm. Yes, novels about serial killers aren't out there, but a woman finding herself by losing her lovers is. Forgive my sarcasm, I'm just trying to get a hold on that one. It's a fair question. Read around in the samples under "if you're new, start here," and tell me if it's out there.

4.) Just not what editors are buying? Apparently not. I don't fault the agents for wanting to rep a book that will sell. What does trouble me is the fact that editors are buying books that don't sell. At least not well enough that writers can earn enough money to establish a career. I'm not bitter about it, I'm an agent of sorts in another field. I understand that agents want to get paid. But the system sure isn't turning out quality fiction, at least not from what many folks say. But I could be wrong, and this is a real Golden Age of literature.

The good/bad news is that another agent has asked to see a few chapters. She'd be a good fit, since she represents women's fiction. If this book isn't about women's issues, I'm not sure what is. Stay tuned. If history is any indication, she'll just be another statistic.