Friday, April 9, 2010

Publishing Chronicles: Let's Try This Again

I don't even know what that potato thing was the other week. At any rate, I'm conveniently back now.

Time for a query process update. The agencies I queried back at the beginning of February asked those who submitted to them to wait 6-8 weeks for response, and the 8th week concluded just last week.

I wish I had news to cheerily report - even news of so much as acknowledgment through rejection, but alas, I do not. It could be that my letter needs some more work - I'm not even sure how I'd revise it at this point, but I may give that a shot if I don't get any response from this next set. It could be that the premise itself didn't sound interesting enough or particularly appeal to the two agents I started with. It could be that the first ten pages weren't enough to hook them. It could even be that they never finished the letter and tossed it quickly, or that they haven't even gotten to it yet. There's really any number of possible reasons, but the fact remains that the first query set's response waiting period is over.

It's disappointing that my first query efforts turned out this way, but then, being completely new to this part of the process and only having queried two agents to start with, going without response is probably to be expected. It would've been unrealistic to expect anything more. And it's probably unrealistic for me to expect anything out of these next four queries that I just sent out. But it's all part of the process. Going ignored, getting silently rejected, continuing to wait - these are undoubtedly important experiences to have as a writer.

No part of this process is easy, and it probably wouldn't be rewarding if any part was. It's time to press onward and now begin the waiting period for the second query set. After consulting a calendar, going by a regular 8-week or so waiting period, I should be able to get five or so sets of queries out this year. It'd be amazing to find representation within the year, but to assume I'll achieve that would be overconfident if not borderline hubristic. At this point, so much as a rejection response, some comments, or any kind of acknowledgment from an individual agent would be a victory of sorts. So in the least, while I wait, babble here, write short stories, work on my second novel, and enter more contests over the course of the year, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed on that much.

Before my third query set goes out in early June, I'm going to need to do some more research and find some more agents taking unsolicited queries who might be interested in the sort of thing I write. It can be hard to know who would give your work a shot, as a literary fiction writer. Crossing genres while not becoming genre fiction is a literary fiction staple, but it's hard to know what to think when agents express an interest in literary fiction and perhaps one or two of the following genres - fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries - but aren't interested in one or two of the others. Any kind of issues of preference could get something as complex and comparatively off the pigeonholed, beaten-path territory of genre fiction could sink a literary novel pitch. Literary fiction driven by some surrealistic elements of the fantastic is pretty much my thing, after all, with some mystery and science fiction elements in past and future projects. All of them are character-driven, however, keeping well within the realm of literary fiction at heart. I'm not exactly writing mainstream fiction, and I'm continuously trying to challenge myself to write stories that feel unusual and fresh - at least to me.

While my second novel that I'm currently working on - Project Princess - is probably more marketable than Project 27 Days, I have some concerns with how it would be received as well. Particularly over whether my eventual agent or a publisher might mistake it for fantasy genre fiction despite its focus being squarely on the characters rather than "the quest," a key divide between literary and fantasy genre fiction. In that way, it's not unlike how the Battlestar Galactica reimagining was written and largely treated as a character drama that happened to be set in space, and purposefully avoided numerous sci-fi cliches to be an edgy, fresh space opera that drew a lot of viewers who normally wouldn't go near a show like that.

I'm sure that narrative structure can be an alienating factor as well. Project 27 Days plays out as sort of a slice of life, taking the reader through the protagonist's thoughts, conversations, and experiences each day from dreaming to waking and struggling to sleep each night. I feel that it works well, as it was an important part of the novel's conception - that the reader have these full, day-to-day experiences with the protagonist. And I'm sure there's an audience out there that would appreciate it. Finding an agent willing to represent it - and me - and a publisher willing to back it, however, could possibly end up being a challenge. Project Princess has a somewhat more traditional structure as a novel, but "present action" chapters are also intercut by chapters of somewhat shorter length in which the protagonist discusses bits of the fantasy world's history, mythology, and the clash between history records and myths that makes it very difficult to determine which parts of their celebrated history are real and which are fiction. Though it's just conjecture on my part, I'm concerned that this could drive off as many people as it might draw in. It's part of my continued exploration of the concept of setting as character, which plays a major role in Project 27 Days through its surreal, small scale train setting. There's going to be at least some of that in my third novel down the line too - which is going to be much more of a comedy. (By which readers will continue to glean just how weird I am - as though everything else I write doesn't express that enough - and that I'm also a Judd Apatow fan.) Something to have some light, albeit crude fun with - still backed by my usual focus on strong literary character writing - as a bit of a mental and emotional palate cleanser. Project Princess is easily my darkest work to date with only a little humor here and there, so by the time I'm done with it, I'm going to need to write a comedy, and I've been working on this particular comedy novel conceptually since all the way back in autumn of 2004.

Getting back to the aforementioned note of contests, I also entered one of NPR's three-minute fiction contests back at the end of February. Competition's much stiffer when organizations like NPR are involved, and as you can imagine, I didn't win and probably didn't even come close to having my story deemed one of the notable entries. But as you know by now, dear readers, I'm kind of an eccentric writer to begin with. I may have gotten disqualified early on for some mild drug references, too - the protagonist of the story was a bit of a junkie, and there were a few references to his dealing. I can't say I'd be surprised if they were very sensitive about potentially broadcasting that sort of content, even if it was as mild as it was. You had to look at the picture they provided and write what came to you - the protagonist of this story just happened to be a junkie leading a fairly sad existence. It can't be helped if that's what sometimes comes out.

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