Stumbling upon interesting tidbits (hopefully something we can use in our current or next work) whilst researching is always fun; like finding a toy in a box of Cracker Jack, or a twenty dollar bill in the pocket of an old pair of jeans (depending upon how interesting/useful the tidbit).
I recently came across an article by a literary agent offering advice to writers and this stood out: Do you 'keep up' on everything in your genre and the market?
Number one: With new genres being added (New Adult - characters 18-25 and generally gritty, Nordic or Scandinavian Noir - dark, morally complex moods and settings, Cli-fi – fiction about current climate change, Twitter Short Story - *sigh* in 140 characters or less – for those readers who are just too damn busy or have a truncated attention span to read an actual book, New Weird - a mashup of fantasy, science fiction, and supernatural horror genres. These new genres bend traditional rules and conventions and explore new thematic territory.) how can we truly be sure where our beloved tome belongs on the shelf?
Number two: How could we possibly have the time to keep up with the market and read all those books we’re expected to be reading and writing reviews for whilst researching and writing our own books, participating in a writing group or two, reading other writers’ blogs to be supportive, attending seminars and/or writers conventions to get that ‘elevator pitch’ sorted out, entering as many online pitches and contests as possible, building and expanding our “author’s platform” so that when we’re published we’ll already have a band of loyalists eager to plunk down good coin to buy our book, researching and querying literary agents, all the while holding down a full-time job and having some semblance of a life?
I’ve read many blogs and articles offering helpful advice to prepare the as yet unagented author for that call. The call in which a literary agent wants to discuss your manuscript and any future manuscripts you may have ideas for and perhaps suggest an R&R (Revision & Resubmit) or, dare I say it, offer representation. It's foolish to worry about it now (and I'm not really) but when that certain call is scheduled, will the on-the-brink-of-offering agent ask those dreaded questions? “What's your book similar to?
Similar to? Why would I write something similar to something already in print? Isn’t that sticking a toe in the plagiarism pool? Aren’t agents always saying, “Don’t write to trend”?
Some agents want you to give them a mashup (since they apparently lack the imagination to do this themselves), i.e., Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer, Android Karenina, Mansfield Park and Mummies. Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy must surely be spinning.
Writers in the old days didn't have to concern themselves with this codswallop (there, I said it!), they just knocked the thing out and biffed it off to their agent/editor who did the rest. I find it off putting to be forced to tread that thin line between being appropriately humble and confident to ‘sell’ our manuscript. A dash too much humility and we’re dipping into the realm of low self-esteem, and a soupçon too much confidence and we’ve entered the land of boastful pomposity. How can one respectfully toot one's own horn whilst simultaneously saying, 'Aww…shucks'?
A writer pal of mine, Will Tinkham, http://willtinkham.blogspot.com/ said, “And you're right: if you say it's the next Huck Finn, you’re pompous; call it a poor man's Huck Finn and you lack the confidence to be successful.”
See, I always thought it was the agents’ job to know the market and find the niche. If they are calling you they've read your manuscript and something about it suggested to them it could sell and bring them some money. There are far too many literary agents today who are writers themselves – which I find to be a conflict of interest. And they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping up their own writer’s platform with constant tweets, Facebook postings, and Instagram photos, etc. I care not a whit about their caffeine consumption, their significant other, their cinema choices, or current crushes. These agents who write and fritter their time on social media are doing the entire publishing industry a disservice. I think these absentee literary agents are to blame for so many writers going the self-publishing route, and they are unwittingly shooting themselves and their future earnings in the foot by not focusing on the vast oyster that is out there waiting to be discovered.
And for those semi-literary agents who like to straddle both worlds, I suggest to you that you take on some older slush pile reader interns who could appreciate something other than what’s tickling the fancy of many Millennials.
And if these straddling agents concentrated on finding and helping to launch the careers of ‘new’ writers, perhaps the publishing world would raise a unified dismissive eyebrow when an alleged prequel or sequel to a best seller magically appears in a dusty vault and is hoisted upon the salivating public desirous of a second helping of something tried once long ago. A long, loud and fervent Bronx Cheer should be blown in the direction of the purveyors of this chicanery.