10.22.2006

Save yourself a stamp

Hi Miss Snark

I've just stumbled on your site and thought I'd ask for your advice. I wrote a novel over the summer and was thinking about trying to get it published (I've never written fiction before but I've published an academic book which I'm thrilled has recently been nominated for a national prize).

But my novel is a really weird piece of writing and I just know the major agents/publishers wouldn't touch it with a bargepole (particularly as the subject matter is highly risky). Do you know where I could find a list of agents that deal with weird/unconventional prose and characters? I just don't have a clue where to start and any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Indeed, I don't even know whether to abandon the whole idea of getting it published as it's just not the sort of thing that would be 'marketable' and I do know from publishing non-fiction that at the end of the day it's all about money ...


Anyway, any advice would be great!



Unless you are committed wholeheartedly to this project, don't even bother.

There are lots of places you can publish this yourself if you just want to futz around.

15 comments:

Don said...

Writers write for all sorts of reasons. But they publish either for money or validation. Self-publishing is likely to offer neither, especially for an experimental work. I think that your correspondent would be well-served by looking at placing the book with a small press. The money is likely to be in the small-to-none range, and an agent would not be interested in this, so e'll have to submit directly to those publishers. Starting with Writers Marketplace to get a long list, then actually looking at what those publishers publish to narrow the list would be the best route to publication.

It's worth noting that even major poets with agents (the most mainstream analogy I can think of) (and yes, such a thing does exist) generally do the business dealings for their poetry on their own and their agent handles the stuff that actually makes money.

whitemouse said...

It really sounds like you need to stop, put the manuscript in a drawer for a month, and start educating yourself about the publishing industry. Hit your local library and start reading up on the subject. Scour the internet for good educational sites (Miss Snark lists some interesting ones in her sidebar, and her own Snarkives is a great resource).

First lesson: there are con artists (and inept agents also) out there who will take advantage of naive writers. Read the Preditors and Editors and Writers Beware sites and understand what the dangers are.

Second lesson: A book called Writer's Market is the place to go looking for agents and editors. There's a new edition put out every year, and you can find it in the library. The listings cover what kinds of material an agent will accept. Agentquery.com is also a good place to go looking.

It's also a good idea to learn whether you're making any obvious mistakes in your manuscript, so read books on how to write well. The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman is a good one to start with.

Then, after you've refrained from looking at your manuscript for at least a month, go back and read through it with a critical eye. Taking time away from what you've written usually gives you the distance you need to start seeing its flaws and what work still needs to be done.

Good luck!

ORION said...

Gee I wonder if this is what Mark Danielewski said after he wrote Only Revolutions?
I can just imagine a query letter for it.
"You have to turn the book over and upside down to read half of it"
"What genre is it?"
"Well..."
Follow whitemouse's suggestions if (as Miss Snark points out) you are REALLY committed.
We as writers are not the best judge of what our projects are like. "Really weird piece of writing" can be cutting edge or just badly written.
Your job now is to figure out which.
Good luck.

Anonymous said...

If it's an experimental, weird manuscript, maybe you should start by trying to publish excerpts in literary magazines, which aren't as concerned with commercialism. Then, if you have some prestige publications, you might be able to interest a literary publisher.

There's no point in worrying about how the market for commercial mysteries, romances, and chick lit work if that's not what you write.

Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

Go to Agentquery.com and search on Quirky/Off-beat.

It still won't work, (when agents say "quirky" they mean that they want the same old formula, only the flaming corpses show up on page three instead of page one) but at least you'll be rejected by people who asked for it.

Dave said...

"But my novel is a really weird piece of writing and ... the major agents/publishers wouldn't touch..."

Huh? Poppy Z Brite writes blood, gore and horror. "Griffen and Sabine" was "sumthin" else. And if you mean - erotica - there are publishers devoted to erotica online and offline. Another thought - - At one time, "The Stars, My Destination" was considered avant guard and published serially. Now it's a Sci-Fi classic. Augusten Burroughs just wrote a biography that is amazingly outrageous, delightfully funny and no doiubt half-fiction (especially the divanation by bowel movement part).
So do some research.

SleepyHollow said...

I'd let an agent decide if it's marketable.

No one here except you has read the manuscript. As with any potential book, all you need is ONE agent. Figure out where in a bookstore someone could put it and then query.

I think I've seen on Agent Query or Publisher's Marketplace, agents who consider work that is 'offbeat or quirky'.

However, if this is your first attempt at fiction and you wrote it in a few months, I'd set it aside for at least as long as it took you to write and then go back to it. (Follow White Mouse's advice.)

Make sure your manuscript is as good as it possibly can be before you query.

michaelgav said...

Maybe it's me. I've been fighting with my loved ones, grinding through the next-to-last chapter of the ninth draft of my novel since the Ford administration, and the Mets were eliminated the other night. So what follows may be unfair.

"I wrote a novel over the summer and was thinking about trying to get it published..."
I wrote a symphony during the commercials of the Wednesday night "Everybody Loves Raymond" mini-marathon, and was thinking maybe Yo Yo Ma might be just the guy to give it wings. On Thursday I wrote eight short poems I am thinking about sending out to the New Yorker. I took it easy on Friday and dashed off another award-winning textbook. Then the old Protestant ethic kicked in big time yesterday, so I choreographed an experimental ballet entitled "Dance of the Permanent Markers," and I'm currently staking out the home of Agnes deMille's grandson to see what he thinks.

"But my novel is a really weird piece of writing..."
You mean the kind that doesn't exactly hang together, despite its obvious merits? The kind that reads like a decent first draft left alone by somebody unwilling to sweat over it enough to make it work?

"it's just not the sort of thing that would be 'marketable' and I do know from publishing non-fiction that at the end of the day it's all about money ..."
Sorry, but [scream alert] at the end of the day [AAUURRGGHHHHH!] it's all about putting in the time to create something that connects with readers who don't know you. Do it well enough, be realistic in your expectations, and some money will follow. The other posters have mentioned a number of experimental writers that have gotten their stuff out there (and then some).

This attitude toward writing makes me curse my monitor. I know there are people who dash off workable novels in remarkably little time, and I will admit that some of them are even pretty good. But I neither understand nor respect the approach. I like to think we take a shot at excellence when we do this. We fall short, sure, but we damn sure give it a shot. Writing a novel over the summer means four books a year. I can't see how you'd have time to fit excellence into a schedule like that.

Anonymous said...

You need to read more. Fiction is full of stuff like weird/unconventional characters, and risky subjects, too!

But you won’t find the risky/weird section in the bookshop. No. You have to work out if you’re looking for risky/frisky CRIME, weird/unconventional ROMANCE, LITERARY FICTION, SCIENCE FICTION…

docbrite said...

Huh? Poppy Z Brite writes blood, gore and horror.

Well, not for about ten years now ... but it's still cool to be mentioned on Miss Snark!

And even when I was writing horror, I don't think I'd ever have described it as "really weird" or "experimental." Maybe I'm an old poop, but to me those are just code words for "difficult and tiresome to read," which is never what I was going for.

Untouched by the Miraclous, Laborer in a Field of Ego said...

Non-fiction writing means you know how to use words to convey meaning. How to create sentences to carry your content. It doesn't, unfortunately, teach you anything at all about the intricate, subtle, and illusive process of evoking a set parameter of emotions to thousands of unique individuals reading your "work."

There's hauteur to a three-month rough draft from a non-fiction writer. There is also a possibility that you are a genius. You, above nearly everyone who tries their hand at fiction, may not fall into that vast chasm that lies between easily chosen words and the reader's very personal interpretations.

There is also a chance that you more closely resemble the mere mortals who spend years, lifetimes honing, editing, and stretching themsselves to understand the complexities of the human heart and subjectivity of their craft well enough to communicate emotion in a true, vivid, meaningful way.

In the unfortunate event that you aren't the Mozart of literature, you need a lot more time, 1000 reams of paper, and an editing room full of humility. Non-fiction publishing credits don't make you a fiction writer any more than typing 100 wpm makes you a journalist.

Good luck, and if you're as passionate about fiction writing as many of us are, and a quarter as talented as you believe, I'll see you in a few years on TV giving your acceptance speech for your Nobel. If not, the already hunchbacked Miss Snark will be licking yet another SASE and stuffing your remaining offal into her already overflowing recycling bin as she, like every other agent in New York, collapses under a colossus of delusion.

Miss Snark said...

hunchback?
sacre bleu!

Don said...

Just to add a bit more, I was at Barnes & Noble this afternoon and I took a look at the WM Agents guide and they have a categorical index which listed a number of agents who handle experimental work, so it's not necessarily the case that you can't find an agent for this one.

kis said...

Actually, I'd take a shot at the Canadian publishing industry (especially Toronto). Weird and unsellable seem to be specialties here. If you can, go through your entire novel and eliminate all punctuation and dialog tags, just to make it extra-nifty. You'll be a shoo-in.

Of course, I have loved some experimental fiction in the past (not much, believe you me!) and if you think you've got something good, go for it. Find an agent who drools over this kind of thing, or query small presses on your own. Just don't include the words "it's just not the sort of thing that would be 'marketable'" in your query letter. That's like introducing yourself to a girl you like by saying, "I know I'm not great-looking, and I only make 11 grand a year, but will you go out with me?"

Pete Lee said...

Has anyone read it? Even friends/family/work colleagues/the editor of your non-fiction book? You can get a pretty good idea of its merit/resonance from someone you trust if you're confident they will tell you that it's trash if they think it's trash. If everyone that reads it says it's out-of-sight, then maybe you tapped into something that's real and honest. It doesn't seem like you have a good sense of its merit, even if it was only done in 3 months, even if it is experimental. I think that would be a place to start. My humbel opinion.