Ignore idiot advice

Dear Miss Snark,

I've been happily reading your blog before querying agents, but I have a question that affects how I approach them, and it's one I've yet to see an answer to.

One widely agreed-upon bit of advice seems to be, "Narrow down your search for an agent by finding one or more who specializes in your subject matter" (the quote is from eHow.com).

Problem is, I'll be attempting to sell a golf novel, which isn't a full-fledged genre (or specialty, unless agents are, unbeknownst to me, incredibly specialized). I've found agents that have sold other golf novels, but I'm wondering how much that matters if I manage to sell the first and then novels two and three are on completely other subjects. ... Yes, I know it's optimistic to think that way, but what the heck.

Would you suggest following the "They've sold a golf novel" route, the "They do commercial fiction and look competent" route, or some other direction?

First of all, that's idiot advice you're reading. I never ever say "narrow your search to one or two agents". I say query widely. Query everyone who represents commercial fiction. Golf fiction isn't a genre in and of itself. Golf books can be everything from murder mysteries (Roberta Isleib leaps to mind with her spiffy golf series) to Pete Dexter's amazing tour de force Train, to Turk Pipkin's Fast Greens. Those books are as different from each other as can be and no one editor would probably acquire them all.

Write well, query widely. Ignore anything that says otherwise.


John B said...

No offense to the author, but, man, when you say 'Golf novel' I hope there's more to it than a novel about golf, because gaw that's boring. I hope there's at least some guns or kissing involved. Those type of things can really spice up a golf game and they might work in a novel, too.

Nancy Beck said...

Problem is, I'll be attempting to sell a golf novel...

But what's it about? Is it a murder mystery? Using golf as a metaphor for life or something else (in that case, my best guess would be it's literary fiction)?

Do you see what I'm getting at, author? It's not a "golf novel"; such a thing doesn't exist as a genre or a shelf where a bookseller can place it, as Miss Snark says.

Look at the different elements that make up your story. Look at the examples Miss Snark gave you and look for clues as to what it is.

Whatever you decide to do, please don't send it out to agents or publishers touting it as a golf novel, 'kay? :-)


Anonymous said...

Particularly enjoying a mid-afternoon giggle at the Snarky answer on this one, because over here in England 'Well Oiled' means very, very drunk.

Miss Snark said...

"well oiled" is one of my favorite multiple meaning phrases

Anonymous said...

There is a highly developed sports genre in the realm of movies, so I disagree with those who say that this "golf novel" must really be a murder mystery or a romance or something.

But it is true that there isn't a developed sports genre at all in the realm of novels, let alone a micro-niche like golf novels. When you're dealing with a situation like this, you have to fit your novel somewhere, and you'll probably end up choosing from the two big grab-bags of fiction: literary or commercial.

The best option is probably to label it as commercial fiction, unless it has strong elements of some other recognized genre. If you run around calling it a "golf novel" or even a "sports novel" you'll just make trouble for yourself.

As to seeking agents, seek those who work with commercial fiction. If you want to narrow it down, you might seek out sports-related books that are similar to yours and see who agented them, but that wouldn't be a requirement.

Christine said...

Yeah, but make sure you widely query only those agents that rep your type of book. Don't query a nonfic agent if you write fic.

So, narrow it down to the agents who rep what you write, then query them ALL. Query smarter, not harder.

Same with publishers. Nothing makes me reach for the cluegun faster than an author who can't read the directions/submission guidelines. Like when you say 'no children's books', and there are ten freaking children's books in the pile.

Makes my hair smoke. (not quite bad enough to set it on fire.)

Anonymous said...

If it's the one I've been seeing on Publisher's Marketplace, you should be pitching it to agents who take mysteries that are similar. By similar, I mean a type of mystery that introduces the reader to niche in society or an occupation that they've never experienced before. You should be looking at the agents who have represented--this is just off the top of my head--needlework mysteries, ice skating mysteries, cooking mysteries, forensic paint mysteries, auction mysteries, cruise ship mysteries ... There's plenty out there, and it's fairly easy to research.

But also make sure your story really does work right and fits in with the genre. Sometimes the problem isn't with who should take it but with the story itself.

And I swear, Google makes it really hard with these word verifications. I swear I'm typing it in right, but it's still taking me three tries.

Anonymous said...

Please also take a look at Dan Jenkins, who's written several funny golf novels. Slim and None begins: "It had to be the first bare navel on the Masters veranda." I defy you to pick up that book and stop reading after the first sentence.

Another Jenkins book begins: "Say hello to your light-running money-whipped steer-job three-jack give-up artist. This is pretty good. Man talking to himself. But it's me, all right. Your no-heart Mother Goose who blowed about $80,000 in the last round of the Hawaiian Open today."

Jenkins wrote Semi-Tough about thirty years ago, and it's still the best book about pro football.