1. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    Where to take 'difficult' books?

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by LostThePlot, Jan 7, 2016.

    About six months ago I started the somewhat painful process of shopping my first two novels around. Perhaps naively I just picked up a copy of the W&A Yearbook, looked up a bunch of agents who say they handle literary novels (which at the time I felt fit my work) and started submitting to them. But as I've read more and thought more, and particularly as I got a flurry of rejections, I've started feeling like I'm doing the wrong thing.

    You see, my work is pretty weird. I still think it's pretty good (beta readers and critiques wanted!) but I strongly doubt it's what any of these mainstream agents who handle a lot of mainstream books and the odd literary/critic focused books are likely to take on. I write character focused books revolving around weird, dark areas of human nature; certainly not everyone's cup of tea.

    Even putting my books in a genre is tough. There's romance in them but they certainly aren't romances. One revolves around religious people but it's absolutely not a religious book. They're just kinda sad books with grey morality and hard choices; good people struggling to handle what life throws at them, doing bad things and living with the results. Finding the right place to take them is not easy. I've tried playing up to the romance and religion to try and get a foot in the door but it has to be clear to whoever reads the samples that those elements aren't central and the books couldn't really be marketed that way.

    So, I ask you, fine people of the internet, where would you take weird, difficult books?

    To foresee a likely answer; yes I could just self-publish, no I'd rather not. Honestly I'd rather hand my work out for free than spend my free time marketing myself. Obviously it'd be nice to make money from writing but I'd rather make none and have all my free time for writing than make a little bit of money and give up a chunk of that time for marketing.
     
  2. Meg Dunn
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    Meg Dunn New Member

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    I don't know much about the publishing business at all, but I can tell you of something I've learned from my own experience.

    I'm not published, at least not in a traditional sense by any means. I release my work in serial form online on my own website and on another writing website. And I'm just starting. I'm not famous, and I consider myself lucky if I get ten views in a day.

    But the one common factor I've found across all of the work I've ever done in the writing world - essays in school, poetry, my serial writing - is that if I am passionate about what I do, the passion comes out in the words I write and when I take it to share with people, the passion comes out there, too. People can feel my joy.

    Now, I'm not accusing you of not caring about your writing. I'm sure you care deeply about it. What I'm getting at is that you said in your post that you "tried playing up to the romance and religion to try and get a foot in the door ", and the question I have for you is:

    Are you playing up the religion and the romance in order to sell your story, or because you genuinely want to have more of it in there?

    If your answer to the question is the first one, you don't need to do that. At all. In fact, stop doing that right now.

    Call me an idealist, but I believe that writing is about being fearless and not worrying about whether or not people will go nuts about your books. Because believe me, if you are nuts about your books and are writing for you, people will flock to your writing because they will feel your fearlessness and zeal for what you are writing. They will find it fascinating and beautiful. Talk about your books like they are your pride and joy to publishers. Pitch them in a way that shows how they are are different from other books and how they are beautiful. Because there is elegance and power in what you call weird and sad. Make this elegance and power come out.

    I don't know where to take your books, but if you write for you and speak with passion about your work, you will turn some heads. It probably won't happen immediately. But people will catch on.

    I hope this helps!

    Best,

    -MD
     
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  3. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not quite to the pitching stage with mine yet but I've been doing a lot of research - so I have a few small thoughts.

    1. Just keep going, these things take a lot of time.
    2. Find options other than just the standard query process - for instance a lot of agents are very active on Twitter and participate heavily in Twitter-based "pitch parties" like #PitMad. There are also mentoring competitions like Pitch Wars that involve a period of mentoring and manuscript polishing with more experience writers. So look at those.
    3. If you can, look at attending local writers conferences in your region - a lot of these will include some form of face-to-face pitching session with agents (whether that's speed-pitching, paying extra for a a 10 minute meeting, whatever). I'm from Washingt0n, DC so I'm personally targeting a conference in Philadelphia in April to see how that scene works.
    4. Maybe workshop your query letter too, to make sure you're getting across the right points in the right way.
    5. Do research on individual agents - a lot of them post very specific tastes and wishlists online. It's not just about finding someone who works in your genre, it's about finding someone who works in your genre, likes stories like your story, and is actively looking for more.
    6. If you want to be really Machiavellian - target younger agents who are just breaking into the industry and actively building their lists. Keep an eye on Writer's Digest new agent profiles. Those people are going to be hungry for success and won't be dealing with a huge stable of established writers.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2016
  4. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    At the time I believed that as long as I could convince agents to actually read my work then they'd see that it was good. I started suspecting that they were just looking at the covering letter, seeing me saying that my work is complex and difficult and explores sad, painful material and deciding from that it was totally unmarketable and not even bothering reading it.

    When I approached agents openly saying how passionate and committed I am to my work I got nothing. So I changed it up and decided to try and focus on getting people to read my manuscript because that's what I think will sell the book. If I can put eyes on my work then someone will buy it. The challenge is finding places that don't run for the hills the second you say (in so many words) 'this is a great book that'll make you cry but it won't sell millions'.
     
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  5. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    It doesn't sound like you're pitching it right. The way you talk about it here doesn't inspire me to want to read it, and I'm a big fan of dark books! If you feel comfortable posting your latest query letter, perhaps we can offer more targeted advice?
     
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  6. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    I think this is the thing that I have a problem with simply because I can't find agents or agencies (or publishers) who seem to handle the kind of work that I write. The only writers I know who write similar stuff are very established and their agents don't take submissions. And since writing is so poorly genre defined it's hard to even find other writers who do similar things. The idea of 'difficult literary fiction' is kinda out there but it's still very broad. Compared to music where people maintain lists of goetherburg style melodic death metal and argue vehemently about which bands are exactly what; there just aren't these kind of resources to go looking for which agencies and publishers handle similar material, especially if you're outside the mainstream
     
  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Ermmm....surely this isn't your approach? You don't want even the slightest bit of negativity to creep into your pitch. This is your book. You believe in every word of it. You need to make them believe in it too.

    Don't tell them it's a great book. Let them be the judge of that. And don't even hint that it might not sell. Just tell them what the book contains, and make them want to read it.
     
  8. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    No of course that's not what I say! But I'm talking to you guys honestly and I understand that my work is weird and dark and difficult and certainly not for everyone. The theme of the first book is addiction; the theme of the second one is incest. I think they're good books and I think there's a market but they aren't the kind of books that'll make an agent see dollar signs and surely around each other we can at least be honest about that?

    Of course when I talk to agents that's not what I say. Of course it's not. But they aren't stupid. They aren't thinking 'Hmm, well this guys says it'll sell a million copies - sounds legit'. They are going to look at the material I put before them and start wondering about what kind of people will buy my work. They don't need me to tell them it's niche. They can see that for themselves. And since a lot of agents aren't interested in picking up anything that doesn't have obvious, broad appeal I figured I'd try looking for agents or publishers who will give a more niche book a chance.

    I appreciate people giving feedback but seriously - I understand that what you submit to agents is a specific type of writing that needs to tick certain boxes. No, I'm not perfect at that but of course I haven't been sending off 'Hey this is my book. It's great but it won't sell.' Of course I haven't. How I write here to you, shockingly enough, isn't at all like how I speak to agents.

    Jumping on an off hand forum post and telling how that proves I don't give a damn about my work while ignoring the question I actually asked doesn't make me feel inclined to come to you for help, you know?
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I can't find any posts here that say this. Perhaps you misread something?
     
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  10. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    But I haven't been pitching it to you. At all. In this thread I'm not trying to make you want to read my book in the slightest, I'm trying to find out if there is anyone who handles this kind of work.
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Please don't get shirty with me. There's no call for that. I was only responding to what you actually said. You are a new member here, and this is the first I've seen of any of your posts, so it wasn't clear if you were exaggerating as a joke or not.

    You did say 'in so many words' which implied that you approach agents by letting them know your book is great (in so many words) but that it probably won't sell very well. I did say 'surely that isn't your approach,' which implies that I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt.

    I'm glad to hear that's NOT what you actually do. And I do sympathise with you, if you feel you've written a book that is difficult to place.
     
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  12. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    I'm sorry for sounding defensive but this thread isn't about pitching. It's not about covering letters. It's not about the process of submitting. It's about where to submit to. So getting a bunch of replies telling me why my pitch must be wrong is really frustrating.
     
  13. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    To be fair, the fact you've had a ton of rejections suggests it's not being pitched right - and that's more likely to be what people here can help with. Most of us have never had any agent, let alone one in the kind of niche you're after, either because we're more keen on self-publishing or because we're not at that stage yet or because we haven't written that kind of book.

    But in the spirit of at least trying to be helpful - how about these guys: http://wolflit.com/

    They just came from Google, so I have no experience with them, but their 'About' page suggests they'll consider taking anything they think is interesting, regardless of niche or difficulty.

    As a more off-the-wall idea, have you considered making one of your books available for free to start building a following? If the main problem you think you're running into is that the sales potential is limited, having a built-in audience takes a chunk of that risk away, and agents may be more willing to take you on for the other book.
     
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  14. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    It's equally frustrating to try to help someone and get snippy replies, but hey ho.

    You're convinced that you're being rejected because you haven't found the right agent, and I doubt that's the problem or at least the ONLY problem. But if you're sure, then I can't help as I don't have a database in front of me listing agents that like "character focused books revolving around weird, dark areas of human nature". Perhaps if you had explained more of what your book is actually about, we could have suggested which sub-genre it might fit into and helped match relevant agents.

    Good luck in your search.
     
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  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's an interesting link. They're certainly worth a look, @LostThePlot .
     
  16. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    In terms of just finding agents, without getting into actual pitching strategy, there are lots of them that are interested in weird and dark. Weird and dark sells.

    Now really quickly I don't actually know your pitch wording but I would stay away from implying that your book is niche when really it might not be.

    And I really can't recommend Twitter pitch contests and "pitch parties" enough. Because a lot of agents are involved in those (a few to the extent of having large portions of their lists from them) and more importantly because they reverse the author-agent dynamic. Standard querying has authors attempting to judge agents' tastes - whereas in something like #pitmad the authors are putting out queries to a good-sized POOL of participating agents and it's up to the AGENTS to decide what fits their taste. This could be especially useful for someone like yourself.
     
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  17. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Truth is though, if a bunch of people are telling you what you've written doesn't sound good - and we're not even the pros yet - don't you think you should at least consider there's an issue with how you're presenting your story, or even whether your writing is ready?

    Folks are just trying to help. Finding an agent specific to your book is exactly that - very specific - to think anyone here could give you the right recommendation just off the bat is... well... it's improbable - unless someone here has also written a similar book to yours and pitched it successfully to an agent. But for that, a forum full of mostly unpublished writers probably isn't the best platform.
     
  18. Squeakyfiend
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    Squeakyfiend Member

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    To me, 'theme' is very different to 'genre'. Agents (in my experience anyway) are looking for specific genres, not themes. Of course, an agent could favour certain themes in a story over others, but primarily it's about genre.

    The best advice I've seen relating to submitting your work is to pick one genre and market it as such. It's much better to market your book as, for example, 'historical fiction' rather than to incorporate themes into it, such as 'dark, romantic, religion-based sixteenth century fiction'. Don't unnecessarily shoehorn yourself into a niche.
     
  19. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    This sounds like a good idea. I'd be especially interested in seeing how you sum up your story in the letter (people still do that, right?).
     

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