Sunday, October 20, 2013

And the Beat Goes On . . .


Hello again after a three-week hiatus. During that time, I’ve busied myself with visiting the websites of literary agencies to determine which agents represent historical fiction. As I look at what each agency represents, I’m also interested in the following genres: memoirs, fantasy, and inspirational gift books.
         Why? Because these are the categories on which I’ve been working the past few years. Let’s begin with the memoir.
         My other blog is an online memoir. I hope one day to take the postings and shape them into one or two memoirs—depending on length.
         Back in the early nineties, after the publication of Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, memoirs really came to the fore in publishing. Rick Bragg’s All Over But the Shoutin’ and James McBride’s The Color of Water, both published a few years later, cemented the premier place of memoirs in the publishing world.


         But so many memoirs have been published since then that the genre is not as popular with publishers as it once was. So some agents no longer represent this genre while other agents will say in their listings that they do not want “misery memoirs.”  
         I’m not sure what my memoir will have going for it. Nor am I sure what thread could hold the memoir together. Perhaps I will simply concentrate on the convent years, but I admit to wanting also to share the story of my mother’s influence on my life. I would also like to share some of the post-convent stories, especially those that have to do with peace and justice issues.
         For the fantasy genre, I now have ready the first book in a trilogy. Judy King, who illustrated A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story, has done stunning pen and ink drawings for Book One. I’m nearing completion of the other two books in the trilogy.  


         The manuscript for the inspirational gift book A Celebration of Angels is also near completion. Recently, several friends read it and responded enthusiastically to varied aspects of the manuscript.
         When I worked for Winston Press in Minneapolis in the 1970s and 1980s, all I knew of publishing was the developing, writing, and editing of curriculum for grade and high schools.          
         Today I know almost nothing about what’s happening in publishing: What are agents looking for? What kind of stories do editors want from agents? What are the developing trends today?
         From a fairly thorough reading of the websites of many literary agencies, however, I have learned that some agents represent just nonfiction, while others represent only certain subgroups of fiction.
         For example, many do not represent fantasy, sci-fi, poetry, Westerns, children’s pictures books, and juvenile books. Some agencies represent only “commercial fiction” or “literary fiction.” What do those two terms mean? I’m just not sure.
         I do understand that agents are effective only if they know a wide group of editors at publishing houses. They must know what those editors are looking for with regard to manuscripts. If an agent doesn’t know many—or even one—editor who is looking for a historical novel, then she/he won’t be interested in A Reluctant Spy. The agent will look upon the novel as a dead end.         
         Many editors who retire or leave publishing become successful literary agents. Having worked in a publishing house, they know enough people to approach with a proposed manuscript.
         That’s another thing I’ve been investigating on those web sites for literary agents: their professional background.
         Lots to do. I’ll report more when I get a nibble or two. Peace.

Cat Photograph from Wikipedia

20 comments:

  1. How many books can you work on at the same time?

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    1. Dear Fishducky, I work on one thing for a couple of months and then I take a breather from it and work on something else. But normally I'm working on only one thing at a time. Thank you for asking. Peace.

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  2. I suspect commercial fiction is in the vein of John Grisham, while literary fiction is a little more highbrow.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Dear Janie, I bet you're right but I"m never quite sure of what "highbrow" means in publication. Do you have some names to offer for that group as you did JOhn Grisham for commercial? Peace

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  3. I hope that rather than nibbles you get decided bites.
    Hugs.

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    1. Dear EC, oh, I so hope so!!! Peace.

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  4. It sounds like you are covering all the bases, trying very hard to figure out what is needed for success. I am really hoping all this intensive work will pan out for you, Dee. Sending peace back to you. Oh, and some hugs. :-)

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    1. Dear DJan, thanks so much for your support. Like you, I'm hoping all this will work out. Well really, I'm trusting that it will. And thank you for the hugs!!! Peace.

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  5. I'm with Elephant's Child in that I hope it's not nibbles, but serious bites. The angel work is a thing of beauty, truly. Good things are coming your way, I just know it. (And I'm so glad you got the Disney postcard- thank you for the kind words!)

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    1. Dear Shelly, oh wouldn't I love some "serious bites." I'm so glad that you like the angel work and I hope to complete it soon. If I don't have an agent by February, I'll look for one just for the angel ms. Peace.

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  6. That's a noble goal. I tried but was unable to find a publisher so I self-published.
    I met Rick Bragg a few years ago at Read Alabama, a forum for writers that runs for several weeks at the local college. I spoke at the forum the year before, but I HAD to meet Rick Bragg. He absolutely blew me away. I've read several of his books and none disappointed.

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    1. Dear Rick, like you, I was "blown away" when I read Rick Bragg's first book and then his second one, "Ava's Man." It was after the second one that he was slated to come to the Twin Cities--where I was living then--for a reading. I was all set to go when a blizzard blew through and the signing was canceled. There was no way I could have gotten to it anyway because the snowplows had to work for hours getting the roads cleared. Peace.

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  7. In my librarian days, literary fiction was serious and sometimes more difficult fiction which was normally printed and sold in small numbers, unless it won a book prize of some kind, when demand would rise.

    Commercial fiction is basically popular fiction, often in genres such as crime, romance, thriller, which can almost be relied on to sell, often in large numbers. This doesn't mean it isn't well-written, but it appeals to a mass-market in a way literary fiction doesn't. Does that help?

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    1. Dear Perpetua, your explanations help immensely. Now I'm wondering if "The Reluctant Spy" fits any other genre definition other than "historical fiction." Any help with that? Peace.

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    2. Historical fiction is a very broad category, which can be subdivided into different types. There are historical mysteries (Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael novels spring to mind here or Lindsey Davis' Falco novels set in Imperial Rome) historical romances, such as Georgette Heyer's Regency novels (much loved by DH and me) or serious 'literary' historical novels such as 'I, Claudius' by the poet Robert Graves. I'm guessing there are probably historical thrillers too, but I can't call any to mind at the moment. Again, I hope that helps.

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    3. Dear Perpetua, I read all the historical mysteries about WWI and the Monk novels by Anne Perry and all the Cadfael ones by Ellis Peters. I used to read the Falco novels but somehow I stopped doing that even though I really liked learning about Rome.

      And yes I've read historical romances. I so enjoy Georgette Heyer's Regency novels and I think I've read all of them.

      As to serious literary historicals I read two novels by Robert Graves and all that Mary Renault wrote and "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara, Those three writers seem to me to be the best of the 20th century.

      But I've never categorized historicals as you've done for me here. Thanks so much for that. It helps. Peace.

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  8. I understand your frustration, Dee! My agent has been schlepping "Therapy Cats" around to publishers for months now. A few have said "No" and more are just sitting there letting it grow roots on their desks. My agent said something about it was a shame that I hadn't published a completely new book in more than ten years so I would have a more recent, dynamic presence online. So frustrating!

    So I finally decided to write some e-books inspired by my blog and see how that went -- which is why I haven't been blogging for a month. In that time, I wrote "Making Peace With Your Adult Children" and "Aging and Other Surprises." The latter makes heavy use of past blog posts and is a semi-memoir. I decided, just as a beginning, to get them converted to e-pub and professional covers done at Vook, which my agent recommended.
    Both are now on Amazon and other outlets as e-books and will soon be available as print on demand titles.

    I got a call from PBS Next Avenue, an online Baby Boomers magazine, the other day and the writer said she had seen my "Making Peace With Your Adult Children" book on Amazon and wanted to interview me for an article that will feature a link to the book and my blog post.

    So I'm optimistic. This has cut down on some of my frustration in waiting for someone to buy my "Therapy Cats" book. There is no longer a stigma attached to self-publishing/indy publishing and my agent was very much in favor of it. (It also keeps me out of his hair!) Have you thought of trying this with either of your book ideas, Dee? Some "indy" books have been picked up by traditional publishers later on. I certainly don't have all the answers these days in the rapidly changing world of publishing, but I'm more hopeful now.

    Maybe this approach is something to consider. There are ways to do it without it costing a lot. Because I chose to have Vook do the ePub conversion and also design a deluxe cover, my books cost $600 to get up and running, but sales are starting to come in. But you can do a Kindle Direct book with a Smashwords or other print on demand book for very little upfront.

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    1. Dear Kathy, thank you so much for sharing your own experiences with self-publishing and with getting published today by a big press. I find all this information helpful and will come back to your comment again and again in future weeks as I decide how to proceed.

      I continue to hope that an agent will want to represent my writing. But that hope may be unrealistic in today's market.

      I'm taking a vacation in November and will not be doing anything with my writing for about three weeks. When I start in again with writing, posting, and reading and commenting on blogs, I'll see where I am with all this and make some decisions.

      That's when I'll consider your suggestions and your approach to publishing today and determine what next to day. Thank you so much! Peace.

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  9. I am late getting here, but I don't think your memoir would be a misery memoir. I have read some self-published memoirs that were apparently written to tell the world just how awful their life has been and who is to blame for it. Kind of got the feeling it was just to get readers on their side of an ongoing battle (usually with family or an ex-spouse). I dislike the "poor me" memoirs, too.

    When I was in writing classes in college there was a huge difference between "commercial" fiction and "literary" fiction...at least in the minds of all the college professors and most of the students. I actually heard students discuss how they would never want to be one of the Oprah picks and become commercial--ROFL! I asked them what the complaint was about--being able to actually make a living writing or being read by more people?

    From what I could gather the literary fiction made you think and was denser and more layered. Commercial fiction (which seems to be what a lot of publishing houses prefer) is easier, quicker reading--often written in a series these days. Walk down the book aisle in Target or Walmart.

    Keep us informed. Self-publishing without a huge investment might not be a bad idea. Having more than one book going--a great idea. I love the idea of you putting together memoirs!! :)

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    1. Dear Rita, thanks for what you've added to the ongoing discussion here of what these various genres mean. I admit to wanting to write and be published so that I the stories I tell will be read. And if that would give me more discretionary money I'd be really happy!!! I think most writers want to be read--the more readers the merrier so I'm thinking that commercial fiction is fine and in fact, It's probably what I most enjoy reading--good mysteries. Peace.

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