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Nuwanda
03-18-2015, 05:58 PM
I have a friend who finished her first book about six years ago and it was considered a novella because it was just over 50,000 words. The second agent she queried wanted to read the whole manuscript but then in the middle of talking with her switched over companies and stopped all communication. She decided to give a copy to a few close friends to read and get opinions back then edited and added to the overarching story and the subplots. Her writing improved greatly during this time. After two years she started submitting again.

She is in the 2nd Draft of her third novel now, so it's not like she's a one trick pony. This first novel is largely allegorical and a little bit fantastic realism so she tries to pitch it as literary but has also pitched it as urban fantasy-realism/offbeat.

When she does get critiques back from agents she's only ever been told "you have a poetic style but it's unsellable." She's even asked if her query is the problem or character development. One agent did say that she had a slight issue with the first part of the book being more telling than showing but said that was a personal opinion. (The first half is a collection of interviews and recollections and news clips about the MC who is a pop icon).

Should she read between the line or is it because the novel is between genres?

Bryan Methods
03-18-2015, 09:11 PM
Though it's going to be different for everyone with this issue, I had a friend who got a lot of similar feedback and couldn't get published despite obvious talent.

In the end, what it took was shelving her projects, writing something with a very clear hook and accessible structure, and selling that first. Foot then firmly into door, she could sell her more opaque books.

But this may not be for everyone. She didn't see it as selling out or dumbing down, just as an issue of timing.

Nuwanda
03-18-2015, 09:18 PM
My friend is playing with that idea too, with this third book. It's nice to see there's hope! Congrats to your friend!

Thedrellum
03-18-2015, 10:10 PM
If she wants to get an agent, what Bryan Methods is talking about may be the way to go.

If she's okay with going with a smaller press, places like FC2 or Small Beer Press might be worth trying. They tend to publish things like what you're describing.

Jamesaritchie
03-18-2015, 10:23 PM
I have a friend who finished her first book about six years ago and it was considered a novella because it was just over 50,000 words. The second agent she queried wanted to read the whole manuscript but then in the middle of talking with her switched over companies and stopped all communication. She decided to give a copy to a few close friends to read and get opinions back then edited and added to the overarching story and the subplots. Her writing improved greatly during this time. After two years she started submitting again.

She is in the 2nd Draft of her third novel now, so it's not like she's a one trick pony. This first novel is largely allegorical and a little bit fantastic realism so she tries to pitch it as literary but has also pitched it as urban fantasy-realism/offbeat.

When she does get critiques back from agents she's only ever been told "you have a poetic style but it's unsellable." She's even asked if her query is the problem or character development. One agent did say that she had a slight issue with the first part of the book being more telling than showing but said that was a personal opinion. (The first half is a collection of interviews and recollections and news clips about the MC who is a pop icon).

Should she read between the line or is it because the novel is between genres?

Whoever labeled fifty thousand words a novella didn't have a clue what they were talking about. A LOT of bestselling novels have been shorter that fifty thousand words. Some have been a goo deal shorter. There is no genre where fifty thousand words is not a novel.

Which doesn't mean it's a novel that fits guidelines, but it most certainly is a novel, not a novella.

As for great writing, well, great writing is a great thing, but has almost nothing to do with selling. Great writing is just gravy. It's the potatoes under the gravy that sells.

Readers want story and character. If these things are then all the writing has to be is competent. Lousy writing will kill any story, but merely competent writing will sell any good story that's filled with characters readers want to spend time with.

Honestly, there is no way to tell what your friend is doing wrong without reading the stories, but assuming teh writing itself is any good at all, it almost always comes down to telling a stories readers will pay to read, and filling that story with characters readers want to spend time with. This is the hard part of selling fiction.

But I would also add that "poetic style" is very often not a good thing. If it isn't an easily readable style that fits the story, that doesn't get in the way of story, it's a problem. "Poetic style" often mean pretty writing that pulls the reader out of story, that makes the reader see the writing, rather than becoming immersed in the story itself.

I do wonder if she's writing the kind of book she most loves to read, and at the same length? If she isn't, then the road gets even tougher.

Treehouseman
03-19-2015, 12:01 AM
There was a really interesting article recently about "good" books not selling (The Telegraph: "Why great novels don't get noticed now") The novel in question "Dear Thief" also used an unusual second person narrative. It got published but couldn't find its market.

The problem I guess that the demographic that appeals to unusual and literary styles don't want Pop Idol MCs. Maybe the crossover isn't that great?

Bryan has the right idea, write a "foot in the door" novel. Even people who have written outre stuff have preceeded thier big work with something more accessable.

Fuchsia Groan
03-19-2015, 08:35 AM
As a reviewer, I've seen some books (usually from micro-presses) where an intricate literary style got in the way of the storytelling. If I took a paragraph or two in isolation, I would say it was amazing writing, but when you looked at the whole book, the author was indulging in far too many erudite digressions and not tending to the narrative pacing, which simply made it tough to read. (Not saying this is your friend's novel's problem; since I haven't read it, I have no idea. It's just a problem I see often.)

But I've read other literary novels that balanced the language beautifully with storytelling. It's a hard trick to pull off, and perhaps even harder to sell, but literary novels are still being published.

Fruitbat
03-19-2015, 08:54 AM
Not trying to be snarky, but perhaps the writing is not actually that great? I mean, I've read plenty of unpublished work that had something going for it, but just really didn't knock my socks off. Just a thought.

Osulagh
03-19-2015, 09:11 AM
Not trying to be snarky, but perhaps the writing is not actually that great? I mean, I've read plenty of unpublished work that had something going for it, but just really didn't knock my socks off. Just a thought.

Exactly what I think.

Here's the thing: Great writing should be obvious, and I would say the mass majority of people in the literature business would have some concept of what good writing can be. And good writing sells.

However, sometimes in certain genres a style of story or writing isn't sellable because it either goes against publishers' wishes or doesn't work somehow that ruins the story.

This is one of the cases that I would need to see the writing and story to evaluate it.

blacbird
03-19-2015, 09:31 AM
Frankly, if you can't get anybody to accept it for publication, it ain't "great writing", by any sensible definition.

caw

mccardey
03-19-2015, 09:46 AM
Frankly, if you can't get anybody to accept it for publication, it ain't "great writing", by any sensible definition.

caw

DON'T LISTEN TO HIM, EVERYBODY! DON'T LISTEN TO HIM! *waves hands wildly*

Thewitt
03-19-2015, 09:51 AM
Forget the traditional route and publish that "great writing" yourself. There is nothing wrong with trying the marketplace with a style that doesn't appeal to an publishing house.

They are trying to sell into market's they know well and understand. If they don't believe in the work, they won't manage it well anyway.

blacbird
03-19-2015, 10:22 AM
DON'T LISTEN TO HIM, EVERYBODY! DON'T LISTEN TO HIM! *waves hands wildly*

Nobody ever does. That includes every agent I've queried and every editor I've submitted something to.

caw

Nuwanda
03-19-2015, 10:23 AM
This is all great stuff thank you! To Jamesaritchie, yes she's writing books that she wants to read and it's a good thing too! I'm of that school myself. I'd rather read stuff I'm happy with than something that was the "It thing" at the time.

Something must also be said about it being a first novel. No matter how good it is (which is subjective after all) it won't have the same polish as the stuff she's doing now.

She comes from a background in poetry so I think that must be what some agents are acknowledging. Not losing her clear voice but modifying it for the style of work.

mccardey
03-19-2015, 10:31 AM
Nobody ever does. That includes every agent I've queried and every editor I've submitted something to.

caw

It's because you break hearts, Bird. Around here, we call you the Breaker of Hearts...

Old Hack
03-19-2015, 12:04 PM
A gorgeous poetic style is lovely to have but if it's not coupled with a strong, compelling plot and a book people are going to want to buy, it's not going to get published.

I suspect the agents concerned are letting her down gently.

If I were you I'd advise your friend to join up here, and to spend a lot of time helping others in SYW. That's the quickest way I know of to work out what's wrong with your own writing. Once she has the required fifty posts she could put up some of her own work, and see how it could be improved.

Putputt
03-19-2015, 01:05 PM
A gorgeous poetic style is lovely to have but if it's not coupled with a strong, compelling plot and a book people are going to want to buy, it's not going to get published.

I suspect the agents concerned are letting her down gently.

Without seeing the writing and/or the rejection, it could've just been a gentle form rejection. I've got a few of those, along the lines of "You are obviously a talented writer, but I don't know where you book would fit in today's market." I chalked those up to forms and thought nothing of them. It could really be anything.



If I were you I'd advise your friend to join up here, and to spend a lot of time helping others in SYW. That's the quickest way I know of to work out what's wrong with your own writing. Once she has the required fifty posts she could put up some of her own work, and see how it could be improved.
^^ Agree. We can talk all day about whether it is your friend's writing, or voice, or plot, and we still won't be of any help. Have her join AW and contribute in SYW. When she finally posts her own work, we'll be able to help more effectively.

Nuwanda
03-19-2015, 02:53 PM
Cool. All good stuff! Yeah we've compared rejection letters and there tends to be a definite trend of commonly used words among agents. I need to look at SYW myself actually. I've been avoiding it from fear of putting unpublished stuff up without seeing the person's face but I'm also unhappy with my current writers group. Too many people who are "clever" and blah blah blah.

Barbara R.
03-19-2015, 03:46 PM
When she does get critiques back from agents she's only ever been told "you have a poetic style but it's unsellable." She's even asked if her query is the problem or character development. One agent did say that she had a slight issue with the first part of the book being more telling than showing but said that was a personal opinion. (The first half is a collection of interviews and recollections and news clips about the MC who is a pop icon).

Should she read between the line or is it because the novel is between genres?

Agents look for two things: a book that excites them personally, and one they can sell. It sounds like your friend's first book fell short on one or maybe both counts. Your description of the first half sounds ominous: who wants to read press clippings about fictional character they haven't even met yet?


Forget the traditional route and publish that "great writing" yourself. There is nothing wrong with trying the marketplace with a style that doesn't appeal to an publishing house.
.

Oy. There are many good applications for self-publishing, but publishing a literary, stand-alone first novel is not one of them. With 450,000 new books self-published this year alone, it will sink without a trace. Waste of money and time better spent on writing the next book, or even studying the craft.

Jamesaritchie
03-19-2015, 05:21 PM
DON'T LISTEN TO HIM, EVERYBODY! DON'T LISTEN TO HIM! *waves hands wildly*

Why not? He's absolutely right, though he probably should have said story/characters/ rather than "writing".

It's easy to convince yourself that great books get passed over, but they don't. They just don't. They may go through a lot of publishers before finding a good fit, but they do get published.

I'd love to know where all these "good" and "great" unpublished novels are because every agent and editor I know is looking for them.

"Good" and "great" almost always means "I think someone should publish that book, even though I have no idea what makes a book good, or great, or publishable."

The rest of teh time it means, "That book, by God, is literary, and says something important. It isn't like that genre trash."

On the extremely rare occasion when a really good book does go unpublished, it's usually the writer's fault.

Usher
03-19-2015, 05:34 PM
Great books get overlooked all the time. I know why mine didn't get published because multiple agents gave me feedback to explain why. It had nothing to do with writing, characters, story etc as they were the reason they ummed and ahhed and it came close. I'm aware of several other writers in the same position.

Sometimes for whatever reason, a book is out of fashion, not what the market is after, doesn't fit the right pigeon hole etc and that book will then struggle to sell.

I'm doing what Bryan Methods as several agents asked for my next story, so I am working on something that fits squarely into a specific genre. Then I'll use that to sell the other story. My other alternative is to wait a year or two for a book by a non debut author to come out.

Cyia
03-19-2015, 05:57 PM
Your friend should consider, too, that the book *may* be a perfect second novel, even if it was the one first completed.

aruna
03-19-2015, 06:05 PM
Sometimes for whatever reason, a book is out of fashion, not what the market is after, doesn't fit the right pigeon hole etc and that book will then struggle to sell.
.

This, absolutely. ^^^^ (Whereby "sell" means "picked up by an agent/editor and published"). Of course we don't hear of "great" unpublished manuscripts/books. It's kind of self-evident!

When I hear someone say "the writing is poetic", that's when I run. I like great writing in a novel, but not poetic. Poetic invariably sounds contrived, unnatural, and takes the attention away from the story. It's like the author is saying, look how beautifully I can write!. Poetic language is for poetry.

Usher
03-19-2015, 06:51 PM
This, absolutely. ^^^^ (Whereby "sell" means "picked up by an agent/editor and published". Of course we don't hear of "great" unpublished manuscripts/books. It's kind of self-evident!

That's what I meant by sell ie get an agent and traditionally published. On two occasions mine went up against a similar novel that had a similar story but mine has some less traditional and more risky elements to it.

Thedrellum
03-19-2015, 08:28 PM
Just chiming in again to say I'd probably read a novel that started with press clippings et al. about a fictional character I'd not met with. As with any other book, though, I'd expect those press clippings to be interesting and engaging writing on their own.

mccardey
03-19-2015, 10:31 PM
Why not?

Oh, James... :Hug2:

I love it when you notice me :Hug2:

ap123
03-19-2015, 11:01 PM
Oh, James... :Hug2:

I love it when you notice me :Hug2:

Will you marry me, mccardey?

:tongue

aruna
03-19-2015, 11:30 PM
Thought I'd post this, words of a top UK agent on Facebook, about a ms she didn't give up on:

4 years, 44 submissions of a partial and synopsis. I sold it to the 44th, to an editor who was new to the company. That company had turned it down twice before. Tenacity is a useful attribute in this game. That author is still a bestseller, and that book has now been continuously in print for 30 years. Best 'told you so' moment of my career.

So, what if the had given up after a year? After 3 years? At the 43rd submission? What if it were a different agent, with less tenacity, and the author had lost confidence and trunked the novel? That would have been a probably "great" but unpublished novel. I suspect there are quite a few in that category. Sometimes luck does play a role -- luck being the right editor at the right time.

RedWombat
03-20-2015, 02:44 AM
I'll toss in that there's another, if rarer, category--genuinely well-written books that maybe twenty people will want to read.

It's what a friend of mine calls "burlap lingerie"--it may be skillfully made, but the market is so miniscule as to not be worth a publisher's time.

It's not enough to write a good book, you have to write a book that will sell more than a few hundred copies. Quality is important, but market appeal is pretty darn critical too. Every now and then one of those may find new life as a cult classic, but I think most of 'em just sink like stones, or never come out at all.

(I suspect a lot more books are just not very good rather than good but not sellable, but I don't want to completely discount the possibility.)

Fruitbat
03-20-2015, 03:04 AM
Ha, "burlap lingerie." Love it!

Fruitbat
03-20-2015, 03:07 AM
Thought I'd post this, words of a top UK agent on Facebook, about a ms she didn't give up on:


So, what if the had given up after a year? After 3 years? At the 43rd submission? What if it were a different agent, with less tenacity, and the author had lost confidence and trunked the novel? That would have been a probably "great" but unpublished novel. I suspect there are quite a few in that category. Sometimes luck does play a role -- luck being the right editor at the right time.

Also, I know that whenever I send something out and get no takers for a while, I almost automatically re-read it and make changes. So I wouldn't be surprised if with many (or most) of these anecdotes where someone didn't give up and the hundredth publisher accepted it, the one hundredth editor received a much different (and better) manuscript than the first editor did.

blacbird
03-20-2015, 07:45 AM
Ha, "burlap lingerie." Love it!

Mine are made of steel wool.

caw

aruna
03-20-2015, 06:27 PM
The agent spoke further about that novel:
"Early in my career as an agent, I submitted 4 chapters and a synopsis of a first novel by one of my clients. Publishers were puzzled by it. Although editors often ask for something different, when they are presented with something truly original, they sometimes don't know what to do with it."

The bolded text explains why there are probably many, many great but unpiblished novels.

rockondon
03-20-2015, 08:12 PM
This story is interesting because a beta reader recently shared chapters with me and her writing style is gorgeous. Such a gifted writer - it's like reading poetry - but as beautiful as her writing is, I find it somewhat distracting. It pulls me from the story. I don't know if I should even mention that to her - it's like saying the problem with your writing is that you write too well.

JubbyO
03-20-2015, 08:35 PM
I tend to shy away from poetical writing; I invest/spend my hard-earned money on characters and plot, not poetry and writing. But, if she believes in the story, then tell her to keep trying. And she could always put it out there herself.

Fuchsia Groan
03-21-2015, 09:19 AM
This story is interesting because a beta reader recently shared chapters with me and her writing style is gorgeous. Such a gifted writer - it's like reading poetry - but as beautiful as her writing is, I find it somewhat distracting. It pulls me from the story. I don't know if I should even mention that to her - it's like saying the problem with your writing is that you write too well.

It's worth mentioning. A poetic style is something an author should be able to tone up or down to suit the needs of the book as a whole. It's possible to say, "Look, your writing is beautiful, but sometimes it's also overkill. A little of that style goes a long way. Could you pare down some of your sentences to make it easier for readers to focus on the action and characters?"

I've read books with a striking literary style that absolutely served the story, and others with similar styles that felt overdone and distracting. It's all about the alchemy of the entire book.

Nuwanda
03-21-2015, 03:55 PM
This is all great stuff! I know she definitely has a strong voice and style and her characters are pretty solid. Some of the minor ones might be on the edge of flatness but it's so good to see opinions about the balance of style with plot. It certainly helps me as a beta and writer. Thank you all!

Nuwanda
03-21-2015, 04:02 PM
Just chiming in again to say I'd probably read a novel that started with press clippings et al. about a fictional character I'd not met with. As with any other book, though, I'd expect those press clippings to be interesting and engaging writing on their own.

Her purpose behind that was to help build the perception of the mc. Like how we start to feel like we really know celebrities when we read too much Perez Hoilton, so by the time you meet him you've got your opinion and it may not change.

Also have you read Warren Zevon's biography or Rant by Palahniuk? She read both those after the agent dropped contact to see how others did it. (And there we were thinking the press clipping style was original) Anyway there is a certain type of telling instead of showing that doesn't generally come out in good reads.