Okay...let me try to make this story short...I write literary fiction and sent my first novel manuscript to an agent whom I've been corresponding with for three years. I don't know much about publishing in general and have barely queried for this book; she reached out to me when she read one of my stories in a journal. I'm not super knowledgable, but I think she has a good track record as an agent--she's placed five literary debut novels with imprints of major publishers, as well as several nonfiction books--and I've really appreciated her ongoing interest in my work.

Anyway. We talked on the phone today about my book, which she loved, but she doesn't think she can place it with a major publisher. She said she'd be willing to try small presses but doesn't think it's in my best interest. Her suggestion is that I write a new book with marketability more in mind. She said that she'd consult with me as I write it and that she might be able to publish my first book later. So basically I have three options. Ask her to try small presses, sign up to write a new book with her, or try different agents. She also said that we could sign paperwork, so I guess this was sort of an offer of representation? I'm honestly really confused!

So, here's my main question: will it be bad for my career if I publish my debut novel with a small press? If I publish with small presses, will I ultimately have more freedom to write what I want, and what will I be sacrificing? I worry that my work will never truly be marketable unless I force it to be--I'm really pulled to the short form, and I call my first book a novel, but I think it's really a short story cycle. The agent didn't seem confident that she could sell it to a major publisher even as a second novel, and I don't want it to go nowhere, because I think it's a really good book!

I've barely researched other agents, but I feel like they're probably all going to say what she said, because I've been told a thousand times that it's impossible to sell short stories, even linked short stories masquerading as a novel. I pitched a new idea today that I think might be more marketable, and I think it's cool that the agent is willing to support me with it, but it's kind of deflating in general? I spent four years writing this book, I don't want to wait another four years! And I wonder if I'd rather get more experimental than more marketable because maybe that's what's actually interesting to me.