Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Fish or Cut Bait?

Question of the day: Do you feel the current state of the economy is dictating what books are being published? For instance, my second novel is about a mother caring for her adult daughter who suffers from a chronic illness. I am struggling to find an agent for it, although all my rejections are personal. You were able to write about cancer and yet didn't scare away agents, why is writing about diseases now so taboo? Everyone says that my writing is great, yet they say that the subject matter is a tough sell right now. Arrgh!! I wanted this to be my break-out novel and it's not breaking anything but my heart. I've written a third novel in the meantime and my publisher is gobbling it up, but I had hoped to have an agent by now to help me. What would you do, wait to see if the second book can find an agent or go ahead and sign the papers on the third book even though I'm sure the contract will be bad? Do desperate times call for desperate measures or is patience a virtue on this one?

I'll offer a third suggestion: since your newer book is the one that's generating the heat, why don't you shop that one around to agents? I wouldn't sign a contract that I know is going to be crappy, but an agent can certainly take a crappy contract and make it a better one, AND, hey, you never know what other offers an agent could get you. If your previous manuscript just isn't getting the job done, set it aside, and you might discover that as time goes on, your wound will mend...especially if you sell the next one. :) And once you've sold the other one, who knows, maybe it will open doors for the one you have your heart set on right now.

I think the key is not to get too, too, too invested in one manuscript, such that it can divert the trajectory of your career. A lot of us have had that ms, the one that we poured every ounce of ourselves into and that ultimately didn't sell, but I'll tell you what: I am so grateful that I didn't get hung up on that specific ms and that I moved on from it, because if I hadn't, my career would be DOA right about now.

As far as the first half of your question, I'm going to devote a separate post to it because I think it's a worthy discuss to have in and of itself.

Good luck and hang in there! BTDT. Other readers who have BTDT, can you weigh in and help her out?


Trish Ryan said...

It's so key not to get too attached to any one project. So many times we refer to books as our "babies", and while I understand that impulse, I think it makes us too blind to accept feedback and let go when something isn't right or isn't going to work.

My agent and I have been through numerous ideas that just didn't pan out. Each time I try to remind myself that if I'm really a writer, that means I can sit down and write something else...I get to try again. The old ideas aren't lost, just shelved for awhile. And sometimes (as Allison points out) that's a good thing :)

pamcl said...

I think a book with a depressing, difficult subject, like caring for a chronic illness, dealing with cancer, etc. is a tough sell in any market. This is just my opinion a reader, but the only way I'd consider tackling that kind of a book would be if it were to shed new light on the subject go somewhere no one had gone before. An example that comes to mind is Lisa Genova's book, Still Alice. It's fiction, an imagined memoir of a brilliant doctor dealing with Alzheimer's. Why would I read this? The author is a doctor and knows this subject and reviews have exclaimed about the book how it offers a new glimpse inside the world of Alzheimer's.

Still, I haven't read it yet. But it's on my imaginary list, for when I'm in the mood for a darker book.

Speaking as myself as a reader, I look for books for an excape from the real world, for adventure. A book that focuses on disease is too realistic and not what I'm looking for when planning to spend several hours with a book.

That's why I haven't read Allison's first book, even though I adored and have raved about Time of My Life. I lost my Mom to cancer 7 years ago, and it's still too close to home to consider reading a book with that storyline.

I wonder too, in this kind of economy if people are seeking feel-good, escapism stories more than ever?

Funny that I'm following Trish Ryan's comment...don't know if she'll be back to read this, but have to add that I just read her book last weekend, her memoir, in one sitting. It was amazing! and uplifting.


Anonymous said...

I think a great strategy is to look for an agent for your third book--especially if you think the publisher's contract is crappy. (What's the benefit of this "crappy" contract? The fact that your book will be published?) My thought is, if you snag an agent for #3 and it finds a home, then #2 might find a home later.

sarah pekkanen said...

I completely agree -- set aside the second book for now, and shop the third to agents. I think heavy subject matter is subjective and depends on the voice of the writer in terms of how it can be marketed and sold. Marian Keyes' "Is Anybody Out There?" and Lolly Winston's "Good Grief" both tackled sad subjects -- widowhood -- and managed to combine humor along with a very moving and poignant depiction of the grieving process. But without humor, difficult/painful subject matter seems like a very hard sell (unless maybe it's purely literary and not commercial?) I read Allison's first book, and even though the subject was tough, the writing touch let up and became lighter at times, even humorous, so there was a lot of relief from the difficult scenes.