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Are genres a trend?

So I just read a tweet by a lit agent who said, “Sci-fi and fantasy are hot right now. Which means the trend is over.”

As a writer and reader of sci-fi and fantasy, this tweet made me want to break through a brick wall, Kool-Aid Man-style. “How can an agent, a professional in the industry I’ve been busting my butt to become part of all these years, talk about my passion in such a cavalier fashion?”

Given the amount of fantasy novels photographed and Instagrammed in the #BooksArentDangerous campaign last week, I seriously doubt the verity of this agent’s statement.

It basically dismisses not only my desire to read immersive, inventive, epic new fantasy, but dismisses my livelihood. And it leads me to the question: are genres considered a TREND in publishing? I mean, obviously there are times when one genre is overselling others, and it flip-flops around, but it never occurred to me that agents (and publishers) may look at a book’s genre and immediately dismiss it based on their belief/assumption that that genre is old hat and no one’s interested.

That makes no sense to me, as a reader. SFF has been my favourite genre since age 6. That’s never going to change, even if a parade of sub-par trope-filled titles endlessly hit the NYT bestseller list over the next decade. I will ALWAYS be a fan of fantasy and sci-fi. For all the other genres I enjoy reading, I have my favourite authors and favourite types of stories, but I will never say, “Ehh, I’m sick of SFF. So. Played. Out.” I may say that there are, for example, too many YA fantasies out — and still being published — about teens training for competitions; that’s a trend that feels as worn as vampire-sexy-times. But that doesn’t mean I’m sick of fantasy in general, or that SFF needs to stop BEING A THING.

Even if time travel is a trend within fantasy that’s “over,” do I give up on that? I wrote a manuscript with time travel in it before the (current) trend began, and am trying to get it out there now that the trend is probably way past its prime. Does that mean shelve it? Maybe, but I’m not doing that yet. Does that mean give up completely and pretend I never wrote the thing? Hell to the NO.

I’m curious what others think about this. If you read a similar statement from someone in the industry who said the genre you write in is “over”, would it bother you? Would you stop writing that genre? Would you even consider changing your path?

Probably not. It’s one person, and yes, maybe this opinion is shared the industry over, but as everyone is keen to point out, you should never write to trends because they fly like bullets. Write what you want to read, in the hopes that others will want to read it as well. Regardless of “what’s hot.” Regardless of what film producers are hoping to turn into the next big blockbuster because original screenplays are sadly considered “too risky” these days. Write what you would be ecstatic to find on a bookshelf. 

If you think about it, publishing is a bizarre industry. In most industries, the designers/engineers/creators are buildings things that are needed, for market, to fill a requirement. We are told to write what we’re passionate about, because that will show in the writing, and the whole don’t write to trends thing. And yet we have to rely wholly on the agents and editors who are looking for very specific things that fit what they feel will be the next big wave in the industry. So we can’t aim for a specific requirement to fulfill; all we can do is place our hopes on the fickle winds and wait and see whether they’ll be carried onward and upward, or torn apart.

But back to the agent. That agent must know what they’ve said isn’t going to change most writers’ minds, and yet they still said it — why? Because they’re sick of SFF in their inbox? That’s absolutely fine. But it seems somewhat irresponsible to diss an entire genre to the Twitterverse. Why not just say, “I can’t sell fantasy right now, so please don’t send it my way”? Maybe others are selling it and this agent’s missing out. Who knows.

All I know is I’m weary of trying to second-guess and wonder what the industry wants or doesn’t want, loves or scoffs at, and Twitter has lately been doing its best to steal my joy about what I do. Some pros in the industry out there have no qualms about tweeting snark like, “Oh YAY, another (fill in the genre) in my slushpile. *rolls eyes* FORM REJECTION.”

I’m not finding that useful. Twitter a great tool for connecting, but when you’re still in the writing/not-yet-published stage, it can be a minefield of hope-shattering shrapnel. I’m choosing to keep my joy in what I do, and I will be a rebel and keep on pouring my heart into sci-fi and fantasy because it makes me happier than just about anything.

 

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Determination’s gotta win, right?

Yesterday, I got an amazing email.

An agent sought me out (from the PitchWars contest), and I’ve been following her on Twitter and keeping up on her for literally years. When she asked for pages, and then a full, I was on the floor in hysterics. SO. Excited. It felt right. It felt like after all this time, the door I so badly wanted to open was beginning to let in some light.

Yesterday, that email came. As my husband and other lovely encouragers and CPs have pointed out, it’s a very positive rejection (if such a thing exists). She said she loved the story and details, it was well-written, and the way the music themes were woven into it is something she looks for in her authors. That’s the most I’ve received from any agent in the way of positive feedback. But I couldn’t see that. In fact, right now, all I can really see if that she didn’t connect with my characters enough, or the pacing didn’t grab her and keep her on the edge of her seat (well, it’s not a thriller, but I get what she’s saying she prefers, I guess) the way she’d like.

Lots of agents do R&Rs. At worst I thought she’d do that, and I’d tighten it and tidy it according to her suggestions and the world would be an amazing place. I began writing this story in 2006. I’ve learned SO much through it. It’s a part of me, in so many ways, and I’ve put hours beyond counting into making this what I want it to be, but also what I hope others would enjoy. So when she didn’t ask for an R&R, I pretty much felt like the world turned dark and crumbled around me.

Basically how I've been feeling for the past 12 hours.
Basically how I’ve been feeling for the past 12 hours.

It’s my dream to be published, to write books with my life and focus wholly on that. Part of that dream is also to have an amazing agent who gets what I’m trying to say, who loves my voice, and who helps me better myself. So while an offer to publish from a small publisher came through PitMad, I decided to turn it down. That in itself is a huge encouragement that my story has some zing to it that somebody likes. I gave it careful thought, but I really do want to work with an agent, and that publisher and I weren’t the fit I was hoping for, so as honoured as I am, it’s not right for me.

I’m determined to reach my dream. Several times in my life, I’ve had my heart set on something, and as preposterous as it might’ve sounded to those around me, I reached for it, and got it. It might not have had a happy ending, but it melded into my personality over the years to stay determined and I could reach what I was really trying for. There’s no bigger dream than finding others who enjoy and believe in my writing, and making it the THING THAT I DO. It’s not just a hobby to me.

But there’s more to it than that, and I’m ashamed to admit it but we’re all friends, right? Since graduating at the top of my class as a mature student in 2010, I felt like nothing could stop me when I put my mind to it.

Some of you know that a LOT has stopped me since then. I’ve applied endlessly for jobs I can totally do, and most of the time not even received a response to my application. For 2.5 years. Writing AND applying for jobs?

inconceivable

And yet, that’s what I’ve been doing. My long-time favourite author, Simon R. Green, has a story that’s stuck with me. If you don’t know who he is, check him out. I’ve been reading (and re-reading) his books since I was 12. He’s the New York Times Bestselling author of the DEATHSTALKER series, an amazing space opera, and my personal favourite, BLUE MOON RISING, and the HAWK & FISHER series.

He had years and years of rejection letters before all his success, and then, after 3.5 years of being out of work, just TWO days after he finally got hired at a book store in Bath, he sold SEVEN NOVELS. In one year.

Granted, those were very different times for the publishing industry, but the idea stays the same. The man was struggling big time, but he was determined. I guess in my silly old head, I’ve been dreaming that some similar story would happen to me. That all this time trying to find where I fit in to the world – despite the 1st class degree and hard-work-pays-off uni experience that mocks me endlessly now – would not be for nothing; that it would have to have a happy ending.

I still believe it will. It doesn’t change the fact that I cried for about 2 hours last night, but I’m really thankful to the CPs and friends who’ve read some/all of my ms and told me not to give up. Besides, I’ve still got another year to catch up to Simon. (right?)

I know that my attitude right now is having a little freak-out and I’m not feeling on top of the world like I did when the agent and I were exchanging emails, and she was saying how excited she was to finish reading. I feel worse than I can remember feeling. But I need to suck it up, so hopefully by the end of the day I’ll start to get back on top of things, and know she just wasn’t the agent for me after all (despite what every cell in my body was telling me two days ago). So… this:

riker

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Squeaky Wheel

I’m here! No matter how small and insignificant!

Over the last few days, I’ve been making the most use of the fabulous and handy QueryTracker to organise the dispatch of my newly-polished query to several agents seeking women’s fiction. I’ve sent out tiny batches of queries in the past, but this query has been through the ringer. It’s polished, it feels like it hits the main points of my plot and themes, and the perfectionist in me has stared at it for hours (probably literally) making sure I feel good about it.

I’ve sent about 9 queries over the past week. My top agent of that lot? She responded in less than 12 hours. That’s a record. And yes, it was a rejection. I have to say I’m honoured she took the time to copy and paste my name at the top. The querying process should be renamed the wearying process, because these awesome agents, they all get thousands of emails a week and have to make pretty quick decisions on emails they’ve just skimmed. But us writers? We have to spend days, weeks, months perfecting our letter, tailoring it to them like a cover letter for a job (which I’ve also been doing, for 20 months, without success… but that is definitely another story altogether), making sure it seems perfect. We hem and haw and we take words out and put them back in. And they probably spend about 10 seconds looking at it before sending out the rejection template, or just binning it and moving on.

And I TOTALLY get that — they’re super busy! I’d do the same thing if I were an agent. But so many writers seem to face this process like an endurance test: “If I just keep trying, if I just polish a bit and send another batch, if I listen to whatever every single person tells me to change, I’ll get bites, and one bite for a full will eventually lead to an agent, then a publishing deal, then bingo, I’ve hit my stride.”

But what if that’s not true? How do I know when to pack it in with my first ms, the one I’ve been working on for over 5 years? I’ve learned SO MUCH from writing this, and then editing it, then trashing it and starting over. I’ve dedicated my last 20 months of job-hunting to also reading every blog, article, and book I can get my hands on about writing. I feel like I’ve enrolled in full-time education on the subject of polishing my manuscript. I’ve loved every second of reading about the craft and putting what I learn into practice. I’m *proud* of where my ms is today, thanks to the help of all these awesome writers, agents, and editors who share their experiences and wisdom.

So, after taking a writing/job-hunting break yesterday and editing together audio clips of the Samantha jokes from I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, I’ve decided that the “when” comes when one of two things happens: when I feel I’ve exhausted possibility and nothing’s happening, or when Samantha jokes stop making me chuckle and lifting me up.

When Humphrey Lyttelton’s voice reading off crass-sounding yet ostensibly innocent jokes about the ever-delightful “Samantha” fails to make me giggle after another bad writing day, I’ll know it’s time to move on.

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