Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wait, wait, don't stop

I sent off another agent query on Thursday, and have been trying to catch up with other tasks since. Plus work, of course.

I've been a bit down in the dumps, though, because I don't see how anyone is going to want to read my "quiet" novel, however well written and well constructed it may be.

The publishing industry used to be interested in such books. Now the editors have become overwhelmed by their marketing responsibilities which trend toward "louder" books, and the agents troll the literary magazines looking for interesting short story writers who might have a novel manuscript in the drawer.

That makes less sense than it seems on the surface since even a great short story writer might be quite inept at the novel form. But the short story writer has been vetted. By that I mean that their writing has stood out sufficiently from the pack to attain publication. Thus, they're less risky.

Why would risk matter to an agent? Time, as much as anything. Taking on an author requires a significant investment of time. In a market overburdened with writers of competency (thanks to the multiplicity of writing programs), it's more difficult to winnow out excellent work from the merely competent. Finding that a prestigious journal has selected someone's work means that one's own judgment is not merely floating out there untethered, an easy target for failure.

The moral of this story for a writter is probably not to spend years working on novels, hoping to master the form. Get those shorts out there, the more the better. Too late for me, in that regard, probably, but I intend to try. I had success with the first two short stories I sent out for publication. Both were accepted. At which point I thought: goodie. Now for the main course. Ah, well.

The short story is a highly compressed and refined object quite different from a novel. I have my doubts about writing one now in this ferocious market, but it will be interesting to try.

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