I’m having trouble attracting professional attention for any of my books, and the reason, I have come to realize, is that I’m a two-hundred-year-old white lady. Jane Austen couldn’t pierce this market with a sharpened quill.
Agents and publishers know what they want, and I don’t have it. And they know who they want, and I ain’t it. They’ll tell you right up front. They want fantasy/SF, SF/F MA, Contemporary, horror, YA, Crossover. And it should be about and by BIPOC, Latino/a/x, people with disabilities, neurodivergent, underrepresented, Multiracial/Multicultural, LGBTQQIP2SAA+, Inclusive, Marginalized.
Well, as a two hundred year old white lady, I’ve got your marginalized right here. If I were going to be any more marginalized in the modern publishing world, I’d have to have a penis. My own, not just a loaner.
Which is fine and good and overdue, but by the time anyone wants to hear what I have to say again, I will be Post-Humus.
I may be a writer-of-seasoning at the peak of my powers with plenty of books still in me, but I know better than to divulge my rung on the mortality ladder to a prospective agent. And it doesn’t matter how young I feel on the inside, the world is eager to set me straight. The other day I overheard someone tell her friend, “I’m old enough to remember when instagram was trying to be snapchat.”
Well, slap me with an antimacassar. Honey? You’re twelve years old. And it’s high time I retired to my wicker chair with a quilt pieced out of old skirts and a hob on the fire. The world will get along without me, and if I’m lucky maybe someone will be by to spoon in some creamed peas.
I get emails from a site that tells me specifically what publications and agents are looking for. This is enormously helpful on those few occasions I know what they’re talking about. Why, here’s a press looking for “stories of massive engineering megastructures that reshape stellar systems.” It’s not a good sign that my first reaction to this was that referring to a megastructure as massive was redundant. Pipe down, Priscilla.
Here’s a “speculative poetry magazine” looking for pieces on the Fungi theme, particularly cli-fi, body horror, and fabulism from marginalized voices. Well, there’s no better way for a poet to remain marginalized than by being paid their four cents a word, or an average of a half-dollar per haiku. But wait! I think I do write cli-fi! Unless that means Clitoral Fixation. Well, I can work with that too.
At least I know what a haiku is. That’s not enough anymore. Observe:
“The competition is open to all forms of narrative prose, be that flash fiction, short-short, vignette, haibun, hermit crab, prose poem or work that sits outside such labels.” One: doesn’t that mean everything? Two: huh? Haibun? Hermit crab? I looked it up.
I am led to understand that Carolyn Kizer’s “A Month in Summer” is an example of an extended haibun with 21 haiku and one tanka. And, I hope, poppy seeds. And a hermit crab is a bit of writing inside the shell of another sort of writing, like maybe a polemic written in the form of a grocery list. I might be moved to pen a lyrical death threat in the shell of an obituary, unless that’s a little too on the nose.
Onward. Do I write splatterpunk? Hopepunk? Solarpunk?
I don’t know. I do know I can just scroll on by if an agent is looking for “Christian, spirituality, and self-help.” Because a lot of times, especially when it comes to blasphemy, I just can’t help myself.
So I just need to adjust my output to the demands of the publishing world. Did you know there is a genre called “cashier memoir,” and somebody wants it? There is. It’s just what it sounds like. I don’t even write “bagger memoir.”
Dear Murr You are the leastiest Old Bat of all of us. Old Bats know these things. Our time will come!
You’ll like this. I went to take a selfie for the illustration and I sat in my rocking chair, in a room with really good light. “Okay,” I said to myself, “I’m going for the old lady look.” [click, check photo] “NOT THAT OLD!!!”
I don’t even take photos of myself anymore. My go-to shot for various media is about 15 years old. Not that I’m horrific or anything. I just don’t look how I feel. Oh, and good lighting is the worst! I heard on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me that the best thing to do to have a better image of yourself is to put lower wattage bulbs in your bathroom. Shit… I’m gonna put them everywhere!
I actually think I look pretty dang good first thing in the morning, as I’m washing my face. Then I put my glasses on.
A couple years ago, an older woman in my apartment building died, her grandson came from California to clean out her apartment. The woman had saved her parents magazines from the 1940s and 50s, the grandson put them in a couple stacks in our buildings mailroom off of the lobby. There was a Saturday Evening Post, New Yorker, Colliers…so many. I browsed them, enjoying the advertisements for cars like DeSotos and cigarettes and kitchen appliances, but what struck me was all of the short stories. And always in a very tiny font too, made me wonder how people read these magazines so long ago. Apparently they did, as these publications went on for years. What am I trying to say here? Murr, I don’t think it’s you as much as it is us. I wonder if writers truly have the freedom to write what they want to, in our mostly dumbed down society. Maybe you should do a piece on Taylor Swift’s latest break up. That seems to be all over the news lately!
Taylor who? 😉
As Deep Throat said to Carl Woodward, “Follow the money”….pick the most lucrative market, pick a genre, and head right to chatgpt. 10 seconds later and some printer ink, you’ve got a short story.
Bob/Carl, you get my drift.
I’ve got a post coming up about that there AI.
Excellent post. But don’t take my word for it; thanks for reminding me that I’m so effin old.
Not old enough though!
Does Satan have a publishing company? He must, for the blasphemy.
So this is going out to my clutch of writer friends right this minute. Seems to me the target audience of the kinds of books the aforementioned publishers seek likely has fewer readers per capita than boomers have. They’re screwed. Big Publishing might want to work this rich seam of readers and writers while we’re still here.
“Clutch of writer friends” makes me want to come up with a good collective noun for writers. A “rejection?” A “blockage?”
A constipation of unpublished writers? A frustration of writers? A desperation of writers? A gag. A clot. This isn’t exactly heading in an encouraging direction.
An “obsession” of writers?
And this is why I no longer buy what traditional publishers have on offer. Instead there are hundreds of wonderful indie writers/publishers. Might be more work in some ways but 40-70% “royalty” on an e-book from B&N or Amazon is better than 7% of wholesale price from a traditional publisher. Just saying…..
I’ve had no luck so far with indie publishers. I haven’t tried my novels–still holding out on those–but my bird book is being ignored. Oddly, it got REALLY close to being accepted by Simon & Schuster. Sad story.
How long is your list of rejections so far?
Ooh! Ooh!! [ waves one hand in the air ] You can create another “category”: Obituaria – where you would pick some (famous) LIVING person – and write a pre-obituary for them… you could even do your own … AUTO-obituary! Strikes me that auto-obituary and auto-biography are quite similar, when you think of it…. could run the gamut in length, from “on your headstone” to “encyclopaedia” 😊
I think I wrote my auto-obituary in Trousering Your Weasel.
Whatever happened to comedy? Does nobody write funny stories anymore? Does nobody publish funny books anymore?
Thanks! My mom crocheted it.
Love your photo, Murr! (The one I use here is about two decades out of date.)
I am always annoyed to see articles about literary agents and what they’re looking for. Nobody even bothers to point out that agents are not interested in poetry at all
(except poetry written by those already at or near the top of the heap) because there’s no money in it. It’s just a given. Then there are the poetry journals — these days they are looking for “edgy,” and I don’t write “edgy.” (If you want to see what I mean, follow the link to my website.) It’s much easier to get published in anthologies, because the editors are looking for good poetry that fits in with their theme, rather than poetry that’s like nothing they’ve ever seen before, a criterion that often leads them to favor things I don’t even want to finish reading. Sometimes I’m amazed that I managed to find a publisher for just one book. I found her by searching for a publisher whose own writing bears a faint resemblance to my own.
That’s a really good strategy. One of the things we’re plagued by is the demand (apparently) for content with new structures. Gotta be new.
Publishers want things that are “New” but exactly like things that are already selling. Publishers are in it to make money, not to promote worthy literature. The world is going to hell in a non-recyclable plastic bag, and the publishing industry is a lottery in which you need to make a separate trip through purgatory to buy each lousy ticket with a gazillion to one chance of winning. Not that I’m cynical or bitter or anything.
You sound very calm.
And from the Things That Can Go Wrong Just When You Thought Everything Was Going Right department:
I was invited to do an hour-long solo reading at a bookstore that has seen the likes of Isabel Allende and Hillary Clinton doing solo readings, so it was a Very Big Deal. The store spent $100 on publicity, which is not large by, say, Random House standards but is large by mine. I was introduced by an erudite friend who was once the arts critic for the Boston Globe. (His introduction is on my website.) The room had a capacity of 60 or 70 people. But that weekend the Bay Area Rapid Transit system shut the transbay tubes down for emergency repairs, diverting many thousands of people onto the freeways, causing traffic jams of biblical proportions. People heading for my reading gave up, turned around and went home. About 10 people showed up. I was not offered a return engagement. No similar opportunity arose again.
I bow down to anyone who is a writer. My best writing i put into IEP’s for my students along with Present Level of Performances. I always believed i needed to paint a picture of the skill a student was working on… what the student was learning. Exhausting but the parents seemed to appreciate it. But I must say…. “a lyrical death threat in the shell of an obituary”. Can I hire you to write one for a certain public figure… ooooops.
Since you’re a teacher, I bow down to you!