Friday, March 25, 2011

Every Book You Hate Is Loved By An Agent Somewhere

I was chatting with Luke Raftl earlier.  It isn't often I find myself participating in a live conversation with a fellow writer, but when it happens, it's always rewarding.

We discussed a number of things: genres, doubt, fear, our anticipation for J.M. Tohline's THE GREAT LENORE, which is now available for pre-order, by the way.

Amid our conversation, I made a comment.  It was a casual comment, one that transferred from my mind to the computer screen as a natural progression of our conversation.  But hours later, I was still contemplating the statement, realizing I learned something through my own thoughts.  It tends to happen on occasion.

As we typed about the latest trends in writing and publishing, I shared this:

Every book you've ever hated is loved by an agent somewhere.
Every book you can't put down was rejected by twenty agents.

Despite being a generalization that varies from case to case, it put a number of things in perspective.  When it comes to books, we all have different tastes - readers, writers, and agents alike.  As much as every writer dreams of writing the book that will take the world by storm, it isn't realistic.  Even bestsellers are not liked by everyone.

Since starting my project, I have always used myself as a frame of reference.  As a teenager, I was a reluctant reader.  That wasn't always the case; it started in seventh grade when my private parochial school forbid me from reading classics like The Giver or The Outsiders because administration did not approve of the themes addressed.

Over time, it got worse.

As a freshman, I returned to the Kentucky Public School System, much to my parent's dismay.  My ninth grade English teacher didn't teach novels; it was one of those classes where, three times a week, we were assigned a story from the anthology textbook and told to answer the questions at the end.  I can count the number of times I actually did that assignment on one hand.

After moving to Pennsylvania, the reading requirements became extensive.  As an Honors student, we read two novels each summer and at least three during the semester.  Unfortunately, in the three years I spent at that school, I liked one book.  Naturally, it was the only one I read. 

(Man, am I glad I never taught me!)

Even as a teacher, I found myself advocating for titles that would be more appealing to kids.  The only book in our seventh grade curriculum was detested by 95% of the student body.  Let's just say it was about a girl named Catherine, but they called her Birdie.

The book did not not capture the majority's interest - and it certainly did not hook the boys.  As an adult, I could acknowledge it's literary merit, but still hated it myself.  I was given a copy to read over the summer.  We agreed that, as the history teacher, I could refer to what the kids were reading and incorporate the content in my own class.  It sounded like a great idea until I sat down at my pool and read the first page.  For the rest of the summer, the book was used to kill bees.  True story.

By the time I was twenty-five, I discovered a world of YA literature I never knew existed.  Authors like Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Todd Strasser, and Jordan Sonnenblick write contemporary stories grounded in the real world.  And with characters who send each other text messages and update their facebook status regularly, they are relatable to today's teens.

But that is my preference.  Anyone who walks into a bookstore this weekend will see the phenomenon of paranormal romance and urban fantasy.  Vampires, zombies, and werewolves are huge.  And their is a growing demand for witchcraft, magic, and sorcery.  There is something for everyone, and whatever gets people reading more is okay in my book.

Taste varies.  As writers, we must keep in mind our stories will not appeal to everyone.  Much of my W.I.P. has been designed with the reluctant reader in mind.  I think back to what I wanted to read in school, and evaluated why what I did read was of no interest.  Essentially, I am writing the book I wouldn't be able to put down.  By doing so, those with similar tastes should, in theory, enjoy what I'm creating.  And if there are people out there who will be enticed to read my concoction, then someday, an agent, who also has similar tastes, will hopefully see that.  The same holds true for you.

This makes me feel a little better about things.

12 comments:

  1. I wrote a similar post about this topic when I read a book lauded by all which I really (I won't say "hated") but didn't like. It was meh, for me. I kept putting it down. It took me 3 MONTHS to read, whereas a book I love will be devoured in a day or two. It does all come down to personal taste, and as with you, I'm hoping to find the agent who likes my style. Rejections stink, but everyone gets them on the road to "the one." I know you'll get there. Never give up:)

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  2. Man, this was a great post, Paul. I've been thinking in these terms for the last week or so. The story I've been working doesn't necessarily have a happy ending. I've been contemplating how difficult it may be to get it sold. The good thing about the fantasy genre is that it's shifted towards gritty stories with grey characters. This story is that.

    Another thing you pointed out is the rising popularity in paranormal romance and urban fantasy. With this epic fantasy has seen a decline. Epic fantasy is what I want to write. It's stories that are fat novels, with multiple points of view, that can span over multiple books.

    What you said though is so comforting. There is an agent, a publisher, and readers out there for me. They need me and my stories just as bad as I need to represent, publish, and read my stories.

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  3. I always thought it'd be cool to give kids a choice of like 5 books to read... and then form 5 mini study groups... and then have each group give a presentation to the class on the book they read.

    On the one hand, I think it's really important that kids read classics, but 75% of them just read the cliff notes... so it kinda defeats the purpose of forcing classics.

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  4. 'Twas an enjoyable chat, my friend. I love bouncing ideas off a receptive and like-minded wall ... so to speak.

    I think the last paragraph of this post is key, especially when you wrote: "Essentially, I am writing the book I wouldn't be able to put down."

    This is why I think we should all be writing.

    I've posted this quote a number of times, on my own site and on others', but i'll throw it in here one more time for posterity. Cue Salinger:

    “If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined.”

    Amen to that.

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  5. Good points all. Agents, even publishers, don't really know what will sell and what won't. Most fo their books do very poorly, it's the occasional hits that keep them in business. They just happen to have the keys to the castle, but times are changing...

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  6. Am so glad I found this post. And absolutely agree with the reluctant reader concept. This post was kind of inspirational in a way!

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  7. Awesome post! I agree with everything you said. And may I borrow your beautiful quote? I seriously will post it at the top of my blog with the other ones!

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  8. Two things come to mind reading this: we can't please everyone, and a quote, "Write the book, you want to read." - Toni Morrison.

    In the end we want to appeal to an audience that 'wants' to read whichever genre, storyline we've written. In some odd disconnect way, those that are drawn to our personalities. As I've said in my own post, we're there in the writing. (Hugs)Indigo

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  9. Well said. I have been forcing myself to finish what I think is a pretty nifty story, but I strongly doubt the commercial appeal. It has the kind of pensive pace that Charles Dickens wrote with, but with a Nicholas Sparks' story-line. I'm finding that kind of book rare these days. It's tough to fight for attention among vampires and zombies. So this post is a great reminder. Regardless of the potential to make millions (yeah, right) I think it's important to finish a work we've started. Even if it doesn't survive outside our own personal lap tops, it needs to at least have a fighting chance. So good tip.

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  10. Of course, Luke's comment above is twin to the source of his blog's name (which also happens to be written above my writing desk) - "Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out?" Which is, of course, what we should all be doing - agents and book sales be damned!

    Another quote your post made me think of: "When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself." That comes from Oscar Wilde, who firmly believed something was no good if all critics liked it. These days, that statement can be expanded to include agents.

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  11. What a great post! I followed you over here from David Kazzie's blog. Personally, I write fantasy YA. But it's not what's the norm, even in that aspect.

    And it's so true. I was turned down left and right by agents before I found the one that finally GETS me. So the agent is out there for each of us. I believe that with all of my heart. We just have to keep writing and keep knocking on doors until we find the agent that matches our story. And then we've finally made it.

    Good luck on your journey, Paul! With that great attitude, it won't take you very long to get there.
    ;-)

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  12. Michele: It seems I'm often the one forgoing the love fest when it comes to many of those titles. They just end up not being me. My taste is truly unique. Thankfully, there are agents out there who take on the types of books I like - because each time I go to a bookstore, I have less to choose from...

    Mark: Thank you. I'm glad you found it comforting, as that was my purpose in writing it - to comfort myself and spread that to others. We are all aware of how difficult the road to publication is. We are also aware of the books we personally can't understand being published. We just have to remember that personal taste is a huge variable.

    Austin: Freedom of choice is an important instructional strategy that poor teachers need to take advantage of. If kids actually want/enjoy a book, they actually choose the book over sparknotes.com. Which I know nothing about and certainly never used - except for maybe Beowulf. And Scarlet Pimpernel. And Cry The Beloved Country. And...well, you get the point...

    Luke: I love that quote. I've been meaning to print it and hang it in my writing office - just above my desk so I can glance at it daily.

    Mooderino: Great point; when you look at the number of books published, the majority experience minimal success. It really is those few bestsellers that profit, making room and funding available for a few projects I'm sure are considered risky.

    AR: Thanks! Glad you hopped over and found some inspiration. Good luck!

    Becky: Thanks for posting my quote. It makes me feel special. And somewhat insightful.

    Indigo: We are there in the writing. We bring our own personal life experiences to our stories, and it shapes our writing in more ways than most probably realize. People like us will like what we create. Hopefully, some people who are not so much like us will like them too.

    Scott: Absolutely! A writer should always finish the story and see it through to the end. I'm always saddened by tales of abandoned novels. If you finish, you can revise. If you revise, you can revise again. There is always hope if you keep plugging away.

    Jordan: I have to agree with Oscar. Besides, controversy makes a more interesting discussion, no? His words apply to all forms of art - music, movies, etc.

    Anita: Thanks for stopping in. I am happy to hear you found the agent. I like to think of it as looking for the missing puzzle piece that fits perfectly - you can't wedge something in to make it fit. Thanks for your kind words.

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