I was thinking about pigeons and the holes they live in (do they?) yesterday, as I was watching The Pen Factor, the last event in The Literary Consultancy’s annual conference ‘Writing in a Digital Age’.
The Pen Factor, which takes its name from The X Factor, features a group of brave writers who are given a limited time to pitch and read extracts from their books to a panel of agents, who are themselves given a limited time to respond, and all this in front of an audience.
There seemed to be a preoccupation on the part of some panel members with genre: ‘Is it really a psychological thriller?’ said one. ‘It doesn’t sound like a thriller setup to me.’ Bearing in mind the limited time allotted to both writers and agents you might think this was a distracting waste of time, as did TLC’s founder, Rebecca Swift. ‘Don’t try and define the genre’, she admonished from the audience, ‘it’s a beautifully written, idiosyncratic book, not necessarily of majority appeal but a beautiful book nonetheless.’ The writer of it admitted agents had told her before they found it ‘hard to place’, so what did she do? She self published it.
Before coming down too hard on the agents however it’s worth remembering that when they take on a book they too will be given a few minutes perhaps to pitch it to a publisher. So if they can use that time to say, ‘It’s a thriller with Sci Fi elements, a mix of suchandsuch (insert appropriate bestselling title/author here) and suchandsuch (ditto), rather than, ‘it’s about a woman who after a mystery illness receives odd visitors and communes with vases and the supernatural and some of them are imaginary and some real and it turns out they’re all part of her in the end and it doesn’t really fall into any particular category’, their job is somewhat easier.
So hello self publishing, where while a book has to fit Amazon’s (or Smashwords’) categories to some extent nobody is going to turn it down because it isn’t strictly a thriller or a romance or crime or even a literary novel. I’m about to face a similar problem myself with a period romance that contains elements of erotica. Were I to market it as erotica it might sell quite well but it would disappoint a lot of readers expecting whips and leather and wall-to-wall fornication, if that’s what readers of erotica expect.
Besides it’s hard to know which agents would be likely to handle such a book. As the panel showed it is vitally important, if you are looking for an agent, to find the right one. Not necessarily the biggest or the most successful but the one who is most likely to really love your book and to put time and energy into promoting it. Researching them online is all very well but for most writers this isn’t enough.
Yet another reason to self publish?