Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Hook or the Book

While every agent or editor delights in finding the high concept novel with page turning pace in the slush pile, what's to become of the more sedate literary novel? In the midst of the changing landscape in publishing, many worry that their novel doesn't have the right stuff. Do you? Does yours?

Q) My novel has been called "quiet" by a few agents who've rejected it. Even those who have complimented my writing say they don't know how they would position it in the crowded market. I love my novel as is and feel that it will eventually find a home. I have no interest in revising it to give it a big hook. What advice do you have for a writer like me?

A)
Lynne Griffin
It's true that selling literary--in fact all--fiction is tough these days. The shelves are certainly crowded and it takes a lot of promotion to stand out. That said, there are wonderful books being published that are literary, quiet and still deeply rich in texture and tone. I suggest you step back and ask yourself some tough questions about your novel. Are the characters richly drawn and as three dimensional as your best friend or next door neighbor? Is your story original and compelling? Great writing is a must no matter what your genre, but in truth, today your work does need to stand out in some way in order to break free from the stack.

Amy MacKinnon
Ah, the quiet novel. When I think quiet, I think Last Night at the Lobster or Out Stealing Horses, Old Man and the Sea or The Stone Diaries. Each is a gem, two were awarded the Pulitzer, all have enormous heart. If no one is telling you there's a structural issue, that the voice is a mere echo, and the characters flat, then I would persevere -- but perhaps not now. I believe in the pendulum swing philosophy, that literary gems will once command the attention they deserve. As Lynne said, the climate is not welcoming to many novels right now, but this too shall pass. Believe.

Lisa Marnell
It sounds to me as though your decision's made; you say you have no interest in revising it to give it a "Big Hook." But, allow me to play devil's advocate... I challenge you to tell yourself WHY you don't want to revise it. Are you intimidated by the work it would entail (we're all too busy these days). Do you fear you won't be able to come up with an idea? Perhaps you owe it to yourself and your novel to rethink your decision.

Hannah Roveto
Perhaps you could have someone else read it for you; and if you've had it read by one or two knowledgeable friends, try a third or even a book doctor. You don't need to do what they say, but the knowledge might be useful. If it's a marketplace issue, would a chapter or a deleted scene be worth crafting into a short story? Many a first novel came from a published short story that drew someone's attention, and a credit in Post Road might be nice to have under your belt.