Sunday, September 19, 2010

Writer's Digest October issue affirmed my life as an independent fantasy writer

I've read Writer's Digest for years. As a teenager I used to pour over its articles about how to write query letters and dream of having novels published. Then as an adult I would dutifully study the advice in the magazine about how to get published. Although I find no fault with the advice provided by the magazine. It is honestly provided by industry experts, but everything in the October 2010 issue was decidedly discouraging from the point of view of a fantasy writer.

Writer's Digest did not intend this, but the fact was painfully obvious in the article "The Hot List" that was about 27 agents who are actively looking for new manuscripts.

Of these 27 agents...

-- One actually stated an interest in fantasy.
-- Four asked for urban fantasy, which is popular but not what I write.
-- Two agents were willing to look at "light fantasy" or "fantasy that does not take itself too seriously" whatever that means.
-- Here's the heartbreaker: 7 agents specifically said they did NOT want any fantasy.

Judging from this article you would think selling a good fantasy novel is impossible. You'd think bookstores had purged their shelves of fantasy books and that George R.R. Martin was panhandling on a street corner instead of watching hot chicks act out his bestselling novel A Game of Thrones for HBO.

In reality I suppose that agents who work in the fantasy genre felt no need to be a part of the hot list article. They are likely deluged with queries from fantasy writers that need to be promptly ignored.

I don't know who gets to actually scout out new fantasy writing talent. But obviously only a mysterious few on the planet guard the gates of mainstream fantasy publishers. I suppose I'll never know who they are.

I realize it is not Writer's Digest fault that agents can't sell fantasy novels. Apparently only readers buy them. However, this hot list article certainly validated my decision years ago to stop banging my head against the closed door of literary agencies. I spent four years writing query letters. My only satisfaction was that 98 percent of them rejected me without ever reading my fiction. This means that my fiction was never given even a passing glace. Rejection is much easier to bear when you know it is not caused by an assessment of your work. I'll grant that maybe I'm not very good at writing query letters, but how am I supposed to explain in a couple paragraphs how someone can make money off an unknown writer of fantasy novels?

I'm so glad I now concern myself with marketing my fiction directly to readers because they are much more open to giving a novel a look.

More items in this issue of Writer's Digest confirmed my life as an independent fantasy author. Take these examples from the article "The Evolution of the Literary Agent":

-- Wendy Keller of kellermedia.com said, "It's horribly true that advances are down and so are the number of books publishers are buying."

-- Richard Curtis of Richard Curtis Associates, after acknowledging that advances were holding steady for already successful authors, said, "Where we definitely feel the shrink [in advances] is in the resistance to new authors. The wall is far higher than we've ever seen it, and sadly that means we must turn more newcomers away than we want to."

I found these quotes to be very affirming of my business decisions as an author. Essentially the publishing industry has little interest in investing in new authors, and, when it does, the pay will be low. I can be treated like that anywhere without the bother of writing a novel.

Once again, I am relieved that I have already developed my novels for the market and have been selling them for years to readers. I guess the only way the publishing industry would become interested in my fantasy fiction is if I become wildly successful on my own. Well, I'm trying, but it's in the readers' hands.

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