So I just finished another book. Sometimes I read novels, sometimes non-fiction. Most often, I am reading something printed years before. I tend to buy a lot at second hand stores and other used book outlets. When a person reads one or two books a week, it can get expensive to buy all new. So far, the electronic versions have not completely enticed me, though I use my Kindle more than I expected.
The reason I note that, is because I have been contemplating my own writing. I did not just take up writing because I wanted to tell a story. I have been writing as long as I can remember. My first 'novel' took up most of a 5-subject, college-ruled notebook, and I was about 13 when I finished it. That particularly story got lost in the shuffle of my life, but I have others that were written not long after. Though I am not a techy, I brought my first computer, a Commodore 64, almost when home computers hit the market. I think I paid more for those first computers that only operated in DOS than I have paid for my last three combined. The simple explanation behind my purchases was the ease of writing, and the ability to save the material on little, slender, floppy, 5.5 inch disks. More convenient than notebooks, and much, much easier to edit. Some of those old stories are frighteningly bad in both quality and subject. I have scratched my head wondering what was going through my mind to write such drivel.
So I have quite a few completed novels harboring around my hard drives or my CD's. Most were edited a few times before I moved on to a new story. Some are historic novels, some contemporary. All of them follow the same general concept, they are based in reality. I've never been able to come up with a believable, or maybe enjoyable, fantasy. Sci-fi doesn't interest me at all because it seems the future will hold its own surprises and I don't care to speculate what they might be. I would love to write a mystery but I have not been able to keep it mystifying enough for myself. I have only read a couple of mysteries where I was not able to figure out the who, what and where long before the end of the book. Someday, I hope I'll read enough to pick up the technique, but I don't think I am there yet. As for thrillers, maybe I have written a few, I am not completely sure. None of them involve espionage or sinister secrets by a cult of the Catholic Church, so maybe not.
The popular romances make me cringe, not because of the sex, but the shallow, one dimensional representation of characters. If I truly wanted a man, and he fooled around on me, I would not pursue him to get him back -- I would change the locks and have his clothes in a black garbage bag at the end of the driveway. True, I am a little different, but rich, handsome and good-in-bed are not measurements I use in a relationship. I prefer understanding, compassion, support, and most of all, the ability to laugh. So even though I have written a couple of novels that I call romances, I don't know if they qualify or not. Perhaps, they would be best described as Love Stories.
Most are just stories, people who existed or might have, facing real life as best as they can. I guess I did not travel the easiest path through life, so I've discovered reality has plenty of material. And I have met so many people who have overcome, explored, adventured, or maybe just survived, that I don't look much further than the world as it is or was. Some of the people I have admired and tried to imitate, some have left me with profound disgust for their actions. Yet even those whose behavior I do not like, have taught me a little something. Maybe how to do better, or what not to do; or sometimes, it is no more than an opportunity to discover why they acted the way they did. So I don't truly condemn anyone, we have all muddled through life as best as we could with the tools we were handed.
I tried the agent query thing, but I found most of the agencies simply handled rejections by claiming if you don't hear from us... Forget the rejection letters. That leaves a rather large black hole since one wonders if the query even was glanced at or if it arrived in a busy period when the assistant merely hit the delete button for all the waiting queries. The few who respond do have the courtesy of a form letter, which is a smidge better but no more illuminating.
On the great worldwide web, through countless articles and 'buy this' offers, one can find a wealth of advice on how to write a query. Some insist that there is a perfect form for it. Then one reads the variety of queries which received an actual response and it quickly becomes obvious that there is no such thing as a standard, sure-fired method to get a query noticed.
I have come to conclude, perhaps wrongly, that there really are a few sure-fired methods to get a query a passing glance, at least. The best chances appear to be through two methods. Number One -- finding someone who has a connection with an agent; personal, through their work, or as a favor owed. The next best method is through a paid venue; in other words, at conferences where agents are paid to be there, or through courses that agents are paid to teach or appear at.
The least successful, the one so many practice, is the cold query. Cold is probably a bit of an understatement, I think frigid query might be a little more apt. I realize that agents are swamped since everyone is hoping for the next great break to make their riches at home, typing away on their screen and producing the next best seller. So I don't really know if there is away to break through that barrier of indifference they must have set up to keep some sensibility in their life. A few will manage if they write in the popular, quick sell categories in the popular theme of the day, they can be a celebrity, a news worthy criminal, or some one with a list of scholarly credits behind their name --MD, PhD, ASPS, MBA, etc. Romances will continue to be a biggie, since the reader audience is always prolific. The right spin Sci-fi also has big space to fill, and fantasies, particularly YA, that hit on the popular or startling to pull in the kids might get noticed.
So is there hope for the rest? I don't know, but then I can be rather cynical too. And I also do not where the fault lies. Why should some agent take a chance on a unknown, writing on a controversial topic, or a unique topic, or without appealing to some particular group who are clamoring for attention. One suggestion is to learn what's popular and follow the herd. But for someone like me, who has always danced a little beyond normal, I don't know where the herd is, where its going and I probably would take the path straight through the rough, blazing my own trail since I'd rather discover than follow what's already been trampled upon.
That leaves me on the fringe again and I don't know what to do. Do I give up the writing I love and try to pump out some already done subject with a couple of different twists. Should I write about what I know? If I divert into the popular scope, will I break free of it, or will the expectation be to continue jostling along with the herd?
Or is the answer to continue as I have and make a choice. Go on writing in obscurity since it is the writing, not the popularity that I truly crave. Perhaps it was foolish to even think beyond the creation of stories into sharing them. Or is there a way of finding the audiences. Maybe I am not the only person who enjoys what I do. Of course that must be true, since I manage to find so many books I love. My problem is that as I search, I also take time from my first love of writing. On my first novel, I sometimes felt as if I would go into withdrawal if I didn't get some writing time in.
I don't have an answer just now. I cannot figure out what I should do. Maybe, in time, a spark of some revelation will come through and I will find the solution. In the meantime, I will continue to read, to write, and learn, hoping that if nothing else, as a writer, I will improve my word-smithing. If anyone wants to lend a secret or two, it would be welcomed. And if I come to any positive conclusions, I promise I'll share.