In catching up on submissions, I'm noticing a few trends I thought I'd share. While I read all query letters with the hope that a jewel will be attached, I don't always read all the sample materials sent me. If the query letter is particularly well written, I'll usually give the manuscript a chance, even if the query has made it clear that the book isn't for me.
But there are plenty of books that aren't making the cut. Here's what isn't doing it for me, these days. In other words, things I'd suggest writers NOT write. Well, maybe WRITE, but not submit, because I think the chances of anyone buying it will be slim.
1. VAMPIRE STUFF. It's on its way out. By the time a manuscript goes through the agenting and submission process, it's going to be completely out.
2. RUSSIA/SOVIET UNION STUFF. I'm afraid Cold War-era thrillers are out. They just don't seem immediate any longer. There are new world threats: Al Qaeda, dangerous policies in China, global climate crises. The Russian stuff feels passe and reads like something quaintly historical.
3. PARANORMAL THRILLERS. This is the genre everyone loves to say No to. The reason is simple - We don't know how to edit it or where to sell it. I think the genre is going to end up flourishing in the ebook format; and, honestly, I think there is probably a niche for a forward-thinking publisher of print books to specialize in high-quality paranormal books. (The ones I've read haven't been too impressive from a writing point of view; but surely there are good writers in the genre.) I almost wish we could start an imprint, just to see how it does; but the challenges are so massive, and none of us really has that much passion for this type of book, and passion would be required to make it work.
4. "EROTIC" MYSTERIES. What a slew of these I've seen over the last six months. Fifty Shades of Grey notwithstanding, there's really no market (or at least not one that would be easy to reach; I imagine soft-core porn is pretty easy to find on the Web, though I'm afraid to go looking for it, for fear of having my computer destroyed by a virus).
Advice of the Week: I've read some quite poor published work lately. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I reject much better manuscripts than some of the published books I've read lately. What do all of these poor books have in common? They are agented. So, the advice I'm giving this week is - Do whatever you can to get an agent. Make the rounds, go to conventions, pay astronomical fees for pitch sessions - anything to get yourself out there. This business is small and unfair, so you might as well play by the rules and play the same game everyone else is playing. I've seen some manuscripts that I outright rejected end up with decent agencies and good publishers. Whether those manuscripts evolved into good books after I saw them is perhaps open to question; but the fact remains that there they are, published, and sitting on someone's shelf.
Submissions: I am currently open to submissions. Of course, I cannot tell you who I am, as that would ruin all the fun of doing this blog, and I'm not ready to give it up, quite yet. (I like the nice emails, as well as the snarky ones.) But let me say this: We are listed in LMP as a publisher that accepts unagented queries. So, if you have a good manuscript and are tired of bumping up against brick walls everywhere you turn, check out the LMP listings and try submitting to an independent press. Most serious writers understand the pros and cons of the big houses vs. the indies, so I won't list them here. But I can say that I'm proud of the work we do, and we're funded by some really wonderful people who want me to keep finding fabulous books by new writers. So, think about submitting to us.
UPDATE since original post: LMP is Literary Market Place. It has a high price tag, but you can likely find a copy at your local library, or can sort through the listings at a Barnes & Noble. Another place (online) to find publishers that are accepting submissions is Duotrope.
Random House and Penguin: The Random House/Penguin merger is of course the big news of the week. Wow. Two superb, superb publishers coming together... it's almost a little intimidating, and I can only imagine the in-fighting that is going to reign supreme over the coming months. I'll be watching this situation with interest.The conventional wisdom is that the two houses are merging in an attempt to gain some more market power. Now, this is not something that I generally approve of - I think as a society we've become much, much too lax about allowing these massive mergers. But I also think the average person on the street cannot even begin to understand the power that Amazon wields and how it affects everything we do, every single day. The RH/Penguin merger is an attempt, it seems to me, to re-balance the power between a predatory company that gets away with far too much and the people who actually publish books. I recently read a very perceptive article talking about the way Wall Street does not really expect Amazon to turn a profit; and that business model is truly frightening, because that will allow it to keep undercutting its competitors and driving them out of business with impunity. I'm glad to see some people fighting back; I just hope it works. Given what happened with the DOJ suit against "price fixing" of ebooks a while back, I'm not hopeful.