Informal poll: are people who post novels online lamers?

One of the interesting things that came up in my conversation with the New York agent last Thursday was that she felt I should try posting one of my novels–or serialized chapter-at-a-time versions–on my website. She thought it would be effective because of my possible win of the you-know-what contest. (Don’t want to jinx it any further. Am researching spells to make my essay win.)

Here’s the imagined scenario: I win the essay contest. This contest is known to NYC editors/agents as well as to librarians (the press release I saw was the one that reached the Richardson library, where I have a mole–I have spies everywhere) and Benchleyites. It is a contest that is well regarded, as it is judged by pros (unlike many RWA-sponsored contests, where the first-round judges are not necessarily pros.) The organizers of the event are happy to link to your site from the announcement of the contest win. Therefore, the theory goes, editors might be surfing around that site and might click on the link. There, they might take a look at some of the posted material, just for fun. If they like what they see, they might e-mail a request that I query them with whichever one it is they like.

She says that nontraditional methods work. That I should try to get my voice out there.

Okay. Well. Um. Sure, I wish she could reach down my throat and pull the Magic Book out of there that would make us both proud. (I once told my aunt to open her mouth so I could retrieve the other half of MY sandwich, which she had stolen while I was distracted fighting with the other kids at the table. Of course, I was four.) However, that didn’t happen. So why wouldn’t I want to try this route with the books I *do* have, the ones she doesn’t feel will snag an agent?

Here let us digress momentarily. Questions I have been asked about this include: (1) How do they know what’s gonna sell? and (2) Isn’t that just lame?

(1) They’re sales people. If I run the cosmetics counter at Dullard’s Dept. Store and I have a big seller in mascara, I’ll stock mascara. But if my twenty regular customers suddenly quit wanting it and tell me they aren’t gonna use it any more, then I have to try to sell them a product they DO want. It’s the reality of business. Maxwell Perkins is dead. Agents spend all day talking to their friends who are editors–their customers–probably about five to twelve of them are “regulars” to whom the agent sends manuscripts all the time, and sells to often. This customer will not like it if the agent continues to send stuff that the editor has said she can’t or won’t buy. Those cartons of melted crayons may look good to eat, but they don’t meet the minimum RDA for calories any more. *sigh* Such is life.

Two agents have told me recently that factors you’d never guess really DO affect the possibilities your book has at market. (1) If it is over 120,000 words or shorter than 80,000, it’s got problems. In fact, many agents and editors will look at your query and say, “I don’t wanna see it because it’s 130K words.” This is one reason that my mysteries don’t do well at the query stage–I know this. The realities of printing a book: there are certain sizes that books need to be to sell at the defined price points they have and to fit into those little racks. *cringe* (2) If you do not grab a modern reader on the first page or at least by page three, you are out of luck. This is affected by all sorts of personal preferences and is not something you can predict. You might use someone’s favorite name as the villain’s name, and that could blow the deal. Maybe you have a crash-bang-boom opening. But you don’t want to have a grabber of an opening that leads into a leisurely, philosophical, thought-provoking character study, either. They see many instances of a perfectly polished and “pacey” first three chapters that is then followed by a very different novel. These do not sell, though they win contests ALL THE TIME, apparently.

So. Let us concede that the Avon lady and the Amway distributor know what is selling out there on the street, and give up the quest to sell icicles to penguins.

Now we have to deal with the lameness factor. Isn’t it true that if you give away your book on your website, it is perceived to be one that wasn’t good enough to make it in the regular market? Do you want that perception to tar your book? Do you really want all those free copies downloaded out there by people who might go through and steal all your good lines and then put them into a book that DOES sell? (I know this happens. I just can’t check everything that’s in print against everything else.)

Is it as bad if you just give away the first chapter or two? Maybe not.

Hubby points out to me that my ISP has a little agreement dealie that we signed saying that we won’t sell stuff or have a commercial deal going on our pages. He thinks we would have to get a special page to do what she’s talking about. We could do that. But would it be lame?

I dunno. Next: the debate over where Dennis should send his paranormal novel.


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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