The Agony of Genre

I check agents’ sites occasionally, and yesterday I saw a note that a person had incorrectly classified her book as a ‘thriller’ in a query letter.  The agent said (quite correctly, I think from the query) that the book is suspense, not a thriller … but that’s okay, she said, because “thrillers are hard to sell these days.”

Ahhh, visions of my history with venture capital, when someone would have a Big Honkin’ Idea, would get funded and (shortly) acquired.  Within months there would be a dozen minor variations on the original idea looking for money, some of which would be funded.  Then the market would be saturated with look-alikes, and VC attention would turn to the next Big Honkin’ Idea.

So it is, I fear, with the thriller genre in commercial fiction.  I have two finished thrillers, one in rewrite and another in design.  So this is of some concern to me.

Once upon a time, the “thriller” plot turned on some big problem, something that would hurt thousands or millions.  Somehow the story’s protagonist, often an ordinary person (not cop, PI, lawyer, etc.), would discover some important detail and be pursued by bad guys until he or she was successful in exposing the bad stuff.  Then, sometime between Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects (2006) and her Gone Girl (2012), her marketing department made Gone Girl a thriller.  After that, there were a lot of thrillers came out. Most were suspense (the general classification above thriller), but ‘thriller’ sold.

It’s looking more and more like I’ll self-publish at least my first novel.

Evolution of Agency?

I just had an interesting and hopeful experience.  At least one literary agency is wrestling with the issue all have been struggling with:  the tsunami of queries made possible by the Internet. And this one, Bookends, seems to have cracked the code of how to deal with the flood in what people from other industries would consider professional.

The Old Way … The New Way’s Worse

I’m readying myself to take my first novel to market and have thus been looking at agents’websites.  A pretty standard note encourages submissions, then says something like:  “Unfortunately, due to the large number of queries and submissions we receive, we cannot acknowledge receipt, we cannot enter into correspondence about our decisions, and we cannot return material.”

In the world I come from, that would be an admission of failure to manage one’s business. Nerve-wracking to be sending one’s work into a black hole.

Bookends uses an online submission form, then gives an address where one can track the progress of one’s submission.  Fight technology with technology.  Good for Bookends. For me, the change is hugely positive, because it cuts off the loose ends that are endemic with the send-it-off, wait, wait, wait cadence of most query activity.  It also made me realize that small, ongoing pain of not knowing is worse than the pain of rejection.

Anyway, kudos to Bookends.

… AND Spencerhill Associates, using same form

… AND the great online resource, query tracker.net … which has apparently bridged the gap between keeping track of a writer’s queries and managing the submissions literary agents receive.  BIG kudos on helping the industry put at least a toe in the waters of twenty-first century electronic media!