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Thursday, November 15, 2012

What to Do When Your Books Aren’t Anything by Jeffe Kennedy

             My agent emailed me last night. She’d just finished reading a novel I wrote a couple of years ago and wasn’t able to sell. I sent it to her because we’d recently gotten passes from Big 6 (Big 5?) editors on a newer novel. Both loved the writing, the concept, the characters – but one said there was too much romance in his fantasy and the other said there was too much fantasy in her romance. (Does anyone remember those Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials? Well there was no joyful joining of the chocolate and peanut butter in these cases.) So, I sent her this other novel, because she thought, since they liked my writing, hitting them with something else might be successful.

                She emails me and says:
I love you. I love that your books aren't anything. [This novel] is like urban and traditional fantasy had a baby.
                It’s a funny message to get from your agent – one that makes you laugh even as your heart clutches at the confirmation that, yes, this is yet another hopelessly cross-genre novel.
                I did warn her. I met her at RWA after she read Rogue’s Pawn and loved it. I told her it took me years to sell that book, because it was neither fantasy nor romance, an urban fantasy, kinda, that takes place in a non-urban landscape. So, I wrote her back and told her I know I’m hopeless, that I don’t try to be this way. She responded with strategy to sell it to the perfect editor.
                Which is why I signed with her. At least she gets me.
                And then I commiserated via IM with one of my critique partners, who is also hopelessly cross-genre and she wondered what is wrong with us, that we write this way. Why we just can’t help ourselves. Why we can’t just color inside the lines for once.
               Which made me remember back when I was six years old. We had a special art project to paint acrylic flowers and then go over the painting with black marker, making big, swooping outlines around the petals and leaves. It was supposed to be kind of abstract and free (this was the early 70s, after all).
                I painted my flowers, bright orange petals circling a yellow center. The image is still strong in my mind, those colors so vivid and perfect. Those paints had an intensity I hadn’t encountered before. But, when it came to it, I couldn’t disrupt that lovely color with big, careless loops. Instead I outlined each petal with a precise black line.
                The teacher gave me a C, for not following instructions. And the painting won the grand prize in my school art show. My mother had it hanging up for a long time, too, in a lime green frame that matched my carefully outlined leaves and stems.
                I suppose the moral here is obvious. As much as I would enjoy getting an A+ from those editors who pay the big bucks, those bestseller list nods, there’s something in me that values the story more. Ultimately, I make that choice to honor the story and characters over the genre rules. It might feel to me that it needs to be that way—just as those orange flowers needed to be that way—but I’m still making that choice.
                At least my agent loves me.
 
BIO: 
Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. Her works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook.  Her fantasy BDSM romance, Petals and Thorns, originally published under the pen name Jennifer Paris, has won several reader awards. Sapphire, the first book in Facets of Passion has placed first in multiple romance contests.
Her most recent works include three fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns, the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and the post-apocalyptic vampire erotica of the Blood Currency.  
An avid user of social media, Jeffe engages daily with thousands of fans on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.  She frequently guests on publishers’ Twitter-feeds and reviewers’ blogs. She’s been an active member of RWA since 2008. She served two terms as president of RWA’s very large Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal special-interest chapter and continues as an advisor to the current board.
Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com or every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog.

27 comments:

Juturna F. said...

I'd read it. ^_^

Sometimes it's less comfortable outside the box than inside it, isn't it? I think that's why cats like boxes. They're trying to tell us our lives would be easier if we could just curl up in cardboard, too.

Too bad I'm metaphorically allergic to cardboard. But hey, maybe with the rise of the e-book, we'll find there's a place for us after all... Good luck, and keep writing for the story!

Pamala Knight said...

This post comforts me and make me sad. I'm one of those cross-genre (many, MANY genres) writers and I want to wait for that agent and editor who will love my book like I do, but it's so hard. When you hear "the writing is great, the characterization, the world building, the dialogue..." and on and on, but no one is willing to take a chance, it's a bit daunting.

But, I'm not ready to give up hope and you and your excellent writing are an inspiration, Jeffe.

Thanks for this.

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Thanks Juturna! Love the cat-in-box analogy. It *does* look so cozy...

Don't give up, Pamala! We shall overwhelm them with our cross-genre army of DOOM!!

Rashda Khan said...

Yay for honoring the stories! I think that's some of best writing a writer can do...thanks for a thought-provoking post!

@SpiceBites

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Thanks Rashda!I agree that it's the best writing a writer can do - even if the marketers don't always agree.

Cathy in AK said...

I love the cross-genre stories that pop into my head. They're they only kind I seem to generate. And I love that some agents and publishers are willing to take a chance on them. It's not an easy way to have a writing career, but I wouldn't want you or any of us to give it up.

j-cheney said...

"...but one said there was too much romance in his fantasy and the other said there was too much fantasy in her romance."

I had the same issue. I was fortunate that my agent finally succeeded in selling the books, but I wouldn't change what I write to make a better fit somewhere...

Perhaps our middle-of-the-road stories will take off and spawn a whole new sub-genre ;o)

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Me too, Cathy!

I hope so, J - I think it's starting to happen!

Mona Karel said...

Ya know,they keep asking for something fresh and different but what they really want is something the same, just a bit different. I'm sure a lot of people do like to read in their boxes, I don't and my friends don't so, whaddya do? I guess just keep writing

Jeffe Kennedy said...

So true, Mona - if only we had a nickel for every time we heard that one!

Nancy said...

Wonderful! I can't imagine trying to SELL the Big 6 (5?) with a story your agent cannot even pigeon-hole. Keep on truckin'.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Anything that's like urban fantasy and traditional fantasy had a baby sounds like something I'd buy. Keep writing the cross-genre, Jeffe.

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Clearly this is why she's a good agent for me, Nancy - she believes!

Many kisses, B.E. You're the best!

Paula said...

To me, this illustrates why it's important to write what you love. If you love your world and your characters and your genre-bending story, then readers will love them, too! Glad your agent gets it! She sounds wonderful.

Carolyn Crane said...

Loving this post, Jeffe!! Cross genre lives! Maybe not in the mainstream but a babbling brook that's all orange and green.

Maeve Greyson said...

Bravo, Jeffe!! Here's to always writing the story true to your heart. :-)

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Good point, Paula! And my agent is really lovely - I'm happy to be with someone who isn't trying to change what I write.

Love that image, CC! Nothing wrong with an orange and green babbling brook, nuh uh!

Thanks Maeve!

Asa Maria Bradley said...

Oh man, I can't tell you how much I needed this post right now, Jeffe. I just got a long letter back from an editor at one of the big 6. He said my writing is fantastic, but my fantasy novel has too much sci-fi. A few weeks ago, I got a great critique from another big 6 editor that judged my contest entry. She loved my writing, but my sci-fi novel had too much fantasy.

I've been tearing my hair out debating how to rewrite the plot to remove either the futuristic stuff from my mythology or the other way around. Another writer friend talked me off the ledge but I was still a little shaky.

Your post has convinced me to stick to the story and the characters that speak to me. Thanks!

Jeffe Kennedy said...

I feel your pain, Asa Maria! It's not the easiest path maybe but, for some of us, it seems to be what we *have* to do. Good luck! (And consider Carina Press) :D

Asa Maria Bradley said...

Thanks, Jeffe. I'll definitely check out Carina.

Rita said...

Jeffe I hear this from so many authors. And as Mona said editors sat they want something new and fresh…until they get it. My plan is to write what I love. I’m not trying to jam my stories into any pigeon hole. Period.

Jeffe Kennedy said...

I think we have to write what we love, Rita - and hope the pigeon holes come to us!

Alexis Morgan said...

I loved your post, Jeffe. My very first manuscript started off as a fantasy set on another planet where the towns were primitive and people rode horses. When people told me it read like a western, I rewrote it as a western but kept the aliens. It never sold--it was too much fantasy, too hard to shelve, etc. After all, who writes westerns with alien warriors? That was way before Firefly and Cowboys and Aliens. I felt so vindicated when those shows came out. Having an agent who believes in your voice is an amazing gift!

Jeffe Kennedy said...

You're right, Alexis - I'm very lucky to have her. And I love the sound of that story. You did Cowboys and Aliens first, dammit!

Annie Quinty said...

An excellent post!
It should always be about the story and characters!
Your word are inspiring.

Lisa Kessler said...

Great post Jeffe!!! :)

As another cross-genre writer, I totally understand!!!

I'm so glad you found an agent who embraces your unique story-telling... It's a gift to have a different voice in the ocean of fiction...

*HUGS*

Lisa :)

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Thanks Annie and Lisa!