Tricky question: when is it time to re-think?


Stripe is Functional Again…

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E G Logan

Full Member
Nov 11, 2018
Liguria, Italy
I have committed what I always saw as THE cardinal sin when I sat the other side of the desk (the one with the overflowing pile of submitted MSS). I always used to advise: 'Never just write a story without tailoring it for a specific recipient. No matter how good it is, how much work went into it, if it's not right for them, you won't be able to place it.'
I have a completed MS that did just that. (Why? Long story.) It seems that its cross-genre plot is the problem: it's a romance/mystery with a supernatural strand that is key to the story, and a race-against-time last 30%. My saddest rejection, from an experienced and well-regarded agent, said: "I liked this, and I don't very often say that, but I honestly can't think where I could place it." (I took to my bed for 2 days after that.) My next saddest (very recent, of the whole MS) said the writing was "assured" and I had an "interesting premise" -- but asking to see my next one...
QUESTION, in two parts (no one said this was easy..)
A. At what point do I stop banging my head against the wall and accept a re-think is called for?
Personal and professional pride wouldn't let me just hit 'delete', so we are talking about considering how else I could re-use this material, maybe even in bits, in several different books... Or just put it to one side for now.
B. I have identified a way I could re-purpose it as a straightforward romance, where the supernatural serves only briefly as a red herring (the house is old and dilapidated, but NOT haunted). It would be a lighter-weight story, and I wouldn't be proud of it (Who me? No, I never wrote that...) but I believe it would SELL. (I'm sure it wouldn't work as YA or as Fantasy. Believe me, I've considered those options, too.)

What would you do?

In practice, I'm going to wait until I have heard from the small number of people I've submitted it to now. They include agents (+ 2 US agents), publishers and 2 'e-book first' publishers (1 of whom asked for the full MS). PLUS, of course, Pop-Up Submissions -- I have to wait for that. But then, hey...!
But there are agents out there asking for 'paranormal romances'. Now.
I've seen their links via twitter etc.
There must be a readership, just because these agents don't know where to place it....
Ah yes, BUT this isn't a paranormal romance, as such. This person-who-should-be-dead is working very hard at making himself into an everyday modern man, for the sake of the girl he loves. He can still do the ghostly stuff, but he saves it for emergencies and when he loses his temper with her.
I know where you are at here. I do. Mine is a ghost story, but not as such. The MC is a policeman but that just happens to be his job, and why the hell not. He deals in fact and he is also extremely psychic; haunted, and I could pitch it as an urban fantasy I suppose, but...hey, there's countryside in it. And alpacas. Not gritty enough don't you know. Mustn't confound anyone's expectations. These labels...and it's fair enough, to a point. One ought to have a sense of what else your potential readers might be reading or want to read....but then you go into Waterstones and the shelf just says FICTION and what's the matter with that.

You're doing something right. That much is clear.
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So you could re-purpose and re-focus, too -- But don't. Please don't. I think for both of us the re-focused story would be just... very ordinary. If commercial.
I'd be sad to see the back of my Renaissance man laughing fit to burst at the toaster. And you'd miss the alpacas.
I could manage without them, but what's a world without a landscape? And the cat is staying no matter what. He is an agent of destiny :) Who wants to write something ordinary? And first it has to be crafted to a professional calibre, and convincingly maintained,and that's the hellish hard bit of the slog, but a re-think is never a bad idea, but deleting is definitely a bad idea. Have you come across The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness?

Romance, a modern fable, legend, the supernatural. a volcanic ending.

Some agents say they want cross-genre. Used to call it general fiction, but it seems that won't do these days.

Trouble is, this wasn't his first novel. He'd already published children's books, and so his agent felt brave enough to take a punt on this.
I'd love to read both those stories... I love a story where there is something quirky and off-kilter (and I'm very partial to Renaissance men and alpacas it must be said). It's a bit like the problem/issue we see in Pop-Ups probably every week: work that is unusual, probably does't quite sit as neatly as expected on the bookshelf... but yet are brilliant, original stories that need to see the light of day. Would perhaps smaller publishing houses/agencies be a better bet: somewhere that specialize in "Not the usual..."?

I am in a similar position, and am waiting until I have scrubbed my MS into shape before I begin to freak out about where it sits. When I did the Submission Surgery, @AgentPete said I didn't necessarily have to give a genre (in my covering letter), but knowing what bookend-ed it was very important. We really need another bookshelf...
His agent is with Felicity Bryant's agency in Oxford, UK. Or was.

Yes, there is always the direct option, @Rainbird, Legend Press and other indie publishers of that stripe.

I'll send ye a sneak snippet some time if you'd like. Some of the veterans here have seen odd bits before...
Having the same problem with my book. I would actually consider it a work of magical realism, but how do you sell that? Even more fun: My character starts the book at 18 years old, but the book spans two more years. The only comps I can find are YA. What's a girl to do?
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Stripe is Functional Again…