I know this is a topic that has been beaten to death recently, but I've had some first-hand experience I think relates to this and I want to get some second and third opinions.

When I was querying agents for my first novel I had a 60+% rate of return on agents asking for sample chapters or the whole manuscript. But for this new book, which is a better book with a better query letter, I am 0-30. I had some luck early on with two agents who I've dealt with previously, and one agent who contacted me on a referal, but for blind submissions, nothing but form letters.

I talked to a friend in the business, and she and I both think it's because I identify it as a PI novel with a traditional PI plot. My first reaction was to rewrite my query letter referring to him instead as a security specialist doing skip traces, and call it a "thriller for the media generation" instead of a PI novel for the media generation.

Then I got an even better idea. I'd make him a detective with the Detroit Police warrant squad and have the PI he was moonlighting for be a skip on a murder warrant. The changes wouldn't be that major and it would actually make a lot of things easier.

But here's the problem. First, I REALLY want to write a PI novel. I love them and love the tradition and want to make my own contribution to the genre. And I know it's not a totally dead genre because Sean Chercover is getting some good press for his debut, and Dave White recently sold his first PI novel for a decent deal.

The other thing is that the agent who contacted me through the referral was very excited about my book, though he had some problems with the plot and motivations which he asked me to rewrite in a detailed letter. Would changing the character be too much for this rewrite or would it show I'm aware of the market and willing to adapt? My initial instinct is to keep it as a PI novel for this rewrite and then if this agent passes, do the job change and requery with that then.

Any thoughts?

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I'm torn on this subject, Bryon. On one hand, I think you have to write the stories that you feel compelled to write. But at the same time, whenever a traditional PI novel lands on my desk, my first reaction is usually a big yawn. I have to think that most agents and editors feel the same way. Publishers are looking for a marketing hook, and without it, your chances of making a sale diminish drastically, no matter how good the writing is.
I agree with Ray. And I really think it shows if an author has written something because they think it's going to be the next big flavour of the month, or they are getting on the bandwagon of something currently popular. There's just no heart in it. It reads like something cold and clinical and soulless. If a writer who really really wants to write a hard-boiled book set in Ouagadougou featuring an armadillo PI with an eating disorder, is told that, well, the next big thing is actually going to be a cozy set in Portsmouth featuring a little old lady who embroiders pillow cases how does the writer write that book and mean it? Personally speaking, I can only write what I want to write.

I've never read the Da Vinci Code and have no desire to, but there are whole shelves of knock offs in the shops. People I know who have read them tell me they are "not a patch on The Da Vinci Code".

I think if you're writing something you like, you're not the only person who will like it. And the main thing, as Ray says, is to write the best book you can. Bryon, I think you should just carry on writing the book YOU want to write, and let your writing speak for itself.
If a desired agent has an interest and they've asked for a rewrite, I'd consider it so long as the revisions don't blow your book apart. It's your work and your vision. Until an agent commits to representation and you feel comfortable with them, the changes could be a waste of your time if these revisions are major. Personally, I have a little problem with an agent who's also an editor. This is such a subjective business that any chgs you make with your agent (if they're extensive) could get revised back with an editor. I've seen it happen.

I like the cross genre story in today's market since I think it has a broader appeal when a house goes to distribute it. And I agree with your friend that editors and agents read the same type of pitches and if they have a negative perception about the market for a PI series, they may be looking for an excuse to send that Thanks but No Thanks form letter. If you turn an old plot on its ear and make it sound appealing, you'll get the same story into their hands when they request it.

The job of a good and effective query letter is to compel them to ask for at least a partial. If you're not getting that, then it's time to revise.
I listened to JA Konrath at a writers conference. Unless he was spinning our tails, he has a binder w/ 400 rejection letters... and a five book deal. I love a good PI novel
You should be down at the bar buying Joe a beer right now, Karyn. Tell him Jude says hi and thanks again so much.
This is exactly why I started www.sonsofspade.tk!
The PI genre obviously isn't very popular anymore. I am convinced however that if enough good stuff keeps coming out the genre can flourish again. Besides, look at John Connolly or early Lehane... All write about PI's but so well it brings in the readers!
The genre just needs some extra promotion!
If the PI novel was dead, Sean Chercover wouldn't be doing signings. End of story.

The PI novel isn't, never has been, and never will be dead. What's dead was that, over the last several years, the market got hundreds and hundreds of PI novels that were either horribly written, or at best, written flatly, with no unique voice or point of view, etc.

Forget about the market. Who are you to think that your first legit efffort at a novel is worth publishing? Maybe it isn't the market? Maybe your book just isn't that great, but you needed to get it out of your system so you could then go and write what will be your six-figure-advance book???

I don't know, but I see stuff across the Net all the time where someone's book didn't get an agent or a deal, so that person thought it was about marketing. Maybe it is, but what if it's not?

Worry about the writing. If you sent out fifty gazillion Q's and no one has bitten, then put that freaking thing away and start writing your next great novel.
Oh, I certainly hope PI novels are not blase'. Nothing like a good PI looking for the bad! Maybe it has more to do with the story, and the character of the PI! And again, it may just be a few agent's opinions. Maybe you might try looking for a small publisher who knows good writing when they see it -- and are not so worried about "in" and 'out.' A good book sells, regardless........my opinion!! Syl
I figure I should jump in, since my ears are burning...

It's true that my debut is a PI novel, and it just went into a second printing (yea!). So we know that a PI novel by a newbie author can interest an agent and sell to a publisher, and that people will actually buy the book.

Sure, along the way, I did hear that PI novels are "a hard sell right now." But so what? All fiction is a "hard sell" in the current climate. If your book sells, it won't be (primarily) because of the profession of your protagonist, or because of some high-concept plot gimmick, or because you are a former PI, cop, wise guy, and/or astronaut.

If your book sells, it will be, primarily, because of the "voice" of your writing. And if it doesn't sell, it will probably be for the same reason. Ask any agent or editor, and they will tell you. When they start reading a manuscript and they're struck by a distinctive voice, they say, "I have to publish this!" I've heard this from numerous agents and editors, and I believe it to be true.

So I would advise that you take a look at the manuscript, and make an honest assessment of, not what you've written, but how you've written it. Are you telling the story with an authentic voice, or are you mimicking the voice of writers you admire? If you believe that you've found an authentic voice for your writing, and that it is consistent throughout the ms. then I wouldn't worry about arbitrarily changing your protagonist's job description.

You said that you really want to write a PI novel. Great. That passion is a huge asset to your writing, so why abandon it? And you said that you want to make your own contribution to the genre. Also great. So you're not just riffing on PI novels that have come before, but staking out your own distinct territory within the genre. This suggests to me that you either have found or will find your own distinctive voice. And more than anything else, that will get your novel sold.

The PI novel is not dead. Don't sweat it.


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