In every sado-masochistic relationship, the participants agree on a safety word, the one word from the whipee that will tell the whipper to stop with the whipping already.
So, dear readers, I have to ask. When do you move on? When do you shit-can a project that's not selling, an agent who stops returning your calls, or an editor who wants to change your masterpiece about the reanimated hooker into something for the YA market? When, in this S&M relationship we call publishing, do you use your safety word?
Recently, a young friend landed an agent for his first novel. I've read a fair chunk of the ms and if I had to categorize it, and we always do, I'd say it's a suspense novel as written by Peter DeVries. It's funny, the characters are loveably left of center, but there is a dark note that plays throughout.
For a little less than a year, his agent has tried to sell the ms with no success. That's not all that surprising. But what intrigued me, and made me want to solicit your opinion, was a note the agent sent to my friend. I'm paraphrasing it so that I won't get my friend into trouble, but here's what the agent said:
"I've heard from a reliable source that some agents send a ms. from a new client to only 8 editors. If those editors reject the ms, that project is dead and that client stops getting his calls returned. I'm not like that. I really tried to place your ms with every editor in the known universe and no one bit. It doesn't look promising. Editors who bought humorous suspensers in the past aren't buying anything new. What they want now is non-fiction. No suspense, especially with male protagonists. Women's fiction and erotic fantasy or romance still sell and the buzz on the next big thing is urban fantasy."
Then the agent tells my friend that if he writes anything non-fiction or urban fantasy, to let him know and they'd talk.
My friend asks my advice and I'd suggest moving on to the next book and letting this one go. I'd also start looking for a new agent when the new ms is done. I think what we have here is a first novel that isn't quite ready and an agent that isn't enthusiastic about future work, both so common in this business as to be near universal.
My questions to you, dear friends, are these:
1. Have you heard of agents flagging new clients and soliciting a select few editors?
2. Is suspense with male protagonists dead? After reading Ray Banks, Sean Doolittle, Ken Bruen, Jason Starr, Victor Gischler and Jim Born in just the past few weeks, I'd say no, but maybe things are changing.
3. What would your advice be to this young writer? Should he move on to a new novel and a new agent, as I've advised? What would you tell him?
4. What the fuck is urban fantasy?
I've referred my friend to this space so he'll read your comments. I appreciate your help.