Well, okay, it’s actually been about five years, but it certainly feels a lot longer than that.
I’m talking about self-publishing, of course. For five years I sat on Waffles, insistent on obtaining a “proper” agent and publisher for this work, which I wholeheartedly refer to as my baby. I sent my manuscript away, as edited as I felt it could be, to almost two dozen literary agents. Of the eight people who responded, they all said the same thing: thank you, but your manuscript is not what we are looking for at this time.
I will openly admit, Waffles would be a difficult one to traditionally publish. It doesn’t fit into one particular genre, you see. It’s part horror, part humorous, part romantic, part dramatic and part dark fantasy. It’s a publisher’s worst nightmare; how do you advertise something that doesn’t slot into a nice little category? It’s going to be difficult for me to do it via self-publishing, but it’d be a harder sell to go through a publisher.
Anyone who has closely followed business trends will realise a uniformity that they do not enjoy breaking away from. Even when a company is being seemingly random, it’s usually because the act of being random is trending among companies of its ilk. Neil Gaiman’s books are a great example. Every book he writes is wildly different from the rest, but they all fit into an ongoing theme of being outlandish and unusual, and it works very well for him.
It’s not often you will find an esteemed historical fiction writer dropping erotic romance under the same pen name. You won’t often find people like Stephen King, masters of the macarbe, suddenly throwing a Christmas-themed chick-lit novel out there. Much like any art form, what works commercially must be repeated.
Jenny Colgan, for instance, writes light-hearted, female-centric romances that have a distinct “sweet foods” theme. Philippa Gregory is known for her romance novels set in the Tudor dynasty. Dan Brown writes mystery thrillers based on lost and hidden secrets of history. It is rare for these well-established authors to stray from their path.
Why? Because it works, and because buyers don’t often enjoy drastic and needless change.
My favourite type of book to read is historical. From political war thrillers, to a more slice-of-life angle of storytelling, if a story is rich in historical fact as it is well-rounded fictional characters, I’m in love. This also makes me want to write historical fiction (which also indulges my love of research, win-win). I am currently writing a historical romance set in 4th Century BC Greece.
Imagine the look on a publisher’s face; you release a book that defies a single genre, appealing to the “cult fiction” crowd and allegory lovers alike. The book has a small but fiercly loyal audience. It works, and it could even wind up with a Netflix Original series at some point. You enter his office with your new manuscript, and he is practically salivating over the idea of this new, quirky world that goes against all rules but works perfectly.
And then he discovers you’re handing him a rather “normal” historical romance.
It’s not a pretty sight, and I adamantly believe that both stories need telling, so that’s what I intend to do. I’m going to tell them, but I’ll handle the weirder stuff.