On Frey and the Traditional Route (and not going it)

Meets Girl and its preorder is not the biggest news in books and writing this week.

I know! I’m as surprised as you are.

No, but seriously, I do hope you’ve been enjoying the serialization, and I hope you’re looking forward to launch day as much as I am. Or maybe even more; I’m looking forward to it with equal measures of excitement, hope, and terror. Especially considering that I’m a totally unknown writer, and especially especially given that what I’m doing flies against the conventional, the traditional, the Way Things Are Done.

Because let’s face it, this ain’t it.

The Way Things Are Done right now, really, is simple: if I wanted to go the conventional, traditional route I’d write up a nice, succinct query letter, and I’d go to Twitter and Agent Query dot com and literary agents’ websites, and I’d read their guidelines and I’d choose, say, ten agents to send that query letter, and the first chapter of Meets Girl, to. After which point, I’d hurry up and wait. I’d try to forget I’d sent anything out, because remembering so is a sure path to crazy, but mostly I’d be waiting for rejection emails if I got any responses at all, because so many agents, nowadays, don’t send them.

I’d do that because so many publishers–most especially the big six, but every day, others, too–don’t accept unagented manuscripts. Like there’s some sort of vetting. Kept gates, the theory goes.

Used to be–once upon a time–I followed that path, those rules. I queried out The Prodigal Hour, and before that Twilight Brilliance.

And maybe–onceuponatime–that system worked. It worked then, I sheepishly admit, because though I plan to do the same thing with The Prodigal Hour that I’m doing with Meets Girl, that’s only because I rewrote and revised and rewrote it again until it was actually a good novel.

You’ll probably never see Twilight Brilliance. Even my editrix had to wheedle and cajole it from my old hard drive.

But now?

I don’t have so much confidence in the Way Things Worked, mainly because of so much of the other big news this week.

For example, hey, Chelsea Handler is getting her own imprint from Grand Central publishing. This imprint will, apparently, publish a book by Chunk Handler.

That’s Chelsea’s dog.

I don’t know Handler’s work, so I’m not going to disparage it. I’ve been trying to be more positive, lately, and really, from a marketing perspective, it’s a smart move. Handler’s a powerful brand and she’s leveraging her identity well.

Also leveraging a brand and identity well: James Frey. Who has, apparently, begun to try becoming what seems to be a sort of high-brow version of James Patterson by going to prestigious MFA programs–like Columbia’s–and recruiting students into contracts that–well, I haven’t seen one, and I’m no lawyer, but what I’ve read of them, so far, would make the MBA student in me leery of entering into one.

***

When I first decided I wanted to go to graduate school for writing, among the commonest advice I read was to seek out schools with faculty members who were producing the sort of work you wanted to. Then, when I started querying agents, among the commonest advice I read was to seek agents of authors whose work you like, or who wrote books like you did.

It’s indicative of finding a place, fitting into an already-established roster. When you know a faculty member has had a long and varied career, you can be confident of receiving the knowledge you need to further your own. When you know an agent has a client with books like yours, you can be confident he (or she) in addition has experience with editors who might be interested in similar material, and etc.

As conventional wisdom went, it made sense.

Which makes the current marketplace even more challenging.

Because I haven’t had a series of one-night stands, nor lied my way through a memoir. If Oprah picked The Prodigal Hour for her club, I wouldn’t reject her invitation, and though I might cry when I got there, it would only be because I was appreciating the moment so much.

Sorry. Cheap shot? I’m trying to be more positive.

I don’t know much.

What I do know is that reading that sort of news is discouraging because it makes me doubt my place. At least with either Grand Central or Harper (Handler’s and Frey’s publishing companies, respectively).

I don’t have a platform. I don’t know how to build one.

But I’ve got a site.

And I’ve got a book.

I don’t know where it’ll take me, nor whom it will find, but I’m hoping.


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