Have you ever received a rejection letter because your story was too original? That’s often code for something that can’t be easily categorized and pigeonholed.
Then it occurred to me that there are lots of authors out there whose works are being rejected simply because they have dared to go against the norm. The following is a case in point.
A few weeks ago for my Zetta’s Desk blog, I wrote about how you can create an original story by changing your point of view. I even provide a short example of what can happen simply by telling your story from another perspective.
Different CAN be good. A market CAN be found. Everyone is NOT the same. Thank goodness.
Read how award-winning author Peg Herring struggled to get mainstream agents and publishers to take her new character and story idea seriously. Peg’s determination and belief in herself made her Loser a winner.
“Sorry. Not for us.”
By Peg Herring
That was the message I got from agents when I pitched my newest mystery, KILLING SILENCE. Once there was this handwritten addendum: “We don’t think readers are ready for a homeless protagonist.”
I kept imagining Mary Shelley telling her editor, “But readers love a unique protagonist,” and the editor responding, “We don’t think readers are ready for an obsessed scientist with a reanimated sidekick.”
News Flash: Readers are always ready for a good story with a compelling protagonist, and Loser the loser, who lives on the streets of Richmond, Virginia and gets involved, quite unwillingly, in solving a murder, is as compelling as they come.
I pitched KILLING SILENCE to several agents at conferences and by mail. While they all liked the book and the writing, they couldn’t see how it fit the marketing schemes of the major publishing houses. These days, the big guys look for books that fit a formula based on what sold last year, so mysteries tend to come in sub-genres like romantic suspense, cozy (is there a craft we haven’t covered yet?), police procedural, and international intrigue. If a book doesn’t fit into one of those categories, it isn’t considered marketable, and agents, who look for 15% of something big, won’t touch it.
I write mysteries that put unique characters into unique situations. They don’t fit easily into one of the above slots, so my queries for KILLING SILENCE brought notes that said, “We like the idea, but this is not for us.” I found myself asking how many wonderful books would never have come into print if the thinking of today’s big publishers had dominated the publishing of the past.
Luckily for me, I met Jim and Zetta Brown at a conference in New Orleans a few years ago, and I knew LL-Publications looks for books that are different from the run-of-the-publishing-mill. They liked Loser and her story immediately, and we made plans for a three-book series, beginning with KILLING SILENCE this fall. Thanks to LL, readers will soon meet a woman with problems who will steal into their hearts and curl up there, trying not to take up too much room.
Anyone who has spent much time in large American cities is familiar with the sight of homeless people on the streets, but have you thought about what it’s like to be homeless? Where do you wash up? Get clothing? Find food? Sleep? Spend your time? How do you protect yourself from danger? From the elements? And who do you call friend?
A few years ago, I spend several months in Richmond’s Fan District, where the juxtaposition of large, elegant homes and sad, desperate street people struck every time I went to the drugstore a few blocks from my daughter’s home on Grace Street. I’m not sure when the idea of using a homeless protagonist in a book came to me, but when it hit, I knew I had to do it, despite the fact that I’m in the middle of two other series. These days, Loser is so real to me that she and I could have a conversation—at least, we could if she'd answer me.
Loser doesn’t like to talk much. She isn’t comfortable with people, and she can’t sleep inside a building. Her fears, irrational to us, are real to her. As you journey with her through KILLING SILENCE, you’ll come to understand her psychoses and cheer for her as she struggles to overcome them. Of course, she has lots of other things to struggle with as well, including a nasty cop, a little girl in trouble, and a couple of murderers. It’s a lot for a street person to handle, and Loser is pretty sure she’ll fail. All the way through the book, I had way more confidence in her than she had in herself.
Oh, and by the way, I was recently contacted by an agent who loves the idea of a homeless protagonist. She suggested she could hook me up with a major publisher and I could “take the next step.”
Sorry. Not for me.
Peg Herring is the author of the critically acclaimed Simon & Elizabeth Mysteries as well as the award-winning Dead Detective Mysteries. When they’re not exploring the world, Peg and her husband of many years live in northern Lower Michigan, where they garden for the benefit of local rabbits, deer, and elk. Visit her website at www.pegherring.com