As I mentioned in my previous post, I am in the process of peddling to literary agents WHERE SHADOWS LOOM, my recently-completed suspense novel set in the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas. A few weeks ago my query letter gained the attention of a highly-regarded literary agent in New York. Needless to say, I was thrilled. Signing with a big-time agent is a big deal. It can be a game changer. Doors will likely open that otherwise would not, at least not for a little ole writer like me. This guy read my manuscript, said he found the story “very compelling,” but after mulling it over, declined to represent me because “this genre is really struggling right now.”
My question is: What genre? Suspense/Thrillers? That genre appears to me to be healthy enough. I suspect–which is all I can do since I can’t read the collective minds of the publishing establishment–the guy was referring to westerns. You see, thus far, my stories have all been set in Texas, and so, naturally, they must all be considered westerns, right? Of course, the agent knows better. He read the story, after all. But his point is well taken: would-be readers will make that assumption, right or wrong. I know that is at least somewhat true, but why? Why is a thriller set in California not pigeonholed this way? Or one set in Connecticut? Or Florida?
I can’t do much about the stereotype, and for a guy born and raised in Texas, writing stories set somewhere else that attempt to reflect life seems a bit disingenuous, pretentious even. A setting is merely the vehicle for which the writer states his/her case. WANDERING WEST is not exactly a contemporary western, though I can see where readers who read word lines and not the spaces between them might draw such an incomplete and inaccurate conclusion.
So you be the judge. Below is the body of my query for WHERE SHADOWS LOOM. You tell me, after reading it, whether or not you deem the premise to be a western of sorts or a thriller of sorts. If you want to call it a contemporary western thriller, so be it. I can live with that, so long as that loose interpretation doesn’t prejudice your thinking before actually reading the story.
Wendall Connor isn’t sure what to believe anymore. His mind has begun to play tricks on him. After seven years in the NFL, he has suffered concussion more times than he can count. And what can he do about it anyway? A throbbing mass of mangled flesh and splintered bone, his body is held together by little more than titanium steel, surgical glue, and the sheer determination to put off the next surgery for as long as he can.
But he has to do something. Who else is there?
His friend and neighbor across the street, U.S. Senator Juanita Guajardo’s son, and the loan officer at the bank are both missing. Wendall left them alone for only a few minutes and now they’re gone. Are their stories true, as fantastic as they seem, or is this another distortion created in Wendall’s addled mind?
Did his friend and business associate, Conrad Murphy, really kidnap Sergio Guajardo? Would he really murder Lester Russell? Wendall Connor knows Conrad Murphy is selfish and demanding. He’s well aware that Conrad’s business empire is struggling, and he once witnessed Conrad’s violent temper firsthand. But is the man so desperate he would steal public funds and then kill Lester Russell because the poor guy overheard the details of that scheme?
WHERE SHADOWS LOOM is an 82,537-word suspense novel set in a rugged, desolate area of the Eagle Ford Shale oil play in South Texas where the boom has gone bust.
So that’s my basic query for attracting the interest of agents and publishers. Regarding the genre, let me know your thoughts. A writer trying to break preconceptions in a world of preconceptions needs all the help he can get.
I haven’t written a post in some time. You were sitting on the edge of your seat, wondering, I know. I must admit to feeling, let’s say, less than enthusiastic as of late. Why is that? Am I having trouble with my latest novel, WHERE SHADOWS LOOM? No, actually, I’ve completed the manuscript. I’m excited about that. I’ve taken SHADOWS as far as I can without a second and third pair of eyes poring over it. Now, I’m letting it stew while I mull things over. I need a proofreader with fresh, discerning eyes; a talented, perceptive editor; I could desperately use an agent with major contacts; and ultimately, of course, I need a good publisher. I’m panting for air just thinking about all that.
Writing is hard work, excruciatingly so sometimes, but it’s not the writing that gives me pause. Stirring the creative juices far outweighs the hammering out of a story’s devilish details. So why the weary sigh? Well, the fact of the matter is, selling books requires marketing, and believe it or not, pounding a fist against my chest while shouting how wonderful my work is, is not something I naturally am inclined to do. Frankly, I find it distasteful, and I suspect many of you find it annoying. For that, I apologize, as necessary as it nevertheless seems to be. Long since obliterated is my youthful notion that writers write and publishers promote. The thought that a writer’s time is too valuable to waste with the thorny details of marketing is, of course, laughable. Unless your name is Stephen King, you best learn to write fresh stuff while simultaneously shouting at the top of your lungs why readers should be buying up the stuff you already have in publication. Writing is a craft; in some cases, it’s an art; but above all, it’s a juggling act. And juggling requires a skill of its own–a concentration of its own.
That’s what I keep telling myself. But I don’t compartmentalize well when I’m engrossed in my writing. When I’m obsessed with my writing, some would say. I keep reminding myself about that, too. After all, as I mentioned, writing is hard work. And I didn’t sign on to be that clown, juggling knives at the weekend carnival, in front of a sparse crowd, never mind my feeling like the butt of a cruel joke now and then. Besides, catching knives with bare hands can be dangerous.
Tough shucks of worm-eaten corn, you say. Everybody has to toot their own horn nowadays. We live in a narcissistic world! It’s all about the self! More often than not, it’s about the id! If you don’t start shouting, who will? So, get to it! Roll up your sleeves and start juggling! Shout with the same enthusiasm you have when you peck away on the keyboard–and at the same time! Make people know you’re out there! Make them know you have something that must be read! This is a narcissistic world, remember? And what’s more narcissistic than thinking what you write actually is worth someone else’s reading? So make people hear you! Make yourself heard above the deafening roar of a screaming social media! Do it!
Okay, okay, alright already. Can I dry my eyes first? Does anyone have a tissue? Oh thanks. Yes, better. (Deep sigh.) Now where was I? Oh yeah. So–so, if you haven’t taken the time to read WANDERING WEST, please do! You can buy it right here on my website! I think you’ll like it–I really do! But don’t take my word for it; check out the reviews! You can find them right here on my website, too! And when you’ve finished reading, help me get the word out! Write a kind review, tell a friend to read the book, pass the word, and so on! Shout it at the top of your lungs, for crying out loud! Please? I mean–please! Meanwhile, amid my own shouts, I’ll keep working to get WHERE SHADOWS LOOM ready for publication. I can juggle, just like the next guy. And by the way, keep an eye out for more on WHERE SHADOWS LOOM. I’ll be posting about that again soon.
Now where are those knives?