This was going to be another mini-rant in the style of last year's complaint about some literary agents who have a "no response means no" policy, but then I started thinking. Over the past 8 years or so I've been in touch with maybe 20 literary agents, in the UK, US and Canada, and heard about many, many more from writer friends, and the refrain is always the same:
[I really like your writing but] I can't sell a short story collection (or novella), publishers don't want them; come back when you've got a novel. This week I had a slight variation on that theme in a reply from an agent (to whom I am very grateful that she replied and so quickly!):
Come back when you have a full length novel. While I'm not exactly sure what the requirements are for a full-length novel, this is not what I wanted to discuss. The thought suddenly struck me that if agents are blocking us at the first hurdle, publishers never get offered short story collections (or novellas). They never even see them. So how are they supposed to know whether they want to publish them or not?
Of course, it may be that the publishers are sending instructions to the agents along the lines of: Don't bring us short stories, poetry, novellas, science fiction, paranormal detective fiction, novels under 150 pages etc..etc.. etc.. and the agents are just acting as their gatekeepers. But with such gatekeepers, who aren't prepared to even try and fight for something that's slightly off-message, what are we to do, and, more importantly, what does it say about the state of mainstream publishing?
Once again, I give thanks for the many amazing small independent presses - Salt and Tangent Books in particular, on a personal level - who publish whatever they like, whatever they love, with not much thought of breaking even let alone profit. But is this the situation the major publishers want to be in? Do they not want to be persuaded - and in turn attempt, using their marketing wizards, to persuade a public that does, it seem still remain hungry for some novelty - by something different, something that isn't a novel?
I would love to hear from literary agents and publishers here - please pass on this blog post and see if anyone will comment. Am I not thinking commercially enough? Where is my thinking going wrong here? Be honest with me, am I being clouded by my own failure to find representation?