I knew going in that I was in for a rough road, and this is the reason I wasn’t even going to bother. It’s a book with science fiction elements, though it’s not straight sci-fi, and I’m not a science fiction writer. I’ve written a book about a stalker and another about a movie star who becomes a serial killer. This one’s about a novelist (me in 20 years) who starts dreaming and writing things that turn out to be real. North of Sunset was criticized for being “too literary” and “too commercial,” which was sort of the idea – to straddle the line between the two. This one was going to be rejected for being “too sci-fi” and “not sci-fi enough” while also being “too literary” and “not literary enough.” In other words a kind of no man’s land, which I see as a kind of badge – it’s a land that hasn’t been done a lot. If you so easily fit into a genre, you’re doing something wrong. A book should be more about the writing than the plot.
I say this again and again: the protagonist in the book is not the lead character, it’s the writer. The plot isn’t so important as how that plot is expressed. So terms like “likeability” are retarded – is the writing likable, is the book well expressed? Plot is the most superficial part of a book – if your book is only about the plot with no subtext, you’re also doing something wrong.
So....long story short, I got back a rejection that was totally unsurprising to me. And that lack of surprise is annoying. The agent said,
Thank you so much for writing to me about your latest book. You are clearly very talented and I love finding material from self-published authors because it tends to be the kind of idiosyncratic work that I like best. But this one isn't a fit, I'm afraid. It's not the writing, which is excellent; rather, it's this kind of futuristic, Phillip K. Dick genre that doesn't work for me.
In short, I like your writing, but I don’t like the plot. Nevermind what I may be able to accomplish over my entire career. Nevermind the story I’m trying to tell over several books, the agent doesn’t like the genre. I understand not wanting to represent something that you’re not totally in love with, but too often writers are measured per book and how easily that book can sell, rather than the writer’s long-term prospects. Yes, the agent could have been looking for a way to let me down easy, but this is a common type of response: looking at plot and genre before the strength of the writing. This is like judging someone on their body and not their brain.
Another agent agreed to read the entire manuscript, so I’ll see where that goes. If not, I’m releasing it myself, confident in the knowledge that publishing is broken.