My friend and cohort, author Jeff Bowles wrote a post Choosing to Become a Better Writer vs. the God Complex, where he offers advice on what to do when your novel hasn’t been picked up by a literary agent as soon as you’d hoped, as is currently the situation with his thesis novel. I had to chuckle when I read this, not because the post was meant to be funny, (it wasn’t), but because of the timeliness of the post, as I find myself in the same situation and I have been pondering what to do with my own thesis novel, Playground for the Gods: Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle.
Jeff’s advice is sound. Revise. Submit. Repeat. And he’s right in saying that to achieve success in writing, as in most things in life, you must persist in your efforts and endeavor to persevere. In fact, I’d decided on the same course of action for my novel, with a slight twist and a lot of determination. So, my first 2017 New Year’s writing resolution is to get my thesis novel published in the coming year.
Since completing my thesis novel, the first novel in my science fantasy Playground for the Gods series, I’ve submitted it to seven publishers and four literary agents. It was rejected by two agents and four publishers, and is still waiting for word on three publishing houses and two agents. I don’t hold out hope of hearing from the agents, many don’t even bother to respond unless they’re interested, but the publisher who has had my submission the longest has had my submission for six months. There may still be hope there, but I have to wonder.
I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged with these results, so I started thinking about why my novel wasn’t catching the interest of publishers or agents. e first thing I looked at were my query letters. So, the first thing I looked at were my query letters. As I said, I’ve sent out multiple queries for the first book and been rejected multiple times. I looked at all my queries to see if the problem might be in my presentation.
The query letter is an author’s introduction and it is very important. It’s the first thing an agent or publisher sees, and it determines whether they chose to get to know you and your work better. A query should look professional, and it should tell the publisher or agent about the work you want them to buy into and about the author. It raises their interests and gets them to ask for more than just the excerpt you sent with it. A request for a complete manuscript is the ultimate goal.
Some of you may know the story behind this novel, but for those who don’t I’ll relate it briefly. The summer I presented the proposal packet for my thesis novel was the worst summer of my college career. I had this great idea for a story about a species from a different planet, who come to Earth and present themselves as deities. It was to be a science fantasy novel with a strong female protagonist, Inanna. I presented my idea to my cohorts and nobody got it, (this was partly because I was trying to cram way too much into one book, but at the time it just felt to me like the idea wasn’t well received and I was crushed). So, maybe publishers and agents weren’t getting it now, the same way my cohorts and instructors didn’t get it then?
This led me to take a hard look at the audience which I thought I was writing for and the types of agents and publishers I’ve been pitching to. I’ve sent out my queries for my science fantasy novel to publishers and agents who handle both science fiction and fantasy. Something I had overlooked was that the biggest audience for science fiction and fantasy are young adult readers.Epiphany! I’ve been pitching to the wrong audience!
Because of the summer from hell, mentioned above, my thesis novel has turned into a four book science fantasy series, Playground for the Gods. Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle shows the destruction of the Atlan home planet, which explains the reason they are searching for a new home and chose Earth, and how it was almost destroyed before they could make it their home. Book 2: In the Beginning tells the story of how the Atlans made Earth their home and cohabited with humans, and how Inanna becomes the goddess of war and love, forcing her to deal with the dualities within herself. The hero’s journey that Inanna takes in my original story will now be the Book 3: Inanna’s Song. In Book 4: Enki’s Folly, Enki, (the sort-of anti-hero), tries to fix his past mistakes by traveling through time.
By the end of my courses, I had Book 1 and it’s complete submission packet, Book 2‘s chapter outline, synopsis and partial first draft, along with the outline, synopsis and a few chapters of Book 3 completed. If I could do that major transformation in less than a year’s time, I’m thinking I should be able to transform my books into a YA series with minimal revision.
Next, I took another look at the story itself, and I realized that aside from a few instances of harsh language, this book almost reads like a YA novel. Most of the characters are teens, although Atlans don’t experience time the way humans do, (what passes for a year for us is comparable to a millennia for them), and still, some are more mature than others. The series has many of the YA tropes already: a young female protagonist who is idealistic, (Inanna); a perfectly perfect Mary sue character in Inanna’s BFF, (Ki); missing, or at least distant parents (Atlan familial units are pretty messed up); plenty of half-human/half-something else characters – mermen and Minotaurs, the characters are diverse; and there’s a rebellion against the existing power structure, (in reverse).
The one thing that might prevent Playground for the Gods from becoming a successful YA science fantasy novel is the degree of sexual content, which is actually vital to the story line. We’re not talking about unnecessary sex here. We are talking about the story doesn’t work without it. Although it could be toned down some, I imagine I would have several parents who were hot, should I try to market this series as YA, even though it has a lot of the expected tropes. So, I had to look once more at audience, where I took an in-depth look at a market called New Adult.
New Adult has protagonists aged 18-24, and is aimed at audiences aged 18-30, but may appeal to readers of 30 or more. Just as some YA may appeal to adult readers, so New Adult may appeal to older readers, as well. It carries steamier sexual content, that you probably wouldn’t want your thirteen year old reading, but is perfectly acceptable for older readers. In a 2014 article on Book List Online, YA or NA?, by Michael Cart, Harliquinn Senior Editor Margo Lipschultz points out that “NA rose to popularity as a subgenre that bridged the gap between contemporary YA and contemporary romance, it’s gradually expanding… ” NA is not just a romance market any more, and I’m thinking that the steamier scenes in the PfG series could find a home there.
Another 2014 Book List feature article, What is New Adult Fiction?, by Gillian Engberg, Donna Seaman and others quotes Neil Hollands, adult services librarian at the Williamsburg (VA) Regional Library as stating,
“…librarians talking about NA are often thinking of books that appeal to “both male and female readers, in their late 20s and 30s. The books we’re looking for try to capture the feel of a generation, including integrating technology’s effects on communication and relationships, new outlooks on a range of political and social issues, and more recognition and blending of the genres that younger readers are most familiar with.”
Now that sounds like my series. While it still has some of the YA tropes and qualities, it also has more mature content and deals with social and relationship issues, the value of technology for better or for worse, and characters in the right age bracket basically, (give or take a few million years), and would appeal to an older audience of new adults.
From my very first M.F.A. class it was drilled into us the important of knowing your audience and doing the research. And I did do my research in the adult market, and now I’ve done my research in the YA market. But, after discovering that it’s a little too steamy for YA, I’ve gone back to research the NA markets, and I’m currently revising The Great Primordial Battle for an NA audience. When I’m done, I plan to promote to the NA markets with high expectations, while I get busy on Books 2 and 3.
Leave a comment to let me know if you think I’m on the right track with PfG: Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle.
You can find updates on the Playground for the Gods series on its Facebook page, here.
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