It’s done. I went to New York and pitched my book. It was a great experience, and I even found an editor who asked me to send her the first 50 pages. It was also at times a sobering and depressing experience. Four editors listened to me for a couple of minutes, asked a few questions and then decided if they actually wanted to see the book. Two of them hadn’t a clue what I was trying to do. It wasn’t really their fault. When I registered for the conference, I had to choose a category of fiction that best described the book. There was no “Black Humor” option or “Literary Novel with Exotic Locale, Violence and Some Sex”, so I checked “Thriller/Mystery”. I figured the fact that I had written a literary novel with elements of an international thriller would be seen as added value by the editors. Not true.
In genre fiction there are rules, a lot of rules. The protagonist can’t die, for instance, even if you make it funny, especially if you make it funny. If you have been successfully published, it’s a whole different matter, but first time writers need to follow the rules.
I was advised by editor number one that my subject, the US Invasion of Iraq, was outdated, in that awkward limbo of not long enough ago to be done as historical fiction but not current enough that readers would find it interesting. He only handled crime fiction and thrillers. In fact he didn’t like working with literary type writers because they take too long to turn out a book. “They don’t treat it like a business,” in his words.
A second editor simply said, “We don’t do that,” when I mentioned black humor. She wanted cosy. If I could write an Iraqi version of Three Cups of Tea, she said she would be interested. That was wrong on so many levels. I was speechless. Apparently bogus but heart-warming stories with cute Muslim kids are hot right now. Editor number three really got me down. He worked with a wide range of writers and was not chained to genre fiction only. He seemed to understand what I was trying to do and asked a lot of questions. He even asked if was working on anything else. Problem is, at the end, he didn’t ask to see the book. Rejection by someone you respect is doubly painful.
By the last day of the conference and my last interview, I was feeling sorry for myself. I re-wrote my pitch, eliminating most of the plot detail and saying up front that it wasn’t a feel-good book. I figured at least this would get it over with quickly and I wouldn’t be subjected to wrong-headed advice. I knew my luck was changing when I said “black humor”, and she smiled. This editor was not interested in feel-good and cosy. And when the workshop leader passed among us hopefuls at the end of the interviews, I was one of the chosen. She wanted to see 50 pages.
Of course, I realize that she might not like the book at all, and even if she does, she might not be able to get her company to publish it. And as I said above, rejection by someone you respect hurts worse. But for now I’m enjoying what is probably an illusion.