Literary or Genre?

Awhile back, someone posted a question that comes up every now and then among beginning writers: what’s the difference between a “literary” novel and a “genre” novel?

Of course we could say that genre novels are easily categorized: horror, romance, mystery, western… Even cross-categories can be labeled: para-normal romance, for example. The category is the genre. If you write mysteries, you’re a genre writer. You can argue it if you want, but there it is.

But here’s the confusing thing: genre novels can also be literary novels. All good novels have a hint (at least) of mystery to them or contain enough drama to nudge it into thriller territory, otherwise nothing would compel the reader to finish the book. Will Ahab ever find Moby Dick? And if he does, what happens then? Is pursuing the great white whale worth putting his crew and ship at risk? We keep reading to find out.

Many of us like to say that literary novels are more concerned with the characters than the plot, but many of the best genre novels have characters as carefully drawn as the plot is planned, so well-drawn characters aren’t the only thing that distinguishes literary and genre fiction.

Then what makes a novel a literary novel, and why are others left squarely in the genre pile?

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As I mentioned in my previous post, I struggled to finish reading the book (“Undertow” by Desmond Cory (a pseudonym for Shaun Lloyd McCarthy [1928-2001]), mostly because of how outdated it felt, both in style (long, long, long descriptions, for one thing) and content (sexist and ethnic stereotypes, among other things). In the end, I decided the book is best experienced as an example of a 1960s thriller novel. Readers who want and expect to read a forerunner of James Bond and other thriller novels, who appreciate the nuances of the genre and its origins, will probably enjoy the book. But anyone who wants a fast-paced plot with lots of cutting edge gadgets and strong women should be warned.

Do you see the distinction? “Undertow” helped me understand that what lands a book squarely in the “genre” category rather than the literary category is how “dated” it is.

Clearly, being “timeless” is a characteristic of a literary novel. Sure, “Moby Dick” is outdated in a thousand ways (okay, maybe just a few dozen). Long narrative sections, including textbook-like explanations of whaling, interrupt the already languid pace, for example. But it’s a thriller that touches on universal themes that transcend any one generation (or century, for that matter). Who hasn’t had a boss that pushed us harder than we thought we should be, all in pursuit of some personal agenda? Who hasn’t known someone who was consumed with getting revenge because of a long-ago violation? Someone who wanted revenge so badly they were willing to risk everything without thinking about possible effects on those around them?

It’s been years since I read “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley but I remember it as being more about a misfit trying to find his place in a world that didn’t understand him than about some mad scientist. I felt sorry for the “monster,” a being who became aware of how hideous he was to those around him. Who hasn’t struggled to fit in someplace — a new school, new neighborhood, new job? Who hasn’t been just a little bit self-conscious about how others perceive us, wondering if maybe that new haircut wasn’t such a good idea…. Don’t we spend all kinds of time picking out new sunglasses, asking our partners how we look in them before we buy them? Yes, a universal theme — how we appear to others and how it affects our sense of connection to the world around us — underlies this very old but still very good novel. [The story of how the book came about is a great one in and of itself -- the result of a friendly competition among writer friends; Wikipedia has a good description here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankenstein%5D

Literary novels might follow the general conventions of a genre — mystery, horror, romance, etc. — but what sets them apart is that their themes are universal and timeless. “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights” might at their hearts be romance novels, but they transcend the conventions of the genre by touching on themes that still resonate with readers today.

In “Undertow,” the bad guys and good guys (because the female character isn’t deemed capable… :() do battle, but the book is absent any universal theme. The plot unwinds, the characters engage in sometimes snappy dialogue, and every now and then something happens, but in the end, I’m left feeling unengaged: I feel closer to Ishmael and his crew in “Moby Dick” than I do to Johnny Fedora and his pal Trout, despite the many years that have passed since I read “Moby Dick” and despite my having just read “Undertow.” Nothing in “Undertow” suggests a larger theme, either.

That lands “Undertow” squarely in the genre, non-literary territory, if you ask me. Literary novels aren’t “better” than genre novels; they’re just different. Most people read genre novels for escape — and “Undertow” delivers that for those who want it (on 1960s thriller terms).

My guess is I won’t remember much about the specifics of “Undertow” — I’ll probably remember the experience of reading it, but only because I’ve given it such deep thought and have written about it a few times. But the plot? Characters? Theme? Nah. Gone when I finish the last page. And that’s okay. Sometimes we just want a quick read.

Sometimes, as writers, that’s what we want to leave our readers with — a fun escape. But if you want your novel to become the Great American Novel, a classic read in high school English or college lit classes, then you need to think beyond characters or plot and plumb your book’s thematic depths. It’s that simple — and that hard.

What do you think? What makes a literary novel for you? Why do some transcend their genre to become literary classics?

You Scratch My Back…

… and I’ll scratch yours. That’s how I’m feeling these days. I’m not sure I should admit this, but we need to be honest about this review-swap thing.

First of all, reviews are important. They make a difference in the books you pick to read, don’t they? Somewhere, somehow, someone reads a book and refers someone else to it. My theory is that a review is what gets that first reader talking.

Where and how to get reviews is covered all over the Web…. enough great ideas and sites abound that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I won’t cover all that here, but I will say that w hen I started gathering resources for my marketing plan, I saved some posts (you can save some Web pages to your hard drive — did you know that?) and recently went back to one that listed some places for getting free book reviews.

Some of them aren’t free anymore (they figured out where the money is, it appears) and I won’t get into that, either (except to say I’m not keen on handing over cold hard cash to get someone to read my book). There are probably others, but I did find one (“kindle bookreview“) and sent a request for my novel, Pea Body.

They agreed to provide a review for my book, if I would review one for them — essentially a “review swap.” That’s okay; I’ve done that before (haven’t we all — you love a writer’s book and before you know it, you’re penning reviews for each other). But here’s the thing: the book they sent me to review is pretty far outside of my “expertise.” It’s not a book I’d pick up and read if given the choice.

First of all, it’s a reprint. Originally published in the 1960s, it carries all the conventions of fiction from that time period, especially long, detailed character descriptions. Here’s an example: “He sighed and leaned across towards the wine bottle. The body he thus extended was a shade under six feet in length, was spare, leggy and unostentatiously muscular, was terminated at one end by expensive blue suede shoes similar to those celebrated by Mr. Elvis Presley and others of that ilk and was gracefully concluded at the other by a thick mop of dark brown and mildly bewildered hair. The face directly beneath the hair was pleasant enough and attractively suntanned but was otherwise quite undistinguished, unless one happened to find the eyes—an impossibly light blue in tone and of a curious soft translucence—worthy of note.”

Now imagine wading through that sort of detail for all of about a half-dozen major and semi-major characters. It’s not that they’re well-written, it’s just that — well, you know, you’ve been warned it’s why we don’t do it anymore — it breaks up the story. It interrupts scenes. It reminds readers we’re reading.

It’s an espionage-thriller plot (I think it’s supposed to be a thriller, but nothing much has been happening) — neither of which I read. So I’m lost as to the accepted conventions of that genre. It’s set in another country. I’m very USA-centric in my reading. I prefer books (fiction and non-fiction alike) set in places I’ve been or would like to visit. Familiarity is essential for me, rather than escapism to a place I’ve never been. So the setting leaves me feeling lost and groping for a tether of some sort that would anchor me.

On top of all that, the PDF file is chopped in some odd way… and for the first several pages, I could scroll, then the page would jump suddenly. I finally discovered I could scroll each page a bit, then at some unexpected point the last line will be chopped off (yes, along the tops of the letters) and I’ll have to click the down page to see the next page, where the bottom of that line appears. Ikes! Not the most comfortable reading experience when every few pages you have to fit the lines together in your head like some puzzle. So perhaps this rather technical issue got me off to the wrong start with this particular book. Not the author’s fault, to be sure, but it marred my reading experience nevertheless.

I’m not obligated to write this review. I can say “Thanks but no thanks” and walk away, but if I don’t write this review, I don’t get a review. And I can’t ask for a different book to review — no trades allowed. So if Iwrite a review for this book, some anonymous stranger will write a review for mine. Of course it occurs to me that reviewer could well be someone who writes slasher horror books and doesn’t see how Pea Body fits a cozy mystery — a murder without blood and guts, without deep forensics, without a terrifying evil at the heart of it, but reads a simple story with improbable sleuths and too little gore.

Still, I read on. The prospect of getting any review is a strong lure, to be sure, but I’m also doggedly determined to follow through on a commitment I’ve made, even if it’s a loose one, one I’m permitted to bow out of. In a few pages, I’m hopelessly confused. Is it that I’m distracted by the style? Other than the long character descriptions (and lack of evocative settings… which makes me think the writer assumes I know these places in Spain, so I struggle with feeling inadequate when it comes to my worldliness, all while trying to keep reading), the book does have some wonderful writing. Here’s a terrific bit of narrative, which is hard to do anyway: “SPECIAL Operatives, whatever their age, sex or nationality, are usually inclined to be fatalistic. Their professional lives are spent, for the most part, in striving to carry out weird and unlikely assignments which, in the absence of definite information, they must assume to form part of a Great Design shaped by the statesmen and governing bodies of their respective countries. Before long, however, they notice that the success or failure of their individual missions has singularly little effect on the Great Design as such, which seems to pursue its own wobbly and erratic course quite independently of all external circumstance.” Unfortunately, the paragraph goes on twice as long as that, and he nearly loses the benefit of those exquisite first sentences in this section, but it’s something to celebrate.

So I’m thinking this is what I will do in my review: I’ll admit my own shortcomings as a reader, and point out the positives of the book. I’ll assume the weaknesses in it are mine as a reader, rather than those of the writer, because — at the most fundamental level, the word-by-word level — the book is well-written.

And I’ll hope that whoever is handed my book to review will be as kind, as forgiving, and as willing to articulate more of what’s going well than of what might be at fault as I have endeavored to be for this author.

If you’ve swapped reviews and ended up in turmoil because of it, we’d love to hear about it!

More On Blurbs

Back in August, we (you joined in, if you read and followed the instructions in the post… remember?) dissected some descriptive blurbs about a few books to tease out their individual elements and learn how the way those blurbs were written can provide essential information all in a tantalizing few sentences.

At the start of that post, I mentioned the practice these days of using testimonials as blurbs, too. Here’s where we take a close look at a few of those and figure out what makes them effective.

Let’s say you’re scouting around for the next best horror book. You’ve read all the latest books by the big name authors. You’ve decided you’d like to spread the indie wealth and find something by someone who’s trying to break out — purchase an unknown’s book, just as you’d like someone to buy yours.

So you go to Amazon or Goodreads or your other preferred “What should I read?” sites and forums and start browsing. Seems like a million possibilities pop up in the recommended batch. How do you narrow them down?

Covers? Sure. Descriptions? Maybe. But after awhile, they all seem pretty much the same: young couple [or single woman or group of teenagers or two geeks camping or....] gets hunted down in the woods [or in a haunted house or in the center of the wrong part of town at 3 a.m. or in the hot summer desert or....] by some unknown assailant…

Now what? Oh, look. Quotes. Testimonials. Other people who’ve read this book say…. what?

One book has these quotes:

“Fantastic! Couldn’t put it down!” — Ree Der

“Don’t read this at night!” — Miss Terry Fann

Another book has these:

“A debut novel from a promising new voice — impressive.” — Stephen King

“The book I wish I’d written when I was starting out.” — Dean Koontz

Ohhhh…. I know which one I’d pick.

The first quotes were more emphatic about loving the book, but they were from unknown readers. Who cares what Miss Terry Fann has to say? Who is Ree Der anyway? But King and Koontz…. well…. even a mild compliment from one of those writers is worth more than exclamation marks and superlatives from unknowns.

There is one exception: unless there are a lot of unknown readers and reviewers praising the book. People tend to feel more comfortable following a path others have tread, so lots of thumbs-up from lots of readers can sway a potential buyer. It could make a difference for you, couldn’t it?

So when you’re looking for testimonials, think about those your ideal readers most respect, those whose footsteps they’re most likely to follow. You might not get Stephen King or Dean Koontz to read and write mighty praise for your novel, but there are other rungs in the ladder to success — pick someone you feel comfortable approaching somewhere up that ladder, and give it a shot.

Finally, think about people who have strong influence within your readership — these people might not be other writers. For example, my novel’s main characters are full-time RVers, a retired couple who live and travel in their recreational vehicle. My targeted readers are primarily other RVers — especially those who are also full-timers (as we call ourselves). I sent well-thought out and carefully written (though casual sounding!) e-mails to a few people who blog and produce newsletters for RVers — would they be interested in receiving a complimentary copy to see if their readers might be interested in hearing about the book? Sure, they said.

What this means is I might not have big-name mystery writers’ testimonies on my Web site or on the cover of the book, but I will have quotes from people whose names the targeted readers will recognize — and whom they respect. A few positive words from them mean a lot, and I’m grateful.

Give some thought to who those key influencers are in your world — and give it a shot. A strong testimony is better and a half-dozen from your friends and family, don’t you think? What have you tried? What works best for you?

Writers Roundup

Every now and we should yank our gaze from our monitors and keyboards to see what’s going on in the world of writing and publishing. To help with that, ellenbooks posts yet another roundup of stuff found around the Web that caught our attention, and we hope it provides you with some help or insight or — if nothing else — a distraction for a little while.

Reading

Love reading by the pool? On the boat? Worried about getting an e-reader wet? Worry no more. Kobo is debuting a “waterproof” (in quotes… we’ll believe it when we test it, right?!?) Kobo Aura H20 on October 1. Okay, my book is available on Kobo… I’m all for this. The new Aura might be a great gift idea for someone you know. Just sayin’. Details in this short article at Publishers Weekly.

Busted your book budget? Still feel the need to read? When’s the last time you stepped into your local library? Have you thought about marketing your book to libraries? Think they’re dead? (Have I asked enough questions?) Book Patrol posted this great infographic from Michael Lieberman. It’s amazing!

Writing

Can learning to write a solid short story help you as a novelist? Suzannah Windsor Freeman thinks so, and spells out just how in her post, “What Novelists Should Know About Short Fiction” over at Writer Unboxed. As a writer of both, I’d say she’s on the money — working with fewer words to tell a full story means making sure every word counts; I’d add that no writer should forget that the two forms are also distinct in many ways. See what you think.

Should you follow the rules? Guest blogger Reen Collett tackles this popular question at Writers Village. The article is thought-provoking (you’re sure to have an opinion on at least one of the rules she cites and its example); the comments add even more dimension to the discussion.

Publishing

If you yearn for publishing with a traditional house, you’ll need an agent. The Writer’s Relief staff gives you “Four Things You Must Know About a Literary Agent” in this great Huffington Post article. Think you know these tips? Well… is it better to get an agent who’s independent, or one in a larger agency? Do you know what the AAR is and why it’s important to you? If not, read this short but helpful article. Now.

Haven’t tried crowdfunding, although it’s tempting… and now there’s a handy infographic to help sort out the data. For example, about 26% of writing projects met their $$ goal (on the flipside, that means 74% did not meet their goal…). Take a look.

Speaking of funding, if you haven’t checked out Hope Clark’s site (and info-jammed newsletter) called Funds for Writers, you should. And if I’ve mentioned this one before and am repeating it, it’s well worth another mention.

Kindle Unlimited

Good for indie authors or bad? Philip Jones at The Bookseller interviews a few writers to see what they think in his “Doubts raised by indie authors over KU terms.” Are you in the Kindle Unlimited pool? How’s it working for you? Would you advise other writers to jump into this particular pool?

E-Books

How possessive of your work do you feel? Would you put it out there for anybody to share, borrow from, even use as part of their own writing? Maybe you’re already doing it. I’m old school… share and share alike is a good philosophy unless you’re talking about MY story (!)… But if this idea appeals to you — and it does to authors of more than 300,000 stories, Wattpad is making it possible to search them and, well, exploit them… Find out more from this Publishers Weekly article, “Wattpad Adopts Creative Commons 4.0 Licenses.”

Wouldn’t you love to know which e-books are selling? Well, wonder no more. Mark Coker at Smashwords released the results of their annual survey and posted a link to the Slideshare summary so you can see more details. Don’t neglect to read the comments — you never know what might get asked or added that answers the question you had. A few key takeaways? “A few titles sell fabulously well and most sell poorly… Longer books sell better… FREE still works great, but it’s losing some mojo… Preorders today are where free was five years ago… Series books outsell standalone books… Nonfiction earns more at higher prices….” Whew! A lot to get through but worth every word.

Marketing

Have you been following the series on building and using an effective e-mail list at Your Writer Platform? If not, the fifth of its five installments is up, and it includes brief summaries and links to the previous five. (Hint: start with the first one and read them all.) Many thanks to Kimberley Grabas for this great series!

And I’ve saved the best for last. If you haven’t seen Kurt Giambastini’s “Self-Flagellation, Follow-Up” post at his SeattleAuthor blog, you must read it. I kept nodding my head: Yep, I’m sure I’ve met Ralph myself. See if you know “Ralph.” Most of all, don’t BE Ralph!

Name Game

Just read a summary of a book featuring five female characters (plus assorted male characters). Their first names? Karen, Sharon, Shirley, Linda, and Barbara…

Notice anything about those five names? Besides the fact that there are five female characters with enough to do in the book to be named, so adding the names of the male characters meant the book was laden with characters, a challenge in itself for a reader — but that’s another post, for another day.

Let’s get back to those five female names. Karen and Sharon have similar sounds (and share at least half the letters). Sharon and Shirley also sound similar, as do LindA and BarbarA.

I don’t have any proof of this, other than my own reading experience (and an article I read years ago, probably in Writer’s Digest) that said you shouldn’t give your characters names that are too much alike. If you do, you risk confusing your readers. And nobody wants that.

Let’s say Sharon and Shirley are best friends, about the same age. They live in the same town and they’re having lunch together in a little deli on Main Street. Sharon’s a bank teller and Shirley is a waitress, and what Sharon doesn’t know is that Shirley’s boyfriend is blackmailing her to so she’ll get information from Sharon to rob the bank.

Sounds okay, doesn’t it? In the meantime, Karen is Sharon’s best friend and says she has her suspicions about Shirley, who never seems quite on the level. Karen’s a hair stylist who works at a salon on Main Street. Her sister Linda owns the salon, and their mother Barbara comes in often, usually with stories about which men are suddenly single because she’s always trying to fix her daughters up with eligible but unattainable men in town.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should confess that I’ve been accused of this very offense. None But the Dead and Dying has a character named Contessa, who’s middle-aged but a bit of a nut job, and Crescent, a teenager antsy to get through the summer before heading off to college. The two characters whose names started with “C” confused a few readers, and if I were to write the book today, I would have chosen a different name for one of them. Or maybe given at least one a reason for her name so the reader could latch onto them: Crescent, born seventeen years ago on a night when the moon was just at that sharp edge of waning or something like that.

So where were we? Oh, that’s right. The five female characters with similar names.

No peeking. Here’s the quiz:

Which one owned the salon?
What’s her sister’s name?
What’s her mother’s name?
Who’s boyfriend wants to rob the bank?
Which one works as a teller?

Ahh…. see? Think I’ve made it too tough? Okay. Try the same scenario but use distinctly different names: Bonnie the bank teller. Wanda the waitress with the crooked boyfriend. Juliette the salon owner. Emily her sister the stylist. Chris, their mother.

This might not be perfect, but it’s a start. Notice the first letters of the names vary, that they don’t all have the same number of syllables, and that they end differently? I even made the Bonnie and Wanda even have names with letters that start the same as their jobs — bank teller and waitress.

Having a long roster of character names is a challenge to any reader, but it’s your job to make it as easy for them to keep straight as you can. The days of character lists (like those you find in play programs) are long gone.

Giving them little quirks helps, too. “Bonnie battled a lazy eye, so counting cash at the teller’s station got much easier for her when the automatic counting machines arrived.” Later, when Bonnie has lunch with Wanda, that lazy eye can play a role, too: “Wanda adored Bonnie. Maybe it was Bonnie’s lazy eye, the idea it gave you that she wasn’t entirely focused on you. It made doing anything that might jeopardize Bonnie’s job even harder; it had taken so much for Bonnie to get that job in the first place, and then keep it.”

It’s one thing if you use filler names while you draft — call your characters A, B, and C for all we care — but make sure you revise those names so they work in the story and your readers can keep all of them straight.

Those of us at a certain age remember the Bob Newhart TV show many years ago when he played an innkeeper. When three actors made their appearance and the first one said, “Hi. I’m Larry” then pointed to each of the other men in turn, saying, “This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl,” it always brought the house down. The actor delivered the line in deadpan, and the ridiculous idea of brothers having the same name always struck me as funny.

In real life, George Foreman named his five sons George. “It’s a great name,” he said once when asked why. As a fiction writer, unless you have a really good reason for it (and the only good reason is because it’s crucial to the plot) you’re not allowed to give your characters the same name.

You don’t want confused readers. Similar character names confuse readers. Confused readers give up. They put the book aside, never to finish it, never to recommend it to friends, never to post positive comments about it online. And you don’t want that, do you?

Writers Roundup

Is it hot where you are? Are you spending the hottest month of the year inside, where the air conditioning works full-blast 24-7? Isn’t that sort of like hunkering down in the depths of winter? Why not write? Why not get online and check out some of these resources? (Why am I writing this intro blurb in questions?)

Walking In Their Shoes?

New Balance is rolling out (walking out!??) a new line of sneakers based on the works of American authors. Although the shoes aren’t named for the authors, nor their works, isn’t it a great daydream to someday have accomplished enough as a writer to inspire footwear?!? Michael Lieberman, in “Sneakers for the literary set,” says he’d rather spend his money on books than the shoes… Good point.

Improving Your Writing and Creativity

Artist and writer Annie Weatherwax thinks being a trained artist has helped her as a novelist. Because I grew up in a family of artists and was trained early on to look at colors and shapes and detail, to appreciate how different watercolors are from sculpture, and to keenly observe my surroundings (among a billion other things), I’m in Weatherwax’s court on this one. See what you think.

Hard to believe there’s something you can learn about writing your novel by reading (and re-reading hundreds of times) “Goodnight Moon,” but Aimee Bender, mother of twins and novelist, gives an excellent explanation of how that happened for her in this Opinionator blog post from The New York Times.

More on Wasted Words

Awhile back, I posted an entry saying you never waste your words [http://ellenbooks.wordpress.com/2014/06/14/stop-wasting-your-words/], even if they get deleted. Every word you write feeds into those 10,000 hours you need to master your craft. So I was glad to see Ava Jae’s post, “On Writing Practice Novels.” Maybe you didn’t set out to write something for practice — who does? We all believe the first draft is brilliant…. Anyway, take a look at Ava’s POV on this.

Keep Going

Let’s say you’ve gotten over that “every word has to be perfect” mindset but you’ve hit hump in the draft: you know what comes after this spot, but can’t get from here to there. You need X, Y, Z, or ? inbetween, but don’t know those words quite yet. What should you do? You can do what Maria Murnane suggests (something I’ve been using and yes, it works; highlighting helps too): “Writing Tip: When You Get Stuck, Use All Caps and Move On.”

Self-Publishing

Hmmm… I’m reading a list of the top 25 best-selling ebooks, and you know what I’m not seeing? Self-published titles. All but one of these books was published by a traditional publishing company (I’m guessing the one that wasn’t was self-published). Know what else I’m not seeing — at least not very many of? Low-priced e-books. Twenty-three of the 25 are priced at $4.99 or above. For the list and more info, see Jeremy Greenfield’s summary at Digital Book World.

Pricing Models

What if you could charge your readers only for the pages they actually read, rather than for the entire book? If this sounds like a good plan to you, check out Total BooX. If a reader finishes 10% of the book, that’s all they pay for. Hmmm…. The data cruncher in me says this is a great way to find out how many readers are finishing the book — and if they don’t, where they’re dropping out. What do you think?

Marketing

Frustrated trying to get appearances in bookstores? Weep no more. Penny C. Sansevieri at the Huffington Post’s The Blog has some ideas for non-traditional venues. Not only that, she provides suggestions for approaching them. See her “Beyond the Bookstore: Holding Book Events in Non-Traditional Venues.” All good!

Persistence is Everything

Years ago Andre Agassi famously said, “Image is everything.” Okay, it was a commercial, so he was paid to say it, but he get credit anyway. In fiction writing — and publishing — image isn’t as important as persistence, especially if you have a quality story or novel to offer.

Pursuing a traditional publisher can be frustrating. Each rejection is disappointing. Add up a bunch of them and a writer can get downright devastating.

Have hope. Here’s a spotlight on one writer’s journey. All true.

His first book, a short story collection, racked up 38 rejections over five years before a publisher finally said yes.

His second book, his first novel, was published four years later, after it was rejected 30 times.

Give up? Not this author. He and his agent persisted. They believed in his second novel, and despite 24 rejections, were rewarded with a publishing contract.

Most writers would be content to hear that ending. But there’s more.

Oprah took an interest, word spread, and the book hit bestseller status. It was made into a movie. The movie got at least one Oscar nomination.

You’ve heard of that book: “The House of Sand and Fog,” by Andre Dubus III.

But this isn’t the entire story. You also should know that Andre Dubus is the son of Andre Dubus (II) who had already established a very strong reputation for himself as a writer.

So no whining that “You have to have connections” or “You have to have a recognized name” is allowed. Andre Dubus III had both, and he still struggled.

What you need are three things to get traditionally published: a great manuscript, an agent who believes in you and will go the extra mileage on your behalf, and persistence.

Can you go it alone? Maybe. But an agent opens doors you can’t, and will take you down roads you don’t even know exist. What you need to share with that agent is a level of commitment and the willingness to persist, despite those 20 or 30 or 40 rejections. Because who knows what will happen next?