Let's meet in the middle
The art of compromise, raising the stakes, getting dramatic, and I guess I'm writing a literary thriller now???
I’ve been working with my literary agent for over seven years. In that time, we’ve gone on submission twice—once in 2015, once in 2020—with two different books. Neither one sold. I’ve told this story many times, so here’s a quick summary: we came close, I was briefly devastated, I moved on pretty quickly. It’s fine, I told myself. Next time, I’ll just write a better book.
Earlier this year, I finally made good on that promise when I finished my third and—in my not-so-humble opinion—best book yet. I was proud of the work I’d done, the story I’d written, the progress I’d made as a novelist. The book was fun to write, and fun to read (or so I’d been told). But was it publishable? Could my agent actually sell it?
This is a newsletter about creativity. In each issue, I share my experiences with art-making—the challenge of finding the time to actually do it, the nuts and bolts of craft and process, the magic of connecting with others, the ineffable thrill of finally pinning a precise feeling to the page.
But there’s another part of the creative process when it comes to writing, and that part is publishing. Selling your work. Getting that book deal. Holding a novel with your name on it in your hands. Sharing your work beyond your small circle. It’s a part I’ve experienced here and there, in small doses. I’m not ashamed to admit I want more.
So when my agent and I finally had a conversation about whether he thought he could sell this book, I was hopeful yet nervous, prepared for either “yes” or “no.” Instead, a twist. He said, Not yet.
And honestly, I’m glad. Not to be too dramatic, but this novel feels like my best and last chance for a traditional book deal, and I don’t want to mess it up. While we talked, I wrote down his feedback and everything he said made sense. (He really is a very good agent.) Right now, my book toes the line of literary thriller—I should embrace that and lean into it. Make a little more commercial, a little easier to market. Tighten up the first 50 pages, and extend the end by about 60 more. Raise the stakes and let things get messy. You’ve set up the pins really well, he told me. You just need to be better about knocking them down.
In my insufferable 20s or snobbish 30s, I might have recoiled at his advice. Make it more marketable? Write a thriller? How dare you! I’m an artist. These days, I know it’s not so black and white. Meeting your audience in the middle isn’t a compromise, but a challenge. I need to find a way to write the story I want to tell, but in a way that compels people to keep turning the page.
So that’s my goal for the next few months. Obviously I’ll let y’all know how it goes. In the meantime, please drop your favorite literary thrillers in the comments. I have some reading to do! 👇
In the warmer, lighter months, I regularly attend a Monday night run club at a local brewery with some friends. Now that it’s colder and darker, we decided to shift gears and start up our own Sunday morning run club. Our inaugural meeting included a loop through downtown and along the river, with a cute coffee shop as our final destination. This morning’s run was cool and crisp, and my almond milk cappuccino and pumpkin chocolate chip muffin was a great way to celebrate a new routine. ☕️
I really loved this issue of Nicole’s newsletter, where she talks about her Duolingo streak (I’m at 274!), lowering the bar, and building rest into your creative life. I’ve been in a rest period for the last few months, and rather than inducing crippling guilt, it’s been very nice and restorative. 🌱
A Simple Way to Introduce Yourself
I never know how to introduce myself and end up babbling for too long without saying anything substantial. This framework is straightforward yet friendly. Definitely using it on my next Zoom. 👋
“Instagram may not be on its deathbed, but its transformation from cool to cringe is a sea change in the social-media universe. The platform was perhaps the most significant among an old generation of popular apps that embodied the original purpose of social media: to connect online with friends and family. Its decline is about not just a loss of relevance, but a capitulation to a new era of “performance” media, in which we create online primarily to reach people we don’t know instead of the people we do.” Byeeeeeeee. 🌅
Thank you to Briana K. and Eralda L. for reading and supporting! Knowing you read and support this newsletter is like a mini book deal.
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I'm not normally a thriller person, but I did enjoy The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Good luck with your revision!
I do love a literary thriller! A couple I find particularly interesting are Tana French's In the Woods and Jane Harper's The Dry -- Both became the first in a series, but to me have a different feel from the later entries. As if they were in kind of the same position you were for writing those books and then just settled into writing thrillers for the following ones. I was a bit disappointed in Kate Atkinson's Case Histories and I think maybe it's because as the first in its series I was hoping for a similar effect that I didn't get? Anyway, I'd be curious to hear about any you end up enjoying.