Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

A writer’s dilemma …

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I don’t want you to think that I’m only going to write about politics from now on, so here’s a writing post. 

Writers face a lot of conundrums and have to make a lot of decisions, both in terms of composition and in what to do with the finished product. Try to publish it traditionally, via agents and New York publishers, or gird up for the indie market?

For the past few books of mine, I’ve been going for the traditional approach, which means that I’ve sent out literally hundreds of agent queries over the last three years or so. Times have certainly changed since I landed an agent for my first novel, Parts Unknown, back in 2001. In those days, a round of 20 queries might bring in four or five partial requests and a couple of full-ms invites. Now, out of a hundred, you’re lucky if you get one full-ms request. (I’m talking about literary fiction, not genre novels.) And that’s the case for my latest project: Over the last nine months or so, I’ve had exactly one. 

But last week, on the basis of a query that included two sample chapters, an agent told me she’d take another look at the book if I changed the pov from first person to omniscient. This was almost a worse outcome than an outright rejection. 

Without talking about the book’s details, I’ll just say that I disagree with her that the material doesn’t lend itself to first person. That’s like saying The Great Gatsby doesn’t lend itself to first person. And in fact, just like in Gatsby, the narrator in my book is talking mainly about someone else, the real protagonist. 

I disagree with the agent, but I do have to give her idea some serious consideration because this is a possible opening. A way in. 

Another reason to hesitate, though, is that I don’t think she really means “omniscient.” To my mind, omniscient means the overarching, godlike eye that sees everything and moves around from character to character at will. Dickens wrote a lot of omniscient narration. In fact, it was all the rage in the Victorian novel. A phase they went through. What I think she really meant was alternating third-person narration, which, depending on how close you get to the characters, or how deep into their heads you go, is a lot like first person only without the “I.” 

And my problem is, there are only two potential characters to alternate between, the narrator and the protagonist, and they’re often together. 

My conundrum is, do I spend the time experimenting with this major change and risk being turned down again several months from now, or do I move on to other agents with what I’ve got? 

For the record, I’ve done major revisions for agents before, only to be told, “This doesn’t work for me either.” 

Writer friends have suggested that I try a couple of chapters in third person. Get a feel for it. Maybe even submit them to the agent for an early look to see if I’m headed in the right direction (not that she’d agree to do that). I’m on the fence … 

What do you think? Is it ever a good idea to mess with your own vision of a book to please a potentially fickle stranger? 

6 comments on “A writer’s dilemma …

  1. pinklightsabre
    May 31, 2021

    That suggestion to try a couple chapters makes complete sense! But ergh, I can empathize with that (almost worst than being rejected, as you say). Thanks for mixing up the format on your blog too, so to speak!

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 31, 2021

      It seems worth the effort, if only to see if it can work at all. What the hell, right?

      PS — Loved your piece today. Why indeed!

      • pinklightsabre
        May 31, 2021

        What the hell! Why the hell not! And thanks for the PS.

  2. Audrey Driscoll
    May 31, 2021

    I agree with Bill. Try a couple chapters.

  3. Marie A Bailey
    May 31, 2021

    I’m chiming in (again). Go ahead and try a couple of chapters, not the whole book. She only read the first couple of chapters anyway, right? The only way you’ll know if she’s truly interested is if you try 🙂

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This entry was posted on May 31, 2021 by in Writing and tagged , , , .
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