Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Publishing Glass is Half Full--of Poison?

What The Funk is a Hybrid Novel Anyway?

You’ve heard it all before folks and every time you turn around on a dime, someone is raining on your publishing parade. I think we’re all aware of not only the pitfalls of writing a novel, but the astronomical pitfalls of getting one published. But isn’t life always like this all the time though?  Nothing is ever easy, after all. If anything was easy, as easy as the Staples “Easy Button”, we’d all be basking under a palm tree in Tahiti with a PiƱa Colada gently held to our lips and we’d marvel at the wave patterns like Robert Duval did in Apocalypse Now.  Dream on.  You’re not alone in this uphill battle, even though I know that just like me, you hope you’re the next David Wroblewski, author extraordinaire of  Edgar Sawtelle fame and fortune. (Need anyone be reminded?)

But that’s the good news. The Sawtelle story is the quintessential example of what a Hybrid Novel is and how to freak one together.  Aspiring authors need to learn this old-fashioned technique in order to be the next big hit in the world of publishing. It’s easy. Let’s break it down into three easy steps.

First, you must be smart. But not just any smarts will do, mind you.  You must be as close to genius as possible. Hold on now, because If you’re not a genius, like Cormac McCarthy, then ingenious will do nicely. You see how easy it is to overcome obstacles?

Next, you must be what they call, “passionate”. A word that McCarthy seems uncomfortable with, and admits it’s too fancy--implying it has sensual connotations. (If you saw him in Oprah’s interview, you know what I mean. And if you missed that gem of an interview, you can still see it on YouTube.) Doesn’t everything wind up on YouTube, sooner or later?

Okay, so back to the “passion” thing.  Let’s keep in mind that Wroblewski worked on the Sawtelle story for about ten years in his spare time. Take note that this is not only “passion” but an innate belief, a knowing that this story will succeed in the marketplace.  Although Wroblewski says that this first novel was an experiment of sorts--a study and an exploration more than anything else and that he never expected it to get published, despite his uncanny ability to write engaging prose. (Except for Henry's Chapter.)  Humility is a good thing. I think it’s clear though that his diligence and attention to detail along the way has paid off.

Not to mention the valuable feedback he amassed during those ten years from a long list of so many friends and professionals alike. Not a bad way to experiment. He had a good support system, to say the least, and that certainly counts for something. Maybe everything. And it’s a good thing that Wroblewski landed such a lucrative deal because he has plenty of friends to thank. Unless they’ve already been paid in Super Bowl pizza and beer parties. Who knows? Not important at this point. You get the idea.  Hey, let’s not forget, it was ten years and about 600 manuscript pages to go around.  What a pest. I can’t even get my mother to read my lousy first chapter. And that’s only 18 pages.

Okay, so do you have “passion”? Sure you do. Nobody sets out to write a novel of any length just for the fun of it. And you must be well-read and willing to borrow some ideas that have already proven themselves to be winners.  You must plan your freaky hybrid story to the point just short of plagiarism, or at least work off the assumption that your premise, your brilliant idea, is a surefire concoction or word-manna from heaven. And then you must learn many things along the way and apply them to your story in such a way that your novel will improve and get you closer to your publishing goals. But let’s say that unlike Wroblewski, you don’t have a support system of checks and balances in place.  No problem. You can always pay for the services and opinions of impartial readers who are more than eager to steal, I mean, give your tome a read of sorts. Don’t have the money? Sure you do.  All you have to do is sacrifice a few things. You know, prioritize. Wow, two out of two, so far. Now we’re…you know, whatever.

Okay, so lastly, you must pick the right agent, or the right publisher. I think agents are a wise choice since they know if your story will sell, and to whom it will sell. They are insiders, after all, and they have connections to people such as Stephen King for example. And we all know how valuable a flattering book blurb from the master of suspense is.

Fine. So first and foremost, how do you go about finding the right agent for your particular novel?  They are a discerning bunch, as you already know and they don’t take on just any project. Why should they?  Let’s face it, they have to be just as excited about your story as you are. They have a track record they must live up to and with so many queries piled up on their desks, they have the luxury to be picky.

So, just like Wroblewski, you close your eyes and skim your index finger (or middle finger) down a massive list of potential agents and stop anywhere. You know, like pinning the tail on the donkey kind of thing. If you like what this agent has to offer, then you repeat your highly scientific search and send out a half dozen queries and get back six rejections. Fine, you say. You’ll send out a dozen queries next time and then you’ll sit and wait for the phone to ring, and it does. And viola, you have a deal! But not just any deal. But a major deal bid by a huge publisher. Fantastic. You see how easy that was?

All right. Now for the book blurb from Stephen King. Hmm…that’s a tough proposition right there, but not impossible. It all depends on how creative your agent and editor are, right? Right. Great, so how exactly do you go about setting a fire under your agent's ass to get anything even close to that from happening?

I wish I had a funny answer but sadly enough, I don’t. (Frown here.) Whatever makes you feel better because here’s where the schtick ends and the naked truth begins. (Oh, the horror of it all!)

Here it is:  Do your homework. Come up with something different and new that’s never been written before in a flavor only you can conjure up. For example, let’s say you put together a hybrid story based on Romeo and Juliet. You know, like West Side Story.  Or let’s say you take a seed of an idea, like in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and embellish it with the Vietnam experience, and you transform it into the mega-movie, Apocalypse Now.

One more. How about delving into European markets for ideas from unknown books in this country, and piece together your own freakish novel and come up with something like, Planet of The Apes.  These are known as hybrids these days. A modern word for what's been going on in the world of literature, music, and film, for ages, my friend. That’s the buzz word. Don't fight it. Ride with it and stop trying to re-invent the wheel.  The Greek gods get very angry when you try.  

In other words, there's nothing new under the sun folks.  Deal with it.  Those that came way before us have already figured it all out and they don't like it when you mess with their tried-and-proven template.  Unless you're the next Cormac McCarthy that is.  He has a direct pipeline to Aristotle's ghost and channels all the unwritten amendments to "The Poetics" and then he has the audacity to change them and make them his own. (Have I gone too far?)  

So please, get your freaky hybrid on and just do what you do.  That’s what I do.  It's a bit of wisdom I picked up from the gorgeous, super cool, SADE.  We’ll see if this formula really works. Stay tuned.

Oh, BTW, if you're a first-time novelist concerned about your platform, or the lack thereof, relax, that's what the Hybrid Formula is designed to do.  Build your name brand. 


Hmm…you see how easy all this really is? I told you it can be done in three easy steps. And so the glass was not only half full of poison, but half full of hope too. That’s otherwise known as the Oriental Ying-Yang Circle of Life.  It's a beautiful thing.



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