Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sir, prized I is

A funny thing happened to me the other day. I say funny because if I don't laugh I may get quite worried about it.

I emailed an agent and asked if he would be interested to take a look at my short fiction collection as well as my novel about memory. Hahahah.....silly me assumed he'd say thanks but no thanks - I've really been practicing my rejection acceptance, I no longer get excited when I see a letter with my name in my own handwriting, in fact, I'm so okay about my fiction being rejected that when he asked to see some of my writing it took a while for me to work out that it wasn't a rejection! And then I realised...I don't know how to submit a collection of short fiction!

I have spent the last two years working out how to write a synopsis for a novel! Now I realise I don't know how to present my short story collection.

I could view it as a novel in one loose sense but I want the distinction to be made that it is not a novel - it is a collection of short fiction - connected, inter-connected, cleverly linked, themed, but individual short stories as well. Every story in it works on its own - apart, aside from the others, and that, I think, is key. That is what makes the short fiction collection different from the chapters of a novel. I get really excited by both novels and short fiction, what I don't get excited about is people who view short fiction as the novel's poor relation. It's not.

I am proud to write short fiction. It is a completely different process for me than writing a novel.

If I were to write my novels as I do my short fiction, people's heads would explode - seriously - I'd make the headlines for completely the wrong reasons! People would be running from book stores screaming "I just cannot take any more! It is too much!"

Short fiction doesn't have the benefit a novel has of time to grow your appreciation. It has to grab you and hit you. We suffer, I think, as readers, through a lot of lacklustre prose in some novels because we have been wooed by a few chapters or glimmering moments, clever devices and such like, and we put our faith in the author that we will be rewarded for our perseverance substantially. Usually the characters develop enough that we care about them to see them through to the end regardless. Not always, but usually. Short fiction does everything a novel does but in a fraction of the time and page space. That is not something to turn your nose up at. That is a skill and, as someone who has spent a huge portion of my life to honing my own style and approach to the discipline, I can tell you it is not easy. Sure, short fiction is easy to start - ooh, I've got a great idea - but how many of those ideas actually get finished? I have dozens of almost rans, dozens! One day, I'll say, one day I will finish you, and what is more, you will know you have been finished. And that's it - that's what I love about short fiction. You get this feeling in your guts about a good short story and it stays with you, which, when you think about it, is testament to their power because it didn't take you a day, a week or whatever to read it, it didn't grow on you gradually, like a novel, it was there - strong and powerful, moving and devastating, elating and hilarious right from the first line and in every single line until the last. Now, show me a novel that does that!

So, you know I can write them, right? Anyone got any pointers on how to present them?

Oh, and while we're on the subject of what I don't know, does anyone know how to write a synopsis for a triptych?

And, before I forget - which I won't (but sometimes I do) - Mr Agent, Sir, my query and synopses will be with you shortly!

AAANND! For anyone still interested in the ongoing e-reader debate, here's some more news.

All I need to do is NOT PANIC! AAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh!


catdownunder said...

Rachel there is a site called "Editorial Anonymous" that might can send the owner queries at

Rachel Fenton said...

Thank you, Cat, and for taking the time to get the link. I think that site may be more geared towards children's fiction but I'll take another look. There are lots of sites like that but I am not sure I trust to send my synopses away!

I don't have a problem with writing synopses, per se (though I loathe it), I was mainly curious to know if I should treat the process differently for my short fiction collection and triptych from the way I would with a straight novel...I have set aside the rest of this week's writing time to look into it!

Donna Hosie said...

I have no practical advice for query/synopsis writing for shorts, in fact I don't think I have ever seen advice offered by agents or editors in that regard. It is a tough area to crack.

Perhaps magazines - who are more likely to print shorts - have submission guidelines that could help you, Rachel?

Andrea said...

Congrats! How exciting. Yeah, I agree that short fiction is a genre all of its own and certainly isn't easier because it is shorter.

I guess you could pick out a few favourite stories out of the collection to focus on? I'm not an expert in such matters, though.

Adelaide Dupont said...

Present them as long stories or even novellas.

There is a really excellent anthology of LONG stories by famous authors.

So look for other stories like that and throw them into the 'awareness of the market' section/'sellability' section.

Rachel Fenton said...

I know, Donna, there doesn't appear to be much hope of geting them published as a collection anytime soon :(

I am beginning to submit to journals and competitions - very tentatively! I know I have to improve my writing CV for sure - it's nonexistent! Been too busy writing see, and not busy enough sending off!

Am still pushing my other novels, too, which is just getting me down because - basically I want an agent and each agent represents a 'best fit' with each individual novel, but each of those novels is completely different, in style, structure, content! Aargh! It's driving me mad. I need an agent who likes diversity! Thanks for the advice, though, and support!

Andrea - thanks. I have sent a couple of favourites off to competitions! I feel like I'm chopping myself up into different parts to sell as different products to varying outlets/ this rate I'll end up with split personalities! :/

Hi, Adelaide - I know that's where the market is but it sucks! What's the publishing industry got against SHORT fiction? The fashion industry makes 'petite' and 'tall' clothing ranges, they sell! The public needs choice...and I'm guessing, if they had more choice, they'd buy more short fiction. And my collection would work as a novel but the fact is, it isn't a novel! It's short fiction - and for the most part, short short fiction!

Come on everybody - give some BIG enthusiasm for SHORT stories!

I fear I have lost my mind :o

Thomas Taylor said...

I have no experience of this sort of thing, but it seems to me that you have said most of what you need to say about your collection and about you in paragraph four of this post.

I wouldn't worry too much about form, I would just write something short and honest and follow the agent's guidlines alone.

As for pitching a triptych, I'd do that in three parts:-P

I wish you luck!

Rachel Fenton said...

Thanks, Thomas - now all I have to do is apply my story brevity to the letter! That's all! Argh!

Haha! Triptych - It's like my painting - works on a principle of thirds!

Thank you.

Mary McCallum said...

Great news, Rachel. I'd send the novel synopsis and long extract plus a short story synopsis of sorts with more of a 'blurb' for each one - showing any links - plus two sample stories. The novel will sell it as short stories don't. Even Kirsty Gunn's been told to hold the short story collection til the novel's done... Good luck.

Rachel Fenton said...

Thank you, Mary - I figured (sadly) that there wasn't much hope for my short stories without a novel, and it's even more depressing to know that KG's having trouble selling hers! But I so love short stories. I've spent all of today honing my letter (nerves) and I'll get onto the synopses again tomorrow! :)

Lori said...

Oh, sorry I haven't seen this post earlier. That is great news. I have no idea about short story submissions, but I am sure you'll figure it out because you're good. And it sounds really interesting to me. If I were an agent...I'd be hooked already. Good luck! Good luck!

Lori said...

Oh, and I do like what you're saying about the difference between short story collection and novels. You might almost make me read short stories now.

Rachel Fenton said...

Thank you, Lori! And if you haven't read any short stories yet, you should definitely give them a go - maybe start with some that are in a themed collection, rather than the entire short fiction output of an author, or start with the short fiction work of an author you already like. I'll do another post about this soon!
I remember your review about Dostoyevsky - here's the link to the google page with info on his short fiction:
Maybe something there will take your fancy.

Dominic Rivron said...

I wouldn't know what to suggest - but congratulations!

Good things can be terrifying. Isn't it great to feel that someone somewhere thinks you've got what it takes?

Rachel Fenton said...

Thanks, Dominic, though I'm not so sure this agent thinks I've got what it takes - yet - he's only agreed to read some material: it isn't by any means a guarantee that he's going to sign me :(

I know what you mean. Just blogging makes me feel more confident about my writing but I think I might actually fall over with shock if I get an agent (goodness knows what'll happen to me if I get my work published!)

Thanks for the positive spin!

Group 8 said...

Hi R
Email me and I can mail you the synopsis I did for Nude - it might help? A group of stories with a theme are always easier to sell.
N x

Rachel Fenton said...

Wow! Nuala, that would be a hugenormous help!!! Thank you!!!

Rachel Fox said...

I think short fiction (like poetry) is back with a vengeance...or just about to be. It makes sense really...generation of small attention spans and all that. Nuala's stories, for example, are more striking and memorable than so, so many of the novels coming out just now. It's very exciting!

Rachel Fenton said...

Thanks, Rachel. It does feel like the start of something big re: short fiction/poetry doesn't it. But even if nothing comes of it as far as my short fiction goes, I'll still keep writing it because I can't stop! I love it to read and write.

Anonymous said...

Gulp! Do you know, I think I might make stick with making hats! lots of luck, Penny x

Rachel Fenton said...

Thanks Penny - any room on that felt making course? x