More on Commercial Women’s Fiction

Hi All–I’m really enjoying this blog, and hope you are too! There are two great questions that were posted elsewhere, and I’m pasting them here so everyone can see them, along with my responses.

“Hi Marcela! I hope all’s well. I’m an aspiring Latina writer, who aims to finish her collection of short stories and poetry and find an agent by October 2007. I understand the significance of a writer’s platform, and as such, I’ve been working on my own. However, I have found very few Latina/o-friendly contests and journals. What are some contests and journals that I can apply to and instantly be seen with literary respect? Also, do you think that my October deadline is realistic?
Abrazos from a fellow comadre!
by Cynthia February 26th, 2007 at 7:47 pm

Hi Marcela!
You mentioned edgy YA. My editor at Berkley mentioned the same thing to me. What in the world does that mean?
by Lara Rios February 27th, 2007 at 10:00 am”

Cynthia: Don’t focus only on Latino oriented contests and journals. Focus on contests and journals that would be a good fit for your kind of writing. For example, if you write creative non-fiction, submit your work to contests and journals that do creative non-fiction. If you write romance, submit your work to contests and journals that do romance. You can submit your work to Latino contest and journals too, but the number one criteria for whether a contest or journal is a good fit for you is what kinds of writing has won/been published before. And by kind of writer I don’t mean Anglo or Latino, I mean literary or commecial, memoir or novel, etc. If a Latino contest is seeking poems, and you don’t write poetry, there’s no point submitting your work just because you’re Latina. As for the October 2007 deadline, I don’t recommend you even try to find an agent with just a collection of short stories/poetry. Most readers don’t buy short story/poety collections, which is why most publishers, at least the large ones, don’t bother publishing them. Pretty much just the really small and/or non-profit houses will be interested in you, and considering how little money they can offer you as an advance, most agents won’t have an incentive to represent you. Instead of focusing on publishing the stories/poems as a book, instead use the individual stories/poems to submit to contests/journals in order to build your platform. As you build your platform, write a novel. By the time you complete and polish the collection of short pieces, and complete and polish the novel, if you’ve done your homework you will have an award or two and a publication credit or two in a journal under your belt. Even then, don’t approach agents–write a really solid single chapter and a synopsis for a second novel. Then, after you have three projects to sell, approach agents. You will be infinitely more marketable if an agent can sell three projects, two of which are novels, then just a collection of stories/poems.

Lara: When the term edgy is used to describe a YA book, it pretty much means a book in which the teen characters are misbehaving in ways that they think is cool but would horrify their parents: drugs, drinking, crime, sex. And we’re not talking Judy Blume sex–think “Rainbow Party by Paul Ruditis” or the movie “Thirteen” starring Evan Rachel Wood.

Toni: Agents and editors are looking for Chiquita Lit for one reason: YA books have made a lot of $$$. So they ask themselves: how can we make more $$$ with YA? One answer is: publish Latina YA. They figure if the average teen buys books, then maybe a Latina teen will too. As for publishing under a specialized imprint vs. a general one, I’m a big fan of specialized imprints, whether they’re Latino, AA, gay or for the boomer market. Some people think specialization means separation, and that separation by definition means unequal. No. Separation can be a bad thing, but it can also be a good thing. Women who attend women’s colleges and AA who attend AA colleges are more likely to get advanced degrees and earn a higher income than if they attend mainstream colleges. Authors and books that are published in a specialized imprint get a certain level of time, energy, and most importantly money they they are simply not likely to get if they are on the general list. Think about it: do you really want to be on the same list as Jennifer Weiner? Yes, it would be fun to tell friends that her publishing house is publishing your book, but you and she have to fight for a bigger slice of the marketing budget; guess who is going to get more $$$ than you?

5 thoughts on “More on Commercial Women’s Fiction”

  1. Marcela, thank you for dishing the 411 and for steering me in the right direction. There’s so much information out there on ways to approach an agent, but timing is never discussed. So thanks for clearing that up, and I’m definitely going to follow your advice.
    Thank you Caridad for having Marcela as a guest blogger. I’m looking forward to your future posts 🙂

  2. Some great questions here. Lara, thanks for asking the “edgy” YA question as I needed to know that, also. I’ve published for Har/Sil but I’m seriously thinking I’d really enjoy writing a YA. Marcela, thank you so much for being a guest on the blog — I truly enjoyed your comments.


  3. Marcela, I’ve always thought that along with my single title novels and occasional novelas, writing for Harlequin would be an important part of my game plan for “quitting the day job” and becoming a full time writer. H is a total marketing machine, and I mean that in a good way. Your take on specialized publishers cemented this for me. Thanks! I’ve learned a lot from your terrific comments. And thanks, Cari, for inviting Marcela to blog.


  4. Thank you, Marcela for all your insights! And for clarifying the term edgy. Can’t say I’m thrilled to hear that’s what they’re looking for, but at least I know what it is now : )

    And thanks Cari for having such great guests.


  5. Hi Marcela,

    Thanks so much for offering your insights into commercial fiction and the state of the market.

    You’ve provided so much useful information on what’s hot and what’s not.

    Thank you!

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