Last Sunday I emailed my agent a short novel that I wrote earlier this year and recently revised. It’s a curiosity because of its short length (35,000 words) and the fact that it’s not a crime novel at all. There’s a minor level of mystery and a few little shenanigans, but it’s focused on the emotional experiences of a set of characters over the space of a night in Budapest, everything triggered (as I’ve mentioned before) by a chance meeting in the street between an American tourist and her dead husband—who, of course, never was dead, but decided to leave his life on 9/11, as everyone would assume he was in the Towers. It’s called Disappearing Americans.
I’m interested in his reaction to it, as it’s really off the scale of anything I’ve given him before, but I know from the outset that it’ll be a tough sell. Why? Because it’s marketing thing. When you’re a published author, the industry works as quickly as possible to pigeon-hole you. I’m marketed as a “thriller writer” (with the first book I was a “mystery” writer, but the second book wouldn’t quite fit, so that had to change), and the publisher works hard to solidify my identity. Because my publisher knows the market is like a dog—it’s very conservative. Dogs like routine, they like the predictable. The market’s no different. So if a “thriller writer” produces an epic poem the size of The Cantos, there’s gonna be problems.
One interesting anomaly is Mark Haddon, whose Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time was followed in the UK by The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea—yes, a book of poetry. (The reviews have either loved its simplicity, or ridiculed its simplicity.) But Haddon, with only one mystery under his belt, could change identity pretty easily still. I’ve just turned in my 4th thriller, and wonder if it’ll be much harder for me.
On the other hand, it might not be difficult. Because the fact is, my name and its link to the word thriller is known by a relatively small group of people. I’ve not achieved Curious Incident fame, and so I imagine my market identity is still malleable. Which is why I want to strike now with something different.
Because I’d rather it be “writer” rather than something more narrow. What I’d like is for the market to expect the unexpected from me. We’ll see if it works out.
(Originally posted at the Contemporary Nomad)