Yes, it is difficult to find an agent. But you can start here and have a list of names, addresses, and what these agents want to see. http://www.1000literaryagents.com. Remember, if an agent says he or she only publishes YA novels then don’t send them your Peace Corps story, unless, of course, it is written for Young Adults. Agents are in the business (and it is very much a business) of making money so if they think your book will sell, they will represent you. If they think your book is wonderful but won’t sell to a publisher, they won’t represent you. Very few agents are in the business of literature. They leave that work to the academics.
Editors & Publishers
You have heard, I’m sure, how Catch 22 went to more than 50 publishing houses before it was published back in 1960. That novel is still selling! There are endless tales of books that were rejected by this editor or that publisher as being worthless that went onto become huge commercial successes as well as literary prize winners. You can save yourself a lot of time and heartache if you study the market and pick houses where you have a chance of getting published. That is why an agent is so important. She or he knows the marketplace. That is their job.
Today, it is difficult to get anything published by a ‘commercial’ house until the novel or non-fiction book is very commercial (or the editor thinks it will sell, i.e., it fits a genre.) I wrote a series of occult/horror novels back in the ’70s that sold for lots of money. Now you can’t give horror novels away. Today, I am writing a series of novels set around golf and those novels fit a sports category in publishing, i.e., golfers. They don’t make much money, but I don’t mind. I love writing these novels.
Now, if you write a literary novel than you have to really go for small presses like Graywolf, Permanent Press or Curbstone (they published the collection of Peace Corps fiction I edited.)
If you are writing an academic novel well, you know where to go for that kind of publication. Georgia Press, for example, has done a few Peace Corps related books, as has New Mexico Press, Iowa State University Press, etc.
Finally, you can self publish or POD publish it, and sell copies out of your car trunk, as John Grisham did with his first novel, and before he wrote The Firm.
It is difficult to get a novel published in good times as well as hard times. I wrote 7 novels before I published one. Since then I have written 3 novels that no one wants to buy. And I have sold a half dozen novels. Go figure.
Submitting a Novel to an Agent
Last week an RPCV sent me a novel he had written. He is trying to get published and he asked me to look at it. I did. I told him the truth. I was blunt. Why fool this RPCV with praise if I think it is unpublishable? I might be wrong, but I have read a lot of bad books by RPCVs. I told him to send me 25 pages and he sent me the whole novel as a PDF file. That is the wrong way to present a book to an agent or editor.
This writer does have the ‘gift’ to write a good account of what it was like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. His story has value as the first draft of history of the Peace Corps as an international development movement. Someday some scholar will be thrilled to come upon his story.
That, however, is a long way from writing a book an average person cares to read.
What Should You Do About Writing Your Peace Corps Story?
Here are 6 simple steps:
- Join a writing group that meets regularly. You want people to respond and react to what you have written. You’ll learn a lot from that experience, and you’ll have fun.
- Write your story. Get your story down on paper or down on a computer. It has value. Tell the whole story.
- Listen carefully to what the people in your writing group say. They will tell you if what you have written is worthy to be published.
- Look for an agent. I gave you a list. Study that list.
- Try and publish short excerpts from your book. Go to a good bookstore, library or college and research small publications, literary magazines, any publication about the developing world. Search out on-line magazines.
- Seek out smaller publishing companies, regional presses, companies that focus on the region of the world where you were a PCVs, or where you are now living. Be a local author.
And, finally, remember this: What you write has value, even if it only has value to you. No one can take away those memories, those great stories, that adventure you once had. Tell your story. Someone, somewhere will want to hear it.