Talk about mixed messages. My agent, the esteemed Abigail Samoun, shared the following message she received today from an editor at Random House Children's Books:
"I happen to be loving LETTER OFF DEAD, by the way. It's the first submission in quite a while that I find myself eager to get back to. Please do tell the author that. I noticed on his blog that he talked about how he feels it may be the best work he's done, though no one seems to want to pick it up. I think it's VERY GOOD, it has such a wonderful voice. Though whether I'll be able to buy it…I'm not sure. But that doesn’t change the fact that the writing itself is just flat out terrific."
This editor, a man, by the way, had concerns about how much page time the dad gets in a YA novel. He was also concerned about the epistolary format (a fancy way to say the book is a collection of letters).
So I guess I'll take this as a compliment to my writing ability and a criticism of my ability to create sellable products. Considering my day job is as one of the top marketers of a huge, global company, I guess I should have known better.
If I were to get a chance to stand in front of this editor, who is obviously a person of remarkable intelligence and exquisite taste, this would be my response, as a marketer:
1. Mr. Editor, sir: I beg you to consider the potential for crossover appeal. While the book has proven to be popular with YA readers (I have emails and blog comments to prove it), it was also really popular with parents and other adults. I had 10,000 unique visitors following this thing every month.
2. Mr. Genius Decision Maker and Holder (within your O so capable hands) Of My Fate: Consider how the epistolary format replicates the way people read today. With chapters literally the size of blog posts, it creates a recognizable, approachable experience. If you, in your brilliance, find concern that the father figure is off-putting to YA readers, may it please you to consider that the son is never more than a couple of hundred words away. And the father's storyline creates suspense for the son's storyline. Just as the son's story gets cooking, the reader is pulled away to the father, and the action is withheld. This is the same kind of style that makes those damn Game of Thrones books so effective.
3. O Great One! O Glorious Lord of the House That May Forever Remain Random! Please allow this lowly human to suggest that quality wins out. Trust your glorious gut, sir! Trust it! If it's the first submission in quite a while you've been eager to get back to, it will find its audience, will it not?
Then I'd slip a fiver in his hand and quietly back out of the room.