Ready, Fire, Aim

This morning, I woke to find my FB page abuzz over this recent HuffPo article about the latest job market problem: applications from the currently unemployed will not be considered, no matter the reason.

Frankly, since I am within a couple years of retiring from the military and will soon be looking for a new job, this kind of news strikes a unique kind of fear in my faint heart.  Bottom line: the Navy has been really good to me and the security and constancy of this job is one thing that has been hard not to take for granted.

But it also occurs to me that this employment problem is similar to the problem of getting published.  It’s a vicious cycle.  No agent or publisher wants to touch you if you’re unpublished, but you’re unlikely to be published until an agent or publisher touches you.  Normally, I getta big kick outta these Catch-22 dilemmas, but this particular one is downright depressing.

A good friend of mine, a writer whose material tends toward the literary and often lacks elements sought after by the mainstream industry, has decided the best course of action is to publish a few short stories.  Let’s call this the shotgun approach.  He is not being picky on who will publish his stuff.  He is basically taking what he can get and having some success at it–none of the publications are big names, but at least it’s a start.  Then he can put those accolades into his query letter and up his chances that an agent (or agent’s assistant) will pause just long enough to give his unconventional novel a chance.  This approach builds on a number of smaller successes which will hopefully lead to a contract with an agent.

On the other hand, there is a simplicity in the idea of hooking an agent on the strength of a single novel-length work.  You know the feeling: focus on a story with a single set of characters and make them pop off the page.  I call this the “one shot, one kill” approach.  It would feel amazing to actually pull it off, to yodel from the rooftops after I got that fateful call from the Dream Agent. 

Plus, being a good novelist doesn’t necessarily make you a good short story writer, or vice versa.  Short stories are more difficult to structure, and some folks just need the extra space to tell their stories.  Many of my own ideas first appear to be shorts but in fact seem to work best as novella length or longer stories. 

At the moment, I am leaning toward the shotgun approach.  What are your thoughts?  Which path are you on–“one shot, one kill” or the “shotgun” approach?

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  1. I saw that on Huff Po a while ago, and when I was pink-slipped earlier this year, I was terrified until I was called back. I can't imagine being in that situation.

    As far as the approach? I've also begun sending short stories out in the hope that one or two of them might find a publishing home. Lately I'm all about whatever works. :)

    July 12, 2010
  2. Lola Sharp said:

    I think it's all about the writing, the story, characters you can love and hate, and, oh yes, the writing. Sublime writing and story telling will find an agent and a publisher… and readers.
    I think this: Write the best novel you can write. Polish it until it gleams. Write a great query letter. Research agents. Then query agents that specialize in your genre. If the story and writing are exceptional, it will find a home, even without a 'resume'.
    It's all about the writing, imho.

    Focus on the writing.

    The rest will come.

    Write your novel.

    July 12, 2010
  3. Christine H said:

    I have no shot (no short stories) so I'm basically going for the "one shot, one kill" approach because of lack of ammunition.

    I am also currently looking for a job. I have to check that article out. I am highly skilled but have been out of my field for a number of years now. I left by choice to be a stay-at-home mom. Now I'm not technically unemployed… I am a part-time college professor… but I'm not employed in my actual field (as a statistician, analyzing clinical trial and/or research data). So anyone looking to hire me would have to allow for some ramping up time. But, I'm not asking for as much salary as my up-to-date counterparts either.

    My main problem is geographic. All the big pharma companies are too far away for me to commute with a young child at home. If I didn't have kids, I could be gone 16 hours a day. But that's not possible.

    July 12, 2010
  4. Christine H said:

    P.S. I just talked to my mom about the HuffPo article. She recently retired from the financial services industry. She said that in a down economy, companies usually let their least productive workers go, so these companies that don't want unemployed workers are trying to avoid the duds.

    July 12, 2010
  5. SM Schmidt said:

    How many years can I milk college again? Ugh there are no more days of security within the job market which makes a PhD at once appealing but depressing. Fingers crossed writing keeps me sane enough to get into the job market mess.

    July 12, 2010
  6. Liza said:

    It's a little of both for me…I've had a few pieces published…but now am holding off submitting others while I focus on one thing.

    July 12, 2010
  7. Donna Hole said:

    I so want my Trilogy to be published on the strength of my novel writing skills alone. That is the best of all possible dreams.

    But I'm realistic enough to sigh at that "catch 22", so I'm also focusing on some short stories. I've only queried a few agents, but I doubt I'll send out too many more before waiting out publication in any venue.

    Which reminds me – I haven't worked on that revision request for three weeks. Guess I better get started.

    Wish me luck!


    July 13, 2010
  8. Meghan Ward said:

    I guess I'm going for the one shot, one kill approach, although I have one one chapter published in an anthology. I think doing both is probably best – getting excerpts from a novel (or short stories) published while simultaneously trying to sell a novel. Easier said than done, though!

    August 23, 2010

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