Bucking the Trend by Deb Jenny

I recently spent a good bit of time in the company of someone who is incapable of not stereotyping everyone he encounters. This person is so hung up on labels (circa 1950), that he’s still shocked that women are in the workforce—he thinks the the little fillies should be home domesticating or something like that.

After about five minutes of listening to him drone on, I had to bite my tongue not to blurt out about a million uncharitable comebacks, but this person is old, decidedly set in his ways, and thoroughly unable to see things any other way, anyhow. It would have done no good, as my beliefs certain weren’t going to change his. I have no patience for stereotyping. [Though I also think non-comformists are sometimes silly—like they try too hard to not be stereotypical (how’s that for stereotyping?!). I once had a friend who worked so hard to be different it exhausted me sometimes.]

The publishing industry tends to veer toward stereotyping, to some degree. I know it’s done to be “safe” and to hedge financial bets, hoping to ensure that they can ultimately sell whatever books they decide to print. Their theory is that once people decide they love to eat Cocoa Puffs for breakfast, they want only Cocoa Puffs, and since Cocoa Puffs are a sure bet, let’s not even bother with other breakfast fare. So if you come to them offering up a strawberry milkshake for breakfast, they are already certain that no one will choose that over the safe, crunchy, chocolately cereal alternative. We’ve seen it with Deb Gail’s 3-part story on how hard it was for her to be published. What did they all tell her? “You’re a terrific writer, but no one wants to read about cancer!” Well, just wait until Gail’s book comes out, and the public will show those naysayers that a book about cancer can sell just as well as—maybe even better than—a book about anything else.

My novel, SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER, also did not fit neatly into a package. It was a little bit edgy, it had an unconventional protagonist, and it veered a little toward reality. I guess the publishing world thinks people don’t want to read about reality and that they don’t want to be reminded of their own lives. “Readers want to escape,” they’ll argue. I guess that’s true. Although non-fiction seems to sell well and usually there’s not much escaping going on there (well, unless you’re reading about becoming the next millionaire next door and then it becomes pure fantasy!).

But I felt certain that the universality of this novel would appeal to plenty of readers. I have always figured if I can relate to something, then so can plenty of other folks, because I’m not that different from the rest of the book-buying public. I think there’s comfort to be found in universality, to know that someone is writing about something you, too, have experienced, in some small way. So in my own naive-about-the-industry way I persevered in trying to find a home for Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, despite rejection upon rejection (“great voice, but too realistic”).

It was with a great bit of fortune that I stumbled into and ultimately won the American Title contest, thus landing a publishing contract for the novel. And now that I’m in the position to sell this book, and facing yet more industry stereotypes (such as how amazingly hard it is to elicit media attention unless you’ve been tapped with the magic publicity wand by a big-name publishing house), I feel all the more empowered to keep trying to buck those trends, determined to prove that there is a market for a book that doesn’t necessarily fit “neatly on the shelf.”

I love a challenge and am a big fan of those who defy the odds—if there’s an underdog to root for, I’ll be there cheering him/her on. And so stereotypes be damned, I’ll enjoy working hard to prove that something a little different can succeed in an industry that loves to have square pegs fitting in square holes most all of the time.

15 Replies to “Bucking the Trend by Deb Jenny”

  1. Wow, Jenny. Great post. Although I have yet to read SWWC, I’m anxiously awaiting its release at my local bookstore so that I may not only take pictures of it for your contest (face out, of course) but buy a family set. And I SO get what you’re saying. I think my best adult novel to date is a story about a girl missing an arm who wins the lottery and escapes to Vegas with her (almost) identical, physically abused sister. It won its category in the Stiletto contest and was highly praised in the scoresheets, but I also got the “WTF IS THIS?” vibe. And when I queried agents, I got very little response. It seems people who don’t get it, REALLY don’t get it. My hope is to one day find an editor who totally gets it. And if you want to cheer for the underdog, girlfriend, get out your pompoms!

  2. dear deb jenny, i’m thinking that it’s not called “conventional” wisdom for nothing. of course you know i have never been called “conventional”, and i’m betting there are a lot of other readers out there who are just like me …. best of luck in the wind-up to the release date. : ) therese

  3. Wow–BOTH of you, I know, are in that boat–going against that “conventional” wisdom. But that’s what ultimately makes for interesting reading, IMO, so, with pom-poms in hand ‘RAH RAH SIS BOOM BAH!’ for you both 😉

  4. Coming from the small press world
    (the universe for the truly unconventional),
    I have sympathy for you.

    I don’t really understand about the media coverage challenges however.
    (unless you’re waiting for the publisher to help promote you).
    Unconventional actually works in your favor for snagging the media.

    And with your blogger connections…
    (According to Marketing Pilgrim,
    75% of reporters look to blogs for story ideas
    and 27% of journalists have blogs).

  5. My pom-poms are out for you, Jenny! (But why does that sound kind of obscene?) I’m very much in favor of being unconventional and of your book becoming a HUGE hit!!!

  6. Kimber–it’s more that they sort of turn their head to it unless those pitches and releases are coming from sources they know/trust. You just have to keep throwing it against the wall and hoping eventually something sticks (excuse yet another cliche!)
    Thanks Danielle–I love your pompoms and appreciate your support!

  7. It really comes down (in some ways) to how passionately you as the writer are for your book. You’ve done a great job to get your book where it is today and I have no doubt your enthusiasm will carry it to the next level.

  8. The truth is readers need honest realism for their own “Aha” moments of inspiration. My feeling is that SwWC already has a title “hook” that will carry it off bookstore shelves.

    Btw, Jenny, Amazon delivered my copy yesterday and it’s now on my TBR pile!

  9. Excellent post, Jenny! You reminded me of the old joke about the entertainment industry wanting “something out of the box, but in the same box.”

    I’m with Eileen on this one–if there’s any merit to The Secret (or the new age metaphysics theories behind it), you have put so much positive energy and enthusiasm out there that it will return to you tenfold.

  10. It’s a terrific book, Jenny and I have no doubt it will find a wide audience. You nail middle-aged marriage! Think of it as a challenge, don’t you just love it when people say you can’t or won’t or shouldn’t? Thanks for the mention, too!

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