Saturday, October 31, 2009

Non-Platform Fiction

I'm a completely non angsty person, so feel free to punch as hard as you want on this one.

I know that most non-fiction depends on a great platform; either you are famous already or you are writing about something insanely compelling(you accidentally spent a magical summer with chairman mao.). With that said, and while I acknowledge that this is a completely logical and fair way to do business, is there any space for someone with an interesting non-fiction concept, written with humor and wit?

I'm talking about something without historic signifigance or tear-jerking poignancy, but still a concept which an average person might find interesting and amusing. I'm purposely leaving out my concept for two reasons: you don't want to waste your time reading it, and I want more of a general industry answer than a specific acceptance or rejection of my ideas.

David Sedaris makes a pretty good living talking about wacky neighbors and childhood memories, which would make a terrible platform if you pitched it like that, but he's actually really funny and, I think, deserving of his bestseller status. At least for When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

In short: My answer is yes.


Seth Christenfeld said...

Sedaris, though, falls into the first category--"already famous."

The Rejecter said...

Sedaris BECAME famous for his writing.

Anonymous said...

He became famous for his READING.

Yeah, he got on NPR with the writing, but that's still a unusual magical break.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but he has famous siblings, and is a friend of Jon Stewart. Not resources your average writer can draw on.

Lauren MacLeod said...

But Sedaris has a platform--he is writing his memoir, no one else could write it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there's space, but the problem is getting through all the filters. It's kind of like someone coming up with a great idea at a business meeting and being ignored. Then someone much higher states basically the same idea and the rest of the staff gives it full support. In other words, be prepared to fight harder than if you're not famous or important.

Dave Kuzminski

Queen of the Road said...

I wasn't famous, and I still got pub'd with a "very nice" advance from Broadway for my humorous travel memoir. From what my agent said, I think if you have a strong voice, even absent much of a platform, it's possible.

Seth Christenfeld said...

As anon1 notes, Sedaris was known for his contributions to NPR before his first book was published. The short version is that he started off by giving public readings of diary entries at clubs in Chicago; one of these readings was attended by Ira Glass, who brought Sedaris onto his local show; that show led to national exposure on Morning Edition, and it was another year and a half of monthly reports on NPR before Barrel Fever was published.

Anonymous said...

Rhoda Janzen? Mennonite in a little black dress.

Key is the fact both Sedaris and Janzen are standout literary talents.

I wonder if your query writer realizes a good idea isn't going to be enough. "Written with humor and wit" strikes me as a bit off for someone who is talented in either being funny or witty in writing or, uh, both. There is a very high skill-threshhold here, isn't there?

And I would worry that everyone and their deaf aunt thinks they write with humor and wit.

Etiquette Bitch said...

while sedaris became famous for his writing, he did already have the platform of 1) Being Ira Glass's friend, and 2) Ira putting him on TAL and getting him a guest "commentator" slot on either Morning Edition or All Things Considered.

Other agents will tell you to, sure, try pitching essays, but they are a hard sell, unless you have a platform.

The Rejecter said...

David Sedaris just popped into my head as a guy who gets published and is a bestseller with platform-less material. Yes, it's memoir, but one book was about him quitting smoking. Things like that don't stun me in query letters.

Yes, he had some breaks and knew some famous people, but mostly his career is carried on the quality of his writing. If we got someone in the mail who had his level of humor and quality, I think my boss would try to publish them.

Eric C said...

I agree with the Rejector that Dave Sedaris is a good example, but at the same time I would have answered no, for all the reasons everyone said.

I think people fall into the trap of thinking, "Hey, I'm funny. My life is quirky. I should write memoirs." It needs to be exceptionally exceptional. So the answer is yes, exceedingly rarely. In my opinion.