Thoughts: Neither Fish nor Fowl

the gardens of Troy

The reviews are in.

I announced here a few months ago that I had finished my first novel. It’s been making the rounds of agents recently and the reviews are in.

It’s good.

It’s unpublishable.

It’s good, the agents say. Compelling story. Engaging antagonist. Touching. Powerful. All those words a burgeoning author wants to hear from people who are the arbiters of what gets published and what doesn’t.

But, they say, it’s not a novel. Too short. It’s not even a novella. Too long. It stands alone and it’s hard to figure out what genre it falls under.

Novellas, I have learned in my education on the publishing industry, don’t get published. Unless of course, you are already famous, in which case they will publish your napkin doodles in a special edition.

If, however, your novella fits a clear genre (like detective stories, or stories about cats), they might be able to fold it into a collection. But while there is a cat named Leibowitz in my tale, he’s a minor character.  My story, the agents tell me, is unique and wonderful.

And unpublishable.

Now, if it was part of a series, and about 20,000 words longer, there would be a place for it. I, unfortunately, am not one who can pad a 40,000 tale with half again as much again. I am after all, a poet at heart, a pruner of words, not a babbler. In a way, my not-quite-a-book is really just a long poem. Yeah, one of the agents said that too.

So what does a writer of wonderful things that are utterly unpublishable do?

I could can it, but that would be like murdering your baby as soon as it was born.

I could wait until I get rich and famous with some of the other things I am working on, all of which seem to fit the mold – long, clearly definable, and potential series kinds of stories.  And then when I become rich and famous, shove this one down a publishers throat and make them publish it.

Yeah, I’m dreaming.

Or I could self-publish, sell a couple thousand copies and be done with it.  That’s what I have done with my poetry and for poetry, that’s a good run. Not so much for prose. But it would get it off my table and then when I get rich and famous, I could force my publisher to put out a special second edition, along with my napkin doodles.

Yeah, dreaming again.

Or I could just keep sending it to agents. Maybe one, in a fit of madness will ignore all the rules of what makes money and take it on, find a publisher and I’ll become the next “Bridges of Madison County.”.  And in the meanwhile, I can keep getting all those wonderful, praising, encouraging rejection letters.

Hey, I’m not proud, I’ll take praise where ever I get it.

The thing is, this one is personal. And, evidently good. And utterly unpublishable.  It’s like a freak show in the publishing world.

What am I going to do? No idea. Sleep on it I guess. Stand in the barkers booth and call people in “For one small quarter, come see the amazing creature. Neither fish nor fowl, a two-headed manuscript sure to send you screaming in unforgettable frenzy.”

Yeah, you called it.

Dreaming again.



  1. Tom, I am sorry if I missed it. What is your book about? Could you give me an idea? my email is Have you tried any University presses? My son is the Director of the Press at the University of Indiana and I have seen many acquisitions over the years of University publishing.

    • I hadn’t thought of the University presses. It’s not the kind of thing I normally think of as what they do. But it’s a good thought. I’ll drop you a note.

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