A Page of Body Copy–Literary/Women’s Fiction

After my post about being a product writer versus a process writer, several people suggested I dust my finished literary novel off and get it out in the world.

I spent seven years writing and revising BODY COPY, and it’s sitting dormant in a Word file on my computer. Naomi and Anthony pointed out that it’s important to put a finished manuscript out in the world. “Seven years of blood, sweat, and tears is too big an investment not to reap the reward,” Naomi said in her comment.

Too true.

I’m not prepared to delve back into my small-town newspaper novel immediately, but I’m certainly thinking about taking another pass at it with the idea of seeking publication. I’d probably first jump back into the agent search, but I’ve heard such horror stories lately that I’d also consider an ebook or indie publishing.

My reluctance to try an ebook has to do with the fact that genre books seem to be in more demand in that arena than literary fiction.

BODY COPY is definitely a blend of women’s and literary fiction. The plot is fairly commercial. My narrator is a 20-something woman starting over in a new town after her friend’s death. It’s about roommates and boyfriends and finding one’s voice. But the language is definitely literary. Maybe it would make more sense to court some small presses, although I’m sure they’re slammed with submissions, especially now that the bigger houses are buying so few manuscripts.

I’m sharing the first page of BODY COPY here today so I can ask this question: Are there ebook fans who would read this kind of literary/commercial hybrid? If you read literary fiction, do you ever read ebooks? I’d love any thoughts you may have.

Body Copy

By Laura Stanfill

Chapter 1

I cannot be your friend, so skip the smalltalk when you answer the door. Khakis with a plain shirt tell you nothing about me. That’s my uniform. When we shake hands in your living room, read my life line. Read how I wear no rings. I am not your mother or your sister or your friend and no, I don’t want to sleep with you. I am nobody you’re supposed to know.

What takes over between us, in the empty space, is your story. Today that’s all we have in common. My questions tug at the tail of your narrative. It’s your job to trace its ribcage and teeth. There’s enough ink in my bag to last for hours. Once we’re done, I close my notebook and say goodbye.

Your voice plays in my head as I dig in my bag for keys and wonder whether there’s time to stop for an iced coffee. My job is to print your life in black and white. Color if it’s a slow news week. The next time you hear from me will be my translation of who you are.

What you worry about most is whether that juicy grin floated up in you again, first documented at a family picnic in 1971 when you stole your little brother’s watermelon slice, your mouth pink with victory. Outside the frame your brother beats the grass, not knowing the word for thief. That’s your real smile. My camera grabbed the bone of it. You apologized. You weren’t ready. I took ten more shots to please you. But that first photo’s what my editor expects: gold.

On Wednesday morning, when you find yourself in the paper, verbs pumped and sloppy words dropped, strong light on your jaw, quite a nice picture actually, you’ll realize the whole town sat on your couch on a hot afternoon at the thirsty end of summer, wearing khakis and a plain shirt, saying no thanks to that tall glass of mint iced tea, because one sip would have broken the thread of your story and returned us, without question or apology, to the present.

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1bhaB-DZ

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Fiction, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to A Page of Body Copy–Literary/Women’s Fiction

  1. It’s at times like this that I realize I don’t know what “literary” fiction really is. I identify it most by what it doesn’t have (space ships, locked room murders, zombies, zeppelins, swords, costumed heroes, corsets, famous amateur detectives, etc.). So, it’s difficult to say. I would certainly buy it, but I suppose that isn’t much help.

    My impression of the indie publishing world is the single biggest factor is how much promotion you do, but I don’t have any research to back that up. I will offer the thought that publishing a book offers a satisfaction that is not entirely related to how many copies you sell.

    • Great point about promotion, Anthony. I suppose part two of my question, then, would be something about finding literary fiction writers and figuring out how to approach them promotion-wise. I’m always looking for literary fiction blogs and sites but haven’t found a ton. I’m not ready to answer that question, but answering it should be key in deciding whether to try an ebook.

      As far as literary fiction, I think of it as a type of writing that pays careful attention to language and using language in a very specific way to serve the story. It tends to be character driven. Your list of what it’s not is quite serviceable, too.

  2. More please…
    Don’t give up! Its exactly as Anthony Lee Collins says, “Publishing a book offers a satisfaction that is not entirely related to how many copies you sell.” And if it is then one thing is for sure, promoting a book is harder than writing it!

    • Oh thanks for the encouragement, Maggie! I used to work in PR but promoting a book seems rather daunting! Finding the right audience is certainly part of that.

  3. Aly Hughes says:

    I’ve read a few literary and women’s fiction novels in e-book format(kindle). If a book sounds interesting, I wouldn’t turn it down just because of the format. Of course, that being said I prefer paperback, but that’s for books of ANY genre! 🙂

    I think a lot of people think of e-books as being read by younger readers who are less likely to read literary fiction. However, I’ve found that all my avidly reading friends in their early 20’s stick to paperbacks(I’m the only one with an e-reader), and that my mom and her friends/generation are the ones who own kindles or nooks, and read primarily e-books. From what I’ve seen, there are way more indie writers promoting genre fiction (it is popular right now), than there are indie writers marketing literary fiction. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for it though. As Anthony said, it comes down to promotion. 🙂

    Also, I LOVE the excerpt! I want to keep reading!

    • My very unscientific research (i.e., watching people on the train) indicates that e-readers are owned by people of all ages (except teengers). Real statistics (i.e., not invented by me) say that women own more e-readers than men.

      That doesn’t sound right. Women own more e-readers than men _own_. I don’t have any statistics on the other. 🙂

      • Aly Hughes says:

        haha! Yes, my conclusions are based merely on observation as well! I have noticed that an overwhelming majority of the people I know with e-readers are indeed women. That probably works in favor of women’s fiction writers.

        Also, I found this decent post on Literary Fiction, Anthony. http://writeanything.wordpress.com/2010/04/14/what-is-literary-fiction/ I wonder if there’s a significant margin between genders with more “serious” (deep?) literary fiction.

        • The statistics I saw showed that men and women both read e-books, but women are more likely to have a dedicated e-reader and men are more likely to read e-books on their phones.

          That is a good link. Most posts I’ve read about that subject are just basically subjectivity (literary fiction = deep, serious, worthwhile, well-written, literary; genre fiction = that other stuff), but this one (though certainly with a bias) actually managed to say some things that are intelligent and useful. I think my second novel may be straddling the line, based on the definition here.

          But I wonder about writers like Pynchon and David Foster Wallace and even James Joyce. What about experimental writing (Burroughs, for example). Not character-driven, certainly. Joyce delves into the “thoughts, minds, desires and motivations,” but that’s not what’s driving Ulysses. Gravity’s Rainbow doesn’t delve into that stuff at all, but I defy anybody to summarize (or even describe) the plot.

          Oh, well, literature will always be much bigger and more complex than the theories can account for. Thank goodness.

          • Great link to a definition, Aly. Anthony, I’d group all the writers you mentioned into the literary fiction category, making experimental a subcategory. But that’s just me! I could definitely see how your work could be considered literary, even your mysteries. Your thoughtfulness about how you use language carefully to convey the plot is part of that.

    • I’m a paperback fan, too, Aly! Which is one reason I’m going to start there, I think. But it’s great to know that you’d read an interesting book regardless of format. (And I’m thrilled you liked the excerpt!)

      Your thoughts on who’s reading what are fascinating. I would have thought ebooks were very popular among 20-somethings.

  4. Emma says:

    Hi Laura,
    I enjoyed that little snippet. I prefer to hold a book in my hand but I’ve read dozens of ebooks in recent months. I would buy a blend of literary/commerical fiction.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Emma! That’s really helpful! I am just starting to read ebooks, now that I have an iPad, and it’s very convenient, especially when I’m up at night with the baby.

  5. Laura, go to Poets & Writers on line web page and you’ll find a list of the literary press, complete with guidelines and dates for submission. The first one that pops into my head is Graywolf Press, but you’ll find a complete list of the major and minor lit. press on P&W’s site. Check out Graywold’s catalog and see if you think this fits. Look at their reading times and plan to have it ready th next time they accept work. Most of these presses also use the same software that allows you to upload the entire MS with a cover letter. Still waters might run deep, but they can also stagnate. Do it.

    • Poets & Writers is a great idea, Florence! I haven’t played around with their website so I’m excited to go check it out. I have a writing group colleague whose first book came out through Graywolf. A small literary press like that would be a perfect fit if I can find the right one. Small presses have their own promotion arms and their own established audiences. I expect it’s time to make a chart of possible submissions and deadlines.

  6. I was of the opinion that literary novels didn’t sell well, but then I took a really GOOD look at the bestsellers list and found it’s not quite true. People do want them. The trick is to make them look like a subgenre, such as “commercial women’s fiction.” Actually, the trick is to put a really, really, really pretty cover on it.

    • My friend pointed that out to me this summer. I wrote BODY COPY as literary fiction, but all its themes are very commercial. She told me to play up the commercial/women’s fiction angle, because that’s what many people like to read.

      You are an expert in pretty covers!

  7. emmaburcart says:

    I don’t own an ereader, so I don’t read ebooks. I do realize that means I may be missing out on some fun books, but it’s just not something I’m going to buy anytime soon. I, too, love the feel of a real book in my hand. And until they have a universal version that is glare proof and water proof, I’ll stick with paper backs. I really believe that Body Copy deserves to be published in actual book form. I think that small presses are a great idea. I want to read Body Copy in book form, so please get it out to agents and/or small presses! Don’t worry about what people are saying about the market, just have faith in the story and get it out. We want Body Copy!!

    • Thanks for the support, Emma! That’s why I haven’t read ebooks, too–no reader until getting an iPad recently. It’s great for reading in the middle of the night without turning lights on. But I think I’m still going to buy more books at he bookstore than ebooks.

  8. Guilie says:

    Laura, this is brilliant! Loved it and wished there were more. I’m not a fan of people sharing WIPs on blogs–I never find myself truly engaged, somehow, but this one just pulled me in and didn’t let go.

    I also write Lit-Fic (with a Women’s Fic bent, probably), and I get what you mean about e-pub maybe not being the best way to go. What I’ve garnered from other writers in my critique group, self-pubbing is all about self-marketing. If you have the time and know-how (or are willing to get it, somehow), then you might have a shot at e-pub success. But… Lit-Fic? Yes, I’ve bought a few unknowns on e-book, mostly because book choices where I live are rather limited (Danielle Steele & Dan Brown ripoffs crowd the one English-language shelf at the one bookstore), but I do prefer my lit-fic in physical form. That may be me and my old-fashioned Mexican self, but… Well, lit-fic is the stuff I like to revisit, and somehow the “shelf” on an e-reader isn’t quite as homey as the actual bookshelf 🙂

    • Guilie, thank you so much! I’m so glad you liked my little excerpt. I have never put a whole page of my writing online before, but it seemed important to ask these questions right now. I’m feeling more and more confident, based on everyone’s responses, that I should look for a small press or another way to get the book out in physical form. Your point about the joy of reading a literary novel and keeping it on the shelf to reread is a huge one. That’s why I buy books instead of going to the library. I want to keep each one and go back to it whenever I want. (And I love looking at all those amazing titles on the bookshelf. I mean bookshelves…)

  9. I know a lot of literary fiction in ebook format. I meet a lot of authors who are having great success being an indie author with their literary fiction, but it’s important to know if self-publishing is the right thing for you. 🙂

    That being said, I would definitely read in on my e-reader. Actually that’s about all I read any more is ebooks. But, I do love the feel of a real novel in my hands. But sometimes, it’s a lot easier to have an e-reader for me.

    And, oh my gosh! I’m intrigued! I want more of this book! 🙂

  10. Laura, this feels like a great beginning. Your protagonist has a strong voice, and I am intrigued. I think you have a winner there.

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