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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  No agent or publisher wants to touch you if you’re unpublished, but you’re unlikely to be published until an agent or publisher touches you.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?