Finding the Fit

I keep running into this word lately in my writing life: “fit.”

Agents politely inform me that my novel is not the right fit for their list.

(What, their list doesn’t have room for an intelligent, ambitious young woman from 1832 England who battles the prejudices of her time to gain recognition as a mathematician? Okay, fine.)

Publishers look for new projects that “fit” their catalogue, meaning they belong among the sorts of things that this publisher prints. Marketers want to know where your book will “fit” on already crowded bookstore shelves.

Journals respond pleasantly that my story is not a “fit” for them at this time, though they wish me luck placing it elsewhere—perhaps with a journal where the aesthetic is more in tune, or perhaps it’s also a matter of word count and space.

But all this concern over “fit” is an effort to craft a product that will, ultimately, become a reader “fit”: the book for which a reader will pay hard-earned money, take home and enjoy, and hopefully tell all their friends about.

Do we readers see this relationship in the same way? When we go book shopping, are we looking for a fit? And what are we looking for a “fit” with: our mood? Our amount of free time? Our budget? Or a fit with our current tastes, something like the book we just finished? (Amazon thinks so, which is why your “Recommended for you” titles all look tediously the same.)

But “fit” is not the reason I go book shopping. Fit is what I look for in buying apparel, adjusting my car seat, and choosing a new set of eyeglasses. Sure, I want those things to look great, but the predominant concerns are functionality and comfort.

When I wander the shelves of my local bookstore, I am guided by a principle that has nothing to do with “fit” and everything to do with “pleasure.” I want a book that will reward, surprise, and teach me. A book I can connect with and fall into. I seek an experience that will touch and vitally move me, bringing me perhaps to tears, hopefully to laughter, best of all to wonder and humility.

The publishing industry is busy oiling and grinding and printing and packaging a product produced along the guidelines of “fit”—what fits where fits whom. And I stand before the endless conveyor belt of opportunities whispering, “Bring me wisdom. Bring me joy.”

This strikes me as yet another place where the business of publishing fits discordantly with the act of writing—sits at odds, in fact, with the entire concept of literature and its essential functions to humanize, humble, and teach us. Its work to nourish, investigate, challenge, and heal.

Even when I pick up a genre book and expect a predicable reading experience, a known emotional payoff, I still want to be taken beyond myself. And the best books don’t simply deliver on my expectations: they blow me open to a whole new way of seeing the world.

And as a writer trying to sell a book, I’m also not looking for “fit,” though I realize it’s what my hoped-for partners, agents, editors, and publishers are seeking. I don’t want to deliver a book that you see fitting nicely into your list, your line-up, your endcap. Well, okay, I do, but there’s more: I want to give you a book that blows you open. That brings you to laughter and breaks your heart, that leaves you looking at the world with a whole new tenderness for its fragile, ridiculous beauty.

That’s what I’m doing here, really. And if I haven’t found my “fit” yet, well, I’ll keep working, keep looking. There’s a place for me somewhere.

Finding the Fit

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