Green alien making peace sign

Could Lit Agents & Traditional Publishers Maybe Think Outside the Alien Trope?

I recently read an online Writer’s Digest article, “Turn the Tables on Popular Tropes in Fiction,” by author, playwright, and screenwriter Liz Kerin. It truly resonated for surprising and not-so-surprising reasons. It also unfortunately raised the sour-grapes-gripe within me about literary agents who spew an “I don’t do aliens” refrain.

In Kerin’s article she discussed the typical vampire story and how her book, Night’s Edge, changes the protagonist’s relationship with this supernatural entity. In doing so, she shed new light on a popular trope, but also realized how “themes about codependency and enmeshed families emerged, typically reserved for literary fiction and memoir as opposed to vampire lore. Vampires just happened to be the vessel.”

Hot damn, I thought, that’s what I’ve been doing all along in my Other Worldly series—even before Kerin mentioned aliens:

“Alien invasions are another ubiquitous trope…Films like ET…offer audiences a distinct and refreshing point of view because they changed the relationship the protagonist has with this otherworldly invader.”

Ya think? Do these “I don’t do aliens” literary agents who also claim to be seeking, say, a story with a strong female protagonist or addressing current sociopolitical issues, do they realize that it’s possible to accomplish this in a present-day series featuring aliens?

Yes, aliens are typically reserved for science fiction and fantasy—my OW novels are labeled fantasy for just that reason, despite my works being comedic speculative commercial romance action-adventure women’s fiction with a little sci-fi thrown in. They could even be labeled as literary fiction, given this genre focuses on the human (oh the irony) condition and is supposedly more concerned with the inner lives of characters and themes than plot—and is also allegedly difficult to sell. Tell me about it.

Maybe it’s difficult to sell this concept to literary agents because, while many of us are thinking and writing outside the box and coming up with original takes on tired tropes, the traditional publishing industry with its autocratic edict that authors must be represented by a literary agent seems anything but refreshing or even reasonable.

Case in point, the ubiquitous request for “comp” titles in query letters despite how literary agencies are supposedly seeking original material that doesn’t chase trends. Is this outright laziness, or setting us up for snide accusations of delusions of grandeur?

Not only have my novels crossed genres to create a different take on aliens, including Greens and Grays, I’ve also found myself marveling, like Kerin mentions in her article, how this led me to tackle intense themes about overcoming past relationship and other trauma and how it can affect personal interactions.

My protagonist Rowan Layne embraces romance with aliens because she has reason to distrust the human male. Rowan advocates for alien rights because bigotry and religious hypocrisy exhibited by violent humans is all too real in her world, as it is in the real world.

I’ve also thrown in legal tidbits, environmental conservation and cultural resource preservation themes, and turned Rowan into a political speechwriter (apparently it was a dream I didn’t know I had). Bottom line, I’ve created novels with a social consciousness message that just might make you laugh and render you hungry (otherworldly food and wine are also featured).

It’s not alien fluff, it’s not science fiction (I am your father, and I am evil) pablum. Hell, Rowan actually snarks it up about humans thinking aliens are out to get them and destroy the planet. And as I’ve noted before, all stories, including those with futuristic aliens, are about the human condition.

Kerin concluded her article by suggesting, “If you’re looking to turn the tables and make it personal in the process, ask yourself who and what is haunting you?”

I am and have been doing so all along in my OW series. Rowan Layne, with the help of aliens, is making peace with her human demons and memories that haunt her. But I personally will likely never make peace with the tiresome tropes and dogmatic dictates of the traditional publishing industry.

 

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