When I finished writing the manuscript for Get Your Pitchfork On!: The Real Dirt on Country Living, I knew I had a problem. The book—everything you need to know about moving to the country—is a how-to illustrated with short anecdotes. Some are my stories; some are stories friends told me; some are stories I gleaned during research interviews.
Regardless of whose stories they were, my manuscript was solidly cross-genre. It wasn’t a memoir, and it wasn’t a reference book. That meant it would be difficult to pitch to an agent or publisher.
After my husband and I sold our rural property in 2009, we used some of the proceeds to fund sabbaticals. I tried to think of where I could sequester myself to turn notes and a handful of essays about country life into a book. I flew to Wisconsin to stay with my Grandma Athens, who is also a writer. My first order of business was to decide what type of book to work on.
Should it be a memoir? First of all, I didn’t want the book to be about me; I wanted it to be more instructional than that. And I knew of so many other people’s experiences that would enhance the book—it would be a shame to leave them out (unless I joined that fraternity of creative nonfiction writers who get extra-creative with their nonfiction . . .).
Should it be straight how-to? Then I wouldn’t be able to make any subjective conclusions about rural community (or anything else). Nor would the book be very interesting.
Back and forth I went. My keyboard was silent as I considered my trajectory.
I firmly believe in getting the words down and figuring out what to do with them later. I’m a product-oriented person, not a process-oriented person. I decided to forget about what kind of book it was, and just write. I figured the book would naturally steer itself one direction or the other.
It didn’t. A year later, I had a well-vetted, cross-genre manuscript. I sent its draft chapters to volunteer readers and incorporated their comments (what didn’t make sense; what was missing; what was too personal and not relevant). Since none of my readers seemed to mind the genre-bending, I decided to move forward.
I wrote a proposal for the manuscript and hired an editor to fine-tune my pitch letter. As I suspected, the agents and acquisition editors who bothered to respond to my proposal indicated that they sold memoir or how-to, not both. Since GYPO is my first book, they weren’t interested in making an exception.
Then, friends suggested I try Process Media. At first I was hesitant—Process and its companion imprint, Feral House, focus on, shall we say, unconventional subjects. But, they have a series called “Self-Reliance,” whose bestseller is Urban Homestead. The publisher had recently moved from Los Angeles to Port Townsend, Washington—the perfect audience for my book. I queried Process, and they were interested right away.
Happy ending. Thanks to a publishing house that isn’t bound by traditional marketing categories, readers can enjoy a reference book that has a human touch.
Kristy Athens’ nonfiction and short fiction have been published in a number of magazines, newspapers and literary journals, most recently Jackson Hole Review, High Desert Journal, Barely South Review and the anthology Mamas and Papas. She wrote Get Your Pitchfork On!: The Real Dirt on Country Living after living for six years on seven acres in the Columbia River Gorge (on the Washington/Oregon border). You can watch a great trailer for it here. Athens’ re-purposed collage artwork appears in 1,000 Ideas for Creative Reuse and is available at http://ithaka.etsy.com. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she works at Oregon Humanities.
Athens will read at Broadway Books in Portland Thursday, June 28 at 7 pm. Her full schedule includes stops in Astoria, Olympia, Ashland and Corvallis.