Last week's review focused on Donnaeve's great news, a discussion of typos (mostly mine---argh), and pens/pencils/felt tips instruments of writing.
I think this is the first time I can remember that someone didn't ask a question!
On Monday the topic was meeting an agent at a conference who had "rejected" a previous ms.
Rejected in quotes cause the first thing I said was the questioner had not waited near long enough to deem this ms sent back to locker room.
A question here-- would it be appropriate to send a nice short email to the agent before the conference just to say, "I'm so excited to meet you and wanted to let you know that for this conference I'm pitching a different book than the full you requested on August 20?"
This kind of heads up can be effective. Short and sweet per SiSi's example of course. And if you sent a query to something like Queries@JetReidsChomping.com, do not send any kind of heads up email like this. Those get filtered to a query mailbox or a designated receiver, and the agent is not likely to see it.
Lisa Bodenheim said:
And I guess it never sunk in before, Since I'm not quite yet to the querying phase that's all I've aimed my overfilled mind to absorb. But now I'm hearing it... 6 months before reading a requested full ms? Ok. Got it. Glacial pace indeed.
I'm not saying that's the true for EVERY manuscript. I've read things much faster. But on average right now I'm running 90-120 days for a full. I wish it was faster.
Dena Pawling asked:
What does OP do if s/he [instead of they, a la yesterday's comment] actually DOES receive a “no” on the full manuscript before attending the conference? In that case, does OP still ask about it? Or only focus on the new manuscript?
My original point on not bringing up manuscripts was in social situations. If you're in a pitch session with an agent, that is NOT a social situation. Bringing up past work is certainly fine, but if too much time has elapsed the agent may not remember the work. If you have a copy of the first 3-5 pages of the novel with you, that could help jog his/her (no, I'm NOT using heesh EVER) memory.
E.M.Goldsmith is a tad worried:
I am a fan of Colin and Donna myself and would be giddy if I ever encountered them face to face, hoping my tattoos wouldn't scare them off.
Ask Terri Lynn Coop!
Julie M. Weathers had a good insight here:
As Colin said, agents do remember to an extent. However, they also see a lot of queries. I think writers worry far too much about this. "OMG I sent a really bad query to this agent three years ago and now I can never query them again!" You and hundreds of others sent really bad queries. Pack up and move on.
Dr. Kate Laddack asked:
So what if an agent seeks you out and asks to see a pitch. When you pitch they are excited and ask to see your first few chapters (it's a non-fiction history mss), acknowledge they received the chapters and will read them "next week" and then never, ever email with you again? I followed up once but got no response. I'm not heart-broken just think it was rude of her. She contacted me. Thanks.
Only one follow up? Oh ye of little tenacity! I suggest pinging once a month at least for the next couple months.
Remember: all you see is what you sent. You have no idea what kind of kudzu is currently terrorizing his/her inbox.
I'm very excited about things and then five OTHER things land on my head that need attention NOW, and the non-urgent but important stuff gets pushed back.
At some point, it gets pretty embarrassing to be so behind. I hate it. I mean HATE IT. I hate sending "gosh, I'm sorry to be so slow responding" emails, and I have to do it almost every week.
I know some agents deal with their mortification by simply never replying. I think six months of polite pinging is about the outer limit.
And while it's rude, honestly, it's not personal. It's not cause you suck, or your work sucks.
And that dog picture was a big success. I do love that photo a lot.
On Tuesday we discussed if it was "ok to use past and present tense in a novel"
I said do what you need to for the story. If it works, good. If it doesn't, change up.
(One of my examples was a book that did not use letter e. Little did I know how badly this would turn out for Colin Smith.)
Lisa Bodenheim asked:
Page 50. Is that usually when the potentially saggy pants of Act 2 shows up? Wait, if there are 300 or 350 pages (a 75,000-87,500 word novel) in a ms, then by page 50 we should have an inciting event and a problem for the main character to solve.
Page 50 is not where the britches sag. That's somewhere between 100-200.
My standard is that if something hasn't happened that interests me enough to care about what happens next I'm going to stop reading. Generally I do that evaluation around page 50.
This isn't arbitrary. Actual readers set books down too, and in a bookstore it's somewhere around page two or three. If they buy the book it's page 50.
I figure I'll go for 50 cause we can still fix things if need be.
I can't tell you often I get a good query and the first five pages (included with the query) are not the right pages to start with. Sometimes I write back to the query writer. Most times I don't.
Starting your novel in the right place is as critical as a good query letter for getting a request for a full. A good query makes me read pages. Good pages make me want to read the novel.
You can have a great query, but if the pages Sucketh Royally, I am going to say no no no.
E.M.Goldsmith had some interesting examples:
In novel writing there is a wildly successful exception to every single pearl of conventional wisdom. For example, you will hear from the publishing community, don't start a novel with a weather report. Yet Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman did just that. Good Omens begins "It was a very nice day". They made it work.
I know one agent that will summarily reject you if your novel opens with someone waking up from a dream so Daphne Du Maurier would be SOL with her "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
I have heard other publishers/ agents say don't tell them weight and height of your characters but "Stately plump Buck Mulligan.." Bucks that so called rule.
Be careful about using books like Rebecca or heaven forbid Ulysses as ANY sort of guideline for novels today. Tastes and sensibilities change over time, and what is now considered a classic isn't what can get you in the door today as a debut novelist. This is not to say I don't think Ulysses could be published today. Who the hell actually knows that? Not me.
I re-read Rebecca a couple years ago, and for me, it did not hold up at all. I'm not sure I'd have taken it on as a suspense novel now. And I LOVED that book in high school. Mrs. Danvers---yikes!
Furrykef illustrated what's really at work here:
The post says "you can do almost anything you want in a novel as long as it works", but I'm convinced there are certain things that never work. For instance, writing a novel in the second person. You're just inviting the reader to say, "But I would never do that" -- and the reader is pulled out of your world. If I crack open a book and I see it's in the second person, I'm not even going to bother to read it.
Whereas one of my favorite novels of the last decade or so is YOU by Charles Benoit, written in of course, 2nd person. Thus, a novel you'd put down at Sentence One, is one I loved.
Generally all this "can you, can't you" and whether it works is dependent on the reader. Thus, write what you think serves the story and find an agent who agrees with…ahem…you!
And Amanda Capper really hit the nail on the head with this:
OP, everything you want to write is okay. You seem to be asking, 'will it sell?' You won't know until you've shopped it around, and even then you'll have six people telling you to change the POV (happened to me) and six more telling you to cut out all the sex scenes. All part of the learning and growing. And by growing, I mean a thick skin.
And DLM finished us all off with this:
We're all going to miss out in life, it isn't possible to be a completist. This means there'll be agents who do themselves out of Du Maurier and us chickens; but it doesn't mean ALL the agents will miss out, because eagles all have eyes and some of 'em are looking for squirrels, but others are looking for fish.
Different woodland creatures will get nabbed by different eagles.
And I won't take that any farther/further because: ew.
And then, Colin Smith signed his expulsion warrant from Carkoon:
LynnRodz: I was thinking the same thing (a flash contest without the letter "e"). Maybe with a few prompt words thrown in too. After all, we have Donna's deal to celebrate, and there's that map book Janet's been tormenting us with... :)
Julie M Weathers expressed my thoughts exactly:
Alas, poor Lynn and Colin. We knew them well. Then, we tossed them in it.
On Wednesday the question was about literary thrillers:
Janet says: "When you describe your book, I want to run far and fast. Hearing about themes and an exploration of morality makes me hide under the duvet."
See, this is the stuff that makes me want to read the book. I love critical thinking when it comes to literature--exploring symbolism, themes, and philosophy is actually a joy for me (my junior/senior year of college I was like a kid in a candy store in class because the discussions were invigorating). This is what books do for me--they take you beyond the human experience to teach you or help you explore the life themes (love, death, faith, self, etc).
An author I know mentioned that they have a Peter Pan retelling coming out next year. I was uninterested. Then they mentioned writing the book to explore the myth of glory during WWI and now I HAVE to read that book.
I'm going to take issue with you here, Susan. "A retelling of Peter Pan" means you already know the story. It's not a good example to use if you're making that point that you like hearing about themes first.
Do you want to read something if I first tell you it explores themes of urban decay, political corruption, and the demise of the working class?
Probably not as much as you'd want to read something that's described as Richard III on the docks of Baltimore, right?
That's Season Two of "The Wire"
I'm not averse to talking about themes. Hell, I can hold forth on why Rambo is the modern equivalent of Beowulf. But when you want me to read a novel, it's the story that's enticing.
And I'll bet that's true when you recommend books to your friends too. Do you say "hey, this novel explores the themes of vengeance and ego?" or do you say "this is a rip-roaring memoir of Colin Smith's exile from Carkoon?"
I think BJ Muntain synthesized this whole discussion very neatly:
Thriller is a genre (or sub-genre, according to some).
Literary is a style.
Over the years, of every book you have ever represented, taking into account story and writing, not necessarily sales and author fame, which do you consider the best? I mean THE BEST.
Simply no way to answer that.
While it's entirely possible to compare novels, what would make WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE by Jeff Somers "better" than MAN IN THE EMPTY SUIT by Sean Ferrell? And how could you compare that to an anthology of short stories like THE BEAUTIFUL THING THAT AWAITS US ALL by Laird Barron. Let alone trying to compare any of those beautiful works to a memoir I love with all my heart MARCHING UP MADISON AVENUE by Richard Gilbert (may he rest in peace). Let alone a non-fiction book like THE TAO AND THE BARD.
I take on and try to sell books I love and want other people to read. Other than that, there's no ranking.
And E.M.Goldsmith has a new work in progress:
What Lies Beyond Carkoon, The Colin Smith StoryGenre: Kale Literary Horror
On Thursday, we talked about shifting category within a series:
This was really good advice from Miri Baker:
OP: From a sales perspective, you're fortunate in that "Young Adult" trumps other category considerations, at least at the high-level/query point. Everyone else has done a lovely job of telling you to write what you want to and worry about the rest later, so I won't belabor that too much.
As far as other actionable advice, make sure that your "hints" in the first book really are there, and maybe amp them up from what you originally intended. As a reader (and having recently been the YA target audience--hi guys, I'm a tiny baby woodland creature--I can distinctly remember how I felt when this happened), if there aren't hints, or aren't enough of them, or I didn't have the context to pick up the ones that were there, and suddenly we're in a whole different milieu with different rules in book 2, I'm inclined to call "Cheats!"
Now if the book or series is good enough, then the more subtle hints shine through on reread, but consistency of tone and rules is so, so important when other things get shaken up.
And after that, the discussion just spiraled right out of the topic's gravitational pull, and accompanied by blenders, rum and kittens, we all just sailed off to a discussion of Carkoon.
And then Friday it was time for the So Long Colin It was good to meet you writing contest.
Results for that will go up tomorrow (Monday)
If you're not stressing, writing doesn't matter to you. It's okay to stress. Just channel it so stress improves your writing. Sha'el, Princess of Pixies
blog readers are good for everyone's life--inside and out of writing.--Karen McCoy
Janet's blog is like a Daily Writing Vitamin.--Christina Seine