Sunday, October 25, 2015

Week in Review 10/25/15

Welcome to the week that was.

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.

SiSi asked:
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, 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.

As if.
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:

Susan said:
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.

CarolynnWtih2Ns asked:
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 Story

    Genre: 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)

Subheader nominees:
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


french sojourn said...

Thanks for the time you put into teaching not worthy of the QOTKU.


Dena Pawling said...

>>that could help jog his/her (no, I'm NOT using heesh EVER) memory.

When Mary Norris mentioned heesh, I almost got myself pulled over for erratic driving. LOL

It's probably no coincidence that it's really close to sheesh.

Great WiR. And no, I'm not mentioning any spelling errors this week, NOT that I didn't notice them =)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

With all humility, in the face of artistic creation, by keyboard and by roller I thank you for vitamins W, I and R.

Amy Schaefer said...

Hooray for the WIR! By the time I get on the computer in the morning there are at least 50 comments, and, more often than not, I skim or skip along the trail. This way I feel like I'm at least catching the major points, even if I'm not participating in all of the discussions.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

And now my Sunday is completith. Thank you. Great week in review.

Yes, that was a fascinating run on the swapping of the rum, kitties, and blenders. I thoroughly enjoyed that little trail through the woods.

Theresa said...

Now all I can think of is that if my pages ever suck, I do want them to Sucketh Royally.

Unknown said...

WIR's always bring back the smiles of the past week.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I love WIR. It reminds me how I got through the past week. Thanks Janet. You are without a doubt, the best shark I have ever known.

Panda in Chief said...

I love the WIR!
And I even got to comment in the single digits. That never happens.
Time for a kale smoothie to celebrate!

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Even though I try to catch every post and most of the comments, I love the WIR for those things I did miss.

AJ Blythe said...

Bowing down to the almightiest of Sharks. Thank you for the WiR. I've had a shocker and missed all the comments, but I now feel caught up =)

Sorry to see you've been marooned on the outer isolated Carkoonian post of Ka Isle (locally shortened to Kale), Colin. I hope you packed your broom because I've heard the dust has dust!

You sounds disappointed, QOTKU, that there were no questions. I had a question from a few weeks back (when WiR didn't happen). I'm still curious to know the answer so I'll sneak it in here...

Blog Header:
How many agents can you have?

My Q's:
What if you are in a different country? So (hypothetically *wink*) if I had a book that was specifically aimed at the Aussie market, but then had another book aimed at the US market (in a genre not really found in Australia) would I need an Aussie agent for the first book and a US agent for the second? Or would a US agent be able to sell the first book in Australia and therefore handle both?

nightsmusic said...

Thanks for a great WIR. This was a long week for me and I missed a lot so this recap is really appreciated this week. Yes, I love the dog picture. It's so...'really?' :)

Donnaeve said...

Thank you Ms. Janet for the lovely WIR. It's like having a nice leisurely dessert after a six course meal.

I loved all the weekly sub-header suggestions, but have to say I was a bit partial towards Christina's.

John Frain said...

I realize this is your blog-and-pony show, but if there were an election for the sub-header, I'd write in my vote:

Alas, poor Lynn and Colin. We knew them well. Then, we tossed them in it.

I don't know if that's an old joke or a new one from Julie Weathers, but it was new to me and it made me laugh a second time when I got to read it in the WiR. (That probably says something about me which I'm not sure I want to admit.)

Fun stuff, Janet, thanks for a great week.

Colin Smith said...

Great summation of the week, as usual, Mighty QOTKU. And really--after Carkoon, you think tatoos would scare me? I have plenty to be concerned about right now, anyway, like... After Carkoon... 8-(

I guess we'll see tomorrow what will become of me (and LynnRodz--not that I wish ill of my friend, but I don't want her to feel left out either...). The writing contest was supposed to determine our fate... 8-O

LynnRodz said...

I love these WIRs and I hate to sound like a broken record, but I'm always amazed by the time spent on each one. Thank you, Janet.

I feel somewhat guilty for Colin's demise...okay, okay, who am I kidding? Am I a bad person for being delighted that Colin took the blame for my suggestion to have a flash fiction contest with no Es and the poor guy was just agreeing with me? Nah, I'll make sure we give him a good send off to some distant galaxy now that there's a blender on Carkoon. Btw, Julie that well you were talking about is now filled with tequila...happy dance!

Congrats, Christina for the subheader!

Unknown said...

Alas Colin, I thought your fate was already sealed. I loved this last week. Christina's subheader fits the bill.

LynnRodz said...

Jeez, I should've read the comments before posting. Now Colin's comment makes me look bad!

John, I'm not going anywhere. (At least I don't think I am!) Janet wrote: And then, Colin Smith signed his expulsion warrant from Carkoon: And yesterday's post was: So Long Colin, it was good to meet you..."

Oh well, tomorrow's another day, and speaking of wells, I'm off to mix up some margaritas!

Kae Ridwyn said...

Thanks, Janet, for a fantastic WiR, as always! And congratulations on the subheader, Christina! :)

Colin Smith said...

LynnRodz: Ummm... she did say:

"There IS a writing contest of course, since that's how we determine their fate."

Of course, QOTKU can do what she wants (comes with being QOTKU)... just saying, you weren't overlooked as the one who initially suggested that great idea--I mean that act of despicable rebellion... *ahem* :)

Christina Seine said...


*dances around room*

Wow! =D I'm in the SUBHEADER.

I was *almost* too tired to read the WIR when I got home from the craft show this evening. For those who've never done a craft show, just imagine juggling elephants while grinning while random people insult you.

Ooh, sounds like a pitch session!

Anyway, these things are incredibly exhausting - especially for introverts like yours truly. Now that I think of it, I imagine that's what it's like for agents to do pitch sessions too. But i digress. Since every bone in my body hurts from lugging several hundreds of pounds of soap around (and whapping myself in the head with a 6x2-foot table ... don't ask), all I wanted to do was drink a great big glass of scotch go to bed. But instead I glanced at my favorite blog and woohoo! Yay!

Thank you Janet! ♥

I can't wait to see the results of the flash fiction contest tomorrow. As always, some incredible entries. I am in awe of some of you guys.

Well, off to drink a great big glass of well-earned scotch - I mean, brush my teeth and hit the hay! Goodnite folks!

And, thank you Janet! ♥

Karen McCoy said...

Beautiful sub-header Christina! You're such a genius with words.

Great WiR, as always! Always something new to learn. Very thankful to make the sub-header shortlist.