Welcome to the week that was. And look what we got!
And by we I mean all of us.
Sure I write the posts, but the value of this blog is truly in the readers and commenters. Huzzah to us all for this! And yes, that cup is filled with whisky!
Julie Weathers starts the week off right with this descriptive gem:
I'm looking forward to the new week and could spend untold hours pontificating here, but I have a man eeling through a window I need to deal with.who among us didn't pause then remember she probably meant she was writing that scene, not actually living it.
Steve Stubbs was puzzled my reference to an airhorn should I be locked "accidentally" in the psych ward
One thing I did not understand. I understand why literary agents need a set of lock picking tools. But did Houdini ever have an airhorn?
Well, one fast way to be removed from where ever you are is to sound an air horn. It's amazing how fast it
1. empties a subway car
2. clears a path to the bar
3. gets telemarketers off the phone
4. summons the fellas in white from the other side of the locked doors!
I really like what CynthiaMc said here:
After years of trying to make myself write one thing (and failing miserably out of sheer boredom) I decided to do what I want for the rest of the year. I went to the dollar store and bought a ton of lined paper (because I do my best writing longhand even though I can type a zillion words a minute) and a bunch of brightly colored notebooks, one for each project. I am writing all the things I love to write and whatever gets done and out and sells, hurrah! I haven't had this much fun since the last flash fiction contest. I've done more writing in the past week than I've done in the past year. Sounds crazy, but it's working. And it's a lot of fun.
I think this is exactly why I always find time to write blog posts: I really love doing it. Even if I'm cranky, tired and can not bear to edit another page, I can always find energy to write a blog post.
And this from Kitty, just cracked me up:
I wrote: Before my mother died, she had a college student interview her for the same assignment.
Janet: I really hope it's not cause your mom was just paroled from prison (as it is in the novel!)
Well...kinda. She was a retired high school librarian.
Timothy Lowe nominated my comment for subheader of the week:
Janet, I think you wrote your own header. Nothing could be better than "This isn't the Roland Park Ladies Tea and it's not a meeting of the Politically Correct Ignorant Tight Ass Club either."
Which of course, without context, might be a bit off-putting, but yet…so so tempting.
Unfortunately Lance reveals himself to be unfamiliar with The Wire
I had to Google Roland Park. It was mentioned in the 1913 edition of The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, volume 35, where ladies and some of members took tea. I'm guessing of course, but I bet this is not where you got that reference. This was the eighth listing in the search. I skipped over the first seven because they looked like they had something to do with the Baltimore PD.Lance, stop reading this blog at once, go get all five seasons, and watch all of them more than once. In fact, the director's (David Simon) commentary on Episode 1, Season 1 is worth the entire price of the series. By way of further enticement, you should know that many of the episodes were written by terrific novelists: Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos.
Timothy Lowe shows great acumen by agreeing with me:
The fact that the quote is from The Wire makes it all the better. Has to be one of the best written shows in the history of TV.And speaking of the comment that generated The Wire reference, AvidReader995 gave a lengthy reply starting with this:
Since you referenced my post, I feel I should respond.
You didn't answer my question, which was, was that the actual initial query to you by that author?
Since a picture is said to be worth a thousand words, let me try again.
asked about a book in which the writing is not up to snuff
Wow. The "dated voice" reminds me of a suspense novel by a prolific author who was getting up in years. His latest was set in the present, yet his description of a lovely young woman evoked a cutie from, oh, 1958. I read it several times and there was nothing particularly vintage about his vocabulary. But his mind's eye was set for 50-plus years ago.
I don't know how an author avoids that, except to read lots of current works in his/her/their/argh genre.
It's amazing how helpful it is to have young people working in your office when you need to avoid sounding like a fuddy-duddy.
I have recently been informed that "totes" (as in totally) will no longer be allowed in office conversation. And someday, if you ever run across me in a bar, ask me the story of how I learned what "baller" meant. (Meredith Barnes and I still laugh about that YEARS later now.)
I really like what Susan said about editing
Here's what I've learned from working with students and clients at a wide-range of levels:
- When you hire an editor (or look for a CP), you're entering into a partnership with an unwritten expectation of trust. The author has to trust the editor to remain objective (and know what the heck they're talking about), and the editor has to trust the author to accept their suggestions as just that--experienced suggestions with the goal of helping to make the book the best it can be.
- Honesty is vital--you can't get better if someone is only telling you what you want to hear. But, at the same time, if an author's completely bombarded with criticism after criticism, they can shut down and lose all faith in their work (says personal experience). A good editor will be as excited about your work as you are (or they shouldn't take you on as a client in the first place). They're the one that helps keep that fire lit when you want to throw your manuscript into a pile of mud.
- The best editors (and the best teachers) don't instruct or fix--they guide. This means keeping the author's vision and voice for the book, but also gently pushing them to stretch beyond their perceived limitations. If the editor does their job right, they will be the invisible strand beneath the prose that links all the pieces together.
Dr. Seuss said it best: "step with great care and great tact because life is a balancing act."
Julie M. Weathers said
Everyone needs their own type of critique. I read Virginia Woolf's critique of Hemingway and thought it told more about her writing than it did hers, mainly it just proved how much she depended on a stellar editor. She pretty much eviscerated Hemingway. Were her views honest? I'm sure they were. Were they universal? I happen to be a fan of his writing, so I disagree with her opinion.
That's such an insight that a critique can tell us more about us than the writer. I've learned (the hard way of course) that my preference for starting in medias res often says more about my impatience than anything about the novel I'm reading.
On Tuesday we started out with the ultimate ooops -- hitting send too soon -- but it segued into the larger problems that result in NO.
Scott G said it exactly right:
In all seriousness, I think writers put way too much stock in these types of innocuous errors. I have to believe that successful agents know good writing when they see it and are willing to look past them, up to the point when the errors indicate bad writing and the writer doesn't have a clue. Should writers do everything in their power not to commit them? Sure. In the end it just comes down to writing a damn good novel.
InkStainedWench just cracked me up with this imagery:
There's nothing quite like being a proofreader/copy editor/pedant who delights in correcting other people's errors, who sends an e-mail with a huge red zit of a typo right in the middle of it.
Colin Smith had an excellent tip for avoiding sending to the wrong person (something we've all done)
I know I've mentioned it before, but one way to help mitigate against sending emails to the wrong recipient is to enter the address LAST. That gives you time to make sure you get the correct recipient. It's not foolproof--you might still pull the wrong address from your address book--but it should at least slow you down a bit and give you time to think.
Judy Moore has some experience with that:
A few years ago I was the plaintiff in an ugly lawsuit with a big corporation. I had one lawyer, my trial-lawyer husband. The defendant corporation had NINE, from three firms. All the correspondence went through my lawyer/husband, and he would forward me all of their emails. I responded to the wrong email. Instead of sending it to my lawyer/husband, I sent it to one of the defendant's lawyers..."Well, THIS is certainly an interesting twist. I love you. xxxxx" That was awkward.
And then Joseph Snoe just dropped the mic:
Judy,Speaking of revising, Brigid just cracked me up:
Your story is great and reminds me of this old joke (story):
A Minneapolis couple decided to go to Florida to thaw out during a particularly icy winter. They planned to stay at the same hotel where they spent their honeymoon 20 years earlier.
Because of their hectic schedules, it was difficult for the couple to coordinate their travel plans. So the husband left Minnesota and flew to Florida on Thursday, while his wife planned to fly down the following day.
The husband checked into the hotel. There was a computer in his room, so he decided to send an email to his wife. However, he accidentally left out one letter of her email address, and sent the email without realizing his error.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Houston, a widow had just returned home from her husband’s funeral. He was a Baptist minister who was called home to glory following a heart attack.
The widow decided to check her email, expecting condolence messages from family and friends.
But after reading her very first email, she screamed and fainted.
The widow’s son rushed into the room, found his mother on the floor, and saw the computer screen which read:
To: My Loving Wife
Subject: I’ve Arrived
Date: March 21, 2012
I know you’re surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now! I’ve just arrived and been checked in.
I’ve seen that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then! Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was.
P. S. Sure is freaking hot down here!!!
This comment thread is making me feel not-alone. I think I revised each of yesterday's comments for at least an hour. "Does this comment make my head sound fat?"
But CarolynnWith2Ns wins the comment column with this:
I have no worries because I'm perfect. I nevr make misstakes and always hit send at just the write ty
Colin Smith asked:
Janet: Would you say that all these similar plots come from not reading widely in the genre and knowing what's been done? Or are these all thinly veiled fan fiction?
I'm not sure where they come from. I just know I see a lot of them. And when I think of the novels I love most of them have heroes who are flawed of course, but not damaged. Jack Reacher isn't perfect (he can't drive, he can't run very fast) but the reason he's interesting to read is that his GOOD points are what get him in to interesting situations: Reacher's code for himself means he doesn't let someone push him around. Not cause he's a damaged combat veteran who can't control his temper. The difference is critical.
Donnaeve has clearly left the realm of reality and is floating around out in Delusionville:
Let's take BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY - only because it popped into my head. Here comes the tired old/same old song and dance. Middle aged woman married to a good man, has had a good enough life, but she's having herself a good old fashioned mid-life crisis. Along comes handsome stranger. And next thing ya know, they're in the bathtub. Among other places. Choice comes, hubby or fling? Hubby or fling?
All that to say, it's trotting out something that has been trotted out for centuries - CENTURIES. But it worked because of The Writing.
You're saying that Bridges of Madison County did well because of the writing? As in "it is well-written"?
Scott G indulged in a lovely moment of Wishful Thinking:
I'm dying to hear about all the times agents send out form rejections only to realize the horror after they press send that they meant to send out an offer of representation. I bet it happens more times than one might think.
If you think it happens negative one times, you're right. It happens more than that. It happens zero times. (Sorry)
The reason is that the two events, form rejection and offer for representation, are not either/or.
Form rejection or request for full..that's the option. And I've never requested a full for a query that should have been a form rejection. That's cause the email requesting the full requires that I hit more than send.
I have however replied to queries with a blank email (so nice for the writer….oof) or a vacation notice. I think once or twice in 10+ years of equeries, I've rejected something I intended to ask for pages on. And when I realized, and sent the SECOND email, the subject line was: Oops, sorry, ignore that rejection.
On Tuesday I ranted that "too busy" isn't really a very good reason to avoid reading a client's ms.
John Frain asked an interesting question about what keeps an agent busy:
I don't know the answer to this, but I wonder how easy or hard it is to learn what an agent is busy doing without asking and getting a direct answer. (I can't imagine calling my new agent and having the gall to ask "What are you so busy doing that's more important than me?" You can look for recent sales, but beyond googling their name, I don't know any other source to see what is taking an agent's time. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Here's a list of things I did this week:
1. Send three projects out on submission
2. Respond to editor's questions about those submissions.
3. Update submission data bases
4. Receive offer on novel.
5. Arrange phone call with editor and client about the novel in (4)
6. Update other editors considering novel in (4)
7. Strategize with author about offer/editors/establish base lines for dollar figures, etc.
8. Read a requested full that has a pending offer of representation
9. Answer about 100 emails each day about various client matters.
10. Read queries
11. Skim books that are prospective comp titles for a proposal.
12. Keep an eye on this blog.
And that's just Monday-Thursday.
So yea, I'm busy doing stuff BUT generally when a client says "whatcha doing" my answer is when to expect a substantive answer to "what's the submission plan" not "I'm too busy to do this."
Actually Dena Pawling said this a whole lot better than I did:
I think what annoys all of us the most, is what exactly is too busy? If this agent had said “I have two clients right now in the middle of auctions and three on deadline that expires next week”, or maybe “I just received a medical diagnosis that's scary”, the fact of being shunted to the back of the pile wouldn't sting so much. But just the vague “I'm too busy” leaves too much to our over-active imaginations. Will this state of being too busy never end? Does this agent really want to rep OP?
The vagueness is bothersome. An agent who doesn't give a reason for being too busy, at least to my mind, means she might be hiding something that she doesn't want known. How will this affect the OP's business relationship into the future?
I really liked BJ Muntain's insight here:
I think Janet gets a lot of questions about non-normal agents, simply because people want to know if this is normal or not. It's called selection bias - you can't colour all agents this way, because the selection criteria is 'questions about questionable agents'.
On Thursday the topic was an agent suggesting a client find a second agent for a new book:
My first thought before I even made it into the body of the post was.
My wife gave me permission to get another wife...what a can of "you deserve a six pack of self inflicted whup ass."
Just my take, back to the salt mines...salt minds?
It was mine too. I actually wrote a whole thread on plural marriage but deleted it cause the metaphor just didn't work well enough. And don't I regret not using "whup ass" more often!
Bethany Elizabeth asked:
Obviously, OP is pretty stellar to have gotten an agent in the first place (congrats! :D), but what if their agent doesn't think the book is sellable? And, knowing that all things are subjective, doesn't want to crush OP's spirit or tell them to shelve a novel that may be gold for someone else?
I've heard the advice, "Don't sign with an agent who doesn't love your work to pieces," a million times. What happens when the agent you have doesn't love your new book?
I've had this happen. In a couple cases I've released the client with the pretty straightforward explanation of "I'm not the right agent for this next book."
In other cases the client released me with "I think we know this isn't working."
In all cases, it's VERY difficult to do this. Securing representation is a big milestone in a writer's career and going back out in unagented waters can be terrifying.
But, it does neither of us any good if I don't at the very least like and respect your work and CAN SELL IT.
But if I can't sell something, unless you want to remain unpublished, a new tactic is needed.
And honest to god, this blog really does have some imaginative talented writers just hanging about. Yanno, like Christina Seine
There's something about the process of getting published that reminds me a lot of Greek mythology's take on Hell.
Remember Icarus, who thought he was going to fly to the sun just because he'd acquired an agent? He totally got burned.
And Persephone! She was fine following agents on Twitter, reading all the QueryShark entries, and even subscribing to Writers Digest. Then she attended 6 workshops at a writers conference and was forever tied to the underworld. I mean, um, writing world.
Poor Sisyphus had an MFA - and thought he was a peer of the gods - and ended up in Tartarus (hell) spending eternity pushing a boulder up a mountain. It always got away from him right near the top and rolled down, and he had to start revising - I man pushing the boulder up the mountain all over again. For eternity.
Tantalus killed off one of his darlings (OK so he cut up his son and ate him) and was punished by having to stand for eternity just out of reach of lovely fruit hanging from trees and also unable to reach the water at his feet. Tantalized, in other words. This metaphor for publishing is almost too obvious.
And then there's Ixion, who spent so much time envying a NYT bestselling author's (Zeus) success, that instead of doing his own thing, he made a cheap copy of Zeus' WIP (wife). This resulted in the birth of Centaurus, who later gave birth to hybrid publishing (and dino porn). He was punished by being tied to a winged flaming wheel that was always spinning, which is pretty much the writing process in a tidy little nutshell.
It's enough to make me think the ancient Greeks invented the slush pile. And Carkoon.
Jen, who posed the question that started the blog post, said
My friends and family have told me to break the contract (which you have to do 2 months prior to the anniversary, or you're stuck for another year). I told them it's damn hard to get an agent, and why should I assume I'll be lucky enough to get another?
Which made my hair stand on end. This is a TERRIBLE burden on a writer. Representation agreements should be at will: you can leave any time, without cause, upon X days notice. In our case it's 30 days. IF you leave when a manuscript has been on submission, there's a clause that says you owe me full commission if the ms is sold to a publisher I sent it to within six months of you leaving the agency.
Thus if you fire me and then sell Tales of Carkoon to HotDiggityDawg Press, you pay me 15% of the advance AND the subsequent royalties just exactly as if I were your agent at the time of sale.
Plus, you get to pay your new agent the same thing.
So, it's gonna cost you some dough to screw me over.
In most cases, I've specifically released the soon-to-be former client from that obligation. Only in a couple cases where I thought the STBF client was actively trying to behave poorly did I NOT do that.
Forcing a client to remain with an agent or agency when they are not satisfied with the representation is a recipe for disaster. It's bad business. It's also ethically bankrupt.
Do not confuse this however with a contract that specifies length of representation. Many reputable agents say they will rep you for a year, with renewals at will. If you're unsatisfied however, you can leave with 30 days notice. It's the "can leave with 30 days notice" part that's important.
Be cautious about an agent who won't let you leave when you want to.
On Friday we talked about word count and world building.
nightmusic summed up the dilemma very nicely
There's a fine line between not enough and too much. Not enough and your reader is never really engaged. Too much and their eyes cross
And SiSi did too
Finding the "right" word count strikes me as the very core of writing a good book. While there are general guidelines, generally you don't get an exact word count like you do for SAT essays. The art of knowing how much description to provide and how many plotlines to develop is hard. There's a line you have to reach but can't cross, but no one tells you where the line is. Getting help from beta readers or an editor can be very helpful here.
And this from Rachel Erin, I'm stealing:
One saying I've been repeating when deciding where to expand description is "write the slow parts fast and the fast parts slow." And I know someone else will let us know which famous author is famous for saying that, because I can't recall this morning.
this is valuable info from Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale
Plot beats. Ultimately, this is the true measurement of a novel's length. If you don't have enough plot beats, you don't have enough story to call it a novel.
"Marry Me" is a novella at 20K (enforced by my publisher. I took out a subplot, alas). My Regency Romance is a nice comfortable 82K, and the pacing is comfortable. My Fantasy clocks in at 125K, and that's after I pared it down. Guess which book my beta-readers declare the fastest-paced? Yep, the one with the tightest plot beats.
With respect to some of the comps mentioned previously, The Christmas Box has fewer than 14,000 words. The Bridges of Madison County clocks in at well under 40,000. The OP's novel has 67,000. At that length it's hardly an outlier.
There's a problem with looking for bestselling books that defy the norms: they ARE outliers. The Christmas Box should never be used as a comp because its publishing history is so different than anyone trying to get an agent's attention and a book contract.
As for Bridges of Madison County, that book is more than 20 years old. Comp titles (ie what you should be using to figure out what's being bought today) should be much much more current.
The questioner said her book was commercial women's fiction. For comp titles you'd need an author like Jennifer Weiner or Kristan Higgins.
Many of you commented on the template change. This, from Kae Bell, cracked me up
Did this site just fall into an orange julius? Holy wake me up before you go-go!
and kd james
Holy Exploding Dreamsicle, Batman!
And now we have a playlist for the new décor:
Hole in My Shoe by Traffic
Itchycoo Park by The Small Faces
Green Tambourine by The Lemon Pipers
Incense and Peppermints by Strawberry Alarm Clock
San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) by Scott McKenzie
Let's Go to San Francisco by The Flowerpot Men
Age of Aquarius by The Fifth Dimension
California Dreamin' by The Mamas & Papas
My White Bicycle by Tomorrow
Flowers in the Rain by The Move
Dizzy by Tommy Roe
59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) by Simon and Garfunkel
For years I thought the 59th Street Bridge Song was about walking over the bridge. Only recently did I realize it's about walking UNDER the bridge (which arches over First Ave) "kicking the cobblestones" and "hello lamppost." Always interesting to find new things in old songs!
And yes, that's the bridge that you see in the opening montage of the old TV show Taxi. If you look carefully you can see where they loop about ten seconds of film over and over!
On Saturday we talked about using a perfect description for the novel, but sadly not one written by the author
Lennon Faris asked
Hmm this answer completely surprised me. Using someone else's writing word-for-word, even just one sentence, wouldn't be considered plagiarism?
Not in any kind of realistic way. I use other people's words in my pitches to editors all the time. Before you all gasp and faint dead away,
I should say that often I use choice bits from the client's query. Often I use the query as the starting point for the pitch and by the end, I'm not sure which words started with me and which words started with the client.
I should say that often I use choice bits from the client's query. Often I use the query as the starting point for the pitch and by the end, I'm not sure which words started with me and which words started with the client.
In this specific case the questioners said she'd be using it as a quote. "what would you think if you received a query that quoted a sentence from a super-duper famous best-selling author?"
Lifting great swathes of prose from someone else (whole paragraphs) and uncredited would certainly be a problem!
And now, it's off to read the New York Times, take a stab at the crossword puzzle, and rest up for Monday which promises to launch another great week. I'm looking forward to getting some stuff sold, and finding good new projects:
On that list of things I'm looking forward to Julie M. Weathers said:
With that in mind, I've decided to send the query for Cowgirls Wanted to Miss Janet on a pumpkin when the time comes. I want to stack all the odds in my favor. *sage nod*
Have a GREAT week!
So much knowledge over here, I'm beginning to look like a sponge.--kdjames
A girl with a voice and a guitar, a campfire, and a rodeo grounds is an instant story. Thank you, Lord Jesus. Not that they all need to be told, but it was good to live them.--Julie M. Weathers
I hate it when I can't see when I suck. --Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale
Pantsers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your...oh...never mind. --Panda In Chief
This blog is starting to give me panic attacks.--Robert Ceres
Word count, I stab at thee--Julie M. Weathers