Tuesday, January 07, 2020

more on getting stakes in your query (and novel)

I received an email recently that I thought was a question for the blog.

It was a pretty useful question, one I'd addressed previously but worth an encore. And I was short on questions that week, so easy-peasy.

I wrote the blog post, and then, as I try to do, I emailed the asker with the date the blog post would be up.

Back came the reply:
I hope this does Not have my name! I did not give permission for this to appear on a blog. I also have no idea where your blog is or how to reach it.

I just put a question in and your name came up.

Can you please email the answer now?


Yikes stripes!
I realized he must have googled his question, what to do when you screw up a query, and my name popped up.

Well, probably stuff about me popped up:

When I realized he did not intend the question to be answered on the blog, I deleted the post. I didn't save to Drafts because that's where I save posts I'm working on, and I might have forgotten this wasn't something I could post.

So, some work went to waste, but no harm, no foul right?


Writer came back three times increasingly frustrated about why I just wouldn't answer his question.

 On 12/9/19 1:36 PM, WRITER  wrote:
 Thanks for deleting the post.

 Can you possibly  simply answer the question though? Your email came up with the remark I could send you a question  - not for public listing- just to be responded to.

 On Dec 9, 2019, at 1:40 PM, Janet Reid

 Questions are only answered on the blog, sorry.
 As I'm sure you understand, answering the same questions once for fifty
 writers isn't efficient. Posting an answer that fifty writers can read is.

 On 12/9/19 4:50 PM, WRITER  wrote:
 But you already wrote the answer you said.

 On Dec 9, 2019, at 4:59 PM, Janet Reid
 oh I deleted that immediately when I realized you didn't intend
 it to be on the blog.

 On 12/9/19 5:27 PM, WRITER  wrote:
Still you must remember your thought in one sentence!

What he didn't see was what was at stake for me: the only exception is never anything but the first, and I didn't want to word to get out that if you beg hard enough or look beseeching enough, I'll do what you want rather than what I want.

Why won't you give the cookie in your hand? It's right there!

What I didn't care about was what was at stake for him: his query.
I didn't care because it was clear he couldn't see past what he wanted to actually read why I didn't want to provide it. Essentially saying what he needs is more important than what I want is not a good negotiating tactic. But it's also not the point I want to make here.

This is:
I yammer a LOT about getting stakes on the page.

But beyond stakes, creating conflict for characters is often as simple as having one character think what he wants is more important than what the other character wants.

What's at stake for X, and why Y doesn't care might be very helpful to think about when you're trying to build conflict in your novel.

There were a lot of ways this unfortunate writer could have saved himself from being a really great illustration of stakes (among other things) but that's a whole 'nother blog post.

Any questions?


Mister Furkles said...

Good comment about tension:

What's at stake for X, and why Y doesn't care might be very helpful to think about when you're trying to build conflict in your novel.

On any page lacking tension, it can be added by having two characters on the same team wanting different things. Of course, this should lead to something significant.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Sorry but here's the 'nother blog post' idea you have covered before.

Okay I'll say it. I know a lot of Reiders are thinking it.
You called him, "...unfortunate writer..." I'll call him an asshat.

And rude.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I do not trust writers not willing to share their questions with this blog. Does this writer really want the entire Reef as a nemesis? Ah well, the shark must be fed by writer's tears on a regular basis.

Speaking of this excellent Reef and increasing stakes and tension, did anyone get about a dozen new book ideas from the travel horror stories from yesterday's post? Just me?

nightsmusic said...

Interesting since he had no idea 'where your blog was'. If so, why would he worry about it being posted? That aside, this kind of selfishness about not wanting the answer out there for others to find is the reason I agree with 2N's. He's clearly an asshat and one who, while he might be a decent writer, will never be able to keep an agent with that attitude. Shooting yourself in the foot is never good for a wanna-be-published author.

I loved all the travel stories yesterday and thought of one after midnight last night/this morning so missed my chance :(

Kitty said...

I'm going to cut the "unfortunate writer" some slack. He sounds like he's new at this business and was confused by how Janet handles emailed questions. I don't know why he wouldn't want his question posted on her blog without identifying him.

Mr. Writer, Janet posts Reiders' questions and answers them on her blog because that's how we learn. Without knowing your question, chances are someone else has the same question. Or someone might have the wrong answer. Good luck to you.

Craig F said...

Writers get so defensive about their queries. I haven't been able to throw my attention into forums lately, but I have at several other times. It is amazing how delusional many are when their query is the topic. It is kind of like believing you baby is the most gorgeous thing in the world.

It is amazing because there is so much information out there that says your query is just plain ugly. I know because I have written some really ugly queries myself. Foe me writing a query takes a village. That way I can pick out the best adjustments. Sometimes it is just one word that can send it skyward.

What turned me around was this John Cusick post

Fearless Reider said...

This is a really helpful example of how a seemingly minor conflict can create interesting stakes. Thank you! And I'm even grateful to the hapless chum who provided the opportunity. Now, will someone please give that poor pup a cookie? It's making me so sad.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Good info about stakes and creating conflict. Very interesting. It's also good to be reminded what people in the public eye (such as Janet) must contend with on a daily basis.

I recently spoke about those who gently empower others. You do, Janet. Thank you.

Craig - Thanks for that John Cusick post. Good stuff.

Emma said...

This is actually an excellent writing prompt as far as conflict goes. I'm going to write that one down...

Another one that I think kind of matches this situation (from the "unfortunate writer's point of view") is:

Y misunderstands what's at stake for X, and, additionally, believes X is an asshat for wanting that thing. If X is a protagonist a writer managed to make likable, then that situation, from X's point of view, is unbearable.

Then flip to Y's point of view and write how much of an outrageous donkey X is.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

My question is not for you, Ms. Reid, but is either rhetorical or for Unfortunate Writer, and is simply "what the hell?" because...what a weird, demanding, exchange.

1. has a question but doesn't know who you are, actually
2. needs it answered right now personally and in private, no sharing, absolutely not, not even anonymously
3. well why not
4. oh come on you already did it

RosannaM said...

What struck me about the writer is the assumption that you were obliged to answer his question. And then to further assume that he was entitled to any more of your time with his petulant back and forth.

What struck me about the post is how much more interesting the story became when you pointed out what was at stake. It definitely nailed it on the head. And it also is a great takeaway for how most of us go through life with our me colored glasses on.

Fearless Reider said...

Jennifer, my thoughts exactly! Admittedly, I have a hard time asking for what I need... when I was in labor with our third child and things were getting a tad bit excruciating, I finally summoned the courage to ask if perhaps the attending physician might be bothered to come down and check on our status at his earliest convenience. "Um, yeah... you've got a couple of feet hanging out of your cervix." I'm a slow learner, but I'm getting better. I don't think I'll ever be able to muster up the chutzpah to demand answers from total strangers, but I'm hoping there's a middle way between the two extremes.

Theresa said...

Yikes, high stakes indeed!

Brenda said...

And the Golden Globe for Shortsightedness in a Writing Career goes to...

Lennon Faris said...

Maybe Writer thinks the Internet is a business (a government-endorsed one?) and Janet is the query question-answerer. Whichever, I hope they figure it out.

The stakes is a good point. My story didn't make sense until I thought about the stakes for the ANTAGONIST, and wrote it around that. Kids think bad guys are bad guys just to be bad guys, but everyone has their reasons.

Laura Stegman said...

I for one (among many) appreciate everything Janet does for writers, and I thanked her publicly in a Tweet (https://twitter.com/LauraStegman/status/1214604350045032448) earlier today announcing the impending publication of my middle grade debut novel. Although Janet is not my agent, her blog has been instrumental in my journey. (Sorry, could not make the HTML tag to a link work.)

Miles O'Neal said...

I would have been tempted to just change a few words, leave off his name, and post the blog, then direct him to it.
Either way, Unfortunate Writer needs to learn how to learn from others- especially the pro you asked for help.

Theresa said...

Congratulations, Laura!

KariV said...

I'm surprised he wasn't willing to have his question posted anonymously. Then again, when I first dipped toes in the query trenches, I was too scared to put any of my work in front of people or ask any questions. I didn't get know that "the only stupid question is the one not asked." I ask more questions now. And people have been very gracious in their answers. "The Writer" may yet learn from this.

Congrats Laura!! And I'm sure we all agree with your sentiments.

Fearless Reider said...

Congratulations, Laura! I read the description on your website and it sounds delightful -- I look forward to reading it!

Panda in Chief said...

As I recall, Janet NEVER identifies the questioner, but she allows them to reveal themselves, if they want.

Those of you who are not immediately convinced this guy is an asshat are too kind for this world. Okay, actually, we need more people like you, and less like me who assume this guy is an asshat.

It does seem extremely fishy to me that in googling Janet, that he did not discover either the blog, and maybe have a clue that as a successful and busy agent (with a blog) that she should answer private questions for random writers on the inter-webs.

Sorry, I'm feeling a bit cranky today. :-)

Rio said...

If I were Unfortunate Writer, I would have been all like, "You have an ENTIRE BLOG where you answer questions like this??" I would have immediately tracked down said blog, dived into the archives and not emerged for weeks. Because jackpot! How sad to miss such a blatant opportunity.

Silver lining, we're now in The Year of Hindsight, so there's no better time to learn from one's mistakes. Happy 2020, everyone!

Laura, congratulations!

The Noise In Space said...

@EM Oh no, let's not paint him with that brush! "Don't post with my name" doesn't strike me as selfish or as wanting to make enemies, it strikes me as embarrassment! Asking a question to a trusted industry professional is a very different animal than standing up to ask it in front of a group of your peers, all of whom are competing with you for the same end goal (publication) and all of whom would seem to have an edge over you (they've already read the blog and gleaned the info from it, whereas ten seconds ago you didn't even know it existed).

Yes, he was rude. Unquestionably. But in the last year or so, I have come to split rudeness into two distinct and totally different emotions: rudeness from arrogance, and rudeness from fear. I genuinely believe they are different things.

Laura Stegman said...

What Rio said! Plus thanks for all the congrats! I'm pretty thrilled.

Ann Bennett said...

I've enjoyed reading all the comments. Whose an asshat and why? Frankly, if you mess with one of my family members or pets; I am a jerk. As a teacher, I always taught the more attractive students.

The man's comments demonstrates why we all need an agent if we can get one. It's hard to see beyond your own needs. Since it is not me, I can look at it more objectively. For one thing, why wouldn't you want your name bandied about on a well known blog for writers. It is a query mistake not a bad book.

Janet Reid's response is best in that she is being honest with him. I had someone to evaluate the first item I wrote. I had to lay down in bed and look at the ceiling for a bit after the response. In time I've learned how the man was right on every point.

Claire Bobrow said...

Nothing more to add except give that sad-eyed floofball a cookie and congrats, Laura!

Okay, maybe one thing. I think Unfortunate Writer believes Janet is the personification of Google, hence the "Answer me, dang it!" frustration.

BJ Muntain said...

A villain is the hero of his own story. We're ALL heroes in our own stories.

We're making dinner for the entire family - oh no! We're out of the one spice that makes it all work! Run to the grocery store, grab the last bottle, only to find another hand gripping it.

We're a witch, making a potion to save someone's life. We're out of the important binding agent, a certain spice. Run to the grocery store, reach for the last bottle, only to have someone try to take it out of our hand.

Two crises with one solution. Who gets the solution? They're both the hero of their own stories and villain of the other's.

Jen said...

@The Noise in Space, I would politely disagree with you. Not in regards to the "Don't Post With My Name" emailer. I agree with you there. But instead in regards to us all competing for the prize of publication.

Writers aren't competing with one another for publication. What we're competing for is a reader's time. And our biggest competition by far is NOT our fellow writers, but other sources of entertainment: streaming services like Netflix, Tumblr posts, social media, Webtoons, video games, YouTube, etc. There are a lot of available escapes from reality, and books are just one of them.

RebeccaB said...

"Still you must remember your thought in one sentence!"

Pal, I don't even remember why I came in this room!