I'm working steadily through my inventory of requested full manuscripts and proposals. I was very smugly pleased with myself that I had read and replied to almost everyone by the end of 2013. There were three leftovers, two of which were revised after the initial request.
Revised after the initial request means I requested the manuscript, got it and then the author sent me a new and improved version.
That happens more than you think, and I'm actually ok with that up to a point.
Here's what that point is: when I've read the manuscript.
Sometimes authors have major revision epiphanies while I've got their manuscript here in the reading stack. If they want to revise, I'm very glad to read the very best work the author has to offer. I simply replace the new manuscript with the old, and that's that.
But each manuscript has a number (which is how I keep track of order received, not by date.)
When I read and reply with a "sorry, not for me" sometimes authors revise and want to send the revision back. I usually give it one more shot. One more shot means I read about the same number of pages I read the first time. If it doesn't knock my sox clean off on that second read, well, that's the ball game.
At that point that's two turns on the dance floor, and I want to remind you there are at a minimum ten people waiting in line behind you. (Today there are 27 but that's a bit higher than normal.) People who are just as eager to trip the light fantastic with me. People who've been waiting almost as long as you have.
Time to move on.
What does that mean for you? Querying too soon is a very real problem. It's worse for the writers who have a concept I love and who can string sentences together. Those novels get requests. If the novel isn't ready, oops.
How do you know if your novel is ready? This is where beta readers and crit partners are worth their weight in gold. You need to start connecting with people long before YOUR ms is ready. You don't start by asking someone to crit your work. You start by helping someone else with theirs.
There are a lot of agents out there but the good ones have very very limited reading time. Make sure you're ready for the Big Dance when the music starts to play.
This music of course
Sunday, March 09, 2014
Saturday, March 08, 2014
COLD STORAGE, ALASKAby John Straley
Soho (Feb 2014)
Edna Whelaby, while sitting on the examining table, had once told Miles that she couldn't keep a boyfriend in town because of "everybody's damn sex radar." Edna was eight-three years old at the time and between boyfriends. Miles had known her all his life so it was with some trepidation that he asked to explain "sex radar" and to his discomfort she was happy to oblige:
"Ah, Christ Mary on a crutch, Miles. Everybody in the coffee shop, everybody at the post office or the library can tell if you've been sleeping with somebody. They just know. It's like radar. It's the least little thing. Lipstick on when it usually isn't. Teasing somebody when you usually don't, not teasing somebody when you should. These are all the signs, Miles, and the people around here just have a sense for it, I swear. One night in the sack and there's hell to pay when you go for your next cup of coffee. There's not enough men around who can stand up to that kind of treatment," she complained. "I've been thinking of moving to Juneau."
Miles had been skeptical. He thought the old woman was just elaborating to show off her superior knowledge of life. But after he had been alarmed when his own sex radar started to kick in. He saw a woman flush at the mention of someone's name. He noticed a fisherman, who had always slapped his money and the check down on the counter, was handing them to the waitress instead. It wasn't just that he handed it to her, either, for that could be just his attempt to flirt. It was the way her fingers curled up quickly around the money in a furtive attempt to touch the tips of his fingers; it was how she leaned forward on the dairy case and smiled as he came in and would sometimes walk around the counter when he left.
I've been a fan of John Straley's work for a long time. His titles alone snagged my interest:
The Woman Who Married a Bear
The Curious Eat Themselves
The Music of What Happens
and the books always had a special place in my heart.
It's good to have him back on the front list. Thank you Soho Press!
Here's what knocked my sox off about this passage: the perfect details. It's the perfect, not the many, details that set a scene or convey character. It's clear the author has been watching people. Even if he never saw anyone do any of these exact things, they FEEL true. And with those details I am involved in the story so completely that it would take some sort of major clunker to break my attention. Of course, that didn't happen with this book. It's absolutely beautiful.
Did anything knock your sox off this week? Let me know in the comments column!
Friday, March 07, 2014
Dear Ms. Reid,
I’ve been querying agents, including yourself, and I’m just not getting any requests for my manuscript. I’ve been reading your blog and it has really helped, but how do I know if the problem is my query, my manuscript, or if I wrote something that no one finds interesting?
I would appreciate any advice you could provide.
Also, I’m just glad I called you Ms. Reid, instead of Ms. Janet, like I did with Mr. Sherman Brooks.
I’m hoping that got a laugh….
It got a laugh from me, but I delight in tormenting Mr. Sherman, particularly now that he's outside of my throwing range.
Your question is the cris de couer of writers everywhere, and I'm actually heartened to hear you ask. The people that never ask that question are the ones who are generally terrible writers and never going to get better cause they think they're amazing and what's wrong with me that I don't see it.
As for the answer to your question:
Assume nothing from the response/lack of response to queries. I say no to things that are good and publishable every day of the week and about 15 times most Saturday nights in the Chum Bucket.
There are some terrific resources for writers at AbsoluteWrite.com, particularly the place where you can critique other people's work, and once you've hit a certain number, your own work can be critiqued. AW is not the place to start in boldly. Lurk on the forums for awhile and get to know how things work. There are some very helpful people there (mostly) and the moderators are VERY good at their job.
A writing conference can help too, and there are some good ones that aren't expensive. (CrimeBake!) If you can invest in yourself by attending one, make sure you do one of the dreaded pitch sessions, but DO NOT PITCH. Bring your query and your pages and ASK the agent what you've asked here. You'd be surprised how often some very simple fixes can mean a big difference.
Thursday, March 06, 2014
I completed my first novel in what I expect to be a trilogy. Weighing in the difficult battle it would take to get an agent to agree to push three books (from an unknown author no less), I was reminded of something Terry Brooks had done.
He said when he was writing the second book of a trilogy, he sheltered it from his agent with the hope of surprising him/her. However, when he was finished it was too full of holes to fix, and he had to start from scratch.
If I do get The Call, and they ask what I've been working on, I'm going to be at a loss. Terry's experience made me cautious about starting the second book in the trilogy, but I want to write it. Now, I could write a stand alone book and try to snag an agent and market the trilogy that way, but if they didn't want the other books, it would be a sticky situation.
What should I do?
Publishers like series from first time authors.
Write the second book.
I have NO idea why Terry Brooks had a book full of plot holes, but I assure you it's not the norm. I have authors working on series ahead of editors and they've never had to trash the whole book and start again.
Generally an editor isn't going to overhaul a book so completely that a sequel would have to be started from scratch. Tinkered with sure, but that's about it.
And remember too: what you want to write is the most important thing right now. Don't write trying to anticipate what an agent or editor wants. We don't know what we want till we read it, and only you can write that.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
A few years back, I was fortunate enough to land an agent for my manuscript. The working relationship was good enough, but admittedly not spectacular. I made the decision to part ways with my agent. The departure was amicable and professional. With a desire to see my story still see the light of day, I rolled up my sleeves and dove back into my MS. I made serious revisions to bring the MS to a place I was proud of (I like to believe that my writing improved over the years my MS was in my former agent's hands).
I'd like to start querying my freshly polished MS and find an agent who believes it can sell. My question is two fold: first, am I already doomed to find a new agent? Is it a major turn off for agents to know that my project was out there with someone else? Secondly, if it's not doomed, do I mention in my query that I once had an agent or do I not mention it at all? I wonder if it's worth mentioning as a means of earning some type of street cred.
Having an agent once before does not give you street cred. Quite the opposite. It gives you baggage.
But the real question is not did you have an agent, the real question is did the agent send out the manuscript on submission.
If the agent sent the ms out, yup, you're done on this one. Time to write a second novel and query that.
If the agent did NOT send the ms out, you never need to mention it to anyone. No harm, no foul.
There's a third category: agents who are so bad at their jobs that even if they send mss to editors, no one notices or cares. How can you tell? When you get the submission list, also ask for the responses from the editors. If there are NONE, you're probably in this category.
There are certainly editors that don't reply even to me (the nerve!) but believe you me, they don't stay on my submission lists for long AND the submission notes that say things like nudge, follow up, firebomb, with dates, for when I called/emailed/hurled reminders of the manuscript.
You are well within your rights to ask for the submission list and editorial replies. This is not privileged information. It's YOUR manuscript.
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
My WIP begins with a prologue that takes place three years before the main action of the novel but plays a significant role in the story’s conflict and plot. Chapter 1 begins with character action in the year the novel takes place.
I have been doing a lot of research on the different ways to begin a novel and have read many polarizing opinions on prologue use from various players in the publishing industry. The most common is agents saying that they HATE to see novels beginning with prologues. The reasons are perfectly valid; they’ve seen it all – prologues that are information dumps full of backstory, prologues that have no connection to the main character, prologue action that has no impact on the story. I can understand how, after receiving multiple sample page submissions of these and other examples, most agents abhor prologues.
Knowing this about agents, I have the following question: If my prologue lacks backstory, shows (not tells) an important scene of story action, plays a major role in the plot, and introduces the overall character motivation (although MC doesn’t know it until later in the story), is it an acceptable way to begin my novel?
I have heard that some agents will go so far as to reject the submission as soon as they see the word “prologue” on pg 1. I have also heard that a counter for this is to simply title the prologue “Chapter 1” and re-number the rest of the chapters. This strikes me as mildly deceptive since I fully intend for the prologue to be marketed as a prologue.
What’s your take on the subject? Will most agents look past the dreaded “P” word if the opening line and sample pages are engaging? Or will the use of this controversial opening tactic win me a one-way ticket to rejectionville?
I am fully settled in the I Hate Prologues camp too. I go so far as to NOT read them in a manuscript.
My feeling is exactly as you've outlined above.
So, what to do?
If you leave the prologue OUT of your query, will the agent be able to understand Chapter One? If so, leave it out OF THE QUERY. Remember, you only have three-five pages most likely, or not many more, to catch an agent's attention.
A query is not the full manuscript and it's certainly NOT the finished book. Reading at the query stage is often skimming. It's NOT settling down on the couch with a cat and a cup of java for a nice read of an 800 page novel.
The query is designed to entice the reader (in this case the agent) to read more. Which part of the book is best suited for that? Your prologue or Chapter One? Be very critical in your assessment here. If I'm only going to read five pages, which ones are they?
And you don't actually have to put prologue you know. It's Chapter 0. Or Chapter 1. Don't get all caught up in "this must be a prologue" cause as soon as you do the editor at the publishing house is gonna say "hey, people don't read prologues, we always start with chapters" and that's gonna be that.