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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: passing on sample pages, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 52
1. 68 Queries In 60 Minutes

STATUS: Auction day tomorrow.  Always fun.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? HOT STUFF by Donna Summer

I can't help but think of the movie The Full Monty whenever this song pops up on the iPod. Always good for a smile.

I must admit that I've been a little behind on query reading so Sunday evening, I sat down to power through them. You are reading the above title correctly. I averaged less than 60 seconds for each query read.

If your pitch wasn't, well, pitch perfect, I was hitting the pass button.

Here's something agents hardly ever reveal (and this of course could only apply to me so take it with a grain of salt) but I honestly believe that your chances of grabbing an agent's attention decreases in the warm summer months.

Quite frankly, I'd rather be outdoors doing something fun rather than reading. I feel the exact opposite in winter months. I'm happy staying home and catching up. Consequently, if I were to look at my client list, I probably took on more clients during the winter months than I do during the summer.

Not a hard and fast rule by any means but something to keep in mind.

So Sunday I'm reading 68 queries. I actually only asked for sample pages for 10 of those queries. You'd be right to think that the ratio was small. So what was up?

Here's what I saw:
1) At least 10 YA dystopian queries where I didn't think the concept felt original enough for what is a crowded market.

2) 5 queries for literary novels that said there was a commercial bent but I wasn't seeing it in the query lettr. They sounded too literary for what I can take on and be successful with.

3) Several queries from writers that we had passed on but they had revised and wanted to know if we would read again. Right now I'm too pressed for time to give something a second read so I passed.

4) Several authors looking for new representation but I didn't think we'd be a good fit given what they were currently writing and what has been appealing to me as of late.

5) Several middle grade novels that the queries themselves sounded too didactic. I didn't take a chance to read the sample pages fearing the same.

6) Several steampunk fantasies that obviously pay homage to Gail Carriger but sounded a bit too romance or derivative for what I'd take on considering I rep Gail Carriger.

7) Lots of epic fantasy queries from a previous blog post where I mentioned that editors were more open to seeing these stories as of late. But it's hard. Most of these queries were a bit too generic and you really have to make your fantasy pitch stand out. I particularly liked the one where the writer instructs me it's not the "typical fantasy" as this one has character development. Like that's the original element. Trust me, I've read a lot of epic fantasy and all the terrific ones have great original concepts and excellent character development.  You are going to need both.

Then of course there were the 10 queries I asked sample pages for.

One query startled a laugh out of me. That got a request. Another was a really charming middle grade novel. The query was inventive, well written, and charming in and of itself. I had to ask for sample pages. The writer left me no choice.

I only have August and September before the weather turns cool again so I'm looking for reasons to say NO. Come first snowfall, I'll probably be looking for reasons to say YES.

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2. Agent Reads The Slush Pile Tomorrow - Wednesday, July 25

STATUS: Have to leave a tad early today. My plan is to read a good portion of a client manuscript this evening.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  LAID by James

At conferences, the biggest complaint I hear from aspiring writers is this: there is never any feedback given when an agent or an editor sends a rejection letter.

Or, if there is a response, it tends to be generic--something along the lines of "I just didn't fall in love with the story."

Writers don't have a good sense of what is really causing an agent to stop reading.

Well, this webinar is designed to answer that question. It's a no holds barred (and a tough workshop so be warned) but if you want an honest, straightforward, and helpful response as to why your sample pages might be getting rejected, then this is it.

This is a "fly on the wall" glimpse of an agent reading her slush pile.

I read the first opening 2-pages submitted by the participants of the workshop. If I would have stopped reading, I stop and clearly say why. In general, we tackle about 20 entries selected at random. 

The I crush the writer's fragile ego under my critique hammer… Just kidding. This is not American Idol style.

I don't pull the punch but I do try and be sensitive and helpful. This webinar is not about denigrating the writer but it's also not for the faint of heart.

If you think you are ready, then you might want to consider it. Register here. And I'll see you tomorrow.

11 Comments on Agent Reads The Slush Pile Tomorrow - Wednesday, July 25, last added: 7/26/2012
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3. Why Don't We Take on Any Old Thing If We Think It Will Sell?

STATUS: Will I or will I not catch this cold? Verdict is still out although I stayed home the last two days hoping that would tilt it in favor of the "will not."

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? AIN'T NO SUNSHINE by Bill Withers

Selling a book is not the same as selling a widget--at least for me (although I do know any number of agents who treat it that way and take on a whole lot of projects, throw them out there on submission, and hope maybe 2 out of 5 will stick).

On Facebook, I mentioned that I had recently seen a sale for a project that I read all the way through but in the end didn't decide to take on and that I was thrilled for the author. One commenter just couldn't fathom why I had passed if I could see the sell potential in the project.

The simple answer? Time. I only have so much time to offer to a new client and I simply have to love love love it to make the time investment.

Often times I work with the author through one or two revisions before submitting to an editor. It's not like I offer rep one day and throw it out there the next. I want it to be the most amazing I can make it be. After all, it's been a tried and true way for me to get really amazing money for my authors.

And what if the project doesn't sell? Then chances are very good I'll be spending a lot of time helping them get the next project into shape. And if I only took on a project because of its sell factor, chances are good I may or may not like the writing of the new project. That feels a bit risky to me.

I like taking on the things I feel passionate about because of the very fact that books aren't widgets. Otherwise it's just about the money and though that is one way to agent, it's not right for me.

19 Comments on Why Don't We Take on Any Old Thing If We Think It Will Sell?, last added: 5/1/2012
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4. Why 50 Shades of Grey Makes Agent Lives Harder

STATUS: The appointment schedule is firming up! Get ready for some posts on what editors will be looking for in 2012.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THIS IS IT by Kenny Loggins

It's pretty simple. We agents go to conferences and really drive home the fact that writers need to master their craft. Wow us with masterfully written opening pages. Stop butchering the English language.

Then a work comes along and blows that advice out of the water.

Readers have called 50 Shades of Grey any number of things: campy, fun, spirited, hilarious, worth the money, a fast read.

But well written has not been one of them.

So what do we say when a novel inexplicably becomes wildly popular, sells like crazy, and part of the cultural lexicon?

You got me. Maybe I can say this is a one-in-a-million happenstance of all stars aligning.

But I can say it does make our jobs harder. There will be any number of writers who will be convinced they can do same. Gosh I hope my query inbox doesn't become inundated. No matter what 50 Shades is, I would not have been the agent to spot its "genius."

Plain and simple.

67 Comments on Why 50 Shades of Grey Makes Agent Lives Harder, last added: 5/14/2012
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5. Writing Craft: Breaking The Rule: Show Don't Tell

STATUS: What is up with over 100 degree days in Denver in June? We live here because summer tends to be awesome. We could be confused with Phoenix this week.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? NOVEMBER by Ben Williams

A week ago I attended Denver Lighthouse Writer's Litfest where I gave my Agent Reads The Slush Pile workshop to over 50 hearty souls--which convinces me yet again that writers are gluttons for punishment.

As I was giving the workshop, inspiration hit for a couple of blog posts I could do on writing craft that I think my blog readers would understand and find helpful.

So guess what I'm going to do this week if I can find 30 minutes of time to get one posted?

Writers are often given writing "rules" that woe be you if you break them. And for most cases, because beginning writers have not mastered craft yet, these rules hold true. But if a writer knows what he or she is doing, breaking the rule can often create something really unusual that will work and be amazing (but will have a lot of aspiring writers crying foul that so-and-so writer does it and gets away with it.)

For example, how often have you heard that as a writer, you should show and not tell? Too many times to count I imagine.

Do you want to know one NLA writer who breaks this rule all the time at the beginning of her novels? Sherry Thomas. Sherry has won the Rita Award twice in a row now (the romance genre's highest honor) and her debut novel PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS was named one of Publisher's Weekly best books of the year in 2008.

So obviously somebody agrees that she has mastered craft and Sherry always begins her novels with a lot of exposition--usually a big no-no. But for her voice, it just works. Just last month, Sherry released her latest historic romance entitled BEGUILING THE BEAUTY which John Charles said in the Booklist review: "Thomas distills superbly nuanced characters and flawlessly re-created settings worthy of a Merchant and Ivory into a gracefully witty and potently passionate love story that sets a new gold standard for historical romances."

And, if you check out the beginning of her novels, it's all exposition. BEGUILING begins with the following:

It happened one sunlit day in the summer of 1886.

Until then, Christian de Montfort, the young Duke of Lexington, had led a charmed life. 

His passion was the natural world.  As a child, he was never happier than when he could watch hatchling birds peck through their delicate eggshells, or spend hours observing the turtles and the water striders that populated the family trout stream.  He kept caterpillars in terrariums to discover the outcomes of their metamorphoses—brilliant butterflies or humble moths, both thrilling him equally.  Come summer, when he was taken to the seashore, he immersed himself in the tide pools, and understood instinctively that he was witnessing a fierce struggle for survival without losing his sense of wonder at the beauty and intricacy of life. 

After he learned to ride, he disappeared regularly into the countryside surrounding his imposing home.  Algernon House, the Lexington seat, occupied a corner of the Peak District.  Upon the faces of its chert and limestone escarpments, Christian, a groom in tow, hunted for fossils of gastropods and mollusks. 

He did run into opposition from time to time.  His father, for

23 Comments on Writing Craft: Breaking The Rule: Show Don't Tell, last added: 6/28/2012
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6. Writing Craft: Mechanics Vs Spark

STATUS: Everything is literally on fire around the city of Denver. From Colorado Springs and Monument to Boulder to Fort Collins. I was so happy to see the rain this afternoon. Sadly it only lasted 20 minutes. We need more rain.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WINDOWS ARE ROLLED DOWN by Amos Lee

When I'm doing the Agent Reads The Slush Pile workshop, the toughest moment is when the volunteer reads an entry that is completely sound. In the reading, there is no problem that I can point to and say, "here, this is the issue" or "this is not working." On a mechanical level, there is nothing wrong with the opening pages.

The form is acceptable, the grammar is fine, the writing is solid. I can even identify that the writer understands the tenets of craft. By all the "rules" of writing and publishing, I should be glowing about this entry.

But something is missing.

And I have no other word for the "what" that is missing except to say the work is lacking narrative "spark."

In other words, the writing is missing a distinctive voice.

And when that happens, what can you say during the workshop? That I don't love it? Well, that's not accurate either because when something is missing "spark" it's probably not just a Kristin subjective thing. Listeners sense it too. I can tell by watching the workshop audience. When something lacks spark, it loses people's attention. They start to shift in their seats or stretch or focus on something else.  It's not just me that notices the absence.

On the other hand, when a work has that elusive spark, I know it, because the workshop audience becomes completely still and enrapt in the reading. Their attention is glued to the reader so as not to miss the next sentence. It's a palpable change in the atmosphere of the room.

Sadly I can't give an example because none of my authors have this problem. I'd have to grab something from the slush pile and I certainly couldn't post it here without permission.

And speaking of getting read, it all begins with the perfect pitch paragraph in your query letter. Pub Rants University is hosting Goodbye Slush Pile: How To Write The Perfect Query Letter Pitch Paragraph for your Novel tomorrow night, Thursday, June 28 from 6 to 8 pm Mountain time. Given by yours truly.

I can't tell you the number of emails I've received over the years from participants who have attended, revamped their query pitches, and then landed an agent and went on to sell. Dozens and dozens. In fact, one person even came up to me during the Litfest closing party the week before last to thank me.

You won't want to miss it!

5 Comments on Writing Craft: Mechanics Vs Spark, last added: 6/29/2012
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7. A Manuscript That Stays With You

STATUS: Spent a little time this evening working through some leftover computer conversion kinks. We are almost there.


What’s playing on the iPod right now? Nothing At the Moment


Because I’m not on twitter, I only found out today that YA author LK Madigan had passed away from cancer.


I have to say that the news made Sara and I rather sad.


Several years ago, I had the pleasure of reading her YA novel FLASH BURNOUT while it was on submission. I remember this vividly because Sara wasn’t taking on clients at the time but she really advocated for this author.


And Lisa was lovely and so professional.


I didn’t take her on as a client and she went on to find a wonderful and enthusiastic agent. And this may sound odd, but over the last two years, whenever we heard news about her debut novel, I’d say, “remember that manuscript? And Sara would say, “I told you so” (not really as Sara isn’t the kind of person to say such a thing) but you get the picture.


It was one of those novels that we remembered vividly, even years later, and could now poke fun at ourselves on being wrong about.


Which leads me to a point I made at the San Miguel Writers Conference last week.


When you get a rejection, you just have to remember that ALL writers received them at least at once in their careers and where you are today as a writer is not necessarily where you’ll be a year from now. That you will always be learning, growing, and maturing as a writer.


Being a writer is about the journey. Embrace it.

13 Comments on A Manuscript That Stays With You, last added: 2/28/2011
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8. Culprit: Writing Mechanics

STATUS: Was out of the office last week. Although I worked, it’s not quite the same as getting stuff done while there.

What’s playing on the iPod or the XM radio right now? CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ by The Mamas & The Papas

This past weekend I attended the Missouri Writers Guild Conference in St. Louis and did my infamous “Agent Reads The Slush Pile” workshop.

For those of you who don’t know, this is the workshop where I pretend that I’m sitting in my office reading the opening two pages of a submission. In reality, this would all be done electronically and there would be no volunteer reading the entry aloud but you get the picture. In the workshops, as the volunteer reads, I’ll say “stop” if I wouldn’t have continued reading and state why. If I would have read on, we’ll hear the first 2 pages in its entirety.

I personally think this is probably the toughest workshop a writer can participate in but it’s always wildly popular. I do my best to be encouraging but brutally honest—a tough balancing act.

As I’ve given this workshop before, I can tell you several things about it:

1. I always begin with a dire warning and remind writers that they might not be ready for this. I’ve yet to have a participant withdraw an entry (and that always surprises me).
2. 99.9% of what I’ll see in the workshop is not ready for an agent to read.
3. For this workshop, only one entry made it past page 1. The majority of the others, I said stop within the first 2 paragraphs.

Like I said, brutal.

One participant asked a great question. He asked whether all agents would agree with my assessment on when to stop or would those opinions differ given the agent.

I replied that yes, of course opinions would differ but in the case of Saturday’s seminar, I don’t think they would have. Why? The biggest culprit that made me stop reading was a lack of mastery of writing as a craft. The entries had classic beginning writer mistakes we agents often see. And this isn’t to say that the writers in this workshop couldn’t master writing as a craft—just that they hadn’t mastered it yet. I’m confident everyone in my workshop will grow and mature as a writer as they learn.

A list of the culprits? Here they are.

1. Telling instead of showing.
2. Including unnecessary back story.
3. Loose sentence structure that could easily be tightened
4. The use of passive sentence construction.
5. Awkward introduction of character appearance.
6. Awkward descriptions/overly flowery language to depict.
7. Starting the story in the wrong place.
8. Not quite nailing voice in the opening.
9. Dialog that didn’t quite work as hard as it should.
10. A lack of scene tension even if the opening was suppose to be dramatic.

The great news is all of the above are mechanics that a beginning writer can learn.

But you have to be fearless. And the only way you’ll learn it is through a strong critique that points out the issue.

52 Comments on Culprit: Writing Mechanics, last added: 4/15/2011
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9. What The Heck Do I Say To Help?

Status: Reading right now. Chutney is curled up in a blanket that she spent 10 minutes fluffing.


What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? DON’T DREAM IT’S OVER by Paul Young


For the last two nights, I’ve been reading a full manuscript that I requested. I really like the writing and the concept is super cool but for over 100 pages, the story hasn’t gone anywhere (or I should amend that—it’s going somewhere but moving slowly).


So definitely a pacing issue.


Yet, I’m still reading. I know I’m probably going to have to pass but I so want to be able to tell the writer why and how they might revise. But pacing is THE hardest writing mechanic to explain when it’s not working. If I point to an individual scene, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the writing except the scene is not doing enough in terms of building the tension or revealing another hint to the over-arching story that is unfolding.


In other words, there is no easy fix where I can say “do xyz” and you’ll transform the story.

49 Comments on What The Heck Do I Say To Help?, last added: 4/18/2011
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10. Sacrificing Plot And Character Motivation For Fun

STATUS: It's sunny and our windows are open. And it was quiet because of the holiday. I got tons accomplished. I officially declare this an awesome day.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LOVE SONG by Adele
(The Cure were one of my fav bands from my youth and I kind of like her rendition.)

I like the heading of the entry as you can read it two different ways.

1) Just writing for fun and not worrying about the story/motivation,
2) The writer got lost in the fun of the world and forgot that a story needs plot and clear character motivation.

As a writer, sometimes it's great to just say the heck with plot and character and simply have fun with your story and your world. It can unblock that critical voice and let you just write.

I'm all for that!

However, that's why you go through the critique and revision process. You don't want the above and then send me a full manuscript with out that second critical step.

In the last couple of weeks, I've read two full manuscripts that had great beginnings, solid writing, creative and interesting world building, the whole enchilada that starts an agent getting exciting.

Then I hit page 100 or 140. Suddenly the stories stop making sense. I puzzle over the character motivations and why they are making the choices they do. Then I start reading scenes that are fun but don't actually move the story forward in any identifiable way. Then I can't figure out how this scene fits with all the building elements of the first 100 pages.

If I'm this far into the novel and I'm asking the above questions, I'm passing on it. And no, I won't write up an editorial letter because it would be far too complicated and time consuming to really outline these thoughts in a way that will actually help the writer.

By the way, when I'm writing up an editorial letter for one of my clients, on average it takes me 2.5 hours to complete. We often follow it up with a Skype call to just to talk it through and bounce ideas of one another. It's a significant time investment.

19 Comments on Sacrificing Plot And Character Motivation For Fun, last added: 10/1/2011
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11. Big Reveals Shouldn't Happen In A Conversation

STATUS: Gosh, it was too gorgeous outside to work. What the heck. It's January. I need it to snow so I don't want to skip work!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? RIGHT DOWN THE LINE Gerry Rafferty

One of the problems of having blogged for so long, since 2006 if you can believe it, is that I often feel like I'm repeating myself. When I mentioned this to an agent friend of mine who also blogs, she said that I simply can't worry about it.

I think she's right. So I've probably blogged on this topic before but what the heck, it's worth saying again.

A novel's plot should not be a series of conversations where characters move from one place to another and all they do is have chats with other characters.

(Anne Rice's INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE might be the one exception. But even at closer look, you can see that Rice didn't fall into that trap. Even though that novel is basically one long conversation, the vampire narrates scenes as if they were actually happening so there is sense of immediacy, action, and event plotting to carry the novel.)

We see this a ton in fantasy manuscripts but hey, it's not limited to that genre. Recently, I've seen this structure in a lot of young adult samples we've been reading.

By the way, established writers can fall into this trap--usually when they are on deadline and simply trying to get the story on the page.

Take a moment to evaluate your own novel. How many times do you have characters sitting down and having a conversation? If it's a lot, you might want to start rethinking your "plot"!

13 Comments on Big Reveals Shouldn't Happen In A Conversation, last added: 1/11/2012
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12. Creating An Editorial Road Map

STATUS: I'll be out of the office all next week for the RT Convention in Chicago. Wait, wasn't I just out of town?

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? PYRO by Kings of Leon

More and more as of late, I find myself creating what I call an editorial road map for any novel.

Now, when I edit a client manuscript, I use track changes to make comments as I read along. That's pretty standard

But lately, after I finish the entire read, I then go back through the novel to construct the road map. In this process, I literally skim through the work, chapter by chapter, and I create an outline of all the major plot points by chapter for the novel.

I find that the process of formulating the outline allows me to create a framework for writing up my editorial letter.

Via the outline, I can clearly point out what works, what doesn't work, where it should build tension or escalate the stakes, what could be deleted to tightened or even if the story has gone off the rails completely.

It's definitely more work on my part but I think it a valuable exercise. In fact, my "road map" critiques are becoming a bit legendary with my clients. *grin* They love it (or maybe they are too afraid to say otherwise!)

And to be blunt, from a lot of the sample pages and full manuscripts I've read within the last 6 months, I think many writers could benefit from doing a critique road map of their own. It really does force you to ignore character, dialogue, description and boil the story down to its plot skeleton core.

A lot can be revealed about pacing and story arc.

Hum…. I'm sensing there may be a workshop idea here.

22 Comments on Creating An Editorial Road Map, last added: 4/9/2012
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13. Panster And The Editorial Road Map

STATUS: A lovely lovely spring day. I'll work for a bit and then simply enjoy the day.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WHY by Annie Lennox

As a writer, are you a panster or an outliner?

I ask because your answer determines when you'd assemble the road map of your novel.

If you are a panster, don't attempt the road map until you have finished a full draft and at least one revision.

Why? Because if you do it too early, the process of outlining can suck the creative spark or essence of storytelling right out of your project.

I've seen it happen with several of my clients who are not intrinsic outliners. It is simply not how their creative process works and the process of doing so dampens the story voice.

But eventually, once the story is down on paper (or should I say computer screen) then I highly recommend the road map. It reveals, very clearly, the bones of the story.

More importantly, it also reveals what is structurally weak in the plot.

26 Comments on Panster And The Editorial Road Map, last added: 4/11/2012
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14. Because You've Asked For It….

STATUS: Another Gorgeous day! Repeat yesterday's status.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LADY IN RED by Chris de Burgh

Or maybe you didn't but are a glutton for punishment anyway. I'm doing my very popular Agent Reads The Slush Pile as an online Webinar coming up on May 2, 2012 6-8 pm MST.

If you can't make it to Denver for the LitFest version of this webinar put on by Lighthouse Writers (where the price is not to be believed but the travel to get there might be rough!), here's your chance to finally experience it for yourself.

Have you ever wondered how an agent reads the fiction submission slush pile? What an agent is thinking during the first opening pages? What makes an agent stop and what makes an agent read on? 

If you have ever wished to be a fly on the wall during that process, this workshop is your chance to get the inside scoop without metamorphosing. 

Literary Agent Kristin Nelson will read the first 2 pages of any submission, the “slush pile”, and give honest feedback as to why she would or would not read on for the sample pages in front of her.

 A couple of things before you click on that button:

1) This webinar is not for the faint of heart. It's brutal. Now trust me, I will be as helpful and honest as possible. This is not to ridicule writers.  But don't kid yourself, it will be tough. If you are feeling fragile or that feedback might crush your writer dream, now is not the time for this workshop. If you are tough as nails, just about to submit, want an immediate honest response, then this might be worth doing.

2) It needs to be the actual, opening first 2 pages of your manuscript. If you have a prologue, skip it and grab page 1 and 2 from your chapter one.

3) We can't promise to read every single entry but we are definitely going to try. If I only have a few left over, I'll respond on the sample pages and we can send to those writers privately. Right now, I know we can get through them all.

4) You can "audit" the class. Sign up to be there and listen in but you don't send on the 2 pages. This is for those who are curious about it but not ready to have sample pages read.

If you've ever wondered how an agent could make a decision so fast on whether to read on or not or to ask for pages, this webinar will definitely answer that question!

23 Comments on Because You've Asked For It…., last added: 4/28/2012
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15. Why Prologues Often Don’t Work

STATUS: Not happy. Still no Amazon links to Macmillan client books.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HUNGRY FOR YOU by The Police

Kristin’s incomplete list of why prologues don’t work:

1. When the sole purpose of the prologue is to fill the reader in on the back story so the real story can begin.

This is so easy to point out but harder to explain.

In the example of UNDONE, Brooke needed a prologue to show how it all started. To juxtapose who the girls were when they first “meet” versus who they are when chapter 1 begins. The prologue also serves a strong purpose. It sets tone, character, and sets up several questions. Why did Kori become a “I-puke-cheerleaders-for-breakfast” kind of girl? Something has happened but what? Why is Serena obsessed with her by her own admission? And it’s very clear that these two girls have nothing in common in this bathroom scene yet Kori calmly states that they are more alike than Serena knows. They are connected.

This is a prologue with a clear purpose. The reader should want to know more by the end or it doesn’t work. It’s also masterful. Brooke managed to accomplish quite a bit in just 4 short paragraphs and this leads me to the second reason why prologues often don’t work.

2. They are too long.

This is the death of a manuscript if a writer has problem #1 and then it’s combined with problem #2.

3. When the prologue is in a whole different style or voice from the rest of the manuscript.

Then when chapter 1 begins, readers are left flummoxed—especially if that style or tone of voice is never revisited.

4. When the prologue is solely there to provide an action scene to “draw the reader in” but then serves no other purpose or is not connected to the main story arc or is only loosely so.

5. When the prologue introduces the evil character simply so the reader can “know” what is at stake.

I can sum this up in two words. Clumsy writing.

6. When the prologue is supposed to be cool (or I might reword this to say the writer thinks it sounds cool).

Lots of writers overwrite when creating a prologue. It shows.

When all of the above is happening (and there are probably a dozen more reasons why prologues often don’t work), it becomes really clear that the writer isn’t paying attention to dialogue, character development, plot pacing, etc. All key elements of good writing.

This is why almost all the agents I know completely skip the prologue and start with chapter one when reading sample pages. A beginner writer might actually be able to do good character, dialogue, tone, pacing, and whatnot but it’s more than likely not going to show in the prologue.

Now in defense of the prologue, when it’s done well, it’s truly an amazing tool. The number of times I’ve seen a prologue done extraordinarily well in requested submissions? Well, I can count that total on two hands….

39 Comments on Why Prologues Often Don’t Work, last added: 2/5/2010 Display Comments Add a Comment
16. Opening Pages--Action

STATUS: Heading to the mountains to ski. It’s supposed to snow. Fresh Powder

What’s playing on the iPod right now? VERTIGO by U2

Because we’ve been talking about openings, what works, what doesn’t, I wanted to show you an example from an author who is the master of action in the opening pages. Nobody does it better than Linnea Sinclair.

I would also recommend reading this author, even if this isn’t your genre, in order to learn about escalating conflict. Beginning writers often suffer from the fact that they don’t have enough conflict to drive their stories forward in a meaningful way.

Linnea is the master conflict, of raising stakes continuously through her novels. In fact, she often teaches a workshop on doing just that.

So let’s take a look at the opening of GABRIEL’S GHOST. Notice how she balances the action with setting (paragraph 1 & 2). Then in paragraph five, she raises the stakes even within this scene. Sprinkled throughout this opening paragraphs are key details on where our main character is (prison planet), who she was (fleet officer), why she is there (the court martial).

Folks, this is top-notch writing. In fact, you have to nail it this well for genre fiction or it just doesn’t work. I’d like to think you need to nail a form of this for literary fiction too—something aspiring literary writers often forget. Learn to write a plot-driven scene. You won’t use it the same way as one does in genre writing but it will teach you solid pacing—something a lot of aspiring literary works lack.

CHAPTER ONE
Only fools boast they have no fears. I thought of that as I pulled the blade of my dagger from the Takan guard’s throat, my hand shaking, my heart pounding in my ears, my skin cold from more than just the chill in the air. Light from the setting sun filtered through the tall trees around me. It flickered briefly on the dark gold blood that bubbled from the wound, staining the Taka’s coarse fur. I felt a sliminess between my fingers and saw that same ochre stain on my skin.

“Shit!” I jerked my hand back. My dagger tumbled to the rock-strewn ground. A stupid reaction for someone with my training. It wasn’t as if I’d never killed another sentient being before, but it had been more than five years. And then, at least, it had carried the respectable label of military action.

This time it was pure survival.

It took me a few minutes to find my blade wedged in between the moss-covered rocks. After more than a decade on interstellar patrol ships, my eyes had problems adjusting to variations in natural light. Shades of grays and greens, muddied by Moabar’s twilight sky, merged into seamless shadows. I’d never have found my only weapon if I hadn’t pricked my fingers on the point. Red human blood mingled with Takan gold. I wiped the blade against my pants before letting it mold itself back around my wrist. It flowed into the form of a simple silver bracelet.

“A Grizni dagger, is it?”

I spun into a half-crouch, my right hand grasping the bracelet. Quickly it uncoiled again—almost as quickly as I’d sucked in a harsh, rasping breath. The distinctly masculine voice had come from the thick stand of trees in front of me. But in the few seconds it took me to straighten, he could be anywhere. It looked like tonight’s agenda held a second attempt at rape and murder. Or completion of the first. That would make more sense. Takan violence against humans was rare enough that the guard’s aggression had taken me—almost—by surprise. But if a human prison of

19 Comments on Opening Pages--Action, last added: 2/9/2010
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17. 4 Submissions

STATUS: I actually caught up on quite a few things sitting on my desk so I’m feeling like it was a productive day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IF I HAD EYES by Jack Johnson

As I mentioned, Sara and I have tried to do a lot of reading as of late. Since you guys seem to like these reports, I don’t mind sharing although I personally don’t think they help you blog readers all that much. So much rides on the writing.

But anyway, last night I read four different sample pages.

Submission 1—Was a nicely written work but didn’t feel big enough for what I’m looking for in women’s fiction.

Submission 2—I’m a pass because the work was not my cup of tea but I thought Sara might like it so I sent on to her (romance).

Submission 3—Liked it. So did Sara. Fantasy genre. We asked for a full. Author’s name did not indicate gender (big grin here). Even if we are looking to add some more male authors to our client list, if the writing isn’t there, it’s a no go.

Submission 4—YA. Great concept. Didn’t find myself getting attached to the characters or the story. I did read all of the 30 page submission as I kind of hoped it would eventually grab me. I can see another agent liking it though. Told the author so.

Not sure if I’ll get any more reading done tonight as I’ve been reading a client manuscript that has me really excited so I can’t wait to get home to continue reading it.

23 Comments on 4 Submissions, last added: 2/17/2010
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18. When A New Project Might Give You The Best Momentum

STATUS: Today was about foreign rights and taxes. One fun. The other not. I’m sure you can guess which is which…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by The Fray

Last week we got a query from a writer who had published a fantasy series outside of the US. This person was looking for new representation to shop the series in the United States. There was only one problem. It sounded like the writer’s prior agent had already done so.

Just to make sure, I wrote the author to inquire about that. The return response listed a wonderful submission list with all the editors I would have gone to if I had repped the project.

This author is between a rock and hard place. The submit list was good and if it was rejected by all those places, there’s only smaller publishers to try and to be blunt, potentially not worth the agent’s investment of time.

I responded to the author to say so. What advice would I give in this situation? As hard as it may be, it’s time to write something new. Go out with a fresh project in the US. If that book does well, then the agent can always go back to that initial series and rekindle interest in a possible buy. (Good sales can do that.)

Unfortunately, this author did not have anything new to share but I did respond again to say we’d be happy to look at new future work.

5 Comments on When A New Project Might Give You The Best Momentum, last added: 3/4/2010
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19. Starting A Novel In The Wrong Place

STATUS: Just another manic Monday.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? RED RIVER VALLEY by Frank Macchia and Tierney Sutton

This weekend was an interesting one for me. I read our slush pile for the first time in several years. Grin.

What do I mean by that? Well, I hired Sara Megibow more than four years ago and once she was fully trained, she read all incoming submissions to set aside the ones that I actually needed to review. In other words, I read only a third of all the actual submissions that came to the agency.

As we train Anita, somebody needs to read behind her to make sure she’s forwarding the right submissions on to Sara and to me. Anita will become the reader of all things while Sara and I can have a reduced workload. There isn’t enough time in the day for us to read ALL incoming submissions.

So this weekend I read eleven different sample page submissions and one salient point became very clear. There are decent writers out there who are totally starting their stories in the wrong place which can obscure what the novel is really about. If I’ve read 30 pages and it’s clear to me that we still haven’t gotten to the right beginning, it’s a pass.

So the biggest writing culprit writers need to watch for that will indicate a story starting in the wrong place?

Back story.


One submission had several scenes that weren’t really relevant to where the novel actually started—which was in chapter three (around page 27). The opening scenes were essentially back story—info the writer needs to know but the reader doesn’t. Back story needs to be integrated throughout the novel in a masterful way.

Second biggest culprit?

Minutiae.


In other words, the writer is overcompensating for the wrong beginning by including beginning scenes with too much detail about the characters and all the underlying tension of the relationships so all that is clear before the novel can “begin.” The details are certainly good to have but they are placed in scenes that don’t actually move the story forward. In other words, the only purpose of the scene is to introduce characters. Then by chapter three or four, suddenly we have the actual story.

I know this is happening when I read and think, not bad writing here but this author needs some judicious editing as I’m getting bogged down in details but the story isn’t actually moving forward with momentum and tension.

Writers who are actually ready for agent submission have mastered the art of seamlessly integrating back story and relevant character details into a plot that moves the story forward.
Those who haven’t are probably getting passes on sample pages and no requests for the full (although an agent might highlight there is decent writing on the page).

And I know what you are thinking. Why can’t agents just say this? Because it would take too much time to point it out and clearly illustrate it. That would be critiquing the manuscript which is too time-consuming.

Which is why I’m trying to use this blog entry to point this out. I know examples would help but I don’t have permission from submitters to use their work on this blog.

ps. Thanks for all the embed songs into blog tips. I'll check out the sites and see what I can start using.

43 Comments on Starting A Novel In The Wrong Place, last added: 5/5/2010
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20. Sure Enough—Killed Off In First 5 Pages

STATUS: My To Do list was ridiculous and I didn’t even finish one item on it. In good news, some other fun stuff happened.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ONE AND ONLY by Teitur

I actually typed up yesterday’s blog entry while at the office. I headed home and then met with a friend for dinner. When back at home, I picked up my kindle so I could take 30 minutes to review some sample page submissions. (On a sidenote, this process is pretty typical for me. I only allocate about 30 minutes to review submissions. Now if something grabs me, then I’ll go beyond the allocated time frame. That’s how I know something is good if I’m “staying up” to finish reading the sample. I’ll ask for the full the next day).

But back to my story. I pick up my kindle and pop open the first submission—a young adult work. Sure enough, the main protagonist dies within the first five pages.

Considering I just literally blogged about that hours before, the irony was not lost on me. Y’all will be happy to know that I didn’t stop reading the submission. It was actually a rather cool premise so I did read the sample pages in its entirety (so about 30 pages). Ultimately I decided to pass on asking for a full. I didn’t connect to that main character and considering she is already dead, I felt like that was a rather crucial ingredient to make this novel work for me despite it’s rather unique setting and concept.

I figured blog readers wouldn’t mind hearing about this. As for queries that have yesterday’s outlined trends, we don’t dismiss them out of hand by any means. But it certainly has to go the extra distance in its uniqueness so that we’ll ask for sample pages.

So keep that in mind.

17 Comments on Sure Enough—Killed Off In First 5 Pages, last added: 7/1/2010
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21. One Agent Enthusiastic, The Other Not So Much

STATUS: I have several interesting negotiations going on at the moment. Makes the day rather chaotic when I’m constantly having to switch gears from one deal to the other as editors call.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? CRAZY by Shawn Colvin

As we are often reminded daily when we see a sale in deal lunch for a title we’ve passed on (LOL), agents can have different opinions on the same work. A couple of weeks ago, we got a full manuscript submission that both Sara and I had decided to read.

Sara started before I did and sent me an excited email about how much she was loving it, etc. I started it, read a good 75 pages, and I just wasn’t wild about it (regardless of how well-written the work was).

It seriously just came down to our personal tastes.

Sara had no hesitation so she offered representation and took on a new client. If left up to me, I probably would have passed.

So we mean it when we say “this biz is really subjective.” It also means it’s a good thing that there are two of us taking on clients and that our tastes don’t always match up. It means more opportunity for everyone.

19 Comments on One Agent Enthusiastic, The Other Not So Much, last added: 7/2/2010
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22. When It’s Not Really An Answer

STATUS: I’m obviously not blogging in the morning…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BREAKEVEN by The Script

This is strange enough to blog about because it’s happen three times in the last 10 days.

Toughest part is that I know that most writers are going to say that this is not really an answer. And I’m going to have to agree.

So what am I talking about? I’ve read three sample pages recently that were well-written, had good story concepts, and the authors definitely understood craft. But (and isn’t there always a but?) I didn’t ask for a full because I honestly didn’t like the characters in the story enough to spend a whole novel with them.

And yes, I completely get that there is a world of literature out there with unsympathetic characters. In fact, that could be considered a literary tradition.

Yet, it’s too simple to say I’m passing on asking for a full SOLELY for that reason. I have read fiction where the main narrators weren’t wholly sympathetic and yet I found myself totally intrigued by the nuance of those characters and the stories to read the entire novel. My book club’s pick for last month, Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIANS, comes to mind. I really enjoyed that one.

So there is a balance—that fine line between tough characters and a story that remains gripping despite that.

For a couple of these sample pages, that wasn’t the case—at least for me.

And I know that’s not really an answer but it was the only one I could honestly give.

26 Comments on When It’s Not Really An Answer, last added: 8/21/2010
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23. Even When Hot Might Not Be Right For Us

STATUS: It wasn’t a manic Monday. Huh, how strange.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? BLACKNAIL by Tim Davies Big Band

About a week or so ago, we asked for sample pages from a query we had received. Then on Friday, the writer sent us an email letting us know that an editor had offered for this YA project and that the writer also had several offers of representation. The author would like to decide on Monday but we could have the weekend to give the novel a read.

Professionally handled. Courteously done for all parties involved. I just want to take a moment to thank the writer for that! Always appreciate given time to read. (side note: interestingly, we weren’t even behind on reading. I had read the partial the night before and was planning to request the full so good timing all around.)

Both Sara and I gave it a look. And we passed on offering representation despite all the obvious excitement around the project.

Should be a slam dunk for ALL agents to throw their hats in the ring, yes?

So why not? Do I think the manuscript will sell? Probably.

I didn’t go for it for one simple reason: I didn’t feel passionate about the manuscript. I could see what was generating the excitement but it wasn’t right for me.

I know I’ve mentioned this before on my blog--that agents don’t just take on projects that they think will sell or be saleable—but I think it’s always worth repeating.

It really does come down to the right person and the right fit.

32 Comments on Even When Hot Might Not Be Right For Us, last added: 9/30/2010
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24. After 200 Webinar Pitch Critiques...

STATUS: ! I think that exclamation point says it all.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ISN’T IT ROMANTIC by Rod Stewart

I can unequivocally give my blog readers the #1 culprit of why pitch paragraphs in adult or children’s SF&F query letters miss.

Drumroll please….

Convoluted plot that can’t be followed in the pitch paragraph.

Interestingly enough, in the presentation itself, I gave the missing plot catalyst as the# 1 reason for why we pass. Convoluted description of the plot was #3. I might have to revise that!

Post webinar, most participants got the concept of “inciting incident” or main plot catalyst pretty clearly; it was building the rest of the pitch paragraph that proved tough. I think everyone who submitted a pitch to be critiqued got a sense of just how hard it is to create a good one.

A bit of advice? Your pitch is not something you want to go it alone on. You need feedback and from a variety of sources. If you learn nothing else from that session, take that tidbit away with you.

And because I’m a nice person, I’m going to share my Top 10 list for blog reading edification.

KRISTIN’S TOP 10 LIST OF WHY ADULT AND CHILDREN’S SF&F QUERY LETTERS GET A REJECTION

Reason 10: Generic descriptors of the story

Reason 9: Overkill on World Building details and not enough about the story itself.

Reason 8: Explaining that unlike already published SF&F novels, your work has character development

Reason 7: Popular trends (such as Vampires, Werewolves, or Zombies) with no unique take clearly spelled out in pitch

Reason 6: No mention of or insight into the characters who will be driving the story

Reason 5: The manuscript is 250,000 words (or more!) and this is unpublished, debut author

Reason 4: The work is called SF&F but it sounds more like a mystery or thriller or something else.

Reason 3: Convoluted Plot that I can’t follow in the pitch paragraph

Reason 2: SF&F stereotypical archetypes as the “hook”
--the mysterious object
--the unexpected birthright
--the quest
--the villain that has risen again
--exiled to another planet
--mayhem on spaceship to new planet
--Androids with heart of gold
--The main character as the key to saving the world or species
--the just discovered talisman

Reason 1: No hook—or mention of a plot catalyst that is new or original in this genre

35 Comments on After 200 Webinar Pitch Critiques..., last added: 10/28/2010
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25. After 200 Webinar Pitches…Take 2

STATUS: Heading out early to meet with tax accountant.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE SWEETEST TABOO by Sade

Sara was in the office today so we put our heads together on a couple of other tidbits of feedback we gleaned from the all the pitch critiques we did.

Here are a couple of other culprits we discovered while critiquing that would have made us pass had we not being doing that editorial input.

1) Too much emphasis on the world building without giving equal weight or emphasis to the story and the characters in it.

2) Mechanics of the writing was unpolished—as in there were syntax and obvious grammar errors within the pitch itself.

3) Vague descriptions such as: “suddenly a new discovery threatens everything INSERT CHARACTER NAME holds dear.” The problem is that such grand but vague statements don’t tell the reader anything. It’s like saying “this restaurant serves food.”

4) We couldn’t understand the world because the description was unclear. (By the way, we debated whether this fits under “convoluted plot” of yesterday’s entry but we don’t think so it. It feels separate.) You have to choose the right details about your world in the pitch because you can’t explain everything. You can only highlight an element or two that will stand out as unique about the world.

5) Writers who made up a name for a creature or an element but didn’t include any explanation of what it was in the pitch so it didn’t have context. This leads to confusion.

That’s all she wrote folks.

More Sade music on iLike

18 Comments on After 200 Webinar Pitches…Take 2, last added: 10/30/2010
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